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Kieran Harrod Portrait

How 10 Years in Business Took me from Good Design to Brilliant Branding (and Heartfelt Gratitude).

Blimey. 10 years as my own boss. My hat off to all business owners who’ve lurched into this milestone and felt like I do right now! (I don’t have an actual hat, but I’ve always liked the idea of it… A bowler maybe.)

Thrilled. Bemused. Proud. Grateful… Just a few of my emotional rumblings. Cynical old me was more inclined towards the imagery of some of the top song titles (so I’m told) of 2011 (like ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Don’t hold your Breath’), yet here we are.

Thrilled. Bemused. Proud. Grateful… Just a few of my emotional rumblings.

To be fair, that doesn’t really do justice to either the hard work I put in, or the unfailing support of my wonderful wife Kate. As any business owner, entrepreneur or freelancer knows, the blood, sweat and tears is never solely your own, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the family, friends and clients who supported my first stumbling years as a self-employed graphic designer.

We made it!


The Push


Although I’ve been designing for over 20 years, only half of that was as my own boss. 10 years ago I was travelling around Europe and the UK as a marketing manager for an Italian multinational. Exciting? Perhaps, if we hadn’t started a family at the same time as the promotion came along. The money was great, the lifestyle was not. Kate & I decided that something had to change. Even now, I wonder how many self-employed people make the leap out of choice or forced circumstances? I’d love to know.

I also craved freedom. Freedom to choose time with my children; freedom to choose clients I respected; freedom to pursue my creative urges, as unorthodox as they have turned out to be!

Of course, that freedom comes at a cost right?

I was doing pretty well in employment, so sacrifices were made. Who doesn’t want a steady, guaranteed income? The ‘semi’ stayed ‘terraced’ for a little longer than planned and the jet set holidays took a back seat to family staycations for a few years more. Do I regret it? Not one bit.

Don’t get me wrong. This is 10 years in. The beginning was hard and bumpy and I made plenty of mistakes along the way. Overwork, the wrong clients, the wrong product, too cheap, too expensive… At the time you wonder how you’re ever going to get it right (or how you never realised Google would ban you using ‘Harrod’). But 10 years in, all the textbook mistakes made and learned from (he says…), I now have the luxury of immersing myself in a big brand project and making the most of the sunshine with my family on a nice day.


The Now


Some business owners find they branch out and try new things after this long self-employed. Some find their niche and specialise. I’m one of the latter. As the years passed, I discovered the things I really, truly, loved and that came naturally to me. Essentially, that is losing myself in the creative process. Focusing on taking an idea to a place that ‘wows’ the client.

From a business perspective, this is a great tactic. You get to hone skills and go from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ (according to feedback!), while the joy you have in the process makes it feel – well – not like work. What more could I ask for? Earning a design award along the way helps the old ego too… not to mention the referrals.

As the years passed, I discovered the things I really, truly, loved

I’m not rich and famous, I’m comfortable and well-respected in my industry. That’s all I need from my work. I’m also proud to stand out from the crowd, taking ideas back to creative ‘basics’. I love using paint, ink drawing, calligraphy pens, printing, lino, photography or anything that fits the bill to generate assets or even the logo itself. Not in a slavish “I must find an arty way to solve this” but just if things feel right.

That’s a freedom you rarely get in a design agency and means my work is truly unique and makes an impression.


The Gratitude.


I didn’t do this on my own. I’m blessed with a supportive, loving family, and glad that the precious hours I’ve clawed back as my success has grown has been spent with them.

I was also fortunate to have the support of the Prince’s Trust, squeezing onto their programme just before I hit the big 3-0. It’s a wonderful coincidence that one of my colleagues from that decade-ago course has recently been in touch as a client! What a great circle of fate. I applaud the Programme and the excellent support they give to young people with a dream.

There’s nothing like listening to clients describe their business, getting more and more passionate and animated as we delve into the heart behind their product or service.

I love that 10 years in, I’m helping other people’s dreams become a reality. There’s nothing like listening to clients describe their business, getting more and more passionate and animated as we delve into the heart behind their product or service. And that magical moment when you know you’ve got it right and they’re so delighted with how you’ve captured the spirit of it that they well up. It doesn’t happen every time, of course. That would be ridiculous. But it has happened and it’s beyond gratifying. A good brand image won’t make your business great – you do that. But a BAD brand image can kill it dead in the water.

Most of all, I thank the business owners who have trusted me. Your brand is the soul of your enterprise and you bared it to me, allowing me to shape and mold your vision. It’s an honour, every single one of you, past, present and future.

Here’s to the next 10 years! [doffs hat]

Kieran.
Your graphic designer.

Kieran Harrod Portrait

Photography by Sam Houghton