Our incredible Founder & Director, Tara Shelton, was interviewed on the wonderful podcast - The Ladies Lounge - with Anna Masse and Emma Franklin Bell. It was quite the interview, have a read of the transcript below or jump online here to listen for yourself. Enjoy!
Today we have Tara Shelton here from Dream & Do, she’s just amazing, she’s done all sorts of stuff - worked in design for years and we’re gonna talk about her jumping ship into her own business. She’s won a B&T 30 under 30 Award, she ran her first business called Moi Self and was featured in InStyle, Vogue and Hello May. She also won a young designer of the year award and now runs her own design agency Dream and Do.
Here she is on the lounge! Is there anything else you’d like to add Tara?
I’d just like to say that Dream and Do is a creative agency for startups, visionaries and dreamers everywhere, so it’s a very specific creative agency. There are a lot of agencies out there but not one specifically for startups.
When you talk about visionaries and dreamers, what does that mean to you?
Business visionaries are people who want to take their business to the next level, they want to do something different with it and they need to engage with creative people to give them an idea that they haven’t thought of already. Startups are of course bouncing with ideas, they just need help getting noticed, so we can give them a really powerful brand to do that. Business visionaries are people who want to reposition their business a little bit. People with businesses at the two, five and ten year mark are typically at the point where they want to rebrand and/or reposition, taking things to that next level.
Those are the kinds of people we work with and then we also deliver creative content for businesses. They’ve got this epic brand, have put the time and money into it, but how do they get consumers/customers to keep engaging with their brand in creative ways to keep them interested?
Aside from branding we do brand films, EDMs and social media, graphic design, live art at events to engage people in the audience, live social media (so interviewing people on the spot and blogging it straight away) - all the regular stuff but we really want to be doing the stuff that goes viral.
So you’re doing film stuff as well?
Yeah! I guess Dream and Do is just a creative pool outside your business that you can tap into to give you something amazing. We do have our standard range of services but we are the ideas people, the people that can make it happen, we hope to be a one stop shop for that.
Can I ask how you came up with that? You’re obviously in a position where you have experience in other jobs… so you saw this niche market and decided to work with entrepreneurs?
I’ve studied design and worked in marketing and graphic design for different fashion businesses and that was really great because I learnt the power of branding. Clothes are clothes, yes there are different designs but ultimately people are really buying a brand. That’s what I really learnt in the fashion industry. A brand reinvents the same thing, the same season over and over, that’s where I really developed my love of branding. The reason I wanted to work within agencies, the reason I chose my profession, funnily enough, was the movie What Women Want. When I was young I watched Helen Hunt up there presenting a Nike campaign and I was like “Oh my god, that’s what I want to do.” I literally chose my degree based on that scene in the movie. I wanted the experience of working in agencies, so after working in big agencies like McCann and boutique agencies like Studio Woo, I sort of realised that there was something missing for startups. It was something I noticed because I had my own business in the UK called Moi Self.
Yes, so tell us a little bit about that! So you were working in agencies when you came up with that concept?
I was working for a brand in the UK called White Stuff doing their design and marketing, art directing their shoots and things like that.
Had you gone on the classic 20’s two year visa sort of thing?
Ahh I have a passport so I went openly. It was meant to be two years but ended up being four... For my final year uni project I wanted to develop a brand. I have a history of depression in my family so I wanted to come up with some tools for girls to support other girls with before it got too bad, kind of a light hearted approach.
So I came up with five products - one was Helpful Hankies. I designed and screen printed them, one said ‘He’s not that hot anyway ‘ with a big cheetah on it, really cute and quirky! When I was interviewing for jobs in the UK I was showing this idea in my portfolio and everyone was saying ‘You should start this as a business!’ and two years into living in London I thought, ‘Stuff this, I’m gonna try!’
I think that’s where I got my love for the entrepreneurial journey. I’d always been a bit of an entrepreneur. I always had six jobs, never just one and would charge my little sisters to play with me and stuff like that... With Moi Self, I developed something from nothing and turned into into something fairly successful. I sold 5000 hankies, won an award, was stocked in major department stores, even in Colette Paris.
That’s huge! Retail is so hard over there (in Europe) too...
I had my day job as well which I was quite passionate about, so I took two weeks off work as a holiday and locked myself away in my studio apartment and got it going. Then on the side of my job, on weekends and nights I did the PR with a friend from work.
Did you start out doing markets or did you go straight in and pitch?
Straight to pitch! I didn’t have the time to do markets nor did I want to spend my time in London that way. It was a bit of a hobby but it went quite successfully, I got offered investment from My-Wardrobe owner Sarah Curran but denied it and decided to do it small by myself. I guess what that taught me, coming back to Australia, is there’s nothing like the buzz of starting your own business.
I was in agencies and getting tired of selling $12.95 hankies and I thought, I’m a person who has a million business ideas all the time and it’s kind of annoying because I’d need a thousand lives to do it all, so I thought, how can I use my skills in design to essentially start all these businesses or contribute to businesses?
I decided, I’m literally just going to offer my design and branding skills to startups. I was on a plane, working as a contractor at the time and I mentioned it to my husband saying “I think I’m gonna start a business called Dream & Do…” and he was like “Yeah, cool.” Cos I’m always coming up with ideas, sort of like “Yeah cool, can I finish this movie?”
I was writing like crazy and I thought ‘This is something.’ I googled ‘agency for startups’ and couldn’t find anything. My first challenge was everyone telling me I wasn’t going to make money out of startups.
...Yeah because people think startups don’t have much money, but you had done the startup journey and you knew how creatives work...
I knew there was value in it. Not everyone has the money and not everyone values spending money on branding. You need to test the market first, most businesses do to some degree, but I believe you don’t get a second chance at first impressions. You can create a brand from scratch quite cheaply if you work with the right people. If you want to differentiate in the market with your brand, you work with us. That’s our point of difference.
And you (Dream & Do) really grow brands because you’re so dedicated to it. I think, these days, that’s so important when every market is so saturated.
Absolutely. There are other options for startups - they can go to a graphic designer friend who will help them but they have their own stuff going on and you can’t feel like you can ask too much of them because they’re doing you a favour, then you’ve got Fiver and freelancer.com and everyone says they’re our competitors. They’re not. You can go and spend five dollars on a logo and realise you’ve spent 50 hours trying to get it out of them, so it comes down to how much your time is worth. Working with us, you’re really buying a relationship because we really care about our clients.
And for listeners, quite often people think branding is just a logo but in the marketing world we know that is not the case, so how could you sort of debunk that a bit Tara, and explain the almost holistic aspect of branding?
Branding is so much more than a logo, in fact it’s the last thing we do. Basically a brand is a personality. Think about what makes up your personality - it’s your values, how you dress, etc. There was a really good quote I read the other day, I can’t remember who said it but they said “We are all born naked and and we all dress in drag.” I thought that was really interesting and it says something about branding - how you dress up, your colours, your font, your imagery, it all says something about who you are. You’ve gotta figure out your values, your mission, your vision, these are all marketing bits you’ve gotta do. It’s really hard to work on it yourself, it took me ages to come up with my own and I do it everyday.
When you do your own, you start to compare yourself to competitors, then you’re judging yourself, then the overwhelm hits, then the fear hits because you want to be original and not copy anyone else. Do you find that’s one of the main issues clients feel, you know, ‘I want to be unique and original, how can I do that?’
These days it’s an information and knowledge economy. If you want to build a brand you can type into Google ‘How to build a brand’, so people feel that because they have the information that tells them how to do something, they think they can do everything and they can’t.
There’s no point in wasting that brain power. Instead focus on your customers, on your product, your efficiency and if you want a brand to differentiate yourself, work with someone, work with a creative.
I’ve always said everybody is creative but they close down, whereas with your creative eye, you can ask those questions to tease it out.
Yeah, I always bring up our logo, it’s a kind of constellation that says Dream & Do and yes, it’s all about the stars cos that’s nice and pretty and dreamy and fun, but people have all these gems that they come to us with, and we can join the dots. We tell them ‘Don’t think too much, just word vomit.’ and then we’ll say ‘That’s different. That’s not. That’s cool. That’s you.” and with all these bits of information we can form a picture. We also have a really unique practice... most agencies will get you to fill out a design brief and it’s very stiff - marketing objectives, what you want the customer to feel, the call to action. There’s no emotion and in that sense, I’m challenging how a design agency works as well.
Go you! Do you work with personal brands too?
Yeah! There’s been a real rise in that and personal brand goes hand in hand with your brand. When you are a startup, all you have is yourself so what we do particularly for startup branding is we have this thing called the Dreamcatcher. It’s a very personal process, moodboarding their personal style and asking things like ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ ‘What does your house look like?’ What makes you feel good?’ rather than ‘how do you want your logo to look?’ There’s no point just executing it, we want to give you something that you can’t even imagine for yourself.
Yeah you’ve gotta cut through the rational mind and get to that emotional space, that’s quite personal development-y, isn’t it?
It is personal development and I guess that’s the difference with Dream & Do and why I feel passionate about it. We really are helping people follow their dreams. I’m not saying brand is everything but it gives them confidence. We see people come in with an idea but they are really lost even though they know they can do it. But when they walk out with this amazing brand…. a holding page and business card can make someone feel like a million dollars! I had a business card before I had a website and I’m a designer, but that little piece of power is so important to your own self esteem.
That’s my personal satisfaction. Not chasing the big marketing dollars like every other agency. You’re just a supplier in their eyes and I don’t want to be with everyone else kissing butts to get a piece of that pie. I wanna help the everyday person, the person who sends us flowers because they couldn’t have done it without us. That’s what makes us feel good everyday. Yeah we have to get paid, we’re a business too, but that’s not what makes it feel nice.
What’s your ‘why’ behind Dream & Do?
My why… I worked on it recently and again, you can’t decide on it overnight, it comes to you, it changes. My current why is ‘to help people create their own destiny by giving them the courage to do what they always dreamed of.’
Business can create your world if you’re up for it. It’s frickin hard, it’s not for everyone but if you want to take control of your life and you have an idea, then it’s a really good way of creating your own reality.
You say it’s hard, can you talk through some of those challenges? Because a lot of our listeners are in those early stages.. How old is your business?
Two years, so we’re still in startup phase.
To have a team of four people, that’s amazing, well done! And when you came back from being overseas, what were some of those early challenges?
I really believe it’s not as scary starting out as it is when you’re in the thick of it. I didn’t have any fear because I didn’t have anything to lose. As soon as you start having people to pay, as soon as you’ve put what you believe in out there, you’ve gotta keep going and and that’s the scary part for me. I’ve had heaps of jobs where I’ve started and failed so I’m not scared of failure, I’m scared of success. I’m scared of what that success means for my life outside of the business because I’m super focused and can just go underground and that’s not good for my health.
I feel like there’s so much out there that can inspire people to start businesses and that’s fantastic, but there’s not much out there that supports people in the thick of it. People talk about the fear of starting, but for me, I was excited to start. When there’s more to lose (now) and it’s bigger, that’s when it is scary.
Especially when you have that responsibility of payroll. You’re kind of just on that treadmill and you have to keep the growth going and the business development going, you can’t just stop because you’ve got a team to pay.
Yeah, and a team that are on board with your vision too. As a startup, people working for you accept less money, they accept the fact that it’s a less established business, no HR etc, but it’s an exciting journey for them because they have to buy into you and what you see the company becoming.
And do you have a BDM or are you the one out there getting clients?
Yeah thats me, but I love that part of it! I don’t see it as selling, if you’re passionate about it, it sells itself.
So how do you think you harness your ideas and say ‘Ok we’ve gotta get strategic here and do this…’
My account manager, if she’s listening! It’s very interesting being an entrepreneur because you start doing what you’re good at, then you start doing all these other things you’re not good at and then they take you away from what you’re good at.
I suddenly became an account manager because I hired designers, so I was managing relationships and managing deadlines and I’m ok at that, not gonna totally talk myself down, but I don’t love it. I find it really hard and it interrupts my creative brain and pressure is not good for creativity. It is too a certain degree but not a lot of it. That was a huge step for me because Laura (my account manager), thrives on that, she loves being organised, loves seeing things through, she’s fantastic with people and that really freed me up. Suddenly I found that clients loved her more than me!
Were you jealous?
Haha I was kinda just like ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ and then I realised that I’m not meant to do that job because I felt relieved that relationships were being taken care of. I’m better at meeting new people, my husband is always like ‘Tara stop making friends.’ He’s joking, but now that I’m a mum, I have 10 mother in our mother’s group and I walk around the streets and talk to random people and suddenly I’m doing business with them. That’s just how I work and it’s what I love.
Can you give our listeners a couple of tips on letting go then? I think that’s something that’s so hard to do and you’ve obviously found a team you can trust. Was there a few stages?
Yeah there’s heaps of stages because I was designing and now I don’t design anymore. That was a huge step because that’s my identity. I’m creative and now I don’t even use Illustrator or anything anymore.
I had to move into more of a creative director role and decided I couldn’t do both, so the first ‘letting go’ was letting go of design completely.
Do you still do stuff in your own time?
No I don’t have time now, with a baby but I think about it all the time. We just started another business called Little Succers - it’s a same day succulent delivery service and it’s a Dream & Do business. We’ve just got an Instagram following at the moment, first we’re building interest.
How did you come up with succulents?
This is how we work: it’s literally just banter at a desk -
“Oh I can’t find a succulent.”
“Oh we should do same day succulent delivery because flowers die. Flowers suck. Little succulents. Little Succers, Ha, lets do it!”
I love it!
Same with Cereal Entrepreneurs, that was a mistake! Cereal with a ‘c’, it’s a breakfast event.
Amy, our old copywriter was proofreading a blog post and it was about someone who had started a cereal business and it said ‘cereal entrepreneur’ and she said, ‘Oh, is that an event?’ and I said ‘No but that’s cool….’ and that’s how that started! It’s just about being open to mistakes often and being open to little random ideas. But it is distracting.
Yeah because you can’t do everything. So how do you let go, but keep that vision? You’ve got the overarching Dream & Do obviously...
It’s hard to stay focused, that’s the downside of being creative so that’s why I have to have people like Laura. Dream & Do is the big vision. It’s going to be more than an agency, it’s going to be a creative space where people can go to feel creative.
Dream will be down the bottom and Do will be the agency up the top. So that’s the big vision but how I get there, I don’t know yet. So I guess when I come up with these little ideas, I think ‘Could this help the big vision?’
Wth Little Succers, it’s our own creative project, we have the reigns and with that we can sell ourselves to our clients and say ‘Look if you can just trust us, look what we can do.’ Because that is the challenge, people come to us like ‘No, no I imagined this...’ and that’s fine because it’s their baby, but the clients who have really benefitted from us are ones like Happy Way (a protein powder that we completely did everything for - not taking credit for the business because they are going amazing, but we did the branding, the website, packaging, all the copywriting, taglines everything). They said ‘Just do it.’
They trusted us and the results have been amazing and now they just give us the creative freedom. So if we have our own little business, or little experiments then we have our own projects to show them what we can do without constraints. That’s how I manage my ideas - does it fit overall or is it just something I’m being distracted by?
Do you have any wise words you’d like to wrap up with, that would be fruitful for listeners to know?
Creativity is super important in this day and age. Before, I touched on how we are in an information and knowledge economy and it’s a really exciting time for creatives because you can’t google how to be creative. You have to practice using that muscle. People engage with emotions so I would challenge people to stay off Google and Pinterest as much as you can. There are no original ideas ‘out there’. Original ideas are the ones that you see in your own way, in your own experience and you try and manifest them.
So that would be my advice, obviously read all the business books find out all the stuff you can, but then just sit on it, don’t jump on acting on what everyone has told you because you won’t be original in that way. Think about doing the opposite.
Brand is also super important but I guess it’s being clear, like that saying, that you can be the juiciest peach in the world but there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like peaches. I feel it’s the same with business. We only wanna work with people who believe in branding. There’s no point trying to sell it to someone who doesn’t, so listeners, if you believe in branding and just don’t know how to do it, then come to us and we’ll give you something amazing.
Listen to Tara's interview here - https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/the-ladies-lounge/id1135933189?mt=2