Having your own brand, or building your own business tends to be a priority nowadays for most creative people; a way to get yourself out there, feel empowered and set yourself and what you can do, apart from the rest. With the added rise of #girlbosses, the media is full of motivations to get started and go for it, but where on Earth do you start? We spoke to Jessica Hogarth, the surface pattern designer and founder of Jessica Hogarth Design’s, about how she went from working in an in-house design placement in Manchester, to setting up her own business back home in Yorkshire.
After graduating from Leeds College of Art, Jessica went on to exhibit at the New Designer Exhibition in London, “I loved exhibiting at New Designers. In a way it was a little sad as it marked the end of university life, but it was exciting to be down in London showcasing my work to the public and industry professionals.” There she was offered an in-house design job, which for graduates in the creative industry is the best first step you can ask for. However, these jobs don’t always go well and for Jessica that was exactly the case, as much as the experience was great, this is where she realised being in freelance and working for herself was the path she was supposed to take, “I had a full time job, but I was very unhappy in it. I did look at applying for jobs elsewhere but at the time, starting my business seemed like a less daunting option than potentially going to work in another job where I might not be happy. This gave me the drive to really want to make my own freelance career work.” With a passion and a new direction in her sights, Jessica began her new journey, “I started utilising social media straight away, and I was fortunate to already have a basic website in place so I just started working hard, networking with people online and following up with freelance contacts I had made either at my graduate exhibition or on placements I had undertaken. I got a couple of good freelance jobs early on which gave me the confidence to continue and work even harder, but there are always set backs. Someone may email about a collaboration that never comes in to fruition, and this still happens today, but don’t let that deter you.”
Obstacles are just a way of life, and for big adventures and risks like setting up your own business, it’s important to prepare yourselves. Factor in that they will come along, and you will have to jump over them; nothing is ever smooth sailing now, is it? For Jessica, a big hurdle of hers was getting people to collaborate with and contacting new people to get your work out there, which can seem extremely daunting, but she left us this advice with plenty tips and tricks, “Keep it professional and do your research before contacting a person or company. I once received an email that was titled as ‘URGENT’ and then the message started with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ which really annoyed me. Put together a low res PDF consisting of a bit of information and some images, and email that to a potential client – or include a clickable link to where they can see your work online. People are busy and need as much info as possible available at the click of a button. It’s ok to do a follow-up email or phone call, but wait a couple of weeks or so, so you don’t look pushy.”
So where do you start? What are the first things to think of and set up when it comes to building your business? For Jessica the beginning wasn’t easy, but it was because of this that she learned quickly the do’s and don’t’s and in particular what to factor in first, “There are so many things that need to be taken in to consideration when setting up a business. For the first two years I worked incredibly long days (and nights) getting it off the ground. Launching some greetings cards and designing on a freelance basis sounds like it’s quite simple, but there is so much work that goes into even just getting cards printed. I think figuring out pricing and trade terms was one of the biggest things at the start, and sourcing manufacturers that could print the number of units I was looking to have produced, but at a price point that worked for wholesale and retail.”
When it came to talking about the obstacles she has had to overcome, naturally, she had a few “I have had print runs go wrong where thousands of cards have had to be returned just days before the deadline set by my buyer. My work has been plagiarised on a couple of occasions and dealing with that, particularly the first time was time consuming and stressful.” This is where it’s important to not lose hope, some things will go wrong, but nothing stays wrong and the end product will make it oh-so worth it.
For lots of graduates, because of the current employment issues, many are looking towards setting up their own company, so to come straight from university this can definitely seem daunting, especially as the change in pace of work, will be exceptionally high, we asked Jessica for some advice for other young graduates, seeking to do the same and she had, “Be prepared to work hard and think about what you want to achieve. If you want to sell a product, research places to get that printed, or where you could perhaps showcase that work to shop buyers (i.e. a trade show). Don’t worry if progress seems slow to begin with, it really does take time to build up a brand. You will need to wear a number of ‘hats’. Tax returns need doing every year and I do all of my own marketing as well as of course all of the design work and liaising with manufacturers for the wholesale side of the business. It’s a good idea to write some kind of business plan, even if it’s just for your own use. Local councils often have grants available, which you could obtain to set up, as, if you are planning on selling a product there is without doubt going to be some kind of financial outlay but you get any form of return.”
Finally, Jessica leaves us with, what the most important lesson she has learnt from creating her own brand has been, to set yourself apart from the rest and go it on your own, “You must have a unique style! Don’t fall in to the trap of copying what is already out there. Yes, we are all in some way influenced by trends whether it’s icons that are popular right now or certain colour combinations; but make sure your work has a point of difference. There are a lot of talented creatives out there, you need to offer something unique, that people can only get from you.”
To all business-building seekers out there, good luck!
Go check out Jessica’s work here.
Words by Krista Morten.
Photography by Ceri Oakes.