(reading time 7 minutes)
Don’t worry, it’s not what you think, I’m not giving up on my blogging challenge after one day. I’m talking about my business, well my first one that is, Tiny Design Studio.
The name was supposed to be a play on words because it started small and it was going to be massive. Shutting it down two years after incorporation was never on my to-do list, never mind in my hopes or goals.
Almost five years ago, I was working in the Welfare to Work sector in a job I absolutely adored. The funding that allowed me to deliver my project was very unstable and the introduction of the Government’s Work Programme in 2011 ultimately, resulted in my role and the project I had been building for two years, to become redundant.
To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement, this was something I put my heart and soul into making a success, and it was. I’d go as far as saying it was life-changing for some, but you’ll find out more about this in day six – now is not the time. If I could pay the bills with my charm and sparkling wit then I would have skipped into that job everyday voluntarily, however that wasn’t the case.
After this period of working in a sector with so much uncertainty and not being one to touch an electric fence twice, I decided I was going to control what my future looked like and take a leap of faith; I was going to start my own business. This way the security of my employment is now reliant on my diligent work ethic – I just had to figure out what that business would be then I’d be set, right?
This forced me to look at the skills gained from my work experience to date and identify what opportunities I could explore. When I realised that, although I pride myself on having excellent communication skills, no one is gonna pay me to go into their organisation to talk, so I thought ‘let me think about this some more, I’ll come back to it’.
So, by now I’m 100% sure I’m starting a business, just no idea what it will be yet. What does one do in this instance you ask? Make a list of all the things you need for said business and cant afford to pay for – but it’s for market research purposes of course. Got to do your research!
It was during this process that I made one of my famous to-do lists, which looked a little like this:
- Logo – I now call this Branding.
- Business cards – No idea what for yet as I don’t know what the business is.
- Website – Regardless of the business, you’ve got to have a website.
As I was looking for some quotes to get an idea what my new venture’s start-up costs would be, I felt like I was looking for a secret that no one wanted to share. I completely understand now, why I wasn’t getting straight answers and why designers wouldn’t give me their time – I looked like a time waster, but it did make me think, ‘there’s got to be a better way of making high-quality design understandable and accessible to everyone’. Just because you’re a start-up doesn’t mean you don’t have potential to be their best client. (On that note: we’re launching a brand new product line aimed at this market in two weeks… just thought I’d put that in here).
Back in the day, I studied Art & Design, which progressed into Fashion Design, so I’ve always been creative, although with the internet literally just becoming accessible while I was studying, its primary purpose back then deciding if you were going to divulging your A/S/L (age/sex/location) on MSN messenger, I knew if I wanted to go into this arena, then I’d need to go back to school. Technology and software had dramatically changed since I was last in education so I had to get myself some new skills. I luckily found the perfect course; Digital Media for Design and Print at City of Glasgow College. The course had started six weeks prior to my enquiry but I convinced the head of department that I would catch up, and that I did.
The course was outstanding, taught me so much and brought oor Aileen (one of JemDigital’s Senior Graphic Designers) into my life, so it was definitely meant to be in my path. I started freelancing after the first year and built a steady stream of work by the time the course finished and Tiny Design Studio was born. I didn’t leave the course to intern with a design agency, as it didn’t suit my circumstances, I had to work for myself and keep my eye on the prize.
However, I would recommend any student leaving education to go and pay your dues in your industry, if I was younger and didn’t have the business experience I’d gained from my previous roles, I would have taken my own advice and probably saved myself a lot of tears.
I was ready though, and this was the turning point.
So, I picked up my fellow ‘Bankie’ (person from Clydebank, for those of you not up-to-date with our local venacular), Duncan Bannatyne’s book – Wake up and Change Your Life. I remember in the first chapter, under the heading of Barriers and how people say they just don’t have the time, Duncan suggests:
Oh how I LOLed at this back in 2008. If I get rid of my TV, how am I going to find out if Sharon will find out about Phil’s secret drinking or if Carla will ever find out that the nasty Tracey Barlow is after her man?! Now these guys might not be my nearest and dearest but it’s my down time, I want to relax and watch other people’s car crash lives to make me feel better about my own after a hard day’s work, I’m not giving it up on this, it’s what normal people do when they get home right?
Well, fast forward to 2011 and I pick the book up again, I re-read the same paragraph with a very different outlook. After reading that first chapter, I get up and walk into my living room and cut my TV off by ripping the cable out the wall. I couldn’t watch TV even if I really wanted to now. The time I would have spent absorbing the daily dramas on the cobbles or down at the Vic was now mine to build my empire. My house remained a TV-free zone for 18 months and only reinstated when my sister sneakily arranged for an cable engineer to fix what I did. Although, I have to say, I really could take it or leave it now.
Tiny Design Studio will always be my first love (business love) but it broke my heart and it was my own fault so I had to let her go.
- Respect – I wasn’t looking after the business properly. By not attempting to understand what my costs, or alligning a pricing strategy with the business goals, I consistently undercharged and would have killed the business naturally if had I continued the way I was going.
- Pride – I wasn’t proud of what I produced as a designer, and not because it wasn’t my best effort but because I undervalued my time so much that I didn’t have the time to appreciate what I produced. Undervaluing your service makes your client undervalue what you provide. The clients that I worked at rock-bottom prices for always expected more, which became very disheartening very quickly.
- Confidence – My lack of confidence when TDS was launched was frightening, not only had I started a business for the first time. I’d moved into a world I knew nothing about, I’m not a first-class designer, so didn’t promote myself as one. Had to be honest with myself about that.
During a business meeting on a client project, I met someone that was going to change the direction of 2016 for me and make me realise I needed to stop and start again. His advice gave me the confidence that with the knowledge of my mistakes, I could turn things around and do it right this time.
From the minute I met this person, I got a feeling he was going to be a positive influence in my life. The project went down the road it had to go but myself and my now fellow ‘colleague’ became really good friends. We met for lunch and coffee as friends, which always turned into mentoring sessions. As much as he gave me many points that I’ve taken on board, there was this one thing he said that changed everything for me, he said: “Vic, you need to slow down! I think you’re a great designer but based on what I’ve seen, your skills are clearly stronger in marketing the business. So with that said, find people that are better than you at what you do – the design, and you should focus on the marketing side of things”.
At first I thought he was mental but my friend Chris, now living the high life as an actor out in New York, had planted a seed and changed my business model entirely. When I design I’m submerged in the project and cant keep all the plates spinning, when the project draws to a close, I’m back to the drawing board wondering what’s happened to my jam-packed pipeline, every time.
Taking his advice onboard, I now have two extremely talented designers in my team and I love what they do. With Aileen and Morgan focusing on the design, I’m free to drive the business forward and manage my client relationships, which ultimately is what I do best and its helped me shape the business into the model I have now. (There’s also a few others in the mix that keep it all ticking over but we’ll introduce them when the times right)
Lots of love,