6 tips for building a successful creative business

Jason Holland of Underwired

Jason Holland of Underwired

With nearly 20 years of experience working in the creative industry, Jason Holland is clearly doing something right. He's won a huge variety of major design, advertising and interactive awards, including EPICA, World Media Festival, IPPA Golds, three appearances in the D&AD Annual and a Cannes Cyber Lion for his personal website.

Since 1997, Jason has co-founded and been the creative director of two award-winning agencies, Head New Media, which became the digital arm of Lowe in 1998, and his current agency, Underwired, the UK’s leading eCRM agency. We chatted to him to learn some of the secrets of his success...

01. Find the perfect partner

One of the first and best things Holland did was finding the right person set up in business with. "Felix and I started an agency together, not only because we fully complemented each other from a skills point of view, but also because we were perfectly aligned on where we thought we could take the industry," he explains.

02. Choose a memorable name

What you call yourself matters, so how did Holland choose his? "Our first agency together was called ‘Head New Media’," he begins, "as it was a snippet of the HTML code that appeared in everything we did in those days. Underwired was originally set up partly to support Head’s clients from a SEO perspective and for online PR – in essence the agency was very much offering ‘below the line’ services.

"In the digital world that line would be a wire, so I guess you can see where I’m heading with this…. ‘Under the Wire’ then evolved into ‘Underwired’, which is certainly memorable in many different ways, depending on who you are!"

03. Define your core philosophy

If you're going to set up a company, you need to give it a clear philosophy - then everything will flow from there. Case in point: Underwired believes strongly in "industry-leading creative and strategy from a foundation in customer insight," explains Holland.

The foundation of creative in customer insight is the core philosphy of Underwired

The foundation of creative in customer insight is the core philosphy of Underwired

Having that organising principle in place helps enormously in clarifying people's goals. "So as a creative director, a key objective of mine is to ensure every project is successful from a commercial point of view, while also still being beautiful to use. And taking this across multi-channel projects is a real key to our approach."

04. Understand your client's business

From Tommy Hilfiger to M&S, Underwired takes pride in having a very diverse client base. And one of the reasons they can attract such big name clients, says Holland, is "our deep understanding of the business case behind the work we’re being asked to do".

"For instance, companies often ask us: 'We have 12 million people to talk to, but what should we say?' and it’s down to us to give them the right answers." Having a full understanding of the brand and its audience, when combined with insightful ideas and design standards, will make you alluring to clients big and small.

05. Stay hands-on with the creation process

The danger of starting a creative business is losing touch with your own creativity as you get bogged down in other things. Holland has made sure to avoid this pitfall himself. "Even though my role is creative director, I’m very ‘hands on’," he stresses. "This means that I am often found pushing pixels in Adobe Photoshop, or tweaking some code using ye’olde BBEDIT.

Underwired has a number of big name clients such as Tommy Hilfiger and M&S

Underwired has a number of big name clients such as Tommy Hilfiger and M&S

"Other than that, Adobe Illustrator is great for the flat colour elements of what I want created," he adds. "Having used Apple computers since 1994, I have an Apple habit, so the usual PowerBook, iPhone, etc. are my day-to-day devices of choice."

06. Do what you love

Revealingly, when asked what he would change about his career if he could go back in time, Holland responds: "I don’t regret a thing. Well, other than a period of 36 hours in 1995 that involved three pints of an unidentified drink which led to losing £2k of computer, finding it again, plenty of free taxi rides, the immigration police and a TV star..."

Instead, he says, he would love to go back to his younger self and "reassure him that all the risks, hardship and putting everything into what you believe does pay dividends in the end. As the famous quote states, 'Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life'".

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.