- What are the chief challenges that design businesses come to you with?
In the design sector, there are a number of issues.
Firstly, a lack of a clear target market, design businesses tend to take the work that arrives.
Secondly, not enough work is flowing through the pipeline or rather an inconsistency of work. Some months companies are overwhelmed, while other months, they have little activity.
Thirdly, recruiting and developing junior and middle-level designers to add value quickly is challenging. Creating time to work on the business as distinct from working in the business is a big hurdle.
- How has the running of design businesses changed in recent times?
The past few years have been very difficult for many industries, and the design industry has felt the impact less predictably. Some businesses have grown significantly while others have been exposed to impacted sectors and have found themselves needing to adapt, find a new client base, and are now offering new services.
The challenge of recruiting, training and leading teams has also become amplified, as it’s challenging to replicate the learning experience of a studio environment and immerse new employees in company culture. Having said this, design and creative businesses have come up with innovative ways of engaging their team through virtual team building that has helped to improve communication and team engagement.
Since teams have started to return to the office, even in a hybrid way, there is greater communication and collaboration, which allows for intense team working in the office and intense, focused work when working remotely. We may not have imagined this way of working a few years ago, but people have settled into it, and most prefer the work-life balance it gives.
- What are your tips regarding finding the balance between working on your business while participating in the programme?
The programme is designed so that it is quick and simple to implement. It is a practical course that helps Design focused Business Owners take a step back from the day to day demands of client work and focus on themselves.
In any business, I would encourage the business owner to spend as much time as possible working on their business and not in it. In the design business, the challenge is to carve out 10-20% of your time to invest in strategy execution. The participation in the programme is 5% of your time per month – 1 day to reflect, think and plan and then ideally a minimum of 1 other day of time per month spread out over the course of the month.
- Your Designs on Growth programme comprises five workshops over a six-month period, each covering a different topic. Which ones do you expect will strike the loudest chord?
Setting financial goals – and managing the financials monthly, to ensure these goals are met – is usually met with a eureka moment. Once the group gets clear on this and if they have the right sense of purpose and drive, they typically take off like a rocket. I also promote a profit-first approach, which means leaders focus on making a profit and protecting their businesses into the future.
In addition, creatives are great at facilitating workshops with clients around their marketing and messaging needs but rarely apply it to their own businesses. They are less clear about their own target audiences. But once they get up to speed on this, they attract a steady flow of clients who love their work, and build great relationships that sustain their businesses.
- The 2022 programme will be run primarily online. What are the benefits of this format?
The Pros of running the Designs on Growth online the past few years were that participants from other parts of the country could join and we had a wider mix of backgrounds in the cohort. It also worked better around the schedule of busy professionals. In 2020 & 2021, we had participants all over the country. This is the beauty of remote workshops; they really remove any barrier to entry from the perspective of travel and time. In addition, it really has not had an impact on the learning, networking or interaction of the groups.
I still like to introduce an offline aspect to the programme so that people can meet and collaborate together and there will be one module scheduled to be in person this year.
- One of the modules covers ‘team’. How is this relevant for a participant who doesn’t have a team?
If you don’t have a team, the module will help you weigh the pros and cons of growing a team in the future, enlighten you about the challenges that might come with managing a team and question if it will help you grow your business.
The module will help you strengthen the relationship with your ecosystem doubling as your team eg: subcontractors, etc.
- Should both members of a team join in the programme or just one and relay the content to the rest of the team?
We totally encourage business owners to take this programme. If they have a business partner or team member they collaborate with closely it really benefits both to take part as the buy-in from both parties allows change and improvement to happen quickly as the areas for improvement can be divided up between the two participants making it easier to implement change and see the improvements. In the past, we have had businesses with two and three principles participate at the same time, it had a really positive impact on the business.
- What are the benefits of taking up the course in comparison to other training? Can you give us examples?
The course is sector-specific, tailored to design business
I have had the chance of working with many design businesses outside of the Designs on Growth programme, which has given me an excellent insight into the day-to-day operations of a design business. We are highly aware of the challenges they face in delivering excellent outcomes for their clients while securing sustainable commercial outcomes. The course will address how to find this balance.
The course is bespoke to your business with one to one coaching support
The benefits of the follow up one to one coaching sessions are the that the participant has the opportunity to ask questions that deepens their understanding and ability to implement the educational content, they have the opportunity to develop action plans for implementation of what they have learned in their business and in addition that have an opportunity to brainstorm with someone who has deep sectoral and business knowledge as well as a genuine interest in them and their business.
The format of the course is highly flexible
The course is highly flexible and each module will be adapted to respond to each participant’s specific business needs as well as the cohort needs. We also try to work around people’s work schedules, as much as possible.
The peer learning aspect
Participants benefit from the peer learning aspect often turned into long end peer support and collaborations, not competition. All participants said they enjoy hearing from the other business owners about their challenges and learning how to overcome them and helping each other find solutions.
The course is business-focused.
Our objective is to work with the programme’s participants to ensure that they understand their business well, that they can identify what is holding them back from achieving the outcomes they expect from themselves and their businesses. We do this by taking them through a structured business analysis process. We review all aspects of the business and diagnose the strengths that we can capitalise on and the weaknesses that need to be addressed.
Guaranteed growth outcome (revenue, team)
Turning original underperforming processes into efficient internal processes leads to more efficient companies with higher output capacity. The outcome is a business owner who has improved business skills and knowledge which results in an improvement in business performance and increased sales and profits. These outcomes also have the benefit of growing the confidence of the business owner in their own vision and skills which in turn leads to growth in the team and in the business. Over the past year, we achieved a significant change in the fortunes of the businesses ranging from setting financial targets, implementing an accounting package, rebranding the business, putting a business development strategy in place and recruiting to free up the time of the business owners, extensively growing the team from 2 to 6, moving to a larger office to becoming a multi-award-winning Design Agency with an enviable track record and client list. The ultimate measure of success was a 250% increase in turnover.
- How did you get into business coaching?
I’ve always been passionate about helping people in my career. I studied Law at university, which was a great foundation degree. However, it wasn’t for me. So I kicked off my graduate career in recruitment in London. I was good at it and I really enjoyed it so much I stayed in the sector for 12 years. Then in 2011, I was approached to help a coaching firm build their team. It was my first exposure to the industry, and from the moment I learned about the impact it had on the clients’ businesses and lives, I was hooked. I knew I wasn’t going to just recruit and build the team but become part of the team. I absolutely love my work. I get so much joy from seeing the transformations within the companies I work with. Being part of a successful transformation is the best reward I can get.
- What do you think is the most underrated asset for a leader/manager?
The most underrated leadership skill is listening – hearing what is said, reflecting, and responding appropriately. A measured response will usually lead to a more productive outcome for the leader and their team. I also think the ability to be objective is highly underrated; of taking oneself out of the business to look at the bigger picture. Taking time out – say, 10 to 15 per cent of your total schedule – to reflect and plan, can really help drive teams and businesses forward.
Find out how Design Skillnet can help you become more creative, human-centred, and impactful within your organisation.