Rachel Ducker is the founder of Apparition Marketing & Design, a creative design and marketing agency that encompasses all of the creative sectors under one roof.
I sat down with her last week to find out more about her business and how it all started.
Hi Rachel, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
I am very well thank you, currently enjoying this spell of hot weather we are having.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
At the age of two I started learning the Martial Art of Kuk Sool Won. My parents ran three academies in the area so they would take me along with them. In fact I learnt how to count 1-10 in Korean before I could in English, so it has been a very influential part of my life. I would say that growing up in this environment taught me how to focus and achieve my goals so I owe a lot of my success now to the teachings of this Martial Art.
I had a very happy childhood and achieved good grades at school. I always studied very hard. At the age of 18 I decided to break the mould and not follow my friends to university. Instead I started a telesales job at a local publishing company. My first task was to take a struggling property magazine and to create some profit. My first attempt achieved the highest sales in the company’s history and within 5 months I was promoted to the department manager. I knew then that I had only just begun to climb the career ladder.
After spending six years in various creative industries I had a huge wealth of knowledge and skills behind me.
Tell me about how you got into business?
In 2008 I lived in Brighton for a short time, but I became home sick so I decided to move back to Suffolk. My previous boss (who was also a good friend of mine) gave me the role of business development manager within his company. Unfortunately it became very difficult to keep a professional relationship due to the fact we were good friends and I found it very challenging to work for him.
Suddenly I was left without a job. After a few bad experiences with bosses and company politics I decided I did not want to work for anyone anymore. My father had always worked for himself and I knew that one day like him I would want my own business. So what better time? I always call this move my ‘leap of faith’ I had no idea whether it would work out or not but to have the courage to jump got me half way there already.
How did the idea for Apparition Marketing & Design come about?
As I already had so much experience in design, publishing, marketing and PR it would have been silly of me to stray from this, plus I have a lot of passion for this sector. If you don’t enjoy it you wont want to get out of bed in the morning!
So I looked at the competition and noticed there were lots of specific industries but at the time there was none that were offering all services under one roof.
My only downfall was that I did not know how to build a website. However, being the determined person I am I signed up to a home learning course an within three months was fluent in HTML and built my first website.
My first ever office was in my old bedroom at my parent’s house so it really does prove that an idea can come from humble beginnings.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The hardest part for me was running this business alone. I had at least seven different hats on from being the sales person, to designing the jobs and then invoicing the work.
Also the fact that I was a 23 year old businesswoman competing with people twice my age and experience was always a hard obstacle to overcome. My strategy from the start was to develop and honest approach to business and to treat people how I would expect to be treated. From this the word spread and Apparition started becoming very busy.
What is Apparition Marketing & Design and what are you trying to solve?
Apparition is a creative design and marketing agency that encompasses all of the creative sectors under one roof. I am trying to create an ethical company that will help other businesses to succeed and reach their goals. I like to do business the nice way I have no time for competitiveness or small mindedness I believe in working collaboratively – this is the way forward! It is also a reason for why I work with freelances rather than employing lots of staff members.
How have you been able to fund it?
As I mentioned earlier I started off from a desk in my bedroom – I already had a computer and the software so it was just a case of finding my first client and then growing from there.
I used to go to a local cocktail bar across the road. I got chatting to the barman who said to me, “ok well I need a website how much will you charge”. We agreed on a price and that was my first job.
I then reinvested all of my first few jobs back into the business. 5 months later I had enough to move into a small studio, to which I still have to this day.
I was lucky that my start-up costs were low.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was all very exciting, I felt completely in control of everything. At times it was daunting as I had no one to tell me what was right or what was wrong. I simply found my own way which looking back was the most positive thing I could have done.
At times it was stressful because I was doing so many different things at once. Though when I did start to make some money I hired my first freelancer and it took the pressure off slightly.
How have you gone about getting traction to the business?
In 2009 after seven years of business I won the East of England Young Businesswoman of the year award. This was heavily publicised and I became more of a well-known business figure. Since then I have continued my award success and now have four titles under my belt from the past three years. This helped me tremendously as it gave people reassurance in me.
I have never had to advertise my company because of the exposure I achieved. However, once a client works with me in most cases I get plenty of referrals I believe if you do a good ob for someone you will be rewarded for it.
What’s your business model?
I have developed the company like you would a recruitment agency. If you could imagine a circle I would put myself in the middle, surround my freelancers around the outside. I am the middleman so I get the jobs in, send them to my designers or developers, they send the work back to me and then I deal with the client. This works well as the client has one contact and I can quality control the work!
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Most certainly hiring my freelancers. I could not take on half the amount of work I do now without them.
What should be expecting from yourself and Apparition Marketing & Design for 2012?
I would like to continue to build Apparition on a global basis; we now have clients in New York, Bermuda, France and Canada.
As for myself I now have three businesses so to maintain and build these over the course of the year would be more than enough for me to get my teeth into.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
My second company is a mentoring agency for younger people in business and the three pieces of advice I would always give would be:
1. Do something you are passionate about, if you lose interest in it, its likely you will not succeed
2. Set yourself some short term and long term goals, creating a business plan is a great way to evolve your ideas.
3. When times get tough don’t forget to take time out. Sometimes we can get wrapped up in a problem and make it much worse. If you can step back reflect on it you will not do anything you regret!