Interview with Sarah Fleming

1. When did you realise you wanted to get into the creative industry?

I very much doubt he’ll ever see this, but I owe a lot to my art teacher at secondary school. He opened up the possibility of turning something I was talented at, but saw as a hobby, into the possibility of a real career. Early on, he gave me many insights into the creative industries via pupils who’d left, books, degree shows etc. and lots of faux briefs.

I found being creative and academic quite tricky to navigate in terms of ‘choosing’ a career (at least as it seemed aged 18) as there was a lot more focus on traditional subjects, but once I saw an opportunity to use my creativity and more logical, problem-solving skills – I was sold.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

On reflection, the biggest hurdle was the step before getting started. I compare it to jumping off a cliff-face into the unknown, not knowing what might happen, how it’ll feel and whether it would be the right decision – like many things in life. Once I’d made the decision to set something up myself, it was much easier to take action, and build some forward momentum.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

I’ve always been good at keeping in touch with people I’ve worked with, or met along the way – and a lot of the work I do comes via that extended network, or onward referrals.

I came across a great piece of networking advice many years ago, as I, like most people, don’t really enjoy it and was looking for an alternative framing for it: think about what you can do for someone you meet, not what you’re going to get from it yourself.

It has really paid off over the years.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

Do good work and be a nice person, and people tend to return. I think it’s (almost) that simple.

What I do think is critical to long-term relationships, is that clients see, and understand the value you deliver. I spend real time upfront defining the brief with the client if it’s not clear, clarifying what problem we are solving for and understanding what their version of success look like. Having this common language around what you’re seeking to achieve is fundamental to them seeing and understanding your value, and thus likely returning.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

Working in large network agencies prior to working for myself laid the foundations of best practice processes and the importance of documents such as MSAs, Scope of Work and invoicing schedules. As much as it’s not the fun part of the job, I do stick to doing it for every project and tend to avoid too many problems.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

One of the reasons I have always worked agency / consultancy side is for the variety.

Today I’ll work on 3 to 5 projects at any one time, and I do my best thinking when there’s multiple things to dip in and out of. I work across a breadth of sectors so in a day I might touch retail, eCommerce, a technology brand and healthcare for brands such as JD Sports, THG, Stonegate Pub Company and Edwards Lifesciences. I believe the cross-pollination you get from thinking you do outside of category is invaluable.

I’m a morning person so do start (and importantly finish) early a couple of days a week, don’t do well in the same environment so will go into Manchester at least 1 day a week and the rest of my time I split time between client meetings, thinking and other networks I’m a part of including Bloom North.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

I do a lot of mentoring and always find myself helping people to identify their ‘zone of genius’ (read The Big Leap if you’re intrigued). It was a concept that helped me hone in on what I was really good at and became the springboard to really moving my career forwards.

We are most successful when we do what we’re both good at, and enjoy doing – and having the discipline and honesty with yourself to look at what that is, unlocks so much opportunity for us all.

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Sarah is Director of The Right and The Left, a consultancy obsessed with crafting connected marketing strategies.
Her work spans insight, marketing strategy and comms planning alongside 15+ years industry experience, to help brands and businesses understand the world they’re existing in, and what they need to do to better connect with their customers.

Following 12+ years within the McCann network in the UK, Sarah set-up The Right & The Left and works with brands around the world (including THG, Stonegate Pub Company, Abiomed, JD Sports, Edwards Lifesciences) to shape smart marketing and comms planning that ensures every part of the plan is connected.

Interview published on: Jul 21, 2023

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