My decade of design

WRITTEN BY: ALISON JOSHI, FOUNDER OF JWJ DESIGN

10 years ago Catherine and William got married, Steve Jobs passed away and Adele was top of the charts. It was also the year I stepped away from full time employment and set up my own business. 

My business has so far survived a global pandemic, maternity leave – twice over, relocating out of London and raising a young family!

 

Alison Joshi from JWJ Design

 

Where it all began

Prior to May 2011 I was a lead designer at TMW, a top marketing agency and working on projects for client’s like Sainsbury’s, Nissan, Diageo and Unilever. The work was varied and covered digital and print campaigns. 

After 5+ years at TMW I felt it was time for a change. I was designing interesting campaigns but I missed working directly with clients, helping them with their creative problem and seeing the result through to the end. In a large agency there are often many processes and people your work has to go through before the end result, and it can be hard to take ownership of your work. 

Having just got married I was also thinking about starting a family and wanted the flexibility that full time or part time employment couldn’t give me. So I took the leap and set up Joshi was Janes Ltd. (I renamed my business back in 2019 to JWJ Design.)

At first I started working on short term contracts at different design agencies whilst putting my name out there, I wanted my own clients and I wanted to work for myself. 

One short term freelance contract ended in landing a client I still work with today.  A friend of one of the employees was looking for someone to work on the branding of their new family attraction venue that they were opening later that year… Hobbledown. Landing this client was the confidence boost I needed to know that I was making the right decision and to keep going. 

In 2012 I went on maternity leave for 9 months. I took the whole 9 months off, only answering a few emails or doing small design projects to help keep things ticking along.

When I ‘came back’ my daughter went to nursery 3 days a week, so it gave me the opportunity to work and also to start networking. I knew that clients were not going to find me, I had to try and find them. It was a long term game but client work slowly started to come my way and I was able to do a little less contracting. 

 

I nearly gave it all up

After my second maternity leave in 2015 I nearly gave it all up. We had relocated out of London to the leafy suburbs of Burnham, near Maidenhead. I did take another 9 months ‘off’ but this time worked on a few more projects whilst the baby was asleep and the older child was at nursery. I couldn’t do much contracting to help pay the bills and it felt like I was starting all over again, trying to get my name out there in a new area. I now had 2 children at nursery so all my money was going on nursery fees and I was left with nothing at the end of it. 

But I didn’t give up; my husband supported me and I started networking again, joining a new group to meet local businesses that might need my design help, or know someone who might. And I’m so grateful I didn’t give it up. I’ve made firm friends through my Athena networking and my business has grown. I’ve established strong client relationships and get quality referrals from my supporting network. 

 

The whole journey over the ten years has been a rollercoaster, very up and down. But the creative experience and business knowledge I have gained has been invaluable. 

If I was able to go back in time 10 years from today there would be things that perhaps I would do differently from a business operational perspective, but otherwise it’s been a fun journey with only a few tears! 

 

If you are thinking of setting up your own design studio here are some learnings that might be useful: 

– Get an accountant – numbers are not my area of expertise and it is easier and cheaper to get someone else to do it for me. Also a lot less stressful! 

– Be specific in how you talk about what you do – when I started I wanted to tell everyone I was capable of designing everything, they struggled to refer me as they didn’t know what my speciality was. 

– Charge what you are worth – it is difficult to talk money sometimes, but certain businesses will always want to pay less, so be brave and stick to your prices; think about your knowledge and experience, that is what people are paying for.

– Team up with marketing consultants, copywriters and website professionals – places where there is an obvious crossover in services, and therefore you can refer clients to one another. 

– Go networking – find a group that works for you and expand your network. It can take a year for relationships to build, for the referrals to start coming your way. It is a long game and you have to be seen to be helping others before they may help you. 

– Write monthly or quarterly goals and keep track of what you have achieved to help keep focus and see your growth. 

– Don’t panic if you have a quiet month – though I still find this one hard especially after the year we have just had!

– Think clearly about the work you want and who you should be targeting.

– And most importantly – Don’t forget your ‘WHY’. Mine was my family as I wanted to be there for them and not feel like I was rushing around all the time. I have also realised that I am a great role model for my kids, showing them the opportunities open to them should they want it. 

 

Where next for JWJ Design

Now the kids are bigger and at school full time (let’s not talk about home schooling!) the plan is to grow and push JWJ Design on. 

When I started out I was designing everything, but as the client list has expanded I am now starting to take more of a Creative Director role and find reliable freelance designers to work with. I oversee all the projects from JWJ Design but expanding my team is the natural evolution of the studio… So watch this space!