Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects, April 2008
Mary Rose Cook studied design at Goldsmith College and won ‘New Designer of the Year’ in 2005. She started out freelancing as a designer and working part-time in a design agency. In 2006 she co-founded Uscreates, a company that addresses social change through innovative design.
Mary Cook and Zoe Stanton
‘Although I had a really good degree and a great award, I didn’t have all the technical skills that big design companies were looking for like computer design programmes. I felt I needed to work for myself because the jobs out there didn’t really suit me. If I could set up my own business then it could be completely tailor-made for me and the skills that I had.’
Mary (pictured left) was made aware of the Creative Pioneer Programme (NESTA) and set about applying, training and putting a business plan together. She also continued to develop her freelance work. ‘I found work through contacts and speculatively approaching companies. Throughout my degree I had done work experience and worked for different designers on one-off projects so I had quite a good network by the time that I left.’
Mary set up Uscreates with fellow design graduate Zoë Stanton (pictured right). ‘Our degree was very conceptual and we wanted to use our design skills in a way that was more than just designing another chair or website. Both our final year projects centred on healthy eating and eating etiquette and this led us to starting up a design company that was purely focused on designing for social change.’
The Creative Pioneer Programme helped Mary and Zoë get their business plan and funding together, and they have now been in business for two years. ‘Since starting out we had to learn endless skills; from accounting and legal skills through to project management, dealing with clients and a whole range of business skills.’
The Creative Pioneer Programme continues to support Mary and Zoë with a business mentor. ‘We have also gone out and found ourselves mentors in other areas and found it really surprising how many people are willing to help us for nothing. If they are interested and think they can help they will give us a few hours of their time every few months and it has just been brilliant.’
Mary believes their success is a combination of having a skill that they’re passionate about, and also being able to work closely and make decisions together. ‘If you are starting up by yourself, make sure you are willing to take it all on your own shoulders. I wasn’t and so having to learn to work with somebody else very intensely has been quite a learning curve.
‘The financial side of running your own business is the most challenging, and I think there is a great tendency to pay yourselves hardly anything, but then what is the point of working so much and earning less than you would working for someone else? We also decided that we would try and work a normal working day from the start and not work weekends, just so we don’t get completely worn out and tired of doing it.
‘A slight naivety helps when starting out; that you can have the enthusiasm to do it without weighing up every single pro and con. You do just have to go out there and give it a go.
‘One of the best things about being self-employed is the fact that any work that comes into the company is because of you and it is up to you to decide how the finance is used. The majority of your day is spent at work, so it is great just being able to control that and enjoy it.’
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