Avid readers of my Creativepool blog – of which there must be literally…some – will know that I upped sticks and moved from the Big Smoke (London) to the Big Nice And Airy (Saffron Walden) a couple of years ago. During this time, I’ve often waxed lyrical about the whys and wherefores of moving out of what is arguably the most vibrant design capital in Europe to a converted cattle shed in the middle of nowhere.
This week, I’m talking to Shara Vickers, Creative Director of design agency Tela, who did exactly the same thing. With an 18-year-old pedigree, Tela continues to kick up a storm from Loughton to Littlebury.
Hi, Shara. So I’ve snooped around in an attempt to find out why you called your agency “Tela” but drawn a big fat blank. What's the story?
"Tela" is Latin for "web". Having studied Latin for a whole term at school, I finally used my Latin dictionary to help us decide on our company name.
You graduated with a degree in Graphic Design in 1996 and had already set up Tela by 1997. That’s quite brave and ambitious for a new graduate. Tell me more about that leap of faith.
As we were very young, with no scary mortgages or other ties to worry about, we didn’t think about how brave we were. We borrowed a bit of cash from my parents and bought our first Mac. From then on, we were self-sufficient. In a way, being so young and excited about opportunity did us a huge favour. However, we learnt a lot of lessons that had to be learnt by making quite a few mistakes on the way.
Does Tela rely on its reputation to get a constant flow of work, or do you actively seek it out to stay ahead of the competition?
We love what we do, so the team tend to geek out on all the latest design and techie stuff. Because we are constantly learning and developing our ideas, we can’t wait to use them in our clients’ projects. This is one thing that makes us stand out, as we are designers at heart and techies by default. We work really hard to deliver and then measure the quality and success of every project. We have a good reputation and so get a lot of repeat business, which we love. It means we can help our clients grow and realise their own business goals.
We have also learnt how important it is to let people know about us. We use traditional methods like networking, online advertising and positioned content.
Fladgate - Mobile
You spend a lot of time targeting particular areas. For instance, you have worked with many London-based law firms. I’m guessing that approach paid off well, didn’t it?
It all happens pretty organically, really – one sector leads us onto another. We have worked with a lot of large recruitment companies such as Reed and Hays and they led us into graduate and lateral recruitment within the financial services sectors. We have worked with RBS, HBOS and Barclays Capital. We continued with the graduate recruitment for some Magic Circle law firms, and since then we have really enjoyed working in the legal sector.
Why did you leave London?
Once Craig [also a co-director of Tela] and I started having children, our priorities changed and we moved our family home from East London to Saffron Walden. It is a beautiful town to live in and we initially thought the three-hour round trip to Canary Wharf would be bearable. After four years of such a long commute, we finally decided that something had to change, so we moved the offices to Saffron Walden.
Is there a particular advantage to your being based in Saffron Walden rather than London? Or is geography irrelevant now, in today’s connected world?
We still spend a lot of time in London, but our clients also really enjoy coming to visit us. There are lots of cosy pubs, cafés and restaurants – and a visit to us can feel like a day out to the country.
You and your husband Craig manage a team of four at the moment. Any plans or ambitions to expand? Or is the small dream team the way it's going to stay?
We are growing but we like to do things organically. We manage to keep a small team through effective planning and good levels of skill. We have made the mistake in the past of focussing on growth as a marker for success. In the services sector, this can be very risky. We now focus on the work, optimising the core team and the resources we have available. We only hire new members when there is a visible skill or resource gap.
Is there such a thing as a typical day at work for you?
Every day is different. One day we will be having a sensible conversation with the accountant, and another day we will be sat in barristers’ grand chambers.
Do you think the job or clients' requirements and expectations have changed over the years? If so, how have you adapted to that?
The biggest change is that clients are a lot more knowledgeable about the internet. That has its benefits as it means that it is easier to explain the importance of the design and functionality of clients’ websites.
What's your favourite type of project to work on?
Ones with intelligent marketing strategies that have a measured success. When something really works, it’s great – and when you can measure success, you can really refine the project over time and get the most out of it. We love measuring!
What has been the most challenging brief you've had?
Generating a live monitoring system for Barclays Capital’s power distribution in Canary Wharf. So many things that could go wrong…
Essex Chambers - Responsive Design
Has Tela won any awards?
We have won a variety of awards for our clients and have also won Business Person of the Year a few times too, locally and nationally.
Has this helped the company’s profile and secured you more work?
Yes, when we were a new company in particular; everyone loves an award! But I think the primary focus should always be on the quality of the work.
Has there ever been a time when a project just went completely pear-shaped?
Yes, there have been challenging times. These are the times when you learn that planning and making sure client expectations are realistic before commencing a project. We put a lot of time and planning into projects beforehand to make sure there are no project creep issues. We also try to be completely transparent during the pitching process and always have technical sign-off on all features. Making sure everyone knows the project boundaries is essential.
Tell me about your upcoming projects. What's on your agenda over the next few weeks?
We’ve recently started work on a creative contract for a top 50 law firm. It is a very exciting project that we are looking forward to working on. We’re also migrating a large client onto a new hosting environment to help elevate costs whilst increasing performance. There are also three barristers’ chambers websites we are working on as well as one of the largest law firms in Greece, so we’re hitting the crowd running this year, which is great.
Finally, what are Tela’s long-term plans?
We want to continue working in the law sector as it has brought us some great high-profile clients with very interesting projects. We are also looking to dip our toes into more research/pharmaceutical sectors, as they seem to face a lot of similar challenges compared to the legal sector.
Thanks, Shara. All the best to you and the rest of the team at Tela for 2016!
Interview by Ashley Morrison
Ashley is a copywriter, editor and blogger