LIFE DESIGN IDEAS :
Emma Sexton, founder of Make Your Words Work
Tell us about Make Your Words Work and how you got started?
We have 2 offerings; one is design projects and the other is consultancy when I’ll go into businesses to help them set up or re-shape their design team.
My background is graphic design and over the years I have taken roles at design agencies and also in-house. I realised I’d always been brought in to head up teams. At the first role I turned an in-house team into a standalone agency which was my first dip in the water of entrepreneurship... but with no risk whatsoever as I had a paid salary and lots of clients sent our way.
Then I took another couple of roles in-house and realised there were so many businesses spending an awful lot of money on design. They all said their design teams were not as great as they could be, but there was actually a lot of untapped talent. I also didn't like the way the design industry shunned in-house teams.
I knew I wanted to have my own business but I didn’t want to do another design agency because I felt I’d played in that space and I really loved transforming teams. I’d also done a training course on being a coach so I wanted to be able to use some of that. I created my own business because I wanted to come from the business perspective of helping and empowering other businesses to understand how visual design makes a difference; it's not just about making things look pretty.
The co-op of freelancers that you have makes you super agile. How many do you work with?
It depends on a project; probably about three or four. I'm trying to work differently; we don’t have an office and when I set up I was apologetic about this fact. It was difficult to be honest about this and almost a bit embarrassing, but now I feel very confident because it's a good decision and I want my team to work wherever they want to work, to the hours they want. My co-op works to a project fee. I have a lot of stay at home mums because they can't get back to office life because of this stupid 9-5 bullshit.
And financially, not taking an office on makes sense...
Yes! An office gives you massive overheads and I just didn’t want a business with this. Now it's quite a common way to work, but at the time it was very different. Being lean is a smart choice. I modeled the film industry in this way when I set up the initial agency as it made sense financially.
Were you a limited company from day one?
Yes. I looked at sole tradership but for me it was a psychological thing; I wanted to be a business, I wanted to build a business. I didn’t want to be a freelancer.
What was the turning point for you which led to you launching MYWW?
I knew I always wanted a business but there was always another excuse, always another role for me to consider. When I joined the last company, I set myself the goal of progressing to board level but they wanted to do a massive shift which didn’t inspire or excite me so I knew I needed to leave.
I started looking at freelance gigs and I saw a quote which was along the lines of 'if you don’t build your own dream, you'll end up doing it for someone else'. I realised I was working really hard on somebody's else's dream and I needed to start doing it for me, enough with the excuses.
What development did you do before you went live with MYWW?
Loads because I was so scared. I had a big fear of leaving my job, having been employed since I was eighteen. I spent six months thinking about my proposition and talking to people about it. I was working four days a week then which gave me one day a week for me to play and meet people for coffee.
After this period, I resigned and spent my three month notice period getting everything ready so when I went live on 1st January, I was ready to start selling. I didn’t want to finish my job and say 'oh, let me think about what I’m going to do'.
Is there anything you missed doing in that set up period that in hindsight you wished you had done?
Yes. Because I was too fearful, I went out there with an idea and because I’d done it as an employee, I assumed there was a market for it but I didn’t really test it. I didn’t test it as I would do now as I was scared of people thinking it was a shit idea when I just really wanted to do it anyway. Now, I’d quite happily have those conversations, but at that time I didn’t want people to reject me!
Is there anything that you miss about employment?
Have you ever worked with a mentor or a coach?
Yes, I have a coach. As a trained coach myself, I really believe in it as an incredible process, having that space to think. There's something different about hearing your words out loud and when you chat to your mates, they will give you a solution or an answer or they'll project onto you, whereas when you talk to a coach they're listening and reflecting back to you.
By the end of a coaching conversation, you solve a lot of your own problems yourself, you dig down a bit deeper and understand what your drivers are.
I have lots of mentors. But in the early days, I found myself constantly seeking for answers and whilst I had peer groups, it seemed everyone was running their businesses very traditionally. Because I’m not, I found they were trying to push me down their route and I knew that didn’t fit with my vision.
How do you stay on track with your desires for running a flexible business?
It's a constantly evolving beast. I feel like I’m always experimenting. In the first couple of years I made mistakes but now I feel a lot more focused. Now I’m thinking about being more hands-off and looking at what other people can run for me. It evolves as you change as a person and what your clients want.
Are you able to pick and choose your projects now?
Yes, but it wasn't the case so much at the start. You get braver and you know the consequences of saying yes to projects. Realising when a client is not a good fit and walking away from that is a good position to be in.
What did you do for work today and what are your plans for tomorrow?
This morning I had a webinar on Infusionsoft because my marketing needs work. I know I have lots of contacts but I'm not managing them properly for new business opportunities. I want to get smarter. I also had a new business meeting and a meeting about an event I’m doing for a recruitment company. Then Shoreditch House to help my team on a crisis.
Tomorrow, I'll work on a design conference which I'm hosting.
Please tell us more about Flock, your female entrepreneur network.
Flock actually started by accident. I noticed I'd have two types of meeting; the first would feel like an inquisition and people were trying to take from me which didn’t leave me feeling particularly good or interested. Then other meetings would be exciting, we were interested in each others work, sharing contacts, making introductions. They felt really collaborative and these people became my friends and my mentors. One said to me ‘let's go on a girls group trip to a city and maybe we can visit agencies out there’. I’d always wanted to work in New York - and now I have my own business no one can stop me - so I suggested there for our working holiday.
We pitched to Soho House about running events and we used Airbnb for a house. We collaborated and pooled our resources, contributing to the trip how we best could. On the first night, we had a house party for 100 people and got a lot of traction in the US as people loved the spirit of the trip and what we were doing. We had incredible meetings and the mentoring was great... some people on the trip didn’t know each other but we were all very vulnerable about how scared or intimidated we were. It was a real life changing business trip for us and we came back with so much attention.
Myself and Megan, my partner in Flock, realised we could do something with this. We decided we wanted to create a global community for female entrepreneurs based around a new way of doing business, all around collaboration.
Our goal is to make it a gender neutral platform and we will invite guys to join us. Every interaction is about giving and getting, we have an app for our community and monthly meet ups. We're not like your usual network and there's been so many powerful connections already.
Interviewed by Faith Hill, Life Coach