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 companies 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 – Lloyds TSB was just one of the brands I worked on – but when my son Jake was born 16 years ago, the commute became unbearable. I’d be away from 5.30 in the morning to after eight at night and I’d hardly see him.
So I decided to set up my own branding agency down the lane from my home in Upper Froyle, a village near Winchester and not far from where I grew up. I called the business Wag Design, after the enthusiastic greetings my old dog [NAME?] would give me.
I’ve had to make some compromises, but when I can drop my son off at school and go for a run before work, I’m happy that my work-life balance is about right.
I made sure not to take clients from my former employers but most of Wag’s early accounts were London-based or international companies, including Knight Frank, Deutsche Bank and Jaguar. As time went on, they were replaced by more local clients; big clients want to work with someone around the corner and I got fed up spending a whole day going to London for one meeting.
Out of town clients are more spread out and have smaller budgets but I enjoy the freedom of working with more agile businesses.
I can have greater affect and keep artistic control by looking after a brand through the whole development process. I love it when a business grows and meets its potential with my help, seeing the effect of changing from a logo drawn by someone’s brother-in-law 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 I hardly pitch for anything, I just make a proposal based on my previous work and the decision is made, based on that.
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 enjoy the countryside; as well as adders, sometimes I can’t hear myself talk with the noise the rooks make on the roof. Clients bring dogs to the office for meetings and I have much more time for riding and sailing.
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 window and watch it approach. I can enjoy the seasons, more than in London.
People think we’re cut off in the country but Hampshire is far from isolated. We’re in a very small village but we have excellent rail and road connections and, after applying a little pressure to BT, we also have fibre broadband too.
A little isolation has its advantages though; at lunchtime I can go for a run in the countryside and if I need some creative thinking time I can step out of the door and walk for an hour.
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, your clients expect you to do everything: from creating a new logo to a directed 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 for my clients.