Katie Trauth Taylor: A Story of Untold Power
Former college professor and current CEO of Untold Content, Katie Taylor, joined us for an interview in the sun-soaked back patio of Iris Book Café. Sitting amongst overgrown ivy and midday coffee drinkers, Katie spoke about empowerment through storytelling, balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship, and knowledge sharing as an act of love.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Katie Trauth Taylor. I grew up in Greater Cincinnati and went to public schools in Northern Kentucky. My family has been here for a century or so – an old German family from Norwood. The other side of my family is from Appalachia and migrated north over the years, which makes me a fourth-generation Appalachian.
I’m the business owner of a writing consultancy, Untold Content. I’m a mom of two toddlers, Clara and Bryce. My entrepreneurial journey happened at the same time as my journey into motherhood, so that presented some really interesting challenges and also some major blessings, too, for both realms: my professional life and my family life.
As a mother of two little ones, what kind of stories do you imagine telling them about your work and starting your own business?
So many memories, and sweet ones, too. Well, I found out I was pregnant with my second child when my first child was five months old, when I was a tenure-track professor that was also starting a company. Needless to say, it came as an incredible surprise. There’s this great picture of me that says it all. In it, I’m holding my five-month-old, Clara, in one hand, and the pregnancy stick in the other. I’m just sitting on the floor after learning the news, while Clara is having a meltdown about something completely unrelated. My face is completely colored with redness and surprise. My mother, seeing the combined emotional state of a toddler and the utter shock of her own daughter, seized the opportunity to capture the situation in a photograph.
I’ll never forget what she said to me in that moment: “It’s time to let perfection go.”
It’s not happenstance that my mom would be the first to come to mind when answering this question, because having family nearby played such a central role in my ability to continue building a business while having time with my kids. Motherhood and professional life, especially in those first six months to a year, was a serious hustle where I found myself having to shift in both of those roles. I remember doing the wildest things – now that I talk to other moms I know it’s not that out there, but I learned how to pump in the car. I would be driving from one client meeting to another one across town, so I would keep a cooler and a charger for my pump in the car. At any given time, I could have been twisting a bottle cap on at a stoplight minutes before my next meeting. It’s important that women talk about these things because the logistics of motherhood and being a professional are both profound and hilarious.
To me, breastfeeding was so important and I wasn’t going to sacrifice it. At some point, every mom has to wean off of it, but the push and pull – that was a learning process. Eventually, I had to give myself grace about giving my kids formula and lower my expectations about when and how much I could pump. At one point, I found myself Googling how to express ship frozen breastmilk home while away at a conference, and I had to realize that sometimes adjusting my perspective is necessary. Again, I had to let perfection go.
It seems like the formative moments in your company paralleled the formative years in your children’s lives. Tell us more about how Untold Content came to be.
My company is actually five years old, but it feels like it’s still young because when I first started it, I was just a sole proprietor. Before that, I had graduated from the University of Cincinnati with my M.A. in English. There, I was introduced to rhetorical theory, which involves the study of how we view language, how concepts are created through words, and how words shape how we think. It was when I was immersed in those studies that I decided I wanted to be a professor and attended Purdue University for a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition to do so.
The way the company got started was truly through this one opportunity that was circulated through my department. It was for technical writing support in the Veterans Affairs Hospitals, where I could collaborate with systems engineers to support them in sharing their message. At the same time, I was writing my dissertation about Urban Appalachians and how they craft identity through the support of cultural organizations like the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. I loved what I was doing with the VA in my independent consulting work, but was still invested in becoming a professor. Eventually, I landed what everyone in academia told me was “the dream.” This turned out to be a tenure-track job with a university that has incredible students and faculty in the city that your family lives. So, while I continued consulting, I started as a professor at Miami University.
As time went on, I started hearing from business owners and nonprofit organizations across Cincinnati that there is a need for what I was doing with writing and communicating messages. For several reasons, but the major one being my heart’s calling, I decided to resign from Miami and start the company full time. I resigned in spring 2016, right before my son, Bryce, was born and by fall 2016, I hired my first employee. Now, almost a year later, we have a team of five writers. I always wanted to be the kind of entrepreneur that made something larger than myself and my perspectives. Now, my company, Untold, has an identity of its own that goes beyond my solo work and involves that of many others.
How do the identities of entrepreneur and writer influence your approach to your company?
I have many friends who are experts in literary studies who can’t get an academic job and are doing adjunct work. There’s pushback to change that and get universities to fund more full-time, tenure-track jobs.
My answer to the problem has been a little different. I wanted to step outside of universities to see how academic study is applicable and useful to corporations, organizations, and community groups.
It’s such a different process to help organizations publish their own peer-reviewed work and support them in qualitative research and content development. In this work and academia, it is clear our society needs more people who can be empathetic and think from multiple perspectives – exposure to literature does those things. As a writer, reading multicultural and feminist literature equipped me with the ability to look at a text and read it through those different lenses and explore several interpretations.
I know that type of analysis is not just meant for study, but for creating and innovating. This is why I believe in empowering English majors to articulate what they know, because the power of words and clear communication is something that applies to everyone and every industry.
When looking at where you studied, what you write, and how you work, it seems like an ongoing focus has been crafting meaning through the sharing of knowledge and perspectives. What are some stories that aren’t currently being told that you would like to make more publicly accessible?
The core purpose of Untold Content is to promote public intellectualism, which is our way of saying that we believe all voices should be heard, knowledge should be shared, and that people should have access to information. In academia, your job is dependent on publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and while I think it’s important to have multiple experts agree on a topic, I know it can create silos. The field of rhetorical composition is at the forefront of challenging that idea through community engagement and participatory research. That’s where I learned the importance of addressing the disconnect between those who hold information and knowledge and those who don’t. At the end of the day, I wanted Untold’s core purpose to reflect what was instilled in me through my disciplinary learning: Knowledge should be shared.
How do you take someone who is an engineer and help them articulate what they’re trying to say to an everyday consumer through a well-written consumer guide? It’s not super sexy, but it’s breaking down a barrier. How do you work with a healthcare organization or an ER doctor to help them give patients diagnosis information in a way that they can understand? These are some of the problems we have tackled as a company and act as examples for how we work to make sure voices are heard and people understand each other.
Another way we do this is by working with nonprofits who are generating awareness around a problem. Through our work with Urban Appalachian-focused nonprofits, we’ve learned that more than 30 percent of people living in Cincinnati came from somewhere in Appalachia. This is something that many people don’t know, and because of that, many socioeconomic divides in the city and stereotypes persist today. Appalachian identity just happens to be one of many untold stories of social disparity that I am invested in telling, and by doing so, I’ve found that it’s the translational work of storytelling that strengthens our connections.
I love this notion of your life being shaped by empowering people to tell their stories, and by doing so helping people to lift one another and rise together. With the multifaceted context behind your approach, what are some of the potential future paths you see Untold taking?
The future is untold, as they say [laughter], but my long-term vision for Untold is to be a well-loved Cincinnati brand that’s also a national player in that space. We want to be working with organizations that are thought-generating and innovative. In those environments, people have a tendency to look down and study, and often don’t look up enough to share what they’re learning. We want people to believe in their thought leadership and help them establish it because it is deserved.
In the short term, I see Untold having its own space here in town. One of the best things that happened to this company was when we graduated from my living room to the co-working space, Union Hall. In the past year, it has been the most energizing, powerfully connective space for us to work. As our team continues to expand, I feel the tension of growing out of this space. The future could involve 15 or 20 staff as we continue to give more writers the opportunity to share their talents with the world – that’s a little cheesy, but I’m serious.
You spoke about Union Hall and the space it gave your company to grow. I’m curious about how space itself impacts the work that you do. Give us a picture of your ideal writing environment.
This subject is endlessly fascinating to me. I love asking people, “What environment do you write in best?” When I was a professor, I would always ask students that the first day of the semester and give them time to think about their ideal writing environment and how to carve time into their work to work in those spaces.
Two days ago, I had my ideal writing environment with the weather getting crisp outside. When I’m working on something that needs complete focus, I love being in my house with the windows open, sweatpants on, a steaming cup of coffee, and some kind of snack – my vices have changed over the years, but at one point it was pomegranates and at another it was Tic Tacs. It’s there that my writing process works best, where I can iterate and collaborate with the things I’ve read and written in the quiet focus of my own home.
Female presence in the entrepreneur space is still so new. What would you say to another woman who is considering this path?
I’m a very careful person, which has translated into a four-year side-hustle before starting this business. So, I have to credit certain podcasts for being a source of encouragement throughout the process and highly recommend checking out “Being Boss” and “The Get Paid Podcast” if you find yourself grappling with the concepts of womanhood, motherhood, and professional life. In addition to that, what I love about “mompreneurship” or women entrepreneurs is the range of companies and ideas that I see. The insight I’ve gleaned from this is that everyone does it differently and there are a lot of options. I’d pair that with the feedback from my business mentors that one should not be afraid to grow. I want women to read this and know that they don’t need to be afraid to do things differently and grow once they have.
Now that we’ve gathered your insights, we want to hear a story about an influential woman who has shared some with you.
The biggest mentor in my life is Sherry Cook Stanforth. She is full-time tenured professor at Thomas More College, has four kids, plays in two Appalachian folk bands, and gives herself fully to the community with an open mind, kindness, and creativity. She is not only the reason I became an English major, but why I felt bold enough to be a professional and mom at the same time. I met Sherry for the first time in her Appalachian Literature course, where I embraced my identity as an Appalachian and was given the opportunity to explore my heritage through research. Sherry encouraged us to challenge traditional research and writing concepts by weaving personal identity and experience into our work. We read a book about mountaintop removal mining and I told her I felt strongly about it. When I asked her how I could make a difference, she said to me, “Why don’t you drive to Harlan County where it’s happening and interview people?” Sherry instilled in me the boldness to go collect perspectives and try my best to empathize and apply them to a topic.
She’s taught me many other lessons while just sitting around a campfire playing Appalachian music and observing how she interacts with her children. She has three daughters and a son, and during their 7th and 8th grade years they take what she calls a “Creative Year.” During this year, she takes her kids out of public school and has them spend each day of the week with a different mentor. Sherry brought me into one of these years, where I was able to take her daughters to theater productions and read Shakespeare together. My involvement in this year underscores what Sherry has been teaching me all along, that teaching is a kind of love. We always talk about it as “kinship pedagogy,” which is teaching by creating environments that feel like home. This comes back to the very foundation of my company. Through our work at Untold, I want to be spreading the thought that sharing what you know is an act of love.