We recently caught up with Tess of Smack Bang Designs. This is the third interview of our series of ‘Staying Home, Rising Up’ where we talk to Pioneers who Pivot to survive crisis. Catch up on this insightful series with our first interviews with creatives Frankie from Design Kids and Lila from Muse Muse.
Tess is Founder & Creative Director of Smack Bang Designs. Smack Bang Designs is a boutique creative agency based in Sydney, Australia. Tess has also published a number of magazines under Smack Bang Designs and supplied many start up guides to those hungry Graphic Designers trying to follow in her footsteps. Tess thrives on identifying opportunities and taking them beyond their conceivable limits. She is the ultimate advocate for dreaming bigger, working smarter and creating wonder.
Right now, at Smack Bang we are using this time to work productively and strategically at building a fool-proof future strategy. As a team, we’re considering where we want Smack Bang to be when the storm has passed.
2020 has been a challenging experience for everyone so far!
What keeps you focused, inspired and productive?
I’m one of the fortunate people who have had years of practice working from home. I’ve worked predominantly from home for the last few years – just travelling to see my team in the Sydney studio once or twice a week, so I feel well equipped for this period of isolation. However I have found that without those weekly trips, I need to proactively find inspiration and fresh energy on a regular basis. I’ve been taking my daughter and dog on long walks, doing pilates at home and just generally trying to move my body as much as possible.
At Smack Bang, I’ve spent a huge amount of time building my team. It’s taken years of refinement, hard lessons and constant work to bring this team of brilliant minds together. So, it goes without saying that I want to hold on to these incredible individuals throughout this time – the first reason being that I care deeply for their wellbeing, and the second, more selfish reason is that I know this team of individuals will help Smack Bang come out strong on the other side.
My team is very much keeping me focused. I am responsible for their livelihoods, and the weight of that responsibility during this time is certainly not lost on me. I’m working harder than I have in a long time, pulling big days, working into the weekends and working well outside my normal role to ensure that my team is in good spirits, and the business is strong and healthy enough to provide for them. This is what is keeping me focused and on task, day-in day-out.
What is your top working from home tips?
It sounds obvious, but I think having a space that is conducive to productivity. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have somewhere other than the dining table amidst the family chaos to work from, but because I’ve been doing this for a while I have a separate space where I can hide from my toddler and subsequent tornado of mess to work from each day. I clean up my desk and study space each morning before beginning. And each morning I have a little ritual of lighting some incense as I’m writing out my task list. Also ensuring that I’m warm, comfy and well nourished keeps me productive.
I think if you nail the simple things, the bigger things can take care of themselves.
When it comes to managing a team remotely, I’ve definitely found that over-communicating and checking-in more regularly than we normally would has been helpful. Ensuring that people are still getting enough interaction to keep them inspired and feeling valued and cared for is tricky, so my GM and I are prioritising daily Zoom calls and getting into the habit of calling as opposed to lengthy email threads. It’s easy when working in isolation to become accustomed to hanging out behind your screen and falling into the trap of emailing back and forth for everything. But my team and I have really seen the value in jumping on Zoom call and nutting things out together, just like we would in the studio. It takes a bit of discipline but we find that face-to-face action is so good for both morale and productivity
Where have you made meaningful changes within your business and future trajectory?
Necessity is the mother of invention and there’s no time like a crisis or a recession to force a business to look very frankly at it’s systems and processes.
Necessity is the mother of invention and there’s no time like a crisis or a recession to force a business to look very frankly at it’s systems and processes. Right now, at Smack Bang we are using this time to work productively and strategically at building a fool-proof future strategy. As a team, we’re considering where we want Smack Bang to be when the storm has passed.
Luckily for us we’ve had a bit of practice, with the entire team working from home at least one day per week for the last 12 months.
Remote working aside, we’re using this time to fine-tune the way we communicate with each other, how we approach our work in a multitude of ways, and also, fostering new skills with additional training and online courses. Our focus at the moment is to over communicate with each other, celebrate every green shoot and go above and beyond for our clients and each other.
What I’ve learned is that people love improving the way they do things, they love when flaws are exposed and more efficient ways of doing things are uncovered. And surprisingly, they all seem to be thriving throughout this crisis.
What are you currently reading, watching or listening to?
To be honest, between my businesses and a very energetic toddler I don’t have much time for much else. When I find a rare pocket of time when the business, baby and housework is under control I generally just slump into bed. However I do have Still by Natalie Walton and A Garden Can be Anywhere by Lauri Kranz sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to pick them up. I’ve also been itching to watch Michelle Obama’s Netflix documentary ‘Becoming’… Hopefully things ease up shortly and I can dig in.
What are some words of advice you have for other small businesses trying to survive and thrive this season?
The duration of our isolation and the severity of the subsequent financial fallout seems hinged on the race for a vaccine. And whilst many economists suggest that we’re at the start of a recession that could go on for years, many of us are already looking toward the next chapter.
In my opinion, looking ahead with optimism, hope and a thirst for transformation is, quite literally, all we can do right now.
Thankfully, looking ahead is hard-wired into the human condition. It’s what’s kept our species thriving thus far. In my opinion, looking ahead with optimism, hope and a thirst for transformation is, quite literally, all we can do right now. I’m choosing to remain positive whilst mining for opportunities, recognising the silver linings and seeking out the bright spots.