ICS interviewed Mandy Barker, a well established self employed branding and graphic design expert. You can reach out to Mandy on Twitter @Sail_Creative or @mbarker_design or through the Sail Creative website.

What made you want to work for yourself?

We are put on this planet once and once only, and I want to make it count! It’s about taking risks. I always knew I wanted to work for myself. However, I didn’t know when, where or how. I just knew that whenever I worked for someone else, I put maximum time and effort into every project, and couldn’t help but think about the possibility of working on my own vision. I always wanted autonomy, control, freedom and flexibility over my decisions. After being part of small business growth in previous roles, my instinct was always saying ‘I can do that. Try it’. I couldn’t ignore it and just had to take the leap. So far, I am thoroughly loving self employment, and although it is hard, especially balancing roles and cashflow; I believe I am laying long term foundations for Sail to grow organically.

Prior to my degree, I had no real academic background (poor GCSE’s and no A-levels due to not being in an academic family), but I did have life experience. I was the first person in my family to go to university. I graduated at 27 with a first class honours in Graphic Design from York College, then worked for a branding agency in Newcastle for two years. Since setting up Sail Creative, I have learnt so much, and am thrilled to have been shortlisted for the IPSE Freelancer of the Year 2017, in the Inspire category. The winners are announced on Thursday 8th June, on National Freelancer Day.

Before you decided to go into self employment, was there anything holding you back?

Fear! But fear is positive, it means you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Self employment can be daunting, but this makes it exciting. Before self employment, I had a full time, secure job in a design agency so I was very comfortable. Leaping into was daunting with it’s uncertainty. I only had £1,000 in the bank, so I was setting up on a shoestring. The good thing about starting with a low investment is that you literally have nothing to lose. I made sure my personal outgoings were minimal-I was lucky enough to have no financial commitments apart from rent.  Looking back, I would advise to have around 4-6 months survival budget in the bank before setting up, as it can offer stability and means you can focus on the projects you want.

It’s can also be difficult to know where to go for start up support. There isn’t a ‘one stop shop’. Through research, I found that a wealth of support was available, through different organisations. I have had support from the Princes Trust, Yorkshire In Business, Scarborough Council and Virgin Start and Grow. It is out there, it’s just taking some time to find it.

What have been the main challenges in setting yourself up?

I went through some big personal life changes, but I have used any hurdles as a driver and focus, rather than something to hold me back. Being able to positively adapt to situations is important.

You have to wear many hats including marketing, admin, accounts, client contact, project work (if it’s a service business) and networking. Organisation is key to be able to keep on top of everything.

As a current sole trader, some days can be isolating, but they are balanced out by the days you get to meet a great client, collaborate with a great creative, or win a job that could be a potential break through for the growth of the business. It’s important to keep going through the difficult days, it’s important to remember we are only human, and we are bound to feel overwhelmed sometimes.

I find it hard to switch off, but it’s so important to let your mind rest. If you don’t, it’s counterproductive. You’re better off working 8 hours a day at 100% than 15 at 50%. Obviously this depends on your workload, some days its necessary to do long hours, especially in the start up phase.

What does Sail Creative do?

I set up Sail as an independent, creative branding agency working across branding and digital projects set up through passions of arts, culture and positive social change. I aim to focus on the arts, cultural and non-profit sectors. I have always been passionate working with those that positively impact social change or the community.

I want Sail to push boundaries, exploring, experimenting and questioning to reach compelling and bold results for our clients. It is important our work is emotive and creative but connects to the target audience appropriately.

I believe in collaboration over competition, supporting the flexible and fluid economy. Freelancers have an excellent level of wellbeing, because they have autonomy and flexibility. This produces better work.

Projects so far have included a rebrand for Curious festival, an LGBT arts festival, a website for a Labour leader of Newcastle, materials for a law firm that focuses on human rights, and design work for a community focused cafe. As you can see from the listed projects here, Sail’s work is steering towards being equality focused, this is something that I am really proud of.

Which project are you most proud of?

We have recently completed a rebrand for Curious Festival, an LGBTQ festival celebrating queer arts. It has been an excellent project for us because it aligns with our studio values of equality and social change. The rebrand allowed us to be creative, exploratory and experimental. The brand is based on the ‘deconstruction of LGBTQ’ flags, then bringing them back together to represent unity, diversity and difference by turning ‘labels’ on their head. The various compositions of shape and colour are used across the visual identity to represent constant exploration and experimentation. This has led to a bold, creative and exciting brand that visually symbolises Curious’ values of inclusivity and creativity.

I also have an ongoing self initiated project called Words Bare. Words Bare uses research gathered from the LGBTQ communities showcasing challenges and comments LGBTQ people have faced in society. Many LGBTQ are still victim to prejudice, regularly challenged through social comments and actions, simply for being who they are. I designed the artwork and curated the exhibition using this research. The result was an exhibition that challenged this intolerance, put the experiences gathered, into the limelight. The artwork aimed to question why these views are still very present today. I had lots of positive feedback from the first exhibition, and it will be returning to Newcastle in July 2017. Words Bare underpinned what Sail is about, and I have had business leads and contacts from the work that was displayed. This was one of my proudest moments, taking a personal stand for the LGBTQ community and making intolerance visible-starting a needed conversation.

What do you love about the creative industry?

I am proud to be part of such an open-minded, experimental, inclusive and forward moving industry. The industry has some extremely talented and passionate people, who I have been lucky to collaborate and connect with.

It is different every day. I love that with each project you get to discover and explore different subjects based on the clients focus. I always immerse myself in every project, as well as collaborate, as it is the best way to reach unique ideas. Also, creativity is about expression when working on personal projects, but for paid projects it is important the work is appropriate, human focused and business led, to get the best results for clients.

The UK’s creative industries are now worth a record £84.1 billion to the UK economy, it is a growing industry. I am a strong advocate of creativity in schools – not only for economic reasons, but for empowerment and equality. It is only going to grow and encapsulates so much including tech and digital.  It is important we teach the next generations to be brave in their ideas – creativity comes away from traditional academia, and allows them to do this. If it wasn’t for creativity and innovation, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone considering self employment?

If you have a skill and a passion along with commitment and determination you can make it work. It will be hard work but the benefits including autonomy, control and flexibility are invaluable.


Thinking of starting up your own business?

ICS Accounting can support you throughout the whole process, from your initial idea through to growing your business. Visit our SME Accounting pages for more information or email ICSAccounting@icsuk.com.