I was introduced to Ofe via Kate from Cheltenham Maman, a prior interviewee for Masters of Many. I loved doing this interview - Ofe is completely humble when it comes to her business and newly found skills (which continue to grow and expand). She's a great example of someone who has had a complete turnaround in her career trajectory, and continues to be inspired to try new things after this change of direction. From banking to someone who owns their own stationery business, runs calligraphy workshops and is a lover of beautiful things is a big change, and for her one that is entirely self taught, giving us all inspiration! I spoke to Ofe to find out more about her journey...
Tell us about what you’re doing now and how you got here...?
I started my professional life as a software analyst, and after my masters I went into banking and did that for a few years. I remember growing up thinking I would always be a career woman, climb the ladder and become a CEO, and kids or no kids I’d get things done. Then I had my daughter and it was a really humbling experience, and I didn’t want to leave her.
My husband and I started talking about what I could do that would let me work from home and spend time with my kids. I remembered that for our wedding I’d made a few bits of pieces of stationery, and thought ‘I could do that’, cocky as I was.
I started playing about with bits of paper and my daughter’s christening was coming up so I made the invitations, the decorations, and created a dessert table. It felt like a really big creative accomplishment, and I got so many comments and compliments on that day, that I thought ‘I could probably make a business out of this’. I started learning, and I would spend hours in front of my computer doing research. I taught myself graphic design, I taught myself about fonts, typography, everything. I’m mostly self-taught in terms of what I do now. I played with it for about a year and in June 2015 I officially started my business, Ollie’s studio.
It started off as just wedding stationery and then I learnt how to do calligraphy as well, so I took a workshop and started to practice and study. When you start one creative venture, it starts snowballing into new things. I started learning about branding and logos, and doing that on the side of making wedding stationery (my first love), as well as teaching people calligraphy.
The majority of my business currently is still the wedding stationery. It’s all contemporary, graphic design led stuff, which has then naturally evolved into the branding work, as there are a lot of similarities. I’m quite specific with the businesses I work with as well. I prefer to work with creative businesses, preferably with a feminine vibe. I learned calligraphy to add to the stationery side, for brides who were looking for that kind of thing, which evolved into me teaching.
It’s still just me working on the business, although my husband chips in with some of the operational stuff. He’s the one who keeps me grounded, and stops me going crazy big budget with my ideas. My hope for the business is to expand in the next few years, into a proper agency, and employ people. I’d like my business to be segmented into those existing areas and two new areas I’m expanding into this year. Those areas are making handcrafted silk ribbon and a store for calligraphy supplies.
How do you get new business?
It’s WOM, but a lot of it is social media, seeing posts on Instagram or facebook. I just sent an order to Australia, and she found me on Instagram and that’s how we connected.
Prior to starting the business, had you done any creative or design work, or was it all new to you?
I hadn’t done anything like that. I was a banker, as far away from creative work as you can get. When my daughter was born I got into crochet, making about 50 blankets, but it never occurred to me to do something creative for a living. Then I started with paper and stationery and I just fell in love and taught myself everything I needed.
It’s so interesting, I often speak to people that never thought about doing something creative, but tried something and fell in love with it, and it’s almost a surprise to them?
It’s still a surprise to me. I found the one! I never felt like that when I was working in finance, despite being trained in it, this just feels like me.
It was obviously after your daughter that was born that you decided to do things differently, what made you take the leap to do something for yourself, rather than an option like going part-time?
I really wanted to be at home with my daughter Olivia (who the business is named after). I wanted a business where we could fit into the same room and interact with each other while I work. Wedding stationery was always going to be a trial to see if I was any good at it, simply because I’d left that to the last minute for my own wedding and therefore had to make my own.
I’m not normally that cocky, but I thought I’d give it a try and somehow it worked out! It’s tough, and there is a lot of trial and error, tears and screaming until I was comfortable offering it as a service to people. It took about a year, and until then I was doing it just to get experience.
In that time, my style totally changed as well. I started off making handmade stationery, with glitter and lace and all of that stuff, and now it’s all contemporary, graphic design based, it’s very different.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
I felt like this was the thing ‘for me’ right from the beginning, but I didn’t really feel like it was going to be a success until the summer 2016, when I started getting a few big orders, and found out that my work was going to be published in a few magazines. Then I realised that people actually like my work and wanted to see what I do.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
The wedding industry is quite seasonal, so you have quiet months where you think about packing it in and doing something else. Instead I started doing the workshops and started brainstorming ways to expand my business, which is why I’m going to be opening the silk ribbon and calligraphy supply stores. That will hopefully fight those blues when the business is quiet.
You’re obviously doing quite a few different things with the branding, wedding stationery and calligraphy workshops. What do you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
It can get a little overwhelming, especially since right now I’m also preparing for a new baby, and I have a toddler, who is with me almost 24/7 [Since this interview Ofe has had her second child, Zachary].
There’s a lot of trying to remind myself to be in whatever moment I’m in, so if I’m hanging out with Olivia then that’s what I’m doing, and if I’m working on stationery, that’s what I’m doing. I don’t have a fixed schedule, I just try and keep it organic, but I try and block out time for Olivia and ensure that she doesn’t feel neglected. Everything else I just work on whenever I can!
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
The fear is probably what pushes me, as I’m constantly working through it! Even when I’m working on an order, I’m wondering if I’m going to get another order, is this going to be the year I’ll have to pack up, the month where it all ends? I let that fear push me to find new things so that I can offer more value and if people do find me I have new things to show them.
What or who do you find intimidating?
I’m really intimidated by people who have opened their own businesses, are really successful, with their own storefronts and are well known names. I want to be like them one day! Especially the mums who seem to do everything, and somehow wash their hair every day and look really glam, how do they do it?
What makes you feel good / powerful?
It’s always nice to get good feedback. When you start a business, it’s mostly people who you know hiring you. Even now, I still get really psyched when someone I don’t know and has found me to make something for them, or photographers and stylists who ask me to provide something for a style shoot. When my work gets published, that’s really nice as well.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
I was chosen to be in a feature for a really big magazine, and I’m in awe that they chose me to feature in it.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
A big part of starting my own business was for my children. I would like to ultimately have a company I can leave to them, or have them know they can do anything they want. I went from banking to design, with no in between and somehow, I’m making that work, and I’d like them to grow up with instilled in them.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
I’m hoping they’ll partly learn from watching me, but I will also tell them not to overthink things. If they want to do something, just try it. If you can find something you love and make some money doing it, you’re doing really well. It’s completely the opposite of what my parents would have said to me growing up, so I really just want them to be happy. I’m happy doing this, and I wasn’t a smiley banker! Even if I’m not making six figures from it, it’s fulfilling a more important part of me, I think.
How do you define success now?
Money would still be nice! I was obviously making more as a banker, but I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. Since becoming a mother, and changing careers, my perspective has really shifted. I feel like I’m successful because I’m able to work in an industry that I wasn’t trained for, and I’m keeping my head above water (I’m still reluctant to say I’m doing well, I still feel like an imposter!).
Have you got an idea of where would you like the business to get to?
In five years, I’d like to have an agency employing people in this area. I’d also like to branch into luxury brand management. At that point, I’ll split the business up, and keep the wedding stationary side of it, but have a separate part for brand management for luxury businesses. I’m working with small start-ups on that side at the moment, but I’d really like to work with corporations in the future.
How do you start your day?
My daughter is at nursery on Monday’s and Friday’s, so those are probably my most organised days. When she’s at home all day I tend to work around naps and in the morning before she wakes up, so I might be up at 6 working for two hours before she works. It’s very hard to work in an organised way around a toddler, so there are a lot of early mornings and late evenings, but she’s the most important part.
How do you organise yourself?
I’m very much a list writer. I’ve started using Trello, but I’m not brilliant with it yet, although I have the calendar app to keep me up to date. I tried using paper planners, but never got into them.
Biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
My life is a lot more flexible, I’m not tied to a desk or a 9-5 schedule – I just grab the buggy and work wherever I want. At the beginning of 2017, I went to Ireland to host workshops for a few weeks, and I’ll be able to work on my orders when I’m there. I’m looking at going to Nigeria this year to do some workshops there as well I’m Nigerian, and I lived in Ireland as a teenager so those places mean a lot to me.
How do you come up with new ideas?
I start by looking at what is trending, and then try to stay away from it! Almost the opposite – I try and do things that stand the test of time. It’s important to see what’s going on, but then try to be different. My husband is my sounding board, he’s not a creative person, so if he agrees with me, then it’s normally a good idea.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A doctor! I almost studied medicine, but ended up studying economics and finance, and then I did a masters degree in investment management. Nothing like what I’m doing now!
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I’d be a singer! It looks like it would be so much fun, going on tour, and singing your heart out, getting the perks of free stuff like personal trainers! I like to think if I was a singer, my abs would always look good!
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Don’t get distracted by what other people are doing, stay in your own lane.