We caught up with Gillian Reidy, Director and Designer at Penhouse and Designs on Growth graduate. Take five with Gillian to learn a little bit more about how her award-winning brand and design consultancy Penhouse came about, her experience on the Designs on Growth programme and how it benefited her design business’ growth.
1. You create logos and design brand identities for a variety of clients, but what is your go-to sector?
Generally, the businesses we work with have a similar personality rather than a defined sector, and our customers span across the private sector and State bodies. We love working with colour and businesses with upbeat personality in their brand communications. This tone of voice sits particularly well with consumer-led businesses such as tourism, youth and food & drink sectors. In recent years, the areas of heritage and biodiversity feature largely in our portfolio too.
2. You started off solo and now work with a team of three other creatives. What are the pros and challenges of running a business with a small team?
Definite pros of working with my crew are the friendship and good company as we work together each day and have done for many years – hugely important for bouncing ideas, sharing highs and supporting through the lows.
Sometimes challenges can arise with our size if we get an influx of job confirmations together but we have a good solid team – each of us knows our role well and we are very good at scheduling, so while stressful, we generally manage it well! Because our team is small, and we are all hugely experienced, we don’t have to take on jobs we don’t like just to pay the bills; instead, we can be selective with the jobs we do take on. This has allowed us to carve a lovely range of clients for ourselves.
On a personal note, I really like to design and in previous years when we had more staff, I had less time for design. It’s a lovely balance now.
3. You founded Penhouse more than 20 years ago and have worked on award-winning projects with many high-profile clients. What aspects of the business did you want to improve when you enrolled for Designs on Growth?
Actually, we’re 26 years in business – a party is long overdue! Our business has evolved and grown organically over the years. We have always tended to make decisions and change systems off the cuff based on circumstances at the time.
While we plan and strategise for many of our clients, we have never formalised any long-term strategies for ourselves, or used automated systems as such. Imposter syndrome is always hovering, regardless of the many achievements and success stories we can tell! I was keen to learn how we might improve our systems, rate how we are doing things currently and learn how we can do better.
4. What impact has the completion of the Designs on Growth programme had on the way you manage your business?
I learned a lot about our business. Some areas we do really well and others we need to improve on. I definitely have more confidence in us as a business following the course. We added some new systems which have hugely improved our customer management, and pipeline consideration. We are better at reviewing the business now at a glance, rather than deep diving to understand it.
5. What were your key takeaways from the Designs on Growth programme and how have you implemented them into your practice?
We introduced a new finance and customer management system. This has made a big difference to the admin and management side of the business. In addition, I was introduced to Jeannette and a really lovely group of fellow designers on the course and we had some great tips and support for each other. The greatest return on investment was a reaffirmed confidence in the business and renewed excitement for growth.
6. Would you recommend the programme to others and why?
Yes. Especially if you are questioning confidence or reviewing business admin improvements. It offered me huge support in understanding my style of management and moulding that for the betterment of our business – using the additional skill sets and business supports provided through the course.
7. What advice would you give to someone who is starting their design business from scratch?
Stick to what you love and the work will keep coming. Always put a bit of money to one side for the rainy days. Be humble, be helpful and be nice. It’s hard to remember this one but try to enjoy the quiet times… it will be busy again soon enough.
8. Where do you find your inspiration?
This changes all the time. I am always looking ahead, for the new. I am addicted to everyday designs I see online or on my travels. My go-to inspirations come from clever packaging, a good emboss, a beautiful paper, a great illustration, a stunning mural, a stylish handbag, whacky wallpaper and the latest designer that passes my radar.
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