Emma Morley, founder of Trifle Creative
Please can you tell us about Trifle Creative?
We are a commercial interior design consultancy with a focus on workspaces. We are insight-led designers; that means we spend a lot of time getting into the heart of the business and the organisation & the people that work there so that when we are designing, authentically for them. We are designing with purpose. There's real meaning into why we design and do the things that we do.
Before you launched the business, what preparation did you do before you went live?
I was really lucky because I worked for an amazing innovation consultancy called ?What If! that gave me an incredible amount of freedom. They realised that the thing I really loved and was passionate about was walking into a space and changing it somehow; making it more inspiring or interesting.
When I’d been working there for a while I worked on event design, which was not at all what I was trained to do but they saw that I loved doing it and had a natural ability. After a while, I tried to leave but they asked me 'what do you want to do?’ I said I wanted to design something more permanent, so they asked me to redesign the ?What If! Offices with a £150k budget. So I did! That workspace contributed to them winning an award for being one of the best companies to work for at the time. We got a lot of positive feedback which gave me the push to think 'there's something in this; there's an opportunity here'. That was 14 years ago!
What was the moment that made you say ‘yes, I'm going to go for this’?
Off the back of the positive feedback on the ?What If! office design, I had a few conversations with our clients at the time who are big corporates. They wanted work spaces like ?What If!’s; it was the first office that had a football table (a big deal at the time), a gum ball machine, lots of fun stuff, popcorn, a bar, free booze; all the little perks. Clients just couldn't believe it because their offices were very big, grey, dull and uninspiring… so they wanted to step into ?What If!’s world.
At the time of the ?What If! project, I used a design and build company to work with. What I found amazing about these companies was that they were just so uncreative; it was shocking to me that these people were designing offices. They were designing massive, boring, square boxes. I thought this was insane. It really encouraged me that there was money out there for workspace redesigns and therefore there was an opportunity.
Where do you go now for your inspiration?
This is a question we ask our clients all the time too. If you're going to work, it has to be an inspiring space.
For me, it depends what kind of inspiration I need at that given moment... sometimes I will need to be somewhere that is quite quiet e.g. dark, cosy like a library, or it might be somewhere like a festival like Glastonbury; lots of amazing energy, stimulus and fun stuff going on.
I think just walking around London is absolutely amazing, it’s the best city in the world. You can wander out and find something that you had never known was there.
I love the Design Museum and the V&A, the art book library there is incredible. It’s a huge, dark room with ancient leather books, stunning and peaceful. I love the Tate Modern and I really love markets, my fave being Maltby Street SE1.
Have you worked with a mentor or a coach at any part of your journey?
I have a lot of amazing colleagues/friends from ?What If! who are really experienced and have at various points been amazing mentors to me and really supportive in various ways.
In more recent years, I've been very fortunate to work with incredibly inspiring clients e.g. Moo who have taken me under their wing and seen that Trifle is on a journey too.
Sometimes we have a glass of wine together to talk Trifle things through and being really open to that is very important. We used to pretend to be a bit bigger than we are, and when good people realise that it’s a small team doing everything, they often ask how they can help.
It's important to know that when you have established trust with people, you can be really open with them because you never know what you can learn from them.
What was the biggest thing is your previous permanently employed life that you wanted to change the most?
I used to get frustrated that we'd come up with amazing ideas for clients and we'd hand them over and that was it... I always wanted to know where they went with the ideas we presented. I need that connection, that creative; I’m a person that likes to finish what I’ve started. To just have ideas is easy, but making those ideas happen it what really excites me, and that's when you change lives and change people’s experiences. I wanted to working in something where I could see the tangible results of that creative process.
What space are you most proud of since you started Trifle?
The Moo offices; we started working with them when they were small and now they are massive. We are working on our fourth project together which is exciting. What we ended up designing the first time round for their environment became part of their brand, the colours, the design.
We also worked on Coco De Mer, the erotic boutique, which is so beautiful and exotic.
With the business as it is now, is there anything that you find a struggle?
Getting processes right.
Learning when to say no.
Being more commercially focused (as a creative this is always a challenge!)
How many people do you have on your extended team at the moment?
Our core team is six and then the wider group of freelancers that fluxes with project work.
Thinking back to when you started out on your own, how did you get over the fear of not having a fixed monthly wage?
I didn’t really have this fear. I started my first business when I was 20/21 selling vintage clothes to fellow students and at the festivals after uni. I made good money and travelled the world for 3 years on and off. So I guess this dipped my toe in this world at a young age, hence this didn’t really worry me when I started Trifle. There is enough money out there; there are people who will pay you if you're good at what you do and you have something to offer them.
Are there any professional services that you pay for e.g. accountancy?
Yes, it's so important. A previous experience with a bad accountant nearly broke the business at one point so having the right kind of advice and people around you is absolutely critical and you should never scrimp on it either.
We have an accountant, a HR/legal advisor, website designer. I initially thought I needed to do everything myself to save money but it's not worth it. You've got to pay people who are better than you to do things.
We’d love to be in a position to afford PR but we are not there yet!
You are set up as a limited company, was the set up straight forward?
No, it was horrendous... but we were given bad advice at the time. There is a lot to get your head round, understanding tax, vat etc.
It can be straight forward; you just need the right people on your side.
What will you do for work tomorrow?
We have a great day planned... in the morning, I’ll meet my team and hand over lots of work to them! I work really closely with the client looking at the vision and how we will bring it to life in the environment; that's me doing the upfront work… mood boards and discussions with our interior designer and architect to pull the concept together. Then I hand it over to our design coordinator who can started making things happen such as choosing furniture, lighting; things that will bring the concept to life.
We have a site visit at noon at a fantastic space. We’ll walk through and check we have all the costs accounted for before we present the budget to the client next week.
In the afternoon, I’ll write a couple of proposals and send out some briefs for the roles we need to fill!
How did you come up with the name Trifle Creative?
I was driving down the motorway one day and my ex did a really interesting exercise with me which got me to the place that the business had lots of layers, with sprinkles and a cherry on top… and I came to Trifle!
Is there anything that you miss about full time employment?
I miss the massive Christmas parties that I used to throw and have a huge budget to create fun!
Do you work from home a lot?
Once a week sometimes more. We have a studio in Bethnal Green at the Pill Box which we LOVE.
You have a daughter. How does running your own business fit in with your life with raising her?
It's far more flexible than being in employment. Whilst I still work crazy hours, I can make the hours work to fit around my life as a mother. Whereas before, I’d regularly be out of the house for 14 hours a day. Plenty of people make this work, but for me it doesn’t.
When I first had Bibi, I took 5 months off. When I returned to work, I didn’t want to put her in childcare so I’d work at night and when she slept. That's one of the best things about having your own business, you have a lot more flexibility. You have to work harder but you make it work.
In your marketing for Trifle, you use social media very successfully. What made you choose those channels as your way to promote the business?
It's free, you can do it yourself and you can be really creative with the ways you do it. We’ve recently spent money on a great promotional video and it's already paid for itself in new business so that's fantastic.
The important for us was to put our brand out there and tell people what it is that we do. We're very small within our industry yet most of our competitors are very limited on their social media activity. We are a visual business so creating visual marketing is the first thing we do, e.g. Instagram. It helps us beat our competitors as our social activity tells clients very quickly what we do, what we are about. That's the power of those platforms that no advertising could pay for.
Interviewed by Faith Hill, Life Coach