Creative Lives — Meet SB Studio’s resident ‘fixer’ and business director, Nicola Holroyd
Joining the company just a year after it was set up in 2008, Nicola Holroyd serves as SB Studio’s business director – or as she describes it, the company’s ‘fixer’. Graduating from the Management and French degree at Liverpool John Moores University in 2006, she fell into marketing roles before meeting now-husband and SB founder Benji, who she says opened her eyes to creative work. In the years that followed, Nicola has overseen the growth of SB’s sister company, Cow&Co – a coffee and magazine store that evolved from selling curated design products from across Europe. She also heads up the studio’s HR, payroll and accounts – all in just two days a week. In a position that allows no time for unstructured working, Nicola has become a master of time management, spinning multiple plates at any one time. She talks us through her unexpected foray into the creative industry, and her advice to young designers looking to get noticed by the studio.
Business Director, part-time (2009–present)
Marketing Manager roles for telecommunications companies (2006–2009)
BA International Business Management and French, Liverpool John Moores University (2002–2006)
Nicola at work with Benji
How would you describe your job?
I’m the fixer at SB, making sure that the studio functions behind the scenes, sorting everything from accounts to HR and payroll.
What does a typical working day look like?
I work two days a week, so have to be very efficient with my hours. I dedicate time for each area of responsibility and make sure that I stick to this rigorously. I spend an hour and a half commuting each day and always make sure to stop off at our cafe, Cow&Co to pick up a coffee and a pastry on the way.
What do you like about working in the part of the UK you’re based in?
Liverpool is a great place to work, there is a really vibrant independent scene here, everyone looks out for one another, and it’s affordable.
The downsides are that creatively it’s sometimes difficult to introduce more out-there ideas with traditionally minded clients. Also, the talent pool in Liverpool often gets absorbed by Manchester; though we’ve got a really great team of super-talented folk who we are really proud of.
How collaborative is your role?
As admin it’s not hugely collaborative. We all get together for meetings each week to run through projects, which is really interesting, but I don’t personally collaborate with external partners.
Nicola, Benji and designer Sadie at work
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I enjoy speaking with clients after a project has been completed and hearing how it is changing their business for the better. Winning new clients is also a buzz. The more mundane parts of my role would be chasing up late payments.
What skills are essential to your job?
Time management is essential. This is something I’ve developed since starting. At the beginning, I’d be hopping between different tasks, as I’d be at the office all the time, but now I have children, I’m only in for two days, and if I don’t plan my time, some things will just never happen. In that sense, being part-time has made me more focused.
What tools do you use most for your work?
We use Xero, Asana and Harvest to track our projects and time.
“At the beginning, I’d be hopping between different tasks [but] being part-time has made me more focused.”
The team at work
Inside SB Studio
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to be a translator. I like work that get instant results and getting to the end goal in a short amount of time; I find it harder with tasks that take months to complete. My goal was to translate at the London olympics, but it turned out that my French wasn’t that great!
How do your studies inform your work?
I wouldn’t say my studies have been useful. When we started The Cow&Co Cafe it was a design shop, and we would sell household items from upcoming designers. At this time there were a few French designers I’d speak to via email, but thats the extent of using my studies.
“I didn’t know I wanted to work in the creative industry early on. I was more academic and didn’t see the creative side of things at all.”
Nicola at work
What were your first jobs after uni?
When I first left uni I was a marketing manager for an agency in Liverpool, then I went in-house at a company in Manchester, before joining SB. Where I’m from is very rural, and there isn’t much calling for agencies – which is what I was more interested in, so Liverpool seemed like a good choice.
I didn’t know I wanted to work in the creative industry early on. When I met Benji he opened my eyes to it; before that I was more academic and didn’t see the creative side of things at all. I can’t imagine not working together now, but we do have a rule that we won’t talk about work after a certain time – that would just be too much!
I’ve been involved with The Cow&Co Cafe since we launched it in 2010. First I was the shopkeeper, then worked in the cafe, and it grew from there, so it’s my baby if you will. Now we have a new branch, so we’ve worked out exactly what we wanted from it and and it has evolved organically.
Inside The Cow&Co Cafe
The Cow&Co Cafe
Work for Formby High School
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to work at a studio like SB?
We look over every single portfolio that gets sent in, so the first thing would be to send something over or call to arrange coming in. If a portfolio shows a good eye for design and the work is spot on, then they’ll get a call from us. Also, they could come to the annual Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, which we curate and design, as an opportunity to meet face to face.