Creativity in my blood
I've always been creative right from childhood through school, where I focused on my studies and achieved an A* in GCSE art. I wanted to continue being creative but didn't know how this could translate into a career.
When I was studying for my GCSEs, it was arranged for me to meet the uncle of one of my ex-classmates who happened to be a graphic designer. He worked for a motion graphics company, designing title sequences for TV programmes. I spent a couple of hours in his company and learnt how varied his work is and how hard he works. The idea of making money and supporting myself by being creative sounded so exciting and exactly what I wanted to do.
While I might not go down the graphics for TV route, I wanted to do graphic design. Having started my, so far unrelenting, passion for music, maybe I could even end up designing album cover art! I’d grown up in a quiet Kent village, was desperate to leave and graphic design seemed like my ticket out into the big exciting world.
My school didn't offer graphic design at A-level so I went to college. There, I studied for a BTEC in graphic design for which I received Merit. I then went on to university and did a degree in graphic design, gaining a 2:1. University also had the added advantage of allowing me to leave home. After my studies in Cheltenham, I moved to Nottingham and started my career as a graphic designer.
My first job at a budget commercial print firm wasn't exactly the exciting, shiny design job I was hoping for as a university graduate. It was a bit of a sharp reality check but while I wasn't working for any global brands just yet I did learn a lot about getting artwork press-ready and developing relationships with clients and colleagues.
Each of the design jobs I had after that helped me learn something new and allowed me to work with different clients and different colleagues. I honed my design skills and I'm starting to build up a picture of how I think business should work for clients.
Around the time I became pregnant with my first son, I was beginning to realise that although my colleagues in the small design agency I worked with were great and I loved our clients, perhaps it was time for me to set up my own business. I was reaching a certain level of experience where I was starting to want to call the shots.
While on maternity leave, I balanced up the security of returning to full-time employment with the practicality of parenting and spending time with my new son. Unfortunately and understandably, my employers could not accommodate my return to work on a part-time basis so I resigned and set up Jen Creative.
Initially, I worked with design agencies on a freelance basis to help them overcome increased workloads and staff absence. While this was a way of making ends meet and gave me a variety of projects to work on, it didn't quite give me the autonomy I was looking for.
I looked into sourcing my own clients. I started networking and building up a client base. I also started to grow my creative network and found some exciting and reliable colleagues in related disciplines, like marketing, copywriting and PR.
Business was paused when I went on maternity leave at 38 weeks pregnant with my second child. I’m not sure it was a brilliant idea working so late into pregnancy but it gave me maximum time after my second boy arrived! I was pretty apprehensive about putting my business on ice for nine months of maternity leave.
However, that pause in work not only allowed me time with my growing family but helped me reassess my business goals. After my return to work following maternity leave I picked up again with design agencies and my clients. By the end of 2016, following my return in January of that year, work had changed to the point where I no longer needed to work with design agencies. I was able to run a viable business, supporting myself financially, just based on my own clients. What an achievement!
I love running my business my way. I can choose which clients to work with and what projects I take on. While I need to earn money to live and client deadlines need to be met, meaning I can’t work when I want, there’s certainly a much greater degree amount of freedom and flexibility over my working hours than is possible in employment. Now the boys are older and at school, they don't require as much of my time as they did as babies and toddlers but there are still appointments to fit in. I have been able to do things like go to the stay-and-play sessions at nursery and so far, have never missed a Christmas play.
It really is true that children don't stay young for long. I doubt I'd have been able to enjoy as many hours and joyful moments with my boys if I'd stayed in employment, especially as most graphic design roles demand overtime. For me, time with my children and having quality time outside of work with my partner are more important than the stability an employed job can offer.
I am showing my children that employment isn’t the only way to support yourself and your family and that you can make an income by doing something you love.
My late 30s and early 40s have been a bit of an unusual time, to say the least! I've undergone several personal crises at the same time, including the breakdown of my marriage to my boys’ dad. This all happened at the same time as the pandemic! In addition, following a series of meltdowns at my house and school, it became clear my eldest boy is probably neurodiverse. At the time of writing, he is still under assessment for autism and ADHD and we’re very close to diagnosis. I've just received my diagnosis of ADHD, as detailed in another of my blog posts. I also think my youngest son might have ADHD.
Just about every single area of my life in the last two years has transformed. It's been hard but it's all for the best as I feel my life is now more settled and authentic.
Rumbling along in the background behind all this, I was starting to feel like my Jen Creative branding wasn't an accurate representation of what my business was offering any more. I liked being called Jen Creative at the start because it felt honest. I was a freelancer working on my own, for small local businesses. People liked working with me because of my honesty, (probably another aspect of my ADHD!) However, as my client base grew and the clients I started to work with got bigger, I found myself collaborating with other creatives more regularly. For example, I worked with The RU Group alongside colleagues in PR and marketing. I sourced print from my print provider for them. What I could offer clients had got bigger than my skill set alone. Jen Creative wasn't an accurate representation anymore. It was therefore time to rethink my business strategy and branding.
It had occurred to me to turn Studio Bifrost into a traditional design agency. I realised that if I started to employ staff I would spend more time managing them than doing any actual design.
I felt really sad about that because I would no longer be fulfilling one of my ‘whys’. While I get a buzz out of winning work and running my business, I still love doing design. I still love creating something from nothing. I still love talking to clients and learning firsthand what makes their businesses tick and how I can help them achieve their objectives. I still love developing relationships with clients as we work on their projects together. I still love collaborating with other creatives and bouncing ideas off each other. I still love receiving positive feedback. I still love seeing work that I have helped create out in the wild. How can I continue to do all that, and bring my business branding up to date? What is my business if I’m not a freelancer but I don’t run a traditional design agency?
Time to do things differently
Jen Creative became Studio Bifrost in 2022. It’s a creative collective. What is that and what do we offer?
In terms of what we offer our clients, it's exactly the same as a design agency but without account handlers.
A design agency may be asked to create a branding and marketing strategy. The designers would probably be employed in-house, although they might put work out to freelancers if they’re busy. The marketing professional might not be employed in-house. The materials the design agency creates would be printed by one of their design partners. The photography for the corporate brochure is unlikely to be a skill set a traditional agency would have in-house so would probably be done by one of their photography partners.
At Studio Bifrost, we can call on collaborators just like design agencies do. In addition, we are not restricted by calling on a pool of employed staff to work on a creative brief. We can select the right person in our network of trusted collaborators for each project. This means every project is produced by experienced creatives who are enthusiastic about the work.
Studio Bifrost is me recognising my 20 years of experience as a graphic designer. It’s in recognition of my network of colleagues I trust to deliver excellent work in fields such as illustration, PR, copywriting, marketing, and more. It’s in recognition that the quality of work we put out is as good as any design agency out there. Here’s to the next 20 years!
A partnership made in heaven?
Feeling inspired? We'd love to help! We are a team of collaborators that enjoy nothing more than partnering with ambitious clients. Get in touch if you'd like to talk through your next project or get some advice.