The BEST BIT about running our Small Business column this month has been the opportunity it has presented to ask all kinds of nosey questions of the local businesses we most admire! It's been amazing to learn a little more about the talented entrepreneurs we have featured, including Anna of Kester Black, Amy at Joel at Modern Times, and Cindy-Lee of Lightly. However I have to admit, the FIRST person who came to my mind when we were planning this column is today's subject - Jeremy Wortsman of The Jacky Winter Group.
Originally hailing from New York City, Jeremy Wortsman is now a proud and permanent Melbournian, who launched his business in 2007. Initially founded as an illustration agency, Jeremy started out as a commercial agent for 12 talented local artists - working from his bedroom! Fast forward 7 years and the Jacky Winter Group now offers complete creative services from illustration to animation and photography, and represents over 100 talented creatives! Jeremy now employs a team of 8 full-time staff, plus a number of regular specialist contractors.
Under the Jacky Winter umbrella, Jeremy also runs Lamington Drive gallery, hosting regular exhibitions, as well as running annual creative conference Field Trip, amongst many other collaborations and events throughout the year. Suffice to say the business has certainly outgrown it's modest beginnings.
Jeremy is one seriously clever cookie. In growing his business over the past 7 years, he has in turn helped build and nurture the careers of so many incredible local artists and illustrators, and has really put Australian talent on the map internationally, matching local talent with high profile clients across the globe. And throughout all this, Jeremy has managed to retain his excellent and always engaging NYC accent. We love that.
Jacky Winter is a business that is constantly in flux and evolving. We always struggle when attempting to describe our services, as we kind of do everything! When I talk to a stranger or acquaintance, I'll just say I work in Advertising (and a small part of a younger version of me dies). While we started out purely as an illustration agency, these days we think of ourselves as a creative services agency rooted in specialist production. In simple terms, we represent over 100 of Australia and beyond's finest image makers, working across illustration, photography, animation and beyond.
Our primary clients are ad agencies, design studios and publishers. When they have a brief, they come to us and we put together the right team to execute it from start to finish. Our artists develop their careers financially, professionally, and creatively, and our clients get memorable results for their projects and campaigns. We're somewhere there in the middle, the mechanism which enables those things to happen in the most efficient and enjoyable way.
We've worked on everything from custom typeface development to interior artwork for offices and hotels; outdoor murals and sign-painting to brand ambassadorship and on-air talent; animated TVCs to a 24-hour photo shoot. No two days are alike.
Much like our artists themselves, diversity is crucial to keeping our business afloat, which is why we also do plenty of our own self-initiated projects, such as our gallery space, Lamington Drive, which has been running since 2008, as well as running events such as Field Trip, and various publishing and merchandising collaborations. We also have our own children’s activity book being published by Thames and Hudson which is coming out in November!
Internally, we have a very open structure – there are eight of us who work full-time in the office. Sarah Ewing runs our photography branch SEA, and Shena is our gallery and studio manager. There are four other producers, Li, Sarah, Bianca, and Sam, plus Lara, our dedicated portfolio and production assistant, and then myself. Our off-site freelancer and partners range from writers and web developers to our animation partners and legal team. All these people play an equally important role in the business and our team, even though they might not be here physically.
We're all very hands on every day. I like to think of JW as one big giant brain, so our open plan workspace is very important, we we are in constant discussion about new briefs and the most creative way to tackle them, and our clients and artists always benefit from that.
Even though our output is inherently creative, our business is based on all the things that happen behind the scenes. The majority of our time can often be spent behind a computer and on the phone, especially when a job is in full-swing. More of our work is definitely steering into more physical spaces however – whether it's a Lamington Drive exhibition opening, an industry lecture, or off-site meeting. Much like a Snickers bar has an intoxicating blend of fat, sweet, and salt, you have to find the same mix in business (but maybe less tasty).
We often work with international artists or clients (from Facebook to The New York Times, and agencies from Nairobi to Shanghai), which can often involve late nights and early mornings. Our exchange rate can allow us to be competitive financially, and our timezone can allow allow for a 24-hour production cycle which can be very attractive for certain clients on tight timings.
The other month, the choreographer/director Gideon Obarzanek was in our office, and I remember feeling incredibly sheepish being in the presence of such an immense talent who does so much physical work. It kind of make me feel that what we do could be seen as a bit boring and sedentary! The truth is however that both myself and everyone who works at Jacky Winter finds their motivation in being a part of a highly collaborative creative force, and we have discovered a more subtle form of creativity that comes with our line of work. While it definitely has it’s challenges, it’s also incredibly fulfilling!
Having a close-knit team is incredibly important to me. For a business like ours, there are a relatively large number of people working in close quarters for hours at a time. Sometimes you spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your friends and family, and I feel incredibly lucky to work alongside some of the most generous, intelligent, good-humoured, and professional individuals.
Nurturing a happy office environment is paramount for my own productivity. Maybe it's some sort of in-built Jewish guilt, but I can't get things done if I know that everyone else isn't feeling that tricky mix of both being satisfied and challenged, and there's lots of things that I try to implement over time to advance that goal. Designing and building our new office space with Richard Stampton Architects was a big part of that, and I feel has definitely had the biggest effect on our productivity this past year.
While there aren't any particular daily rituals, we do like to all gather together at the beginning of the week and discuss the TV and Movies that we watched over the weekend, and then set our motivation and high level tasks for the week. Talking about television shows is a crucial part of our workplace! This is a bit embarrassing to admit in public, but also at the end of the week I put on a sound effects playlist that just has lots of cheering and clapping, and we give everyone a round of applause for something awesome they did that week. I think there should be more applause in life. It's a nice way to end the week.
I’m a big fan of lists and 'Inbox Zero' as well. There’s no better feeling than leaving the office with that little 'Sun' icon on my Gmail telling me to enjoy my day. That’s probably a bit more revealing than I would be comfortable admitting, but there you go.
I came to the realisation the other day looking at my to-do list is that my job will literally never be completed, which was both terrifying and exciting. The work never stops, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Anyone who knows me can attest to how much of an absolute nerd that I am. If there's a app or cloud service that will make our lives easier, or add value to our clients and artists, we'll use it.
We use Google Apps for all our basics - email and document collaboration, and iCloud for shared contacts and calendars.
Textexpander has saved our sanity on numerous occasions.
I do all the books myself in Xero, and Rdio and Spotify get a pretty great workout via AirTunes. That's just the tip of the iceberg though. From online document signing to international call forwarding, I have something for everything.
The backbone of our business however is a piece of custom software that we have been using and building on for the past five years or so which handles all our CRM, quoting, invoicing, license management, etc. Because of our niche needs as a business, this area of custom development is something we are exploring in greater depth with promising results.
I’m also a massive fan of RSS feeds, and use Newsblur to keep on top of what’s happening across a variety of creative disciplines. While it can be dangerous if not handled properly, I do think that by filling your brain with a variety of enriching and diverse content allows for new connections to be made more easily, which in turn gives way for new ideas, which is very much the currency of our business.
I think the biggest thing for me personally, as well as many of my peers, is the financial side of things. I definitely made some risky moves early on, which I would have never done today, however they were crucial to growth in retrospect. Despite having great financial and business advice along the way, I had to learn a lot of hard lessons on my own, and on some levels, am still paying for it (literally and figuratively!). I suppose that looking back I wish I was a bit more aggressive in understanding these matters and not just letting them wash over me, or hope they would take care of themselves.
1) Be careful about going into debt. It took me seven years before I felt comfortable opening some sort of overdraft facility. My feeling has always been that if you don't have the money to do something, find a creative alternative to do it better for less or no money, or don't do it at all. There's always a way, I promise.
2) Get everything in writing. No matter how small you think it is, don't start a business or any project without proper paperwork and leave no stone unturned. If it can go wrong, it will. Miscommunication is all but guaranteed on any creative project or collaboration, and it's impossible to maintain expectations without having something in writing. Not every venture requires professional legal advice to begin with, but it certainly helps.
3) Be nice. This is so important, but so often overlooked. It's really simple. It's good in business for so many reasons. Just, you know, don't be an asshole.
Also, invest in a good chair for work, and mattress at home.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, but the work that Abi and her team do with Third Drawer Down just fills me with such personal joy and professional envy. To me, Third Drawer Down have established themselves in a truly special place between art and commerce which embodies some of the finest qualities of creative expression. I will always have a deep admiration for Abi and her practice.