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My First Blog Post

But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.

— Junot Diaz.
THE BUSINESS MODEL CANVAS

Not only did I think I wouldn’t study again in my forties, but I never thought I would write a blog either. Although I had been encouraged to start a blog for my business, I didn’t really want to write about my experiences or my opinions as I didn’t feel it was necessary.

Here begins another new journey for me. Last Wednesday we were asked to choose a business we liked and to analyse it’s business model canvas and then to suggest how the canvas could be innovated or improved. This presented me with another inner-conflict. Should I choose my business, ‘Babatunde’, my accessories business based in South Africa or should I choose a business with no emotional ties? Due to the disappointment and lack of growth of Babatunde over the past 3 years, I have somewhat mixed feelings towards my business. On one hand, I love it! It’s MY business and baby which forms a large part of my identity. But on the other hand, the near misses, the disappointments and the insincere promises the business attracted left me feeling jaded and bitter.

The class activity forced me to think about my business, as well as myself. I have probably avoided facing alot of these questions over the past few years and suppressed any thoughts along these lines. We begun the activity looking at Netflix in our groups and then had to choose a business to look at individually. The Netflix example was quite challenging in that we didn’t have all the info we needed. So we had to speculate and guess alot of the time which made us uncertain as a group. Analyzing Babatunde individually was alot easier for me…

Innovating and improving on Babatunde’s business model canvas was not as easy. Although I had all the facts I needed, it felt like some old wounds were opened as these were problems I have been trying to fix for years. The most obvious being the ability to improve the quality of our products and to work with the latest materials and trims. A big part of our value proposition is that we offer contemporary African designs so it is important for us to have contemporary materials and trims in our products. This would also link to our key partners. We would need to work with factories who are willing to bring in the latest trims and push the design side of the manufacturing.

Another issue facing Babatunde was the fact that South Africa is such a long distance from most countries that buy our products. This means high shipping costs to add to the Customs and VAT that clients had to pay for their orders. This could be solved by either manufacturing in countries closer to Europe or the USA or by keeping stock in either of these regions. But would this then compromise the brand integrity and value proposition of the business?

In the past I had thought that capital was the main issue effecting the issues mentioned above. I have been trying to get business partners and/or investors for the past 4 or 5 years. But when I see the business model canvas laid out in it’s different segments it makes me realise that I was probably wrong. Although a cash injection may of helped, innovating the business model canvas of Babatunde was probably what was needed.

I am confident that this module will help me figure out exactly which tweaks are needed. Not only am I glad I have my first blog out of the way, but I am also happy to be able to face obstacles I have chosen to shy away from previously.







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Downtown Jo’Burg , South Africa

Note to Future Self

Having run my own business, Babatunde, for the past nine years, I was really excited to get started with the Design Thinking for Start-ups module. Running my own business has been an experience with many ups and downs. I had no formal business training previously, and I’d run my business more or less on instinct. I know for a fact that I made many mistakes and many poor decisions which were uninformed. For this reason, I enrolled for the Managing in the Creative Economies Masters degree in order to further my business knowledge and also to learn more about managing in general. The Design Thinking for Start-ups module was particularly advantageous for me and taught me a lot about starting a business as well as adapting and improving a business as it grows. Many of the lessons learned are not only relevant to me now, but are lessons I need to keep reminding myself in the future, whether I decide to start another business or to seek employment in the Creative Industries.

The module began with classes to teach us the basic principles of design thinking. Ries (2011) believes that the major undertaking of a start-up is turning ideas into products, gauging how customers act in response, and then learning whether to pivot or persist. One of the first lessons I learned was the importance of empathy when solving problems and conceptualising. Building a sustainable business requires the identification of problems that people experience to find gaps in the market. However, to solve these problems in an affective and relevant manner I learned that I need to be empathetic to the target market and to fully understand what the problem is and how to effectively address this problem. Brown (2008) observes that by making use of a ‘people first’ angle, design thinkers can create solutions that are intrinsically desirable and meet definitive or underlying wants. I learned about the minimum viable product and the process of adapting the product to make it as profitable as possible. This process involves coming up with a sample and then testing the sample within the target market and getting feedback on how it can be approved and then making another necessary pivot or change. This is known as the ‘Lean Business Model’ and is currently viewed as the most relevant and effective model for developing a start-up.

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To gain experience with these start-up principles, we formed teams and were tasked with coming up with an idea for a start-up or business. I was a part of team Planit. After much discussion and research, we decided that mindfulness and anxiety, had a gap in the market that we could address. Different daily situations cause anxiety for people of all ages. According to Mental Health First Aid England (2019) millions of people living in the UK suffer from generalised anxiety without a known cure. Our team strategy was to create calm for people in situations that make them anxious. Hugs are known to comfort people and bring a sense of calm. Team Planit’s business idea was a portable and practical hugging accessory. The Hugbuddy had been hatched!

After looking at products already available in the market, we collectively decided that we would redesign and repurpose the body pillow. People suffering from anxiety needed an accessory that was more portable and that could be used outside of the home. We started by finding the best fabrics to work with. After going to Shepherd’s Bush Market to view fabrics, we agreed that fleece and brushed cotton would work best as they were soft and ‘warm’.  We found a tailor in the area who could make our first prototype to the quality required. As soon as the first prototype was ready we immediately noticed changes that could be made to improve the HugBuddy. However, as we had our first prototype, we could start working on the branding and marketing strategies for our start-up.

Branding and brand identity is extremely important when starting a business. This is how businesses become recognisable and create a following. Brands can be extremely valuable assets, in terms of the economic, strategic, marketing and financial advantages they offer according to Dall’Olmo Riley (2016). The branding strategy for Hugbuddy was a brand identity that was gentle and calm, in accordance with the accessory and it’s purpose. We created a logo that could be used on our campaigns but that also had potential to work effectively on product labels and packaging.

As part of the module, we registered the HugBuddy with Young Enterprise scheme. Young Enterprise is a national charity who specialise in enterprise and financial education. Registering with Young Enterprise enabled my team to open a business bank account. Steps such as registering a business and opening a bank account is something all start-ups go through.  Once registered, we also had access to the Young Enterprise financial software where we could record transactions and generate financial statements for HugBuddy. Young Enterprise provides insurance and a safe environment for young entrepreneurs to experience and experiment with their business ideas with limited financial risk according to the Young Enterprise website.

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In my opinion, I l believe I earned the most from the trade fairs we attended. The trade fairs gave us excellent first-hand experience. Trade fairs are a great platform to engage with possible customers. Speaking to potential customers allowed me to gain valuable feedback about the HugBuddy. Do they like the product? How much would they spend on the product? Would they give it to someone as a gift? These were questions that we could get answers for in our conversations with people. Secondly, this is a great space to test out your marketing and branding. The main goal of a trade fair is to attract people to your stand. To do this effectively, the stand needs to be attractive and approachable. Schramm (2010) believes that the first impression is key to how people will interact with you in the future. At the first trade fair we attended, we learned that our stand and displays had more weaknesses than strengths. This knowledge helped my team to quickly improve our branding efforts for the second trade fair.

This module also taught me vital lessons about teamwork and collaboration. Due to our three team members all coming from different cultures and levels of business experience, we had some challenges to overcome. Communication was probably the biggest challenge for us. Eliadis (2020) maintains that effective communication relies on empathy, positivity, clarity and assertiveness. I feel that communication is something we take for granted. We often feel that we are being clear in delivering our communication and listening actively but in most cases this is something that needs to be worked on. Particularly in the business environment. HugBuddy helped me to improve my communication. We met weekly to discuss HugBuddy and to decide on what needed to be done for the following week. These meetings enabled us to assign different parts of our projects to each team member and follow up on pending progress.

Time management was another challenge to overcome. With team members living in different parts of London and having different schedules it was often difficult to co-ordinate meetings at convenient times that suited each of us. But we agreed that if we met on the same day every week at the same time we will all be able to lock off this hour every week to devote a discussion to HugBuddy and it’s development. Dierdorff (2020) states that adaptability is a key ingredient for effective and versatile time management.

My role in the team was financial manager, however I also got involved in some of the creative aspects of the branding. I admit that while running Babatunde, I was apathetic towards my business finances. I had identified this as something I would like to improve so jumped at the opportunity to be financial manager of Team Planit to improve my skills. I was responsible for the pricing of our product as well as recording any transactions that took place. The young enterprises platform provided me with a neat and user-friendly online system to record HugBuddy transactions. From these transactions over the 5 months, the system generated a Profit and Loss Statement and a Balance Sheet to analyse HugBuddy’s financial performance. Unfortunately, we made no sales so our financials did not make for good reading. Although, our £1000 prize from the Bright Ideas competition helped to make our bank account appear healthier than the start-up had performed.  

Another personal weakness I had identified was public speaking. The design thinking module has helped me to improve on this immeasurably. Thompson (2019) believes that practice along with small, manageable steps such as talking to a small groups of people when possible. Due to the various class presentations, and the Dragons Den events my confidence has improved. I’m not only less shy to speak in front of people but I’ve also learnt what makes a talk captivating and convincing. It is key to make sure that the content of your talk is on topic and that you grab your audience’s attention early. This module placed a great deal of emphasis on how to make a pitch attractive to investors.

One of my strengths that was identifiable from running Babatunde was branding. I have a natural inclination towards aesthetics and visuals. I was responsible for creating the HugBuddy logo and for putting together a lot of our campaign images and displays. I really enjoyed this part of the process and getting to know new programmes such as Canva.

In retrospect, I would say that HugBuddy was a good exercise in collaboration. Each member of my team listed their own strengths and weaknesses and contributed towards making the hug buddy an unexciting and feasible start-up. Although we generally worked to our strengths, there was room for us to develop our skills which we felt needed work. In this video, Chris and Uta Frith discuss the benefits and challenges of collaboration and how effective collaboration eliminates the need for a group leader.

In the future I would like to be a part of a team again. I definitely see myself starting another business in the future. However, in the near future I would like to work within a team of professionals to further develop my business and communication skills. Another advantage of working in a team would be to improve my collaborative skills. I feel a lot of this course was aimed at entrepreneurship and developing a start-up. Nonetheless, I’ve learned that design thinking can be applied in most business situations. In more established businesses, design thinking can be applied to problem solving on a wider scale. In the future I’ll remind myself about what for me are the most important aspects of design thinking – empathy and collaboration. These are the key to working in the Creative Economy where sustainability and equality are essential for success.

References

Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review. June.

Dierdorff, E (2020) Time Management Is More About Life Hacks.  Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/01/time-management-is-about-more-than-life-hacks (Accessed: 25 April 2020)

Dall’Olmo Riley, F. (2016) ‘The roles of brands revisited’, pp. 394-414 in: Baker, M. and Hart, S. (eds.) The Marketing Book 7th Edition, Routledge.

Eliadis, A. (2020) The Five Elements of Effective Organizational Communication. Forbes. Available at:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/04/14/the-five-elements-of-effective-organizational-communication/#4ea28600993d (Accessed: 26 April 2020)

Frith, C & Frith, U. (2017). The Science of Collaboration. Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONgGRIe5tAU&t=722s (Accessed: 25April 2020)

MHFA (2019) Anxiety Statistics for the UK.  Available at: https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/#anxiety (Accessed: 27April 2020)

Ries, E. (2011) The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful

Businesses. London: Penguin Group.

Schramm, JD (2010) Effective Communication Begins with a First Impression. Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2010/08/effective-communciation-begins (Accessed: 26 April 2020)

Thompson, M. (2019) Ten Strategies To Become A More Confident Public Speaker. Business Insider UK. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/10-strategies-to-become-a-more-confident-public-speaker-2019-12?r=US&IR=T  (Accessed: 26April 2020)

Young Enterprise. (2020) What We Do. Available at: https://www.young-enterprise.org.uk/what-we-do/ (Accessed: 26 April 2020)

Bright Ideas Competition

The Bright Ideas Sprint weekend workshop.
Photo – Gareth Cowden

Design thinking for startup’s module required our group team to enter the bright ideas competition. This competition is for young entrepreneurs or people with start up ideas and offers some great cash prizes.

After entering the competition, we were invited to attend the Sprint weekend. This weekend was a workshop to help us develop our start up ideas and to help us refine our pitching skills. This workshop was excellent for a number of reasons. Firstly, we got to meet students and young entrepreneurs from other faculties. It was really great to hear the different ideas from the different faculties and to see their line of thinking compared to business students. Secondly we had the opportunity of talking to experienced professionals from industry about our ideas and to get feedback from them on how they thought our ideas could improve or be adapted. Finally we were able to pitch to these experts from industry and to receive feedback from them about our pitches and to hear their opinion on the strength and weaknesses of our pitches. The workshop was very helpful in that we went back to basics and were encouraged to start lean again and to look at our value proposition once again. Receiving feedback from the other students as well as industry experts was super insightful and helped my team to make necessary changes not only to our business idea but also our pitch .

My team was very happy to make it into the final 50 start ups. We practiced in the days leading up to the final. Although we had confidence in our idea, as well as our pitch, we got really nervous on the day of the final. We were in the products category but just before we were due to pitch we were told we would now be in the virtual panel category. The virtual panel category involved us pitching to judges who were not in Kingston on campus. We pitched to three judges online and the pitch went reasonably well although we ran out of time. Thereafter we were questioned by the judges about the Hugbuddy and dealt with the questions competently. My team was happy with our pitch and were confident that we had a chance of winning our category.

Team Planit with our prize.
Photo – Gareth Cowden

Before the prize giving and the announcement of the winners, there was a short networking session. In this session the goal was to network with the judges for all the different categories to stand a chance of winning a prize for best networking team. The prize giving went really well for us. We won our category and £1000. At the end of the prize giving the winners of each category had to give a 2 minute pitch and from this the overall winner would be chosen. Our two minute pitch didn’t go all that well as we were not sufficiently prepared. Even though we were not the overall winners we were only three votes off the eventual winner.

The bright ideas competition was extremely valuable for me. Not only did I get netwrok with other entrepreneurs but I also gained valuable knowledge and experience in pitching. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that i’m not comfortable speaking to crowds of people. But this experience helped me to overcome my shyness and to be a lot more confident when speaking to a big group of people.

Trade Fairs

Team Planit displaying the HugBuddy at the Kingston Business School Trade Fair.

Trade fairs are an important part of marketing as well as business networking. These events give businesses the opportunity to display their brands and products or services in an environment where trading occurs. Not only is this a great platform to market your brand and display your product or service, but it is also a perfect space for gaining invaluable feedback which can help to improve your brand.

For the Design Thinking for Start Ups module we were required to attend two trade fairs to exhibit the Hugbuddy. The trade fairs gave us an opportunity to refine our branding, master our sales strategy and engage with potential customers around Kingston.  

The first trade fair was hosted in the Kingston Business School atrium. The attendees of this trade fair were predominantly students and staff from Kingston University. This was a good first experience for Team Planit to experience displaying and selling the HugBuddy. The first HugBuddy prototype was ready for this trade fair. Visitors to the stand were able to feel the HugBuddy and wear it. The general feedback received from this interaction was very positive. People liked the look and feel of the HugBuddy as well as the idea behind it. Perhaps the most important feedback received from the trade fair was in relation to the stand and the branding of the HugBuddy. The advice received was to improve the display of the HugBuddy and to refine the brand identity and communication of HugBuddy. All of this advice would prove incredibly useful for the second trade fair to be attended a few weeks later.

Team Planit with an improved display at the Kingston Trade Fair.

The second trade fair where the HugBuddy was exhibited was in a retail space in Kingston. We were happy to have three prototypes ready for this event. This gave us the opportunity to engage with shoppers with no link to Kingston University. This was a more challenging environment to display the HugBuddy. But also a good platform for gaining valuable feedback about the HugBuddy. Again, there was positive feedback from the public. An elderly lady gave some very insightful feedback stating that she felt the HugBuddy could also be used for elderly people who spent a substantial amount of time in bed. This was a segment of the market that had not previously been considered.

I had also been very fortunate to attend trade fairs in Milan, Moscow, Tokyo and various cities in South Africa with Babatunde before coming to Kingston. These were excellent lessons of international expectations of quality and the various quantities people trade. The language barrier in the foreign cities also helped me to understand the different way different nationalities communicate and their respective ideas of professionalism.

Branding for Start Ups

Babatunde Campaign Image

Branding and forming a brand identity is extremely important for entrepreneurs and start ups. Branding is not only about convincing your target market to choose your product or service rather than your competitors. It’s also about encouraging your potential customers to see you as the sole provider of a solution to their problem or need. In essence, branding is a problem-solver and customer relationship builder.  

A strong brand identity will clearly deliver your brand’s message and confirm the brand’s credibility in the marketplace. Successful branding also creates an emotional connection between the target market and the product or service. These factors should motivate customers to buy the brand and also promote loyalty towards the brand after the purchase is made.

Brand identity is everything that clients can see. In order to build a strong brand identity it important to be consistent and authentic in everything that is shared with customers. A brand’s logo is the first part of being recognised. Although logos are often seen as the most important part of branding, there are other factors that make brand identity effective. Slogans or ‘straplines’ express a brand’s values and what they stand for. Brand personality are the human characteristics which can be found in a brand or branding campaigns. This helps with customers relating to the brand . It is vital for brands to have a consistent tone of voice. This refers to the writing brands display in their campaigns or on social media. All of these help to create an emotional connection with the customer. Experiences are also key for brand identity as they provide an opportunity to engage with customers in a sensory manner other than social media and visuals.

The HugBuddy logo

The branding strategy for the HugBuddy project was to ensure that the logo, communication and imagery used for the product, echoed the accessory and it’s features. The first step was to design the logo. Due to the calming and comforting nature of the product it made sense to work with soft and gentle tones . Hence the use of pastel tones of pink, lylic, yellow and blue. Similarly, the font chosen is easy to read and displays a simplicity which depicts the product and brand identity in a cohesive manner. An important factor in designing the logo was that it did not seem targeted towards a particular age group. There was careful attention to ensure the branding did not seem directed towards children but was seen as a product and brand that is attractive for all age groups. Although we were happy with our logo and could see it fitting well onto our future packaging and campaigns, we did not have time to get any packaging samples made up in time for before the completion of the project. Branding was definitely one of my strengths for my business, Babatunde. Due to me past work for magazines and on advertising campaigns as a stylist, I had a fairly good understanding of the branding and it’s importance. It was rewarding to see customer’s responses to the branding. Loyalty and continued engagement was something the brand made me proud of.   

The Customer Journey

One of my key learnings of the Design Thinking for Start Ups module has been the understanding potential customer’s needs and aspirations in order to discover gaps in the market or how products or services can be improved. Later in the module I was taught about the customer journey.

The complete sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with a company or brand can be defined as the customer journey. I often assume that a customer’s experiences are only the purchasing and use of a product of service. But there is much more to a customer journey.  Instead of looking at just a segment of a transaction or encounter, the customer journey documents the full experience of being a customer.

I learnt about the zero moment of truth in this module. Before the internet and online shopping, most customer experiences started either through an advertising campaign or in retail spaces. However, the internet has made finding and researching products and brands possible before these traditional early engagements. Interested consumers now have unlimited resources at their fingertips for research, fact-checks, price comparisons and testimonials.

This means that businesses have had to change their marketing and customer service strategies according to Lecinski (2011). Customer reviews are now crucial therefore it is important to gain genuine product reviews and also to have these spread among various third party review websites. Social media has become a vital part of marketing. Brands and businesses need to ensure that their social media strategies appear active, responsive and conscious about the industries they function in. Blogging is an integral part of this as it serves to address customer concerns as well as providing insightful content to gain customer’s trust. When organic efforts are not producing the required effects, paid search ads and search engine optimization can help to connect with users of high intent.

An effective way of getting into the customer mindset is the customer journey map. This requires mapping the different stages that a customer interacts with your brand or business. These interactions or moments when customers come in to contact with your brand or business are known as touchpoints. These include advertising campaigns, social media campaigns, customer reviews, interactions with customer services teams to name a few. In order to formulate a customer journey map you need to think about the different touchpoints from the customer’s discovery of your brand right through to after the sale of the product or service. The touchpoints then need to be analysed and weaknesses and required improvements need to be identified.

The customer journey is a great way to understand not only what your clients need. But it also helps to envision the different steps and processes of customer interaction with your brand or business outside of just the purchase. This gave me excellent insight into how I neglected certain parts of the customer journey with my business Babatunde. If I start another business, I will be sure to make use of the customer journey map to take full advantage of every step and touchpoint in this journey. Not only is this important for acquiring new customers, but it’s essential for keeping existing customers loyal to your brand. This learning was also helpful for our Experiencing the Creative Industries module as I was tasked with creating different touchpoints for my campaign for the D&AD New Blood Competition.

Reference

Lecinski, J. (2011) Winning the Zero Moment of Truth. Think With Google

Crowdfunding

Raising capital for start apps can be crucial for the survival and growth of a new business. Traditionally, entrepreneurs would look to investors or business partners to help boost the seed capital or to make the start up financially secure. However, finding a business partner or investor has no guarantees and can take a long time. Investment often requires entrepreneurs to hand over a percentage of ownership of their business to the new investor or business partner. Social media has seen the introduction of crowdfunding platforms. Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount, typically via online platforms such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe.  

Seeking traditional financial backing can be time-consuming and unaffordable to many entrepreneurs. Applying for a loan or trying to find an interested investor requires a business plan as well as necessary contacts with specific investors who may be interested in your business. This relinquishes control of the business and the vision for the business in many cases.  A successful crowdfunding campaign is far more efficient and effective in getting your message out to the right people. With the right platform, you can share your startup’s vision, produce a quick video, set up some enticing incentives, and benefit from having all the relevant details and information in one focused location where potential backers can find you.

A strong, well executed crowdfunding campaign can provide approval and social affirmation that’s crucial in mapping the best direction forward for a business. When possible clients express interest in your startup’s product or service, social proof is generated. This demonstrates that there is a market for what you’re doing. Once early adopters believe in your idea, others are more likely to follow suit. Social proof can be converted into traction, whether it’s a significant quantity of backers, pre-orders, or media exposure, this can be invaluable as you endeavour to attract other investors or try to acquire a loan.

Crowdfunding platforms allow possible customers and investors to ask questions and offer criticism towards start up ideas. This feedback can often be unsettling to an entrepreneur. But this is valuable feedback that can help a business to innovate and grow. Ries (2011) states that the first product does not need to be perfect and that through testing and feedback we gain the necessary feedback to strengthen or perfect a product or service. Ultimately, a start up is addressing a customer’s need or problem. Hence customer feedback provides excellent insight as to how you can adapt your product or service to better fit the needs of your customers and make the product or service more useful to them. Crowdfunding is a constructive opportunity to get close to customers and to engage with them in a meaningful way. This can generate excellent ideas and innovative adaptations for start ups.          

Social proof can be built by early adopters and potential brand advocates on crowdfunding platforms. These people who believe in your story, product, or service, are encouraged to spend their money on its longevity and long-term success. Early adopters are vital to the success of crowdfunding campaigns. Due to the belief on your idea, they are most likely to share your vision with friends and family and promote it through their social networks. Nieto-Rodriguez (2017) believes that in the current business climate that there are more benefits to selling a project rayher than just a product or service. Due to businesses now selling experiences and solutions, Nieto-Rodriguez (2017) believes that a better understanding of what customers needs and aspirations are, can help in attracting them and getting them to support your project.

Social networks are the key to growing businesses in current day business environment. Through social media exposure, the media may also notice your campaign. Press coverage of a crowdfunding campaign can potentially attract more attention to a campaign and create ongoing brand awareness for a startup. This can come in the form of a feature story on a popular news station, blog, or print publication, and is a great way to bring in backers outside of your personal network. A good feature story or Twitter mention can create a powerful snowball effect, putting you in touch with major investors you might not have otherwise reached. Whether they read about your new product on a popular blog or hear about your innovative campaign from a friend, a successful crowdfund is a great way to capture new investor interest.

In retrospect, crowdfunding was a tool I have failed to make use of. Both with Babatunde as well as our team startup HugBuddy. Babatunde could have benefited greatly from a crowdfunding campaign. I wasted time looking for a business partner rather than focusing this time and energy on a campaign that could have given the brand greater exposure, but also contact with serious investors. In the future, I aim to take advantage of a crowdfunding campaign when I begin my next business idea.

References

Nieto-Rodriguez A. (2017) Selling Products Is Good. Selling Projects Can Be Even Better. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/10/selling-products-is-good-selling-projects-can-be-even-better (Accessed: 22 April 2020)

Ries (2011). The Lean Startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. London: Portfolio Penguin.

Reflective Personal Development Journal

Before I started my Management in the Creative Economy MA at Kingston University, I assumed most of the course would be about business theory and practices. I was interested in developing my business skills as I felt they needed improvement. I was surprised that there was a large emphasis on our personal and professional development in the second semester. Often, we focus too heavily on theoretical learning and forget that personal development can help us to live more fulfilled lives, both in a personal and professional capacity. This blog will detail my personal development plan as well and my learning in this module. 

Image – http://www.freepik.com

The D&AD New Blood campaign assignment formed the biggest chunk of this module.  Annually D&AD releases a variety of briefs from existing companies. I had to choose one brief from the options offered, develop a campaign concept and then submit slides presenting my idea. I chose the World Bank Connect 4 Climate brief on sustainability. The brief demanded a campaign that speaks to a group of people that aren’t usually reached by marketing campaigns. The campaign needed to inspire behavioural change towards more sustainable living habits and include measurables where youths (15 – 25 year olds) could measure the change in their behaviour as well as educating those around them. I immediately thought of South Africa and how less advantaged communities living in lower income areas often get excluded from campaigns, especially sustainability campaigns. 

This project helped to develop four key skills which are of value in any career in Creative Industries. These skills were – Project Management, Creative Problem Solving, Critiques and understanding my own creative process. Working on a real brief, for a real company, also taught me about industry standards and what would be expected of me in the ‘real world’. Ultimately these four skills will help me to deliver consistently in an efficient and professional manner.

Project management is one of my strengths. Due to freelancing in the past, I learnt how to prioritise the most important tasks and how to ‘juggle’ different projects. Freelancing also gave me suitable training for dealing with pressure. Pressure often helps us to learn about ourselves and can be an opportunity to grow according to Forbes Magazine (2017). Although it was challenging creating and developing a campaign on a weekly basis while working on other module assignments as well as my part time job and my business (Babatunde), I was able to develop my concept and deliver an evolving concept every week. I found DropBox Paper to be an extremely useful tool and wish I had known about it previously. This tool helps to create a developing body of work while having timelines to ensure that deadlines and goals are met. It is also very useful for sharing work and allowing groups to contribute to the same project.

Image : http://www.freepik.com

I enjoyed researching my campaign. Exploring what sustainability campaigns were out there and what efforts were being made to target people in Africa as well as South Africa was gratifying. As I had suspected, most sustainability campaigns are targeted at middle-class and upper-class earners. Similarly, most products or services which are sustainable are only affordable to higher income earners. Most of my research was secondary research, however, I also conducted primary research by sending questionnaires to youths living in townships in South Africa. Although I only received 3 responses, this was a fun experience and was surprisingly insightful for what I wanted to learn about the attitude of youths from disadvantaged backgrounds towards sustainability. This module taught me the importance of research as part of the creative process.  Visocky O’ Grady (2017) believe that problems related to everyday life can only be solved with research.

Another important bit of learning from this project was from the weekly critiques. Each week I had to report back to the class about the work I had done and the ongoing progress on my campaign. Firstly, I would need to listen to my class-mates presentations and then provide constructive criticism about possible improvements they could make or angles of thinking they could pursue. Secondly, I had to present and give a clear and eloquent account of what I had done in the previous week. Active listening was key as I had to understand my classmate’s concepts to give valuable feedback. The presentations also helped with not only speaking in an engaging manner but also with maintaining eye contact with all members of the classroom and holding their attention. Verganti and Norman (2019) maintain that effective teams encourage critical reflection and thus have the ability to ‘create through criticism’.  Hence critiques are essential for collaboration and design thinking.

The module also required me to establish a personal development plan (PDP). The plan consisted of three sections. These sections were personal analysis, setting goals and personal goals. A large part of this was identifying my own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This video from Entrepeneur.com (2019) explains the importance of self-reflection when developing a PDP. Thereafter I had to establish areas for development and skills I would like to improve or gain.

Image -www.freepik.com

The second section of the PDP required me to evaluate which goals I would like to achieve, big or small, but also to think about what skills I need to develop, what resources I would need to use or develop to get to these goals, and to place time frames on when I would like to have reached these goals. What was valuable for me was that I had to determine how I measure success. This was the start of my assessment of what is important for me, both personally and career-wise. Through this exercise I could start understanding what values are important to me and those which I needed to improve and develop to attain my goals. Thereafter I set goals for the short-term, medium term and long term.

The PDP helped me to learn more about where I want to be in life. To ensure I reach this goal, I need to develop a number of my skills. Design and drawing programmes have always intimidated me. But I know I need to learn them to not only fill a gap in my personal capacity, but also to add value to future employers. I have started putting time aside each week to learn digital drawing through tutorials on LinkedIn learning.

Although this hard skill is helpful, the most important skills I needed to develop were soft skills in my opinion. Again, there was an overlap, with benefits to my personal and professional life. You can read more about soft skills in this blog I wrote previously. I identified communication, leadership and empathy as the soft skills I most needed to work on. Communication is something I feel most people neglect and take for granted. The School of Life (2018) discuss the need for emotional intelligence in effective communication. Communication needs to be practiced as two way effectual communication seldom occurs. Leadership is a skill I lacked while running Babatunde. I thought that having a job and earning a salary would inspire my employees. But I now realise that you need to understand your employees and what inspires each of them. In order to motivate them and to get the best performances from them you need to identify what drives them.

Most importantly, and what has been a large part of our learning on this Masters course, empathy is necessary for both communication and leadership to be effective. Understanding people, their cultural background and what they are going through is a fundamental basic in any human interaction. According to School of Life (2018), projects don’t reach their full potential as we are not sensitive enough to what team members are experiencing or what or to whom we are targeting our products or services. It became clear to me that without strong and effective communication, empathy and leadership become more difficult to attain.

This module helped me to realise that even though I would like to start another business, I feel I need to work with a company or team and be ‘employed’ again. Knowing that I will have to apply for jobs and go to interviews is a worrying thought. I have never had a formal interview. Fortunately, the module has prepared me well for employment and what to expect when applying for jobs and attending interviews.  A Large emphasis has been placed on my CV and how to make it impressive while avoiding common mistakes. Schramm (2010) states that first impressions are highly important for building business and personal relationships. I also learnt about the intricacies of non-verbal communication in relation to behavioural interviews. According to Ganguly (2017), body language is crucial to businesses for their recruitment processes as it is one the most powerful forms of communication.

Image: http://www.freepik.com

At the beginning of this blog I mentioned how insightful this module has been. The way all my learning has been linked and overlaps with each other has been advantageous for my learning. What I have learnt about my own personal development had great synergy with the D&AD campaign assignment. I was able to make use of what I had learnt with regards to soft skills and research in my creative problem-solving process for the campaign. It was also an enriching experience to work on a real-life brief. Another aspect of this module I enjoyed was observing my classmate’s creative processes. The diverse cultural backgrounds helped me to learn new ways of approaching creative problem solving.

This module also had synergy with the learning in the Conducting Collaborative Creativity (CCC) module. The CCC module I learnt a lot about collaboration and company culture and their importance to creativity. It is clear that the soft skills and communicating skills we have learnt help massively when collaborating on a project or fitting into company culture.

As I begin work on my dissertation and start looking for work placements, I can’t help feeling that this module has been essential for my development and growth within the Creative Industries. I now have a better understanding of which values are important to me as well as new skills to help achieve my goals and add value for future employment.

References

Forbes Magazine (2017) 18 Ways To Get Better At Working Under Pressure. Available at:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/07/28/18-ways-to-get-better-at-working-under-pressure/#76d926782e35 (Accessed: 5 April 2020)

Ganguly, S. (2017). Understanding Nonverbal Cues: A Key to Success in Interviews. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 11(2)

Entrepreneur.com (2019) ‘How to Create a Personal Development Plan and Achieve Your Goals’. Available at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/329700 (Accessed: 6 April 2020)

The School of Life (2018) ‘Adaptability’ in The Emotionally Intelligent Office: 20 Key Emotional Skills for the Workplace. London: The School of Life

Schramm, JD (2010) ‘Effective Communication Begins with a First Impression’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2010/08/effective-communciation-begins (Accessed 4 April 2020)

Verganti, R & Norman, D (2019) Why Criticism Is Good for Creativity. Harvard Buseiness Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2019/07/why-criticism-is-good-for-creativity (Accessed: 5 April 2020)

Visocky O’Grady, J. (2017). A designer’s research manual: Succeed in design by knowing your clients and what they really need (Second ed.). Berverley: Rockport.

Soft Skills

Image – http://www.freepik.com

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable us to interact effectively and co-operatively with other people. They are usually self-developed, meaning no training is needed to build them. However, they can be learnt and advanced. Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence and personality traits that make it easy to get along and work effectively with colleagues.

These soft skills were often spoken about in the Experiencing the Creative Industries module. As part of our personal development plans we were encouraged to identify and improve the soft skills most relevant to us. These skills are essential when fitting into company culture and embarking on collaborations. Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterize an organization (Groysberg et al, 2018). In our Conducting Collaborative Creativity module the class discussed company culture at length. Great company culture sets the foundations for real, tangible business growth. Employees tend to enjoy work when their needs and values are consistent with those in the workplace. This sort of environment allows for honest, productive conversations and helps companies to identify problems and collectively form solutions.  Company culture is important to employers because employees are more likely to be productive in the workplace when they fit in with the company culture.

One of the biggest advantages of soft skills is that they don’t limit you to working within one industry. These are transferable skills, allowing you to demonstrate your personality and effectiveness to prospective employers, even if you have limited experience in their field. Everyone has some form of soft skills. This is where self-awareness is so important. We need to identify our own strengths and weaknesses and then to be able to develop these accordingly . It is also very important to remember that there is always  room for improvement even within your strongest skills.

The Emotionally Intelligent Office by The School of Life
Photo – Gareth Cowden

The most important soft skills to have and develop differ from person to person. Some of the soft skills which are highly sought after are emotional intelligence, ability to collaborate, growth mindset, openness to feedback, adaptability, active listening and work ethic . What links all of these skills together is a positive attitude as cheesy as it might sound. Believing that there’s a positive outcome in any and all challenging situations will help you navigate the day today of your job or making other People really want to work with you in soft skills are harder to teach but the pay off might be even bigger so make sure you’re investing time and effort into auditing and improving your soft skill set. In the age of automation and artificial intelligence, these skills are becoming increasingly more important (Akhtar and Hroncich, 2020).

As part of the module we needed to assess our own strengths and weaknesses in the soft skill department. Due to the multi-cultural nature of our class, we had many opportunities to develop and observe different soft skills from different classmates. Our group assignments and the many different groups exercises we performed in class were helpful in measuring my own soft skills and then working to improve on them.

I found the book The Emotionally Intelligent Office very helpful too. The book offers advice on 20 different skills needed for the workplace and explains why these skills are important in a clear and simple manner.

The Soft skills and company compliment each other and needs each other to prosper. In retrospect, running my own business would have been far easier if I was more considerate of mine and other people’s soft skills. But going forward as I enter the job market I will be conscious of these skills and improve them.

References

Business Insider (2020) Soft Skills Leaders Need To Be Successful. Available at https://www.businessinsider.com/soft-skills-leaders-need-for-success-2016-4?r=US&IR= (Accessed: 5 April 2020)

Groysberg, B, Lee, J, Price, J, & Cheng, J (2018) ‘The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.’ , Harvard Business Review, 96, 1, pp. 44-52.

The School of Life (2018) ‘Adaptability’ in The Emotionally Intelligent Office: 20 Key Emotional Skills for the Workplace. London: The School of Life

Effective Communication

Communication is a two way process. How do we get our ideas and intentions into someone else’s mind clearly?
Image – http://www.independenceplus.com

Communication is a two way process where a message is sent by the sender with the intention that the message should be interpreted in the same terms by the recipient. However this is not always the case, this is an ideal. Communication is often disrupted by distractions which surround us and our own poor listening skills. Communication is not only the key to achieving our goals but is also our essential for our survival. Effective communication has three key aspects. Firstly, the exchange of information, secondly, understanding the intentions, and finally empathy.

In the previous blog I discussed  non verbal communication and the important part it plays in  communication. This blog will speak about the skills of listening and communicating clearly when we talk. Listening or understanding the message someone is trying to send to you is a skill which is often not spoken about when referring to communication. In order to listen effectively you need to be able to practice focused listening or interpretive listening. Focused listening is giving the sender your undivided attention to their communication. Interpretive listening is going beyond just paying attention and actually trying to understand what the person is communicating to you at the time. For communication to be effective, I now understand that I need to use focused or interpretive listening to be entirely engaged. Both levels of listening are necessary for business as well as personal communication.

As part of our preparation for this class we watched this youtube video by Julian Treasure. In the video, Julian explains different ways on how to improve our listening skills. ‘Making meaning from sound’ was critical advice about listening. Other valuable suggestions Julian made was using the RASA principal when listening to others. The acronym represents four key parts of listening – Receive, Appreciate, Summarize and Ask. Receive means paying attention to whom is talking to you. Appreciate is the acknowledgment that you’re listening by nodding or making small verbal affirmations. Summarize lets the sender know that you recognise what s/he is saying by repeating brief summaries of what they have said.  And finally, Ask involves asking relevant questions afterwards.

Due to the various forms of communication available to us, it is easily to get distracted and to not be fully focused on face to face communication.
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

For communication to be effective, we also need to ensure that we are clearly heard and understood when we are the sender. Another youtube video by Julian explained the principles of getting your message across adequately. In this video he used the acronym HAIL for speaking powerfully and with meaning. These letters stand for Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity and Love. Honesty means being true in what you say as well as being clear and straight. Authenticity represents being yourself. Integrity requires doing what you say and being trusted by others. Love demands wishing well to the person or people you are talking to.

The attention span of an adult is particularly short at 17 seconds. Not only is this an alarmingly low amount of time to keep focus, this time length is getting shorter and shorter due to technology , smart phones and social media. To illustrate this point we performed a class exercise. The exercise required each person to say their name, favourite animal and the place they’d most like to be. After your turn to mention these personal characteristics, you then had to repeat the answers of the person who went before you. Followed by the people that went before them. Initially I thought this was a memory exercise but the way the game is structured meant you had to pay attention to every classmate’s answers. Full attention was absolutely necessary to be effective in this exercise. The exercise illustrated that for effective two way communication to occur, listening and paying attention are crucial.

I am often guilty of taking listening for granted as well as not appreciating being fully understood. It is essential to practice these skills and make use of them as much as possible. Communication is a huge part of human interaction. Especially when it comes to business and growing a business. When creativity is involved communication is arguably even more crucial as understanding can be more challenging due to abstract ideas creativity regularly holds. As with most understanding in life, empathy and understanding of those you’re communicating with forms the basis of how effective your communication can be.

Non-Verbal Communication

Body Language
Image – Dustin York

A common assumption about communication is that it only involves talking, however a great deal of human interaction and communication is actually conducted through other means, such as smell and body language. As part of our Experiencing the Creative Economy module we focused particularly on non-verbal communication. Non verbal communication is the use of facial expressions, physical behaviour and mannerisms. Each gesture or movement can be a valuable insight to an emotion a person may be feeling at any given time. It can be a conscious on unconscious behaviour.

Non-verbal communication, is the most reliable and powerful form of communication according to Ganguly (2017). It plays a very important role in the entire process of recruitment and subsistence within organizations.  Businesses spend a great deal of time and budgets on training their staff to understand non-verbal cues as well as their governavce techniques. This helps businesses with regards to their recruitment process, specifically interviews. Non-verbal communication is essential when attending interviews. The first impression you give can have a large impact when a company decides on whether to hire you. Ultimately, you want to leave a lasting impression that the recruitment team will remember you by.

Eye contact and handshakes are effective gestures for leaving a good impression.
Picture – http://www.bohatala.com

Non verbal communication was a common criticism for our design thinking startup team. In most of our presentations we received feedback saying that our group energy was not convincing nor passionate enough. I have not always been aware of my body language and what this portrays to other people. This class helped me to have a better understanding of how I can give a good impression and appear passionate about what I am doing.

I find this very interesting as when I started Babatunde, I believe my non-verbal communication was strong. I was excited about the project and believed in what I was doing. I definitely noticed that people could sense this positivity and it made them want to be involved in the project. Later on when my passion for the business started dying, I could sense that I was deterring business colleagues with my negative outlook and cynicism.

According to Schramm (2010), we have many opportunities each week to make a good first impression. Whether it’s a formal presentation to hundreds of people, a cover letter to a company we would like to work for, or even an email to a group of colleagues about an upcoming event, we need to consider each first impression and make it count. It is important to make these moments count and to give yourself an advantage with what is an easy and effective method.

Although I have found body language and non-verbal communication to be an interesting topic for most of my life, I had not thought of it extensively enough with regards to business and the creative economy. Going forward I will be more conscious of my own body language and message I am portraying to others when I first meet them. This knowledge will be fundamental when I am seeking a job later this year.

References

Schramm, JD (2010) ‘Effective Communication Begins with a First Impression’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2010/08/effective-communciation-begins (Accessed: 1 April 2020).

Ganguly, S. (2017). Understanding Nonverbal Cues: A Key to Success in Interviews. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 11(2), 62,64-72.

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