Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Krishna Solanki, Digital Designer.  I work part-time as a Senior Digital Designer at a SME based in Fenstaton, Cambridge, and I also run my own branding and website design business – Krishna Solanki Designs – where I work with small businesses and startups to build strong brands and beautiful websites.  I have a little toddler that keeps me busy and a wonderful supportive husband. I love pizza, and am attracted to all things bright and colorful.  I can be a little quiet at times but am equally loud and crazy.

What’s your background/career path?

I’ve always been naturally creative from a very young age.  I thought keeping the creative side of me as a hobby was a good idea and so I studied Business Information Systems at university.  This was working out well until I aced a website design and development module as part of my second year.  After my industrial placement, I realised I couldn’t just let my love for designing and developing websites lay low so I finished my degree and over the summer of 2005 I taught myself XHTML and CSS3, which was all the rage back then!

After applying to almost every London company, as all London design agencies were either looking for a design related degree, or previous agency experience, neither of which I had, I managed to secure a position as an Assistant Web Master at a Satellite communications company, all along the same time as trying to gain more experience and creating websites for small local businesses that needed a web presence. That’s when I decided to set up a small freelance business at the same time as well as working full-time.

The only issue was I had no idea how to progress with the freelance business so it never took off successfully and I ended up letting it die a slow death until recently.  At this point I was also writing design related articles and had built a following via Twitter, but again, no formal business.

Tell me about your agency.

I don’t particularly think of myself as an agency – I used to, but I felt like I always tried to make my business much more than it was. As my business is a “one-woman-band” I don’t consider it to be an agency, but rather a small branding and design business.  To me this means I can add my personality to my brand and business without appearing to be bigger than I am or giving off that impression.  I like to provide a personal approach to my projects as I feel it helps me connect with my clients and their requirements.

My passion for design is to create strong branding and useable, beautiful, websites for small businesses and startups.  Being able to help, advise and create the whole package for a new business is what I love to.  This is why I started Krishna Solanki Designs as I believe I can help all those new businesses, those freelancers who want to take that step to professionalise their business, and make their creative mark in the industry they are part of.

What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?

From the moment, I left university I knew I wanted to start my own business.  I just didn’t know how anyone would trust someone with just a passion for design without any “proper” experience.  I designed and built a website that wowed but I needed clients, and so started working full-time and in the meantime built up my freelance client base.  I also didn’t know how to officially set up a business or who to turn to and ask.  Where did these people hang out?  Who am I looking for? What do I do?

Since then, I have deliberately kept my business as a “side hustle”.  Most recently I have realised I love being able to keep it as a side hustle as I love being able to work on the larger projects, that I find can only be found as an in-house designer – for example, creating the UX and UI for a mobile app.

Being able to keep my passion for creating brands and websites strictly as my side hustle, gives me the best of both worlds.  I not only get variety in types of design projects, I also get variety in terms of clients as well.

What do you think the are most important issues for developing your company culture?

My company culture is grounded by personality, open communication with my clients, industry peers, and transparency in my process.  I think this just makes life as a small business owner easier.  Plus it builds trust and I think that’s such an important aspect.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a women in business?

From the moment, I left university and started training myself, I realised it was a very male dominated industry – or what felt like that!  Every company I have worked for my peers were always male so I always felt like I was “one of the boys” – which was great really but didn’t fill me with confidence when I aspired to have more than just a 9-5 job as I couldn’t or didn’t find any females that I aspired to “be like”.

I think this then made me feel like my struggle was harder.  That didn’t stop me though, I was determined to make it happen and so I ploughed through and carried on working both the 9-5 and the ungodly hours to build my side hustle in my own way.

Now, I feel so much more confident in myself, my abilities and my business because I have gained those years of experience, struggled to learn the hard way and come out happier the other side.

The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share you thoughts on this?

My initial thoughts are “really?” – its only 27%.. especially in this day and age? – I would have thought there would be more female agency owners.  However, saying that, deep down, I don’t think I’m really that shocked at the figure. It’s disappointing but speaking from my own experience I know I never found the “right time” or guidance to set up properly.  And now, now, I’m content with my set up.

I’ve always found there has had to be a choice – either career or family, especially as a woman. You either progress with your career, or your family. It’s difficult to have both, but I refuse to let that really be the case. I want it all. And so working hard, proving to myself I can have it all.

Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?

I don’t have a mentor, and nope, I’m not part of an agency owner community.  And if I’m honest, I didn’t even think such things existed. I’ve heard of a few networking communities but they didn’t suit my situation – side hustling and part time with a demanding toddler and family commitments, so I always took 1 step forward and 2 steps back.

Over the last 1-2 years I have found a few wonderful industry peers who have set up on their own.  One of them (Nesha Woolery) help designers to streamline their business and turn their passion into profitable businesses.

I’ve learnt, and am learning, how to continue doing that with my business, with the aim to keep it as a side hustle.

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?

Currently I feel I am able to learn sufficiently from them, and I do receive a good level of support when I reach out.  However, I am not sure if I took that next step to make my small business into a full time career, I would know where to go, or if I would be looking in the right place.

So, to answer the question, yes I would need additional support and although I am confident in thinking my current “go-to” would definitely help and provide the support, they may not be suitable as majority of them are American or in a different industry.

What other female founders inspire you?

Nesha Woolery – She helps brand and website designers streamline their systems, find more clients and get booked out.

I have learnt a great deal from Nesha, who is UK based.  I actually admired Neshas work from the very early days of my side hustling freelance career, and then crossed paths with her (online) more recently.  It was on the more recent encounter that I realised she has created a wonderful Facebook Group Community that is full of helpful advice and individuals.

What do you think makes a great agency?

  • Passion for doing what you love
  • Commitment to achieving the best solution to the clients’ problems/concerns.
  • Open communication
  • Process transparency
  • Politeness
  • Being genuine
  • Trustworthy
  • Giving credit where credit is due.

What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?

In the words of Nike – Just do it.

Whatever it is that you want to do, be brave, stay focused, work hard, think positively, surround yourself with supportive people and believe in yourself.