Design Room – A Transform Journey
21st May, 2018
Sally and Emma, who have been friends since school, run Design Room – a creative studio based on the Roseland Peninsula, that develops lifestyle branding and photography for businesses.
The business offers design services and commercial photography for a wide variety of businesses – Design Room has worked on projects such as The Great Cornish Fish Book and for clients like the Hidden Hut.
The business was formed in 2011, when Sally and Emma decided to join forces and take the plunge to start their own business from a home studio in Emma’s back garden. In the last two years, the business has moved to a new office to Chenoweth Business Park and created an inspiring space which includes a product photography set-up.
When they enquired about business coaching with Transform they were referred quickly to Oxford Innovation coach Martin Williams, who has been in marketing for more than 20 years in roles such as Brand Manager for LEGO. Martin moved to Cornwall to join the Eden Project as Sales and Marketing Director, where he helped develop its marketing, understand its audience and clarify its proposition. Since leaving Eden, he has worked as a freelance marketing strategy advisor with local and national clients including the Caravan Club, Skinner’s Brewery and a major Hollywood studio. He now focuses on delivering business coaching for Oxford Innovation.
“One of the difficulties of running a small business is that you run everything. You wear all the hats and you run out of time and energy. It’s not exclusive to design, it’s just business. Martin understands the company very well from all our discussions over the last 18 months, and he got a feel very quickly for the personality of the business and type of work we do. Sometimes you need that outside person to tell you who you are as a company. Knowing what to say is hard. Am I overselling myself or underselling? So, somebody talking about your business with an outside perspective really helps.”
“We’re quite guilty of getting on with client work and not paying attention to our own matters, which has changed hugely. We’d see our own stuff as a waste of time, like writing a blog post, it was always last on the list. By the time you get there you can’t be bothered, you run out of energy.”
“We’ve got the combination of a designer and photographer here, and the work they did on the Great Cornish Fish Book project is a great example of what happens when those two talents come together. Sally and Emma do really well at selling that Cornish lifestyle which is something we’ve spotted, as well as how good they are at getting personality out of a brand.”
– Martin Williams
Sally and Emma have been working to refine their portfolio and be more selective with the projects they take on as their client base has grown, to continue to attract their ideal demographic. But having a portfolio full of the lifestyle brands that are initially more artistic can be habitual, so Sally and Emma have taken on more industrial businesses to give a brand story and new imagery to their business.
“The main goal is letting a brand’s personality shine; every project worked on is individual and everybody has their different style. One of our strengths is being able to draw out personality and warmth from a brand where the subject has been quite ‘everyday’.”
They’ve recently worked on a project rebranding a company that makes concrete blocks from a quarry, which may initially seem like a dry subject for a creative team to work on. Sally’s photography, however, has managed to inspire a new perspective for the business and with that angle, Design Room has created something inspiring and visually striking.
“Martin suggested not to go for the obvious lifestyle brands. We’ve since worked with lots more industrial clients like builders, plumbers and concrete manufacturers, which we never would have been open to before, but we’ve applied the same process and got really good results.
Their branding was age old. They’ve got a large team, branded lorries going around, and uniforms with logos on. There’s now a real feeling of pride and belonging for their team, everything’s uniform, it’s identifiable and modern. The general feedback is that they’re very proud to wear the uniform and be a part of the new brand. Branding makes a difference and it’s so much more than just a logo.
We also worked with a plumbing company in Redruth who needed a new website, and they decided to have a bespoke, full photography session and really smarten it up. Their competitors have very basic websites with just a phone number, but it’s now more people-focused, and it means they now really stand out from their competition, who in comparison just use stock imagery of pipes. It’s not an obvious choice but it’s quite satisfying to complete a project like that.”
“There are two audiences for projects like that. There’s the external audience for that company, but there’s also their own internal audience. How those people who work in a quarry feel about the business being represented in the way that Design Room have done can make another layer of difference to the outcome of rebranding. Sally and Emma are both very talented in their own rights, but then you combine the two and create something special.”
– Martin Williams
Having a versatile portfolio shows how they can work for different brands but apply the same level of talent and technique to their design strategy, and draw identity from any business they work with. Their styles are naturally different as they work with different creative media, but pulled together creates their own brand identity for their business.
Photography is a crucial part of the service they offer and adds a new depth to the work they deliver. Sally has won a ‘Contributions to Celtic Culture’ award for her photography, for a personal project of collecting 100 portraits to show the ‘Face of Modern Cornwall’.
Sally and Emma maintain a strong relationship working together, which is known as being quite difficult for personal friends to achieve. But they have a strong working dynamic, and share the same goals and vision for the business.
“We’re both on the same page and agree on the direction of the business. In terms of the future, we both know this isn’t a business we’re building up to sell. It’s our life and we need to make it work for us. We do it because we love it!”
“We both want the same out of the business. The ambition for us lies in the projects that we want to do.”
They’re currently working on pitching to the right clients. In the early days they were undervaluing themselves, but it was a way to build their portfolio and do the smaller budget projects that they wanted to while earning at the same time. Now it’s about attracting the right people, as they have the portfolio, their pricing structure and a solid idea of who they want to work with.
“We’ve found since working with Martin, re-writing our website and re-organising ourselves, that the enquiries we’re getting are of a different quality, so it’s obviously working for us. They sound more like ‘we’ve seen your portfolio, we really want to work with you’ rather than ‘you’re a bit cheaper and I only have a small budget’! It’s been hard to quantify, but there’s been a definite shift and the ‘cheap as chips’ enquiries are few and far between now. People see the value in what we do, which has come from the website.”
Design Room commissioned a copywriter to write about the business, which allowed them to walk in their clients’ shoes a little bit. Martin also gave them an exercise of creating a brief for their own company, which gave them a new perspective of their business, helping them to refresh the look on content of their website.
“There’s value in the briefing process. They’re very used to receiving briefs, so having to write one of their own for their company, and let someone else respond to it invites a new perspective. Having to stop and think and write about Design Room is a valuable exercise. It evaluates who their customers are and their objectives.”
– Martin Williams
Coaching has allowed them to manage time away from the projects they’re bringing in, to focus on the business, their direction, ideas and ambition they have for the future of Design Room. As well as their sessions with Martin, they now actively make time for their business, which they didn’t do before.
“We had such a ‘heads down’ attitude, and we were always busy which was great, but not moving forward. We wanted to attract clients and get new jobs. We now make time to focus on the business and keep things refreshed and moving forward. We set aside time every week to think about the business or do something for us – a blog post, take photos, or go for a walk. It takes the act of blocking out that time to realise that you do have time, you just fill it with loads of jobs. That’s been so helpful. It’s getting into that habit of having time to focus on us, and it’s amazing what we can get done.”