1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Around four years old, believe it or not! I was fascinated with the covers of my parent’s eclectic record collection from a really early age, and It soon became apparent to me that type and image was something to be taken seriously. I remember at one point my Mum saying “You should become a graphic designer”. I had no idea what that even meant.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I left school in 1986 at a time when there were 3 million people unemployed in Britain. It was pretty grim. I didn’t do well at school, but luckily I found a youth training scheme that was centred on print and that was willing to give me a go. I trained for a couple of years and then went on to work for various commercial printers as a paste-up artist, and learnt the principles of printing and how the process of oil combined with paper could make something wonderful.
The biggest hurdle was always experience or the lack of it. I had many knock-backs in these early years which didn’t do much for my self-esteem but I kept pushing. In the end, I went to college, aged 21 and within eighteen months got accepted into University, which opened doors and gave me a platform to showcase my talent more than anything. From there I worked for various agencies in the city, working in the music, youth lifestyle and sports markets.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
100% word of mouth. I know it’s a cliche and pretty unreliable as it’s hard to quantify, and I’d love to think that we have an amazing lead generating system but it’s simply doing good work and treating people properly, that stands the test of time. If you’re genuine, It comes back. Lately, we’ve niched down so that’s helping too, but you still have to treat people with respect.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Making sure that any project we undertake is done with diligence and integrity. Clients come to use predominantly for brand strategy and identity design, as those are our core specialisms. If there’s collateral to be done and it fits within our scope, then we’ll happily do it or refer the client to someone better suited. I think it’s that level of transparency and honesty that helps. Our clients know that we’re not trying to up-sell anything to them, so again, it all comes back to a level of honesty.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
I hire a crack team of ex-military professionals to hunt them down. To be honest, for consultancy work, we tend to get paid beforehand, just how it works with booking a workshop in advance. For new clients, it’s 50% at the start of a project and then two 25% payments, one at the halfway point, the other on the completion of the project. Most projects are relatively big, either startups who already have the investment to make or rebrands for an existing business, so the payment process is discussed and structured way beforehand.
6. What does your typical workday look like?
I work from a home studio, so once the kids have gone to school around 8.30 I’m at work until around 3.30 in the afternoon. I try and have Fridays off now, the four day week is definitely where it’s at! 🙂 The nature of the work we undertake has changed in the past few years, which has changed my working day, and that’s been a deliberate move forward for us. Where there used to be a constant flow of collateral and plates to spin on a day-to-day basis, now projects are of a scale that now spans weeks and months.
We tend to work on one project at a time when possible too, and that’s been another real game-changer. This gives us lots of headspace, which benefits a project enormously. Also during the week, I have various Zoom meetings structured with peers and colleagues from all over the world in the brand/design space. I’m really fortunate to have found support like that, as it has definitely helped me grow the business and also personally grow as a consultant and business owner.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Can I give you two things? One, get your typography tight. Learn it and make it the bedrock of your work. If you can understand how type works, you’ll find that other design aspects will start to flourish too. Grids baby! The other is to make sure you can actually do the thing that you say you can do. I see young designers with a couple of years out of college making it their focus to teach other young designers, rather than honing their craft.
I guess it’s a bi-product of the YouTube and Insta generation, but the level of entry in calling yourself a mentor or a coach is so ridiculously low these days. The bottom line is, the thing that the client walks out of the door with, the thing that they are paying you for, is the work. And so it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s the best that it can be.