From Sixth Form to Self Employment

From Sixth Form to Self Employment

I am often asked how I got into graphic design and running my own design business. You may be surprised to hear that I can't draw! Here I share my career path from 1997.

I started Sixth Form in September 1997. I did well in my GCSEs but had to redo Maths, as I was 3 marks off a C! I decided to study History, Geography and I.T at A Level. I also took on the Sports Leadership award in my first year. I was very quiet at school, lacking in confidence and so I wanted to push myself a little. I really enjoyed my time at Sixth Form. We had a great year of students at school level and we got on well. This continued into Sixth Form with the ones that stayed on.

It was a difficult and confusing age for me as I thought I should know where I wanted to go in life. I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I filled in my UCAS form to go to Plymouth, the same city that some of my friends were going to go. This wasn’t a good enough reason, so on my 18th birthday I booked a careers interview. After all, it was today that I officially became a man.

The lady asked me what I enjoyed. My A Level subjects were not what got me excited. I did ok at them but they didn't energise me. I always enjoyed art, but I can’t draw to save my life! Art at GCSE was drawing, still life etc. I had the creative gene and managed to get a B at GCSE. I had taken on the Sixth Form magazine as the editor with my friend Tom. It was previously lacking in any identity or interesting articles. We wanted to shake things up a bit.

It was this that got me excited; creative design, marketing, and working to deadlines. I decided to change my path. I would go to university, but in two years. I went to Somerset College and did BTEC ND in Communication Design. It was whilst at this college that I was really inspired and it is where my love of design was truly ignited.

I then went to Swindon Arts College for 3 years I got a First Class with Honours in Graphic Design.

After this I came back to my hometown and worked locally while I applied for jobs. I got my first design job with a design/print company in Taunton in Apr/May 2004. I knew I wanted to stay living around here. Why would you leave such a beautiful part of the world?

I worked here for over six years and learnt a lot in this time. I not only improving my design skills, but dealt with clients with many backgrounds, and worked in an environment where teamwork was key.

In July 2009 I began working for a small agency. Here I got to work with bigger brands and gained new insight into design. I enjoyed the role but felt like I was holding myself back.In 2010 I lost this job as the owner felt he needed someone with more web experience, something I didn’t have at the time.

It was a real shock but I know had an opportunity. I now had the chance to start my own business. It was one of those crossroad situations; a new world of opportunity to try something new, or just take the safe option?

Word Gets Around was born in February 2011, a name to give my vision a platform with scope to grow and connect people through word of mouth. I create logos and brands, design for print, marketing campaigns, exhibition and signage design and a creative energy for my clients.

When I decided to start a business the first thing I did was Google the competition. Daunting at first until I realised they all sounded the same with the latest buzz words and promises. A bit like that best man speech you have heard a thousand times before. I believe in doing things a little differently. People buy from people and it was in being honest and personal that attracted new clients to me. I am driven by making a difference and always being true to myself and what I believe in.

I help nourish new businesses and re-energise those that need to look at things a little differently. I work with individuals, start ups, medium sized businesses and have worked with clients servicing national and international customers.

Eight months into starting I launched a business networking group with a friend, having never been networking myself eight months earlier. It worked from day one and found its own place, with a relaxed and informal atmosphere. People get a chance to build relationships, share ideas and develop their network, with like-minded people.

My job is my joy. I set up Word Gets Around to be able to wake up each day and love what I do and whoIe work with. ‘Variety is the spice of life’. We couldn’t agree more. One day I’m working on rebranding a restaurant and the next a poster for a thrash metal band. This versatility keeps me motivated and pushing myself to learn more.

I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone, to try new things, ask questions and say ‘yes’ and worry about the outcome later. As a result my personal growth accelerated. I even tried Stand Up Comedy, which was a real marker personally in how far I had grown.

As a teenager you have no idea what is going on. In your 20s you think you should know but you might not, which is more confusing. In your 30s you know more about who you are and have maturity to deal with things. 40+ and I’ll worry much less about things that often hold me back.

Let’s go back to 2010, a year when my world was turned upside down. It was valentines week. I had just broken up with my fiancé and moved out of the home we bought together. We parted on good terms but it was still incredibly difficult. She even got to keep the cat.

I moved back in with my parents aged 30. I was in a job I had outgrown and craving a new challenge.

After 2 months and after a spell of sleeping on friend’s floors and getting lifts to work, I moved back to Taunton. I had lost a sense of my purpose and who I was, but I dusted myself off and was feeling determined.

I applied for a dream design job and after an initial hour long phone interview I made the final three. 2 weeks later I had got the job.

I felt like a weight had been lifted. The new job was great, with some exciting projects to get involved in. My brain was like a sponge discovering new skills and experiences.

Christmas passed and on January 3rd 2011 I drove excitedly back to work, with my new graphic design books in tow. I walked through the studio door and my boss turned around. Then like a punch square in the face he said, "Sorry Paul, but I’m not going to be keeping you on. I think I need someone with more web experience". I hadn’t even sat down and still had my coat on. It was a big shock and the first time I truly felt like I’d failed at something, having given my all.

I said my goodbyes and walked to my car. 20 mins later I was back home, the kettle was still warm. I put the TV on, Jeremy Kyle was shouting at a couple. I won’t lie to you, I felt sad and depressed. I decided to put my coat back on and walked out the front door to ponder what to do next.

It was a weird feeling, but I remember it well. I just wanted to walk and didn’t have a particular direction, or destination. I then had this overwhelming feeling of excitement rush through me. I had just lost my job, but I felt great. I rang my mum and she exploded into a panic, like Mums can.

I calmed her down and explained that I had been given an opportunity. I just needed someone to give me the nudge that I was denying myself, chained down by a lack of confidence and self-belief. My last boss had given me an empty stage to work with.

For me it was one of those crossroad situations; a world of opportunity to try something new, or just take the safe option and search for another job.

I was determined from that point on to start my own business. I had no money, but it was exciting. I got a part time job at TK Maxx in town to pay my bills. I also started doing some freelance work for a local printers. I would finish my shift on the tills and run across town to work at the printers. When I got home I worked until the small hours on building my brand.

My food shop consisted of only Asdas own named brands. This involved buying nothing expensive at eye height. I saved a fortune eating 8 pence beans, noodles and staying in at weekends. The experience helped to shape who I am today, by refocusing on what I love, and this encouraged me to discover things I never knew about myself, and never thought I could achieve.

I changed my mindset in 2010 to view it as a positive shift in circumstances that allowed me to start my own business, which has always been my dream. Have determination, be dedicated, take risks. It wasn’t easy. But then nothing worth fighting for ever is.

Here are 5 bits of advice I would like to share:


When I decided to start my business the first thing I did was Google the competition. There were pages and pages of local graphic designers. I felt deflated and clicked on a few to see what I was up against.

What I discovered was that they all sounded the same “We’re a professional and creative design company” With buzz words thrown in like ‘synergy’ and ‘fusion’. Well I kind of guessed that. You do it for a living I thought. What else have you got? I wanted to know what made them tick, who they were and what they believed in.

What I realised was that they were all conforming to what you expect to read. I was inspired by the words of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt when he said:

“Comparison is the thief of joy”.

I decided to stop worrying about fitting in and to start with why I decided to set up my own business. With this I laid my soul bare and shared my story online. People buy from people, and it was in being honest and personal that attracted clients to me and does to this day.

Don’t conform. Be authentic, Be yourself.


A good friend of mine Tamsen Garrie, is a business growth mentor. I love her views on what your strengths are. Often, we think of our ‘strengths’ as being the things that we are good at. However, a strength isn’t always something that you do well, a strength is something that you do well, AND that you enjoy doing.

A strength is something that, when you do it, it makes you feel STRONGER because it energises you. I’m really good at invoicing, but it doesn’t get me excited.Find what makes you feel energised. What would you do even if you didn’t get paid?

Make sure you surround yourself with people that energise you too. This will make you even stronger.

If you’re focused, and energised and driven, you can achieve anything you want to in life.


My biggest fear when I was younger was always public speaking. I would get heart palpitations at school if I had to even open my mouth.

Eight months into starting Word Gets Around I launched a business networking group with a friend, even though eight months earlier I’d never even BEEN networking. We felt we could tweak the format of what was around at the time.

When we launched the group we both stood there terrified. My face was as white as a sheet and I could barely focus on what I was reading. I’m here today and although nervous, it’s nervous excitement rather than sheer terror.

Richard Branson is one of my business heroes. I was inspired by his famous quote “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

Well, this has very much been the mantra I have followed in recent years. It has opened many interesting doors and led to many achievements. Including

• I’ve sat next to Michael Eavis, founder of Glastonbury Festival.

• I’ve met one of my heroes, Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden. She also follows me on Twitter.

• I was in a TV advert on Channel 5 in a primetime slot.

• I tried Stand Up Comedy, which was a real marker personally in how far I had grown and pushed myself. I even got to the final, only losing out to those who were semi-professional. This was the first time I had ever tried it.

• Most importantly: I had new found confidence to walk up to a stunning girl in a bar and introduce myself. I’m pleased to say we are now married.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. You can really surprise yourself what you are capable of and what happens as a result. Saying yes and worrying, soon becomes replaced with saying yes and feeling excited.


Up to now others have helped to guide and shape you as you have grown up. Your parents, friends, tutors and there are systems in place to steer you in the right direction. They have been the stabilisers of your life.

Now is time to build your OWN support network in your profession, with your family and friends close by.

Social media allows us to connect on a global stage: Mask questions, engage with people, and never stop learning


People talk about how things always happen to certain people. I share an office with an award-winning lifestyle blogger “oh Jo is so lucky” people often say. She works with the likes of Disney, Unilever, Coca-Cola, here in Taunton’. We have loads of free goods arrive at the office from ice lollies, to cakes and emergency marmite (yuck). Each to their own.

I also share with budding film writer and director Marcus. He is 23 and also lives in Taunton. He works most Saturdays in the office on scripts for short films, determined to get his break. He is now talking to the right people and they know who he is, and all about his talent.

They are not lucky. They have made things happen through sheer hard work and determination to succeed.

I got my first interview because I walked in and introduced myself when I applied for the job. I stood out and made an impression. In contrast today, I’ll often get emails from people asking me for a job and they’ve not even bothered to find out my name. It’s on the About page on my website.

Millennials often get bad press. A generation is often seen as feeling entitled, self-indulgent, spoon fed, un-focused and lazy. Please prove them wrong.

Don’t live with regrets. Say yes, not maybe, and see everything as an experience. Be authentic, be a good listener, learn from mistakes, be kind to others and, when it arises, celebrate your success.

The biggest challenge can often be with yourself. To doubt your abilities. Push yourself to step out of the cozy duvet of fear. Be the master of your own destiny and discover what you’re capable of.

People get scared because there is so much emphasis put on perfection these days. I’m guilty of this too. But progress is better than perfection. Just start.

Think about this from one of my design heroes David Airey:

"Let’s say our lives span a maximum of 100 years. If 33 years are taken up by sleep, 10 years in childhood and 20 years lost in old age, that leaves just 37 years to create something meaningful".

Grab the opportunity. Doors open and close. But you need to at least try the keys.

You can’t afford to wait for things to happen. Focus on the present rather than your future happiness. If you don’t then you’ll always be waiting, a life unfulfilled as time ticks by.

My job is my joy. I set up Word Gets Around to be able to wake up each day and love what I do and who I work with. I work for money, but I design for love. The greatest feeling to me is one of contentment. Like a purring cat in front of a roaring fire.

Finally, I would like to quote Brazilian writer Mario Quintana.

"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul."