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Made this happen

Delphine Chui | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 10 October 2017

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How I Did It: Nellie Eden And Claire Burnam On Starting Their Creative Agency Babyface

The Debrief: Trust us, you're going to want to be part of this.

Frustrated by the lack of public platforms for millennial women to shout about their careers (and life in general), 27-year-olds Claire and Nellie decided to start their own thing in 2014 and now their creative agency, Babyface, has worked with the likes of Nike, Topshop and adidas, etc – as well as worked on brand collaborations for International Women’s Day and the like.

Built around a model of community and collaboration, they’ve since produced everything from editorial and branded zines, exercise classes, look books, campaigns, video content, panel discussions and a regular podcast on NTS Radio. (So yeah, pretty much everything.)

Their target demographic are the same smart young women they are - and their idea was suitably born in cult Dalston drinking den Bardens (which they lived on top of in a flat share naturally.) 'We talked about Babyface in 2014 and then agreed if we spoke about the idea more than three times then we'd just do it and started by making a website,' Nellie and Claire explain.

'We started by interviewing our mates, and finding a very reasonable website designer through a friend of a friend who we still use today. Back then it was a very basic old Wordpress job, but it worked. We had an Instagram too - but believe it or not people didn't really have Instagram back then. We then spent a little bit of money on our logo (then two very sweet cherubs) which our friend from university designed and charged us mates rates for. I think a digital presence was the first step. So, in summary, we pulled in lots of favours from pals!'.

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But, it's only now, 3 years in, that the pair have managed to leave their full-time jobs (Claire worked in events and Nellie as a journalist). 'In all honesty we're always flabbergasted at how people start businesses without working a pay-roll job too' they admit. 'For the longest time we gave up weekends, weeknights, Christmas, New Years - you name it - to work on Babyface. While we owe our families and friends an apology for that, it was so worth it.'

'We always had full time 9-5 and actually what we discovered was that working inside organisations and in teams helps you build your own. What it also meant was that we were able to pay our rent!'. With the intention of growing their business full-time, the Babyface founders toyed with the idea of getting investment but ultimately decided against it: 'We turned down lots of offers. The reality is that for the longest time we had no overheads: no studio, no office and no staff. We were working from our bedrooms and using all the resources we had ourselves. We've paid for the last two Babyface parties.'

'We'd find money anywhere we could...behind the sofa, in the back pockets of jeans, etc! Time has been our only real obstacle. You can always find time if you want it but you need to be prepared to make very real sacrifices. Also in the world of small businesses, time isn't always money. You'll work lots of "no budget" jobs to build the portfolio so it's important to stay focused and try and sleep when the opportunity arises.' 

Nellie champions her mum, who's a success in the world of business and advertising in her own right, as playing a huge role as their mentor. 'She really supported and nurtured us from the beginning and we're grateful for all the first draft business plans she wrote and all the phone calls she still takes. We have lots of brilliant ex-colleagues and friends who mentor us and help with questions daily. We would not be where we are without them!' 

When we ask how much they googled to understand the business world themselves, they confess to being 'analogue babies.' 'Claire's experience as an events producer means she had a pretty good grip on budgets, contracts and scopes of work- so we were very lucky in that sense,' Nellie tells us. 'We also have a friend Lucy, who's an established CFO, and who kindly lends us a hand with our finances. Lucy set us up as a Limited Company and holds our hand through taxes and the lark. We might have Googled the odd thing but we always find face-to-face advice more personal and tailored.'

It wasn't actually until recently that Claire and Nellie realised Babyface could become a viable business. 'We started Babyface with no aim of creating a business. It was simply a platform for young creative females to talk about what they were up to. We never had financial gain as an aim funnily enough! It was only after we worked on our first project for Champion that we realised we were sitting on a unique business proposition.' 

'We're a creative agency that works with brands and individuals to produce assets and content (although we really want another word for content!) This year for example we've produced campaign imagery for Fred Perry that went in-store, we've produced dinners for Topshop and Nike and thrown an anti-Valentines Day experience for Hello Kitty. Day to day, we consult for brands and conduct market research for agencies - all of which is paid.'

Considering their work had no real overheads, Claire and Nellie never needed to throw their own savings into it but what does take a hit is their social lives: 'We work bank holidays, Sundays and birthdays. We go out to see friends and get in and work. This is not uncommon amongst freelancers though, and we're grateful to be busy.'

The most refreshing part of their business model is the fact it relies so heavily on collaboration and women championing each other: 'We just went full time Babyface about 3 months ago. It's been a long time coming and we definitely had teary days and exhausted weeks but it was so worth it. Now we have a lovely studio and a bunch of amazing girls who help us out. We share a studio with some great friends who work similarly mad hours as freelancers so that helps. It's tough but all good things are difficult to get to. We still make all the birthdays and family things we want, and we definitely still party - we're just sensible (snore) about when we're partying and when we're focusing. It helps that we're best mates so we can usually write off the same evenings!' 

What do they wish they knew when they were starting out? 'That asking people to help out, or out sourcing other people who have skill sets you're not in possession off is life changing.'

Their brand mantra? 'Together, with our collective in tow, we are an active tributary to meaningful relationships with smart young female audiences. Now, we're on track financially and we're excited for what the future holds. For us working with each other means a constant source of support and motivation. We really balance one another and have completely different skill sets.’ 

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