Interview with Vicki Lovegrove from Seventy Three Design

Vicki Lovegrove is based in Burton on Trent and has been running her own business, Seventy Three Design, for almost 14 years. She’s 43 and married with two children (Mackenzie, nine, and Orla, two). She also has a cockapoo called Rocky who sits under her desk all day. This is her story.

What’s your career background?

I’ve always been one of those people who has worked. Even as a kid I had up to three jobs at any time. My design career started when I was 14 and I went on a school work placement at an advertising agency. I then spent my holidays working there and at another design agency doing paste up.

After doing a ND & HND in Graphic Design at college, I worked in various places: typesetters, printers, university, advertising agency, marketing agency and design agencies. So, I gained a huge breadth of experience across a multitude of brands, some global, some smaller and more local.

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How did your career change after having children

I was already working from home in 2007 when I had my son (now aged nine). He was born in the September, by November I was back at work and he started nursery at 12 weeks.

I had my, then, busiest months in the business so was relieved that I went straight back. By March the phones had stopped, and my PND had kicked in along with the recession.

Some of my work had dropped off because I had told them about the baby, other work was lost due to the recession. It was pretty tough, not a good time, and I blamed myself a lot but in reality the first thing to go in a recession is marketing/design.

When my daughter was born in 2014, I prepared more. I didn’t tell clients I was going to have a baby (I work from home so it doesn’t matter). I also got more qualified – I am now a Member of the Chartered Society of Designers.

And I saved more so I could come back to work more gradually. It helped me prepare mentally, but I was still depressed. This time though I knew it wasn’t anything I had done, so I was more able to talk about it. Now my daughter is two and a half I feel much better, which is so different than with my son, I was depressed for years.

The main change in my career is that, as the sole designer, I get all the creative work. I can pick and choose what I do. Some of it is dull but pays the bills – but this is okay as it is all mine. When I was in a design studio, I went weeks without anything stimulating coming to my desk, and I was pretty bored.

How did you move from idea to business?

In 2003 I was made redundant, after which I freelanced in-house across my local area in design and marketing agencies, then gradually built up my own client-base. Clients from my old job found me and eventually became my clients.

What is your USP?

I always find this question hard. There are lots of designers out there, and we are very similar. My USP is that I have a very wide range of experience, so I can offer to create brand identities for SMEs that are just as powerful as global brands.

My design is very strategic, which a lot of designers don’t know how to offer. Also, once you have paid for the design time, the graphics files and IP belong to you. I hate hearing about people being held to ransom over their own logos.

Who are your target audience?

I mainly, and prefer to, work B2B across engineering, manufacturing and healthcare. Although I have worked across many sectors, and sometimes take on projects purely because they are small and really get my creative juices going.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I am a big believer in networking. I like to reach out that way. I also do LinkedIn and a little bit of Twitter, but social media for business just leaves me a bit cold.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Historically I have got work because I have been recommended. So, the best kind of networking for me is referral networking. I belong to BNI, which once you get the hang of it is fantastic for getting new business. I get a lot of work, support and friendships from that.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Moving to a new area, in 2006 we moved from Northampton to Burton on Trent, which was a bit of a culture shock and I knew no one. I had to do lots of hard work networking, and getting my face out there. I don’t think I will ever be ‘local’.

And your proudest moment so far?

I pitched to create a new brand for two IT companies who were merging. One was in the Netherlands and one was in Belfast. It was a fantastic opportunity.

Why is work so important to you?

I have always had to earn my own money from the age of 13. When my friends were given their family allowance, I was giving old people their breakfast before I went to school, along with two or three weekend jobs. I was everywhere in my local town.

I couldn’t imagine not working, although sometimes I would like to do something where it really didn’t matter if I earnt money or not, something more arty. I need a rich husband!

Who inspires you?

At the moment the people who inspire me the most are other women who create businesses while juggling kids. It is great to see someone get that lightbulb moment when they realise they CAN start that business, and it is a viable idea.

How do you balance your business with your family?

Precariously. At least that is how it feels! It is a huge juggling act. I can’t call on family or close friends to have my kids, as they all live a good two hours away. So, I have always taken the view to explain to my kids how the family works from an early age.

I think my son appreciates it. He knows how hard me and his dad work to keep everything going. Although sometimes I think he wonders how his friends can have annual Disney holidays when their mums don’t work. But then I wonder that too!

Ultimately, I couldn’t do anything if I didn’t have a great husband who is totally equal. We are a great team.

What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring freelancers or small business owners?

I would say my top three pieces of advice are:

  1. DO IT! – it is hard work, I almost didn’t do it I turned down an offer to start a business (wish I hadn’t, sorry Jo), but I did it in the end and I have no idea how employed women do it, it is much easier, I imagine, to run a business and a family.
  2. Take time off – when you are quiet, panic then stop panicking and grab some time to yourself (I never take this advice).
  3. Go out and network – tell people about what you are doing. Join BNI, you will have a great team of businesses that you meet every week who actively go out and sell for you, and you for them. It is great to be a part of. Get the right group and you will have friends for life too.

You can find out more about Seventy Three Design on their website