Design agency owners and leaders: Lonely at the top?


Running a design firm can be a rewarding but sometimes lonely experience when you’re at the top.

Do you have a coach or adviser to turn to and share the challenges of leadership? Someone to check in with, as and when required, that understands the business of design and how to bring out the best in design agency leaders?

The tangible value derived from my external perspective can be gauged in these testimonials from some owners and leaders of firms I’ve worked with since 2003.

If you could use another voice in the room to help you reflect, plan and move forward, then contact me on 07957 627052 or email

In conversation with…


I’m inviting owner-founders and leaders of small design firms to explore with me, in a 1:1 conversation, what aspect/s of your design firm could work more effectively in 2018.

Why? Well as we head into Q4, it’s time to think about and plan how you shape next year. And time perhaps to review how you might gear your firm in 2018 to be more exploratory and proactive by nature across three specific client groups – your past/dormant, present and future/new clients.

Sceptical, or maybe confident you have everything covered? There’s no catch, just a one-off chat during October that gets our heads together to see where a conversation takes us. If I can add some value the conversation may run for an hour or so and prove worthwhile for you. If I can’t help I’ll say and we won’t waste each other’s time.

I’m honest, straight-talking, I work with integrity, I get to the point, I’ll respect confidentiality and sign an NDA if you wish, I’ve worked with designers since the mid-80s and I’m a great listener. Here’s a few testimonials from owner-founders and leaders I’ve worked with since 2003.

Interested? Then get in touch and we’ll get something arranged.

Augmented Reality for my client: Future Fires


A recent development I’ve organised for my client Future Fires – moving their beautifully contemporary wood burning stoves into the Augmented Reality space…

Thinking of buying one of our wood burning stoves but having trouble imagining what it will look like in your home?

Using the free Android and iPhone app Sayduck, you can now view a 3D model of our Panoramic FX1, Panoramic FX2 and Bollente stoves, in your choice of our six standard colours. Sayduck is free, easy to use, great fun and helps you instantly visualise whether our stoves will be a good fit and how they’ll look in your home before you buy one.

Download the app and give it a go…

Get Sayduck on the App Store here

Get Sayduck on Google Play here

Developing ‘new services’ from the inside-out

Diversify Image

Owners and Leaders of design firms, are you thinking about how to develop ‘new service offerings’ utilising your employed resources and expertise/knowledge pool?

Employed Capabilities + New Services = Profitable New Revenue   

No free thought-piece or step-by-step guide on this one. Instead, my practical experience and support for those interested in exploring the potential that may need a helping hand, like CCD….

Design Agency Owners and Leaders: Succession Planning to-do?


This may be on your list, but are you making the necessary time this needs to; ask yourself the right questions, find the right answers and formulate a plan?

How and when you start to build this picture is clearly a significant consideration that warrants engaging some external perspective to; hear your thoughts, observe your set-up and help you explore the options to bring clarity amid the day-to-day challenges of running the business.

Here are some testimonials to evidence the value of external perspective if you see the need to plan and could use a sounding board that understands the business of design.

Croft Lodge Studio by Kate Darby and David Connor has been announced as the winner of AJ Small Projects 2017


Loving this award-winning preservation and conversion of a listed 300-year-old ruined cottage in Leominster, Herefordshire – complete with dead ivy and old birds’ nests!

The jury described the 115m² scheme as ‘beautifully executed’, ‘unpretentious’, and praised the design for not ‘romanticising the ruin’.

Kate Darby, founder of Kate Darby Architects said: ‘What is special about the project is the extreme length we went to preserve everything. Initially there was the prejudice to clear it up, but we realised the value of the project was in that extreme approach.’ More


Defining roles

Based on the nature of my work since 2002, I define myself today as being three things to design firms – a consultant, a mentor and a coach. In doing so, design firms (and brands) sometimes ask me to clarify the differences in these roles, so here’s a simple description for each which may well be obvious to most but useful to some.

Consulting – a consultant is someone accomplished and experienced in their field, offering a great deal of knowledge or skill in a particular area, that is called upon for professional, specialist or technical advice and/or opinions. Essentially, they are relied on to understand the problem and present solutions. Consulting is unlike coaching because with pure coaching, the answers come from the client.

Mentoring – a mentor is an experienced and trusted guide/advisor. Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person (the mentor) helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person (the mentee). The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but she/he must have a certain area of expertise. The focus of mentoring is to develop the whole person and so the techniques are broad and require wisdom in order to be used appropriately. 

Coaching – coaching can be defined as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.” The coach is the subject matter expert at coaching, not necessarily the subject matter expert of the client’s coaching topic.

The challenge with each individual client engagement can be determining (in the contracting and scoping phase) which of these three hats needs to be worn, and knowing how and when to ‘switch’ and strike the right balance between these roles to best serve a client or situation. On reflection, most client engagements require all three hats to be worn, just at different times, during the course of working with them.

The common thread that runs through these roles in working with design firms and brands (based on experience and client feedback), seems to be the tangible value design firms say they derive from; 

  • the ‘design sector specialism’ of teer,
  • the ‘ideas and initiatives’ that are brought to the table,
  • the ‘understanding of business function’ and ‘services offered’ to clients, and
  • the ‘external perspective’ of working with designers since the mid 80s that have focused in; graphics, products, furniture, interiors, experiential and events, wayfinding and environmental graphics. 

There is an additional role worth mentioning – that my experience lends itself to and which borders on the hats I wear – that can ‘blur the lines’ somewhat further….the Non-Executive Director.

Non-Executive Director – often abbreviated to non-exec, NED or NXD, the NED is a member of the board of directors, but is not part of the executive management. NEDs typically stand back from the operational running of the business and act in advisory capacity only. NEDs have the same legal duties, responsibilities and potential liabilities as their executive director counterparts, but they do not have to be shareholders in the business. NEDs attend board meetings to offer the benefit of their advice, and they are usually paid a fee for their services but are not regarded as employees.


Repositioning wood burning stove maker Future Fires as ‘beautifully contemporary’

Proud to share fruits of my labour since Sep 2016…

Special thanks to; Simon Pengelly for the referral, to Darrell at Future Fires for asking me to review their needs and lead a repositioning project and to the super-talented team I put together – Lewie, Barnaby, Simon, Lorri and Paul – who deserve so much credit for making the project come to life!

A thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience for me to get back to running a project like this for a client brand.

Who’s next…?

Retaining and developing clients – the designer’s Achilles heel?

Interesting to read and reflect on the findings of Up to the Light’s latest and very informative report What Clients Think 2016 published in March 2016 in association with the DBA.

For anyone unfamiliar with this report it presents the findings of 435 interviews, conducted with clients of design agencies during 2015, to monitor the health of client/agency relationships.

As I read through the section ‘Keeping Clients’ which covers client service and client development issues, I found myself recalling and comparing this to the key findings of a client survey I conducted back in 2001 at a time when I was running a design practice I set up in 1999. Our ‘Signpost Survey’ posed the question…Are you being served?…and explored marketers’ attitudes towards and their experiences of working with designers. Design Week published extracts from the findings in a piece they summarised as Poor show from consultancies which identified weaknesses in the way design firms engaged with and serviced clients at this time.

15 years on and I see the common ground between both surveys. One can draw conclusions around the apparent lack of progress being made by many design firms in their responsibilities to service and develop healthy client relationships. This is a service industry, and yet client service clearly seems to be an ongoing challenge for many design firms.

So what does teer bring to the client service and development challenge?

Occupying the space I have between agencies and clients since the mid-80s, you get 30+ years’ sector experience applied to methodologies and growth-oriented activities that are implemented efficiently, have a generally positive impact and are well received by clients.

1980s – Client-side product developer commissioning design services on behalf of toy and games manufacturers

1990s – Agency-side in Account Direction roles working for various creative agencies including Holmes & Marchant Group

1999 to 2003 – Design business owner serving mostly large multinational UK-based clients

2003 to present – Strategic growth consultancy trading as teer providing mentoring and coaching services to design business owners / leaders

We all have our experiences and hopefully learn from the often fickle nature of client relationships. Personally, I’ve developed and apply practical methodologies that help design firms adopt a more client-focused mindset and proactive behaviour that can shape or improve how they retain and develop healthy client relationships.

If you’re curious or suspect there is scope for improving your client servicing then a conversation could be your next step. On the other hand, if you’re sceptical or confident you have the client service thing all buttoned down, you might just want to check by asking yourself some questions, like:

  • Do we monitor and know how clients experience working with us?
  • How well do we engage with and manage the interactions we have with clients on projects?
  • How do clients feel we compare with their past or incumbent agencies they might work with?
  • Outside of fee-based projects, is our behaviour within client relationships mostly reactive or proactive regarding their challenges, needs and future plans?