Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
K – I graduated from the University of Salford in 2008 with a Product Design degree. I basically walked out the door of the university building and stepped into a massive pit that was the recession. Fed up of ignored emails and unreturned phone calls to my local design companies I decided for a new tact. I decided to take an internship abroad. I worked at a Design & Advertising Agency in Amsterdam for 6 months, which was the most amazing experience. 6 months of cycling around the beautiful city, finding new talents and friends along the way. This then opened the door for an Internship in New York with a Creative Branding studio who changed my whole perception of what I was capable of. After this I’ve worked in agencies across the UK, in the most recent is where I met Sally, my now business partner. We worked together so well, sparking ideas back and forth, that we decided it was about time that we etched out our own path.
S – I took a similar path to Kim, studying Fashion Design at Salford University. My time at Salford was quite rocky, and although I enjoyed the course in many ways, after facing some personal challenges I found myself re-evaluating my career path before I had even finished the course. I left Uni, like many others, feeling quite lost and confused about what to do next. It took me a few years of working in shops, bars and doing some serious soul searching before I found the confidence and direction I need to begin a career in the creative industry.
I started, like Kim, by taking on a couple of internships, working for Manchester design agencies such as Cahoona Digital. Seeing how the designers worked, and experiencing the team’s enthusiasm for new projects gave me the insight and inspiration I needed to further my creative skills, so I enrolled on a three month course in Graphic Design at Shillington College. I found this course to be exactly what I needed and it not only gave me this skills I needed but also greatly improved my confidence. After Shillington I found myself a placement with Play who were a digital design studio based in Manchester, this placement gave me a great insight into digital design and sparked my interest in app design and UX. For the next year or so I worked on freelance projects, a mix of print design, digital design and branding and found a couple of nice small business to work with, one of which Kim and I still work with today. In 2014 I joined a small digital agency who were then called Tariff Street, I was there first employee and only designer. I worked closely with the four developers (who were also the directors) to produce websites, apps, and software, and learnt a lot from them in the process. After a year of working with Tariff Street I brought in Kim to freelance on a large project. Straight away we found working together to be enjoyable and easy, and as time went on we developed a working relationship that encouraged and inspired each other’s creativity, and we’ve never really looked back.
Kim and Sally are the founders of Off Grid.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
K – We love what we do, but I think there is only so long that you can create for someone else. We were at the point that we wanted a say over who we worked with, and how. We needed to work with people who were using their skills and ideas to create something good for the world in some way, however small. We had to believe in them too.
S – After spending a few years working in the city and commuting every day, we wanted to escape the rat race. We would follow people on instagram that were travelling around, working remotely and meeting lovely people as they went. Kim and I are both from rural parts of Cheshire and missed the countryside and although we love being designers we felt we were better suited to a more active ‘outdoorsy’ sort of lifestyle. With this is mind we set out to combine our love of design with our need to be more active and enjoy our surroundings.
What do you think the are most important issues for developing your company culture?
K – Talking. Keep talking to each other. Sally and I make time as often as we can to go out walking somewhere, or for a coffee to sit and run through what we’re doing and how that aligns with the company that we set out to be. It’s too easy to get busy and forget to look up sometimes.
S – Staying small is also really important to us. We like that we can choose the projects that we work on, and make sure we are working with people that we share interests with, and have similar values too. When you’re working on projects that you feel passionate about with people that you enjoy spending time with, it doesn’t feel much like work at all. We are also firm believers that every studio should have at least one dog.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a women in business?
K – I’m not sure whether the problem is our gender, or our personality, but as two fairly reserved women, we’d often feel, that we don’t come across strong enough, or capable enough. We’re never going to be the loudest people in a room, but we will be the ones that are actually listening and inevitably will be the ones to deliver a result for a happy client. It’s getting people to trust us as a new agency that has been our biggest challenge so far.
S – It can feel quite daunting as two young women trying to break into a business that is still dominated by men. However, we have been lucky so far that we have met a lot of very friendly and open minded people who have been extremely helpful and welcoming to us. I like to think that being an entirely female agency gives us an edge, and a different perspective that allows us to see creative challenges from a new angle.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
K – Starting a business is hard. Walking away from a stable, full time, well paid job just seemed nuts. People even told us we were crazy. But what’s the point in life if we’re always just going to play it safe? As women, we tend to look for the safest option, maybe it’s in our nature.
S – Design has been quite a male dominated role in the past, I think that’s changing now and more women are breaking into the tech industry too, which will hopefully mean there will be a more women starting up new agencies in the future.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
K – At the beginning, we reached out to a few other people we knew who had started their own agency. One of which was my boss from when I was in New York. She’d started that agency over 10 years ago – and without her advice and absolute faith that she knew I’d be able to do it – I would have found it much tougher. Ladies like her are invaluable.
We did speak to She Says Manchester who put us in touch with a mentor. We met with her and she offered some great tips, but seemed to think we had it all sussed!
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
K – More support would always be welcome! Often you don’t really know what help you need until you hit across a problem!
What other female founders inspire you?
K – My old boss that I mentioned; Judy Welfare from We Are Plus in New York.
S – When we were starting out my boyfriend bought me ‘In the company of women’ by Grace Bonney, a book brimming with inspirational women who are running their own business and following their dreams. A great read for anyone looking for inspiration when going it alone.
What do you think makes a great agency?
S – Plenty of tea, the occasional cake, celebratory gin when you win a pitch, and an office dog to give you a hug when you’re feeling stressed.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
K – When that first thought of ‘What If…?’ enters your head, hold onto it, nurture it and believe in it.
S – Be yourself. Be nice, work hard, and be honest, and people will want to work with you.