If you’ve ever had a client run out of a meeting because a baby adder glided into your office, there are bats in the rafters or you get snowed in occasionally, then you’re probably working out of town.
I started my career in design 25 years ago, working for some of the best branding agencies in central London; but I’m a country girl at heart so when my circumstances changed I took the plunge, set up my own business in rural Hampshire and I haven’t regretted a moment, despite the natural hazards.
London was exciting, educational and great for my career – LloydsTSB was just one of the brands I looked after – but when my son Jake was born 16 years ago, the commute became hard. I’d be away from 5.30 in the morning to after eight at night and I’d hardly see him.
I decided to set up my own branding agency down the lane from my home in Upper Froyle, a village on the Hampshire/Surrey Border near Farnham and not far from where I grew up. I called the business Wag Design, after the enthusiastic greetings my loyal dog Archie would give everyone.
I’ve had to make some compromises, but when I can drop my son off at college and go for a run before work, I’m happy that my work-life balance is about right.
Most of Wag’s early accounts were London-based or international companies, including Knight Frank, Deutsche Bank, More London and Jaguar. As time went on, they were replaced by more local clients; as I realised my passion lay with helping SME’s grow their brand identities.
I can have greater affect on the growth of a company by looking after a brand through the whole development process, so several clients keep me on a retainer enabling consistency of their brand throughout all communications. I love it when a business grows and meets its potential with my help, seeing the effect of changing from a stand alone logo to a professionally designed brand.
A change of pitch
There’s a lot more competition in London and I used to spend much of my time and energy pitching to clients. It’s a very expensive and time consuming process but out of town, decisions are made based on my previous work and a proposal is created from there.
Working for a number of smaller clients in a month instead of on an eight-week project is also much better for my cash flow!
An office with a view
I work from a studio in a converted barn at the bottom of my lane. It has fantastic views over the East Hampshire countryside and whenever I see a storm in the distance, I love to stand by the glass doors and watch it approach. I enjoy the seasons, I enjoy the countryside; as well as the occasional adder, sometimes I can’t hear myself talk with the noise the jackdaws make in the roof rafters. Clients love the feel of the space and enjoy visiting and I have much more time for work with less time spent on the train and also more time for sailing!
People think we’re cut off in the country but the Surrey/Hampshire border is far from isolated. We’re in a small village but we have excellent direct rail connections to London and road connections via the A31 and the nearby M3 and, after applying a little pressure to BT, we also have fibre broadband too.
A little isolation has its advantages though; at lunchtime if I need some creative thinking time I can step out of the door and walk to bluebell woods or the viewpoint on the hill.
If you’re thinking of moving out of town…
My one piece of advice if you’re thinking of making the move is to network; if you’re sitting on your own you need to get out and meet people. I go to several local networking groups to meet potential clients as well as other creative people I can work with.
When you run an out-of-town design agency, you produce everything: from creating a new logo to a direct mail campaign. Having creative contacts to help out is great, and just because you’re a small, out-of-town business, you don’t have to look like one.
That’s as true for Wag as it is for my clients.