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123. How Two Sisters-in-Laws, Katie Hanna and Emily Hanna, Launched A Successful Business [The Hanna Collaborative]

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Sisters-in-law Katie Hanna and Emily Hanna Mayock are here at the studio this week, talking about starting up the business they’ve always dreamed of running together – The Hanna Collaborative. They run a marketing and communications agency now and it really felt like this conversation was a peek behind the curtain at how fun their day-to-day operations can be.

How the Hanna Collaborative Began

Katie and Emily’s story begins all the way back at their intro to journalism class in college.

“She sat a seat in front of me on the first day,” Katie remembered. “And I thought, ahh she’s so cute I want her to be my friend! Class started and we had to go around and say what we wanted to be when we were out of college. And Emily stands up — ‘I’m Emily Hanna and I want to be a U. S. Senator. But, if they ask me to, I will be president.’”

Emily and Katie still laugh at the story they’ve told a million times.

“And I was like, that’s it. She will be my friend,” said Katie. “And we haven’t left each other’s side since.”

Throughout their 20 years of friendship, they’ve always dabbled in the thought of how they could work together. Even back in they day they would watch Shark Tank together and think — why aren’t we starting a business like these people?

Then life happened: they each got married (more on that later!), had kids, and had careers. But the idea always stayed in the back of their minds.

Until one day, as Emily puts it, “we got to a point where we both felt like we knew who we were and we knew what we wanted our futures to look like. We have the confidence now, we have the skills now — let’s do this.”

Empowering Women Business Owners through Clear and Confident Messaging

So they started their marketing and communications agency.

It was more than just having the confidence and the skills though. They were on a mission now.

“Emily and I have been very lucky to work for globally renowned organizations. But we’ve also worked hard to be in these positions. And we’ve worked in industries where we’re dealing with tough personalities — often tough male personalities — where we’ve had to become clear in our messages and how we deliver those messages.”

Now they’re empowering women-owned businesses to do the same; to deliver clear and confident messages in their marketing and communications.

“We’ve seen and experienced a lot of situations where women are discounted. Where women don’t get the opportunities that men get. And I think Katie and I have really come to realize that is something we feel very strongly about.”

Transitioning from Task-Taker to Recommender

Looking back on their careers, Katie and Emily see a key inflection point: the moment they went from being “task takers” to trusted advisors. Katie remembers it so clearly because of a post-it note she stuck to her monitor when it happened.

“It was my first promotion. I really had to step into this new role of not being that task taker and instead being the one who provided the recommendations. My boss at the time, she was tough, and she once said to me, ‘You are the one who comes to the table to provide the solutions.’ I wrote it on a post it note and I stuck it to my monitor. And it was really hard for me to make that transition. It’s been years of working that muscle and gaining the experience and the confidence to be able to come forward and to provide those recommendations.”

Now that they’re running a business together, they’re seeing firsthand how valuable it is to know who they are, who their audience is, what their audience is looking for, and how they can provide the solutions.

“We’ve always done that for the organizations we’ve worked for,” Emily said. “Now we’re doing it as women business owners ourselves.”

Our Kids’ Instant Commitment to the Business

Katie reflected on what this business means to their families: “We had this realization of — we are working so hard for other people and for other organizations, other founders. We can work that hard for ourselves and for our families. And align with our values and our mission and how we want to show up in the world and support other people.”

There’s no question the kids are all-in on those plans. From the start, they were drawing up logos, creating hype videos, and sharing the new business’s website with friends on the bus. The first prospective client to fill out the brand new intake form? A slime company run by one of the kids.

“Honestly, at first I was like, oh man they might be more into this than I am!” Emily and Katie are both smiling as Emily recalls the story. “Like, oh wow, you’re real committed here, we haven’t even incorporated or anything yet!”

It’s been such an interesting shift, they said, because it used to be just ‘mom’s on her computer.’ And now the kids can really see what they’re doing, understand it, and aspire to do something similar themselves.

The Future of the Business — “This Isn’t Just For Us”

They’ve launched the Hanna Collaborative, the kids are all-in, the families are on board… what’s next?

“We know now this isn’t just for us. This is for our families, for our kids. When we think about building this business and what success looks like, it’s something that we are proud of ourselves for and also proud to share with our kids.”

“Cleveland is home for us. We really see ourselves becoming part of the fabric of Cleveland and supporting women-owned businesses here. We’ve worked hard to get where we are; now let’s put those extra hours toward where it can be most meaningful for us, for our families, and for our community.”

Footnote: we mentioned there was more to the whole “they each got married” thing. Back in the intro to journalism college days, Emily’s mom actually played matchmaker in setting up Katie with her future husband: Emily’s brother. So in addition to being friends and business partners, they’re sisters-in-law too. And sidenote to the footnote: Emily’s future husband was in that journalism class too.

Learn more about Katie, Emily, and The Hanna Collaborative:


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