Made By Mrs M

2 Minutes (plus a bit!) with... Patricia van den Akker

Books, Business, InspirationKate Marsden

2 Minutes with... returns this week with a bumper (so not really 2 minutes!) post, which I hope you'll find really inspiring. A peek into the world of the wonderful Patricia van den Akker of The Design Trust whose Business Club membership and coaching have helped me enormously over the past couple of years.

Read on to hear more about Patricia and her latest Dream Plan Do Kickstater campaign...

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Hello Patricia! Who are you and what do you do?

I wear a couple of hats! I am a creative business adviser & trainer and the Director of The Design Trust, the online business school for designers and makers, based in North London. I regularly write and talk about creative business development, and work with organisations and businesses across the UK, from Etsy to the New Designers graduate exhibition, to Top Drawer and Made London to various universities and creative professional development programmes. For the last 5 years I also wrote the business column The Design Doctor for Crafts Magazine, and I regularly write blog posts for our own website and others such as Mollie Makes Magazine, Etsy and Folksy.

I’m very involved with the Just A Card campaign ever since Sarah and I had lunch together at my house and she wondered if it would be a good idea to tell the world. My mum had a gift shop when I was growing up in the Netherlands so I have always been surrounded by beautiful products and really understand the tricky business of owning a shop.

Oh, and I have got two lovely girls and very supportive husband too.

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Why do you love what you do?

Haha, normally it’s me asking these kind of thought-provoking coaching questions! It’s one of my favourites, as it says so much about the values and motivations of someone. I often ask: “Why do you do what you do?”

Of course I have been doing some digging around this question, and for me it’s about showing that you can be both creative and entrepreneurial, in fact that you do NEED to be both … if you want to succeed! One feeds the other in my opinion; it’s not about being one or the other. So many creatives use ‘being a creative’ as an excuse for not being organised or not doing well. I think that’s nonsense. You do need to learn about these things if you want to be taken seriously and if it is your business (pun intended).

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That all probably comes from the time when I was choosing a degree subject. My dad wasn’t overly impressed with my choice of wanting to study graphic design and more or less muttered ‘You will never make a living.’ But I did! (Although I never worked as a graphic designer a single day in my life haha!) And I am still trying to prove him wrong, and all the other nay-sayers too!

I love it when I see creatives with a sparkle in their eyes, who are ambitious, who - with a little bit of help - can go so much further. Very few graduates in the UK have a basic understanding of business and marketing, while marketing and branding can be so creative! My audience and clients are my biggest sources of inspiration! You do need to find out your own strengths but also listen to your ideal clients, it’s so inspiring to try and find the right solution and to provide innovative and really useful solutions for them.

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Recently somebody said to me: “Patricia, I have always been really scared of marketing myself, but in the last hour you have given me so many creative ideas of what I can do. They feel really right. I can’t wait to get started and get the word out.’ I love that, to be able to inspire creatives, and yes, also so that the world becomes more beautiful, creative, ambitious and inspiring.

I started my career as a creative business adviser nearly 25 years ago. At that time it was all about teaching people skills around business planning, finance and marketing. But then 10 years ago I realised that I would have very good meetings with creatives, but actually nothing would really change afterwards in their business. They were full of good intentions at the meeting, but often there were lots of things stopping them actually making the change. I was worried that I wasn’t a very good business adviser after all! Then I realised that your mindset is crucial in this change process, so I trained for 4 years as a business coach, which really helped me to start asking bigger questions instead of always having the right answer. In the last 2 years I have become rather obsessed with getting people into action. Not just thinking or talking about the business you really want to create, but actually doing it. Mucking in, failing even, and getting up again and make it happen. So much interesting psychology around that what makes creatives successful and happy, and what stops them! I can’t stop finding out more about that. I am now learning more than I ever have done.

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And so that’s my very long answer to your question about why I do what I do: I love learning and growing, and want to prove that to be successful you need to learn and fail, experiment and play, and keep going!

What inspired you to take the wealth of information on the Design Trust’s website and create the Dream Plan Do book?

I have been working with creatives for nearly 25 years, and there is so much information in my head! When I took over The Design Trust in 2011 (it was originally set up by the late Peta Levi MBE in 1984) I regularly got business questions from designers and makers. As I like to be effective I realised that many other creatives had probably the same questions, so I decided to share them to a wider audience and posted them as Q&A on The Design Trust website. I didn’t realise it at the time, but those were my first blog posts! Now, 6 years later there are over 120 blog posts on the site!

Dream Plan Do as an idea had been in my head for a couple of years (haven’t we all got an idea for a book in our minds?!). Then last summer we had major renovation work done at our house in North London. I work from home so I couldn’t do my usual job of providing online training as it was too noisy. So, I thought it would be a good time to work on my book idea!

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Dream Plan Do is based on the idea that many creatives fantasise about what they would like to do and work really hard, but often they don’t dream BIG enough (often a bit scared of the fear of failure – or the fear of success!), they don’t think it through enough. They might like planning and to-do-lists and lovely planning stationery (who doesn’t!) but are you actually really working on the things that matter?

To be successful (whatever your definition of that is, either monetary or otherwise!) you do need to able to be strategic and think about the long term and be focused, you need to have a plan of how to get ‘there’, and you need to do the actions that get you clients and sales. You need to Dream Plan and Do!

With Dream Plan Do I have created a ‘coach-like’ book. The best way to explain it is that I have written half the book, and that the other half is up to you! In the Dream Plan Do planner I have broken down the process of working ON your business in quarterly and monthly sessions. Each month has another theme to work on, and each quarter you set a juicy 90-day goal. Did you know that setting a goal for 90 days is the perfect time to get something accomplished? It’s long enough to make some serious change, but short enough to keep your momentum.

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If you could collaborate with anyone (dead or alive!), who would it be?

Oh gosh, can I only select one person? To be honest I am really happy with the partnerships and clients I currently have but if there is one person that I would love to have a good dinner conversation with or get mentored by it would be Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and Founder of the Lean In organisation. I have found her a rather inspiring role model. I found her book ‘Lean In’ (about women in leadership) really inspiring, because it partly explains what’s happening in society when it comes to women at work but also what’s going on in our own heads and within groups of women or how we raise our daughters. (I have got two girls myself!) It really showed it isn’t an easy topic, and she got a lot of stuff thrown at her because of it, but I found it inspiring that somebody at her level shared her thoughts on that. More recently she has written a book called ‘Option B’, which she wrote after she lost her husband unexpectedly. I still haven’t read it as it’s about grief and if life doesn’t give you what you were hoping for and I need to find the guts a bit to tackle that one … 

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What other exciting plans do you have for the next year?

Next year I really want to make more time to do research into how successful creative businesses really work, the nitty gritty stuff. That’s what I am very interested in: how people and businesses really work.

In the last year I have had to do a lot of strategic thinking and work on my own business The Design Trust. Dream Plan Do in 2016 was really popular but that means that I need to grow the business as a whole to keep it working. Early in 2018 we will be making some major changes to the website (far more based on creative professionals real needs, motivations and goals), and I want to launch a series of new online courses for very new craft and design businesses.

I also want to share more successful role models. There are so many great business owners that have created really interesting business models or different ways of doing business and marketing. Those are the ones that I want to feature as we don’t see and celebrate success enough in society!

And actually I am really looking forward to having more time for research and writing too. I have caught the writing bug, and have ideas for other books too. Often people assume that I am really outgoing, as I do so many public speaking events, but actually allowing myself to have some quiet time to read and research is something I am really excited about. I am putting in my business plan for next year to spend around 3 months in total on research and writing for next year!

You can get the Dream Plan Do planner till 30 October on https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/650014006/dream-plan-do-2018-planner-for-craft-and-design-bu?ref=nav_search

From mid November it will be available online via www.dream-plan-do.com If you order by 1 December then you will have your own copy in the post before Christmas.