What we’ve learnt about social media (so far) – Part 1

Where it all began…

Layla: Up until last year Feb, we had no Instagram presence. We focused mainly on Facebook which was great, until they made it almost impossible to reach our followers without paying for the engagement. We joined Instagram because one of our clients had asked why weren’t using it for business (duh) and requested we manage their pages. We honestly thought it was mainly used for selfie uploads and documenting those ridiculously embarrassing moments of friendship and family. Boy were we wrong! We were blown away by the visual charm of small businesses, fellow creatives and design studios with their addictive feeds. Why were we not on Instagram and how did I not know about this amazing community for business?

Tegan: Personally, I really didn’t enjoy social media at all. While it was an often hilarious way to spend a little time catching up with friends and family, like Layla says, it was mostly filled with cringeworthy exhibitionism and strange friend requests from people I didn’t know. But when I started thinking about the potential it had for business and meaningful engagement, I began to understand the power of social media. Sometimes you have to wade through a lot of junk before you find a gem. But it’s the searching and the joy of discovering something unique and special that makes me enjoy social media so much more these days.

Layla: The first thing I did was look for creatives to see what they did and how they did it. I went local, I went international, I went mad – excited was an understatement. I was lost in a visual world of pretty pictures, inspiring quotes and videos! I also noticed that the comments were filled with positivity and support which always excites me. Not only do we have our own Instagram and Facebook pages, we also manage social media for our clients. So, this is what we’ve learnt in our first year of Instagram, which by the way allows you to share content to Facebook too. Score!


Layla: In the beginning, we started with our content plan, and the look and feel we wanted to achieve. Because we’re a design studio, it was easy for us to create our own content and use existing images and artwork. We wanted to present a feed that was true to our brand and brought our vision and energy across to those who visited our page. As creatives, we have a tendency to um… overthink the visual strategy. We’ve learnt that it needs to be real and relatable. Quality content and images speak volumes. It shows that you put effort in to what you put out.  

Tegan: While Layla prefers to map content out visually (very important!) I look at things a little more linearly. For me, (I see you rolling your eyes Layla), Excel spreadsheets work the best. In separate columns I’ll list what my objective is with each post, which posts I’ll boost or advertise, what my advertising budget is for that month, which hashtags I’ll use, and even how I will leverage the tools unique to each platform such as Insta Stories, Facebook videos, events, photo albums and multiple images. It helps me to order my thoughts and “tell the story” when all that information is conveniently in one place. This helps me to plan content a whole month in advance and to think strategically about the results I want to achieve. When I’m done I hand the whole plan over to the design team to work their magic.

The problem with organic…

Layla: We wanted to explore social media, show the world what we’ve been doing and see how it would benefit our clients. We find that the more we interact with followers, the more relatable we become. Yes, we are real people, with real problems and passions. It’s a great way to create brand awareness and invite people to get to know who you are and what you can do. We don’t stress too much about our number of followers (they come and go every day) but focus more on creating an environment where we’re speaking to relevant followers. When it comes to clients, the reality is that even the most glorious visual may not get the high engagement that they want unless we boost it, so make sure you allocate some budget to this. Oh, and make sure you have a business profile in order to do this.

Tegan: As Layla said, Facebook has made it really hard for small businesses to attract followers or get their product or service in front of potential customers. And since Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can bet Instagram is already following the same route. Facebook ranks what people prefer to see (content from friends, family and news) higher than content from brands. So in essence, they’ve forced us to boost and advertise our businesses. If you didn’t have a social media marketing budget before, however small, now is the time to factor one in. Spending a little money to make a little money, is after all, the name of the game. The good news is you can get a lot of value for a small investment.

Advertising, why we do it…

Layla: When it comes to client budgets, we spend time testing what content works best and those are the posts that we boost. Promoting posts on a Friday to run through the weekend works because social media engagement is good on weekends. Competitions for the win (of course!), video content is next and then eye catching visuals work well on Facebook and Instagram.

For our social media strategy, we tend to focus more on Instagram because it is more visual. We only boost our blog posts because we feel that the information can help others, so we aim to share the love. We prefer our followers to be organic and interested in what we do rather than spending budget on getting higher numbers. It’s different for our clients though and every strategy is customised for the brands we work on.

Tegan: To start, settle on a social media marketing budget you’re comfortable with. We recommend starting out small. There is a lot to learn and understand about advertising on social media and what works for one brand might not work for another. Along the way, using the feedback each platform gives, you’ll gain greater insight into your audience and discover what works and what doesn’t work. Start small and then scale up as you become more confident and begin to get the results you’re looking for. Facebook and Instagram has made it easy for you to understand how to set objectives for your ad campaigns and interpret the feedback with lots of free step-by-step instructions along the way, so we won’t bore you with the details. But if you need help, visualising or creating a social media marketing plan for your business, we can help.

That’s a wrap…

Tegan: The Internet has made it possible for the little man on the street to compete with giant corporations on a global scale. It’s pretty cool actually and I really enjoy the strategy side of things. With social media, you have an amazing opportunity to connect people to your product or service in a meaningful way, with great visual content and a plan that, if done well, can help get your message to the people that matter.

Layla: Let’s connect, tell our stories and have fun looking into the windows of other businesses. It’s all about sharing work, experiences and learning. Don’t forget to have fun though and watch out for those puppy pages.

Miss communication

Love it or hate it, with technology we are now communicating more than ever before. But are we communicating more effectively? When it comes to work and everyday life, communication is key. We have all heard that a thousand times and I’ve probably rolled my eyes a thousand times when someone has said it, but it is such an important skill to learn.

The complexity of dealing with different personalities and how easily information can be interpreted incorrectly, depending on the state of mind, can often lead to miscommunication. I once worked with a production controller, who over email, would always reply with just one word and always in caps – DONE. You don’t get more concise than that. I knew that he was a very busy man so I never took his emails to be anything more than to the point. Other colleagues would complain about his shortness but I always thought that he was just being efficient.

If you don’t know me or if by now you haven’t realised I’m dyslexic, it’s because our copy queen, Tegan, has hopefully fixed as many errors as she could possibly find before body slamming her laptop out of pure frustration. I am a poor speller, like really bad, like dab bab. I have to double and sometimes triple check what I’ve written to make sure I haven’t spelled a client’s name wrong or wished someone an Eddie Moohbaroque (Eid Mubarak). I use spell check more than I do Photoshop and I add certain words and phrases to my phone or computers dictionary often. It’s a huge help when it comes to remembering how to spell a client’s name or terminology that pertains only to a field of work.

I also like to talk face to face when I have something important to say. Vital information can easily be misinterpreted via email or text and it could cause damage. It’s important to see someone’s body language so that you can gauge whether the information and tone was completely understood. Unless you’re dealing with our laziest team member, Loki, who never quite seems to understand the concept of the word sit, well unless he’s getting a BEENO. Or maybe he’s just better at reading body language than me.

Too much communication can also lead to problems. Never bury the lead. If your email is about a certain task or topic try to place the main points at the top of the email and leave the nonessentials at the end. Nothing drives me crazier than scrolling through 70 paragraphs of pixels to find out the email didn’t have anything to do with me in the first place. As I am sure you can tell by now I am a huge fan of getting to the point.



Disclaimer: Any mention of actual persons (living or deceased), blog deadlines missed and dogs brought into disrepute is completely accidental.

Why branding is important for your business…

If you’re reading this, then it’s crossed your mind and we’re very proud of you for taking a step in the right direction. Picture a room filled with slow clapping, nods of excitement and back patting as you make your way through the room. Welcome to our world, we’re here to help. You may be considering starting your own business, thinking of a brand refresh, or you just want to know what all the fuss is about and whether it really is necessary. Here’s the thing, we’re all about branding and creating a logo that will launch your business into infinity and beyond, but if it doesn’t resonate with your audience, it’s a missed opportunity. Firstly, you’re going to need more than just a logo. Yes, your logo is incredibly important but it’s just the start. Here’s what you need to know about brand creation…

1 Brand personality
This is a biggy but is often overlooked. It’s like meeting a stranger for the first time, you’re a bit unsure if you’ll get along, not knowing anything about them. You can tell by their appearance (we don’t mean to be judgy) if they are somewhat serious, laid back or bright and bubbly. It’s a crowded room, there’s some music in the background, a little chit-chat and five minutes later, you’re either besties, cool acquaintances or you go your separate ways. See, brand personality is exactly that, human characteristics that are attributed to your brand name. It’s a feeling, an experience, a message that evokes an emotion. Get it right and you will attract your perfect audience. What is your brands personality and who do you want to attract?

2 Colour therapy
Colour is powerful. Imagine choosing a wall colour for your home. You experience it every day, you add décor that compliments it and you place pretty pictures against it. Do you see where we’re going with this? Colour holds meaning, it stimulates the senses and can be energising or calming. What attracts you to a certain colour, how does it make you feel and more importantly, how will it communicate something about your business? When working on branding, creating mood boards and colour palettes are essential. It will assist you in creating your desired look and feel and aid in keeping all the elements of your brand consistent. Consistency is key, as it gives your brand a more professional appearance and helps your brand stand out in a busy marketplace.

3 Typography
This topic right here deserves a post of its own. This is where your logo and brand creation begins. Typography is also responsible for the large amount of hours that goes into creating an impressive logo or brand mark. It also contributes to the selection of fonts used across all platforms of communication. There are as many fonts as there are stars in the sky, make sure that your font choice is legible, fresh and won’t date easily. Don’t be scared to try different font styles in the beginning. Being open to suggestions from your design team can spark ideas or a direction you might not have thought of before.

4 Packaging
We’ll be honest, our most requested element for packaging is a sticker with the logo on it. While this is a completely useful branding tool, there is a lot more thought that goes into it. How will your product be packaged beyond that sticker? Will it be boxed, bagged or tagged? Ask yourself, “how do I want my customer to experience or feel about my brand when they receive my product?” All of the above, numbers one to three, need to be considered and implemented to create a consistent and thought through experience. You want the consumer to connect with your brand, and it doesn’t hurt to put a little extra in to achieve that WOW factor.

5 Website
We live in a digital world. We also live in a world where businesses have budgets and website development can be quite pricey. The good news is that there are options available to create websites that fit your budget. WordPress is amazing and we swear by it when our clients shudder at the mention of online presence. It allows you to maintain your own content and make updates when you need to. It also offers e-commerce (online store) options that are easy to use and relatively painless. Word of advice, opt for a responsive website. Most internet users visit websites using their smart phones and usability is very important. Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s all about the brand experience. If your website doesn’t work or if it’s difficult to move around on, chances are, people will get irritated and leave. It is worth spending on your website right from the start.

6 Social media
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat… and there’ll probably be something new by the time you read this. Choose the ones that work for you. It is quite time consuming so allocate the time needed to spend on social media, not only promoting your products or services but also interacting with your audience. We offer our clients social media strategies to help ease the load (it is incredibly important to have a plan), and also get the most out of these platforms for marketing. Remember what we said about consistency? It lives here as well, which brings us to our next point.

7 Photography and videography
Visuals contribute to all the points we’ve mentioned and it really is money well spent. You can have the most amazing logo and brand creative but if your images fall short, it puts a damper on the experience. Don’t get us wrong, we are aware that most businesses have tiny budgets when starting out and that budget needs to spread like a little bit of butter across many loaves of bread. When it comes to creating your budget, keep these points in mind. You may not be able to do it right now, but it should definitely be part of your long-term marketing plan. When selling products, bad images have the ability to undermine the way people experience your brand and the quality of your brand or service. We’re haunted by the flashbacks to the good ol’ days when clipart was the order of the day. Photography is part of your visual language and sets the tone for a more professional and appealing product or service. That, and the fact that consumers tend to purchase with their eyes. We’ll leave this here to simmer.

Videography has also stepped into the arena in a big way. It’s important to keep up with the times and the evolving methods of marketing but what is it all about? Story telling. It’s about creating content, telling stories and bringing your audience along on the journey of your brand. Again, it’s all about the experience, interaction, connection and creating an interesting environment your customers will want to spend time in.

8 Set the tone
What’s in a word? A whole lot actually. Your choice of language and tone is what gets the conversation going. Not only do we have designers working on brand creation, but wordsmiths too. Creating a language that makes the connection between you, your brand and your customer. Copywriters play a hugely important role in creating the content and message that goes out into the world. Is it a humorous or a serious matter? Is it factual and how do we say a lot with just enough words so we don’t put people to sleep? Setting the tone and making sure that the information about your service or product is easily understood, and presented correctly, makes all the difference.

So it’s not just about pretty pictures, clever catch phrases and fancy fonts. The art of understanding what your brand is and getting that message across is more than just a logo. It’s a beautiful conversation between your product, your people and your passion! Let’s go tell some stories…


5 things you need to know about starting your own business

Firstly, if you’ve taken the leap of faith, high fives all round. If you’re thinking about it, in the words of Martin Luther King, “you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.”

So true, but let me tell you a bit about this staircase. Google search “Rock of Guatapé Staircase in Colombia” and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. No, it is not easy, but it is so worth it. When you get to those platforms of relief, it is pretty amazing to look down at where you started and up to where you want to be. I’m sure we all have moments when we want to give up and call the rescue team to get us down, but if we take the time to relax, refuel and re-evaluate, something great comes of it. Somehow we always find the energy to keep going, keep stepping up and you know what, we enjoy it too!

I honestly thought I would be sleeping in, enjoying leisurely brunches and doing some unnecessary gardening in between work. I was wrong, the only sleeping in I did was after pulling an all-nighter, brunches turned out to be important meetings which required lots of prep and the only gardening I did was on Pinterest to keep the dream alive. I’m sure all of these things are all achievable but here’s what happened to me –I did it wrong, and if I could go back and give myself some advice, this is what it would be…

1 Time management is severely underrated
If you can’t manage your time correctly, you won’t be as productive, and you will find yourself adding in extra hours wherever you can. Running a business takes time, a lot of time, more time than I thought it would. The good news is that if you set your boundaries and stick to them, you may be able to achieve that elusive work-life balance. I found that I would wake up early, forget to eat all day (correction, forget to eat healthy all day, eat whatever I could all day), work late into the evenings, break for supper, which I very rarely found the time to make myself, and eventually get into bed with my laptop and continue until I felt my glasses lifted from my face and my laptop removed.

Mismanagement of time has a knock on effect I, unfortunately, got to experience on a five-day trip to the hospital. That’s how hard I pushed myself, that’s how invisible my boundaries were. I forgot that one of my reasons for starting the business was to manage my own time. I turned out to be a bad boss to myself and was sent to hospital to reflect on my bad behaviour. I still struggle, but I am mindful now more than ever that time is the most valuable resource in life. There is only one you and there is just so much you can do in a day so be kind and understanding towards yourself.

2 Did you know that you can delegate?
The moment you realise that you physically and mentally cannot do everything yourself is a pivotal one. Yes, no one can do it as you do and yes, no one knows what you know but choose your battles and focus on the role that you need to be playing. From quotations, invoices, admin, scheduling of meetings, responding to enquiries (did I say admin?) to actual creative work, learning the art of delegation will set you free and will benefit your business down the line. If you take the time to educate your team members and invest in their ability to do the job without you, it’s a massive task ticked off your very long to-do list. Now you have more time to focus on new ideas, clients, fetching the kids from school, going to gym, whatever it is, it will be easier.

3 No one will be as passionate about your business as you
Not your clients nor those around you, including your team. I will go the extra mile because I want to but the truth is, in most cases, your team will need an incentive. We work in a deadline-driven industry, so setting time aside for get-togethers is quite tricky. We have been planning a bowling trip for the past two years now, and I still believe that it will eventually happen, but even if we don’t want to go bowling, it’s the idea of taking the time to do it that freaks us out the most. The best thing we did as a team was to go on a creative weekend away to relax and talk about the business outside of the office in the tranquil setting of a beach house on the West Coast. We have regular creative meetings we affectionately call Doodle Indaba’s, where we exchange ideas and concepts and get all excited about the things we can and want to do. These meetings are not client meetings, they’re creative meetings, business meetings, including each team member and their views. My point: keep your team motivated, involved and excited about the future of the business. Always innovate and understand how important it is to evolve with the times and find ways to keep doing what you enjoy.

4 Paperwork, and not the artsy type
A hard lesson to learn (twice) but getting a handle on the paperwork is imperative. As a creative, the furthest thing from my mind was contracts and clarifications; I mean why can’t we just do what we love and get paid for it. No matter how you see the situation, someone is bound to see it differently, no matter how good your intentions. Not everyone has the same work ethics, and moral compass and misunderstandings happen all the time. Keep it professional, put everything down on paper so that everyone is on the same page and do it from the very beginning. If you don’t understand the admin or legalities of it all, get professional advice and make sure that all are in agreement, so there are no surprises down the line.

5 Positive vibes only
It’s surprising how easy it is to create a negative environment. There is only so much that coffee can cure and sugar can sweeten. Clients play a huge role in the scheme of things, and as much as we need to prioritise our clients and make sure that they are happy, you need to make sure your employees are looked after too. It was Richard Branson who said, “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. True story. One of the hardest decisions we made as a team was letting one of our clients go, but the factors were beyond our control – bleeding eyelids, stomach ulcers, anxiety and zero social lives are not worth any amount of money. And what is the point if you’re spending all your hard earned money nursing medical bills? Right? You are responsible for your team and their wellbeing. Make sure that the clients you focus on appreciate the amount of effort you put in and if they disrespect, disconnect. Simple.

Like any journey, if you know what to prepare for then you’re on your way. Even though I read the books, did the research and a whole lot of Googling, I still needed to experience it myself. The journey has been crazy and chaotic, but then it’s also been thrilling and life-affirming. Keep your head up, acknowledge how much you achieve and honour the small victories. As always, we wish you all the best on your adventure.



In the beginning

It all started in 2007. Six years into my career, I was living my dream working as a designer for a leading publishing company. I had worked on five magazines, gaining experience and absorbing as much as possible. Captivated by the world of glossy magazines and advertising, I was in love with the industry. At 26, I was married, had done a bit of travelling and all the things you do when you’re young and relatively care free, then I had my first baby. Needless to say, my priorities changed quite a bit.

I was always rushing home, the guilt of someone else raising my son while I was focusing on other moms having babies, was unsettling for me (the irony of working on a pregnancy and baby magazine). Because it was an international title, we worked closely with the American team – sharing ideas and strategies for marketing and content. I was introduced to the wonder of being a ‘mompreneur’ and the idea of starting a business on the side. Honestly, that idea changed my world. I was excited and determined, and that ball started rolling.

Such a simple solution right? Wrong. It took three years before I got it together and took the plunge. My motto in life and business is that everything happens for a reason. When the magazine later closed down, I was ready to start my own thing. But there was one more detour to make. Before I left, I was offered a position at Oprah Magazine. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and I’m so glad that I didn’t. I worked alongside the most amazing colleague and friend – a creative leader who taught me more about life and design (in between outrageous laughs and lunchtime adventures) than I could ever have asked for. My eyes were opened to opportunities I never considered before. As you might know, Oprah can be very motivational. We featured entrepreneurs in every issue, learning about their personal journeys in business and how they managed to juggle it all. Working in the most inspirational environment, continuously being encouraged to ‘live your best life’, inspired me to buckle down and focus on the business plan and how I was going to work from home, be a freelancer, take care of my son and then… I fell pregnant with my second baby. I know, right?!

Two years into my business plan and here I was pregnant and confused as to whether it was still wise to go on my own. Honestly, all excuses aside, it was the fear of not succeeding that I struggled with the most. I mean, I was working for Oprah Magazine, alongside their creative team and taking notes from the best of the best. How could I give that up? At this point, I was freelancing while holding down a 9 to 5, all in the name of building a client list. It was an insane time. I went to bed late every night and woke up early every morning to make every deadline. I worked through my lunch, on weekends and as expected I got sick, really sick. Heeding my doctor’s warnings, after some sleep and soul searching, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

I then teamed up with one of my closest friends, and together, we were going to take over the world. We eventually parted ways but I couldn’t have done it without her. Pregnant and unable to bend down at shoots, the emotional highs and lows and the complete inability to make any decisions at the time – it was crazy. I spent my entire maternity leave working on business strategies, branding, marketing and a million and one website design options. I went back to work and five months later I resigned (yes, I had to pay back my maternity leave). And that was it. I was officially an entrepreneur!

A few months into running The Pencil Box, I got an email from an old friend and colleague. We both started a few months apart at that publishing company and continued to grow and learn (and struggle) together for nine years. We battled through endless deadlines with the best stories, those you reminisce about with belly aching laughter, asking each other over and over WTF we were thinking. Jacques and I sat behind each other then, and sixteen years later, we’re still sitting behind each other, still wondering WTF we are thinking.

So, my story is not that different to many women starting their own businesses. Before I took the plunge, it was a dream that became a goal that became a reality. Trust me; it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done, but one of which I’m very proud. I‘ve stumbled and fallen flat on my face (picture the ultimate faceplant with feet in the air). I’ve sacrificed lots to get here, but looking back at it all, I have learnt so much. I’ve made many mistakes but I’ve also had revelations. Everything happens, when it happens, for a reason and even though there were tears and tragedies, it was totally worth being around for both my boys. They were my reason to start, and they’re my reason to keep going.

I cannot forget my biggest supporter – my incredible husband who walked this journey with me from the very start. Running a business is not for the faint-hearted. It can be hard on your family and your friends. He picks up where I fall short at home and being the project managing, engineering type that he is, helps me get through all the admin, legalities (and taxes! I hate taxes!) that is a nightmare for a crazy creative like myself. I wont lie, there have been meltdowns and moments of weakness but the strength you gain from having support when you feel like you’re on your own, is priceless. Hold on to that, hold on to the people who want to help you.

Almost six years later, The Pencil Box is now a team of eight, a team for which I am so grateful. We’re friends, we’re family, we’re determined to make it work together… with a trail of bad jokes and good laughs.

This is the story of how it all started. But what’s more interesting is what happens in between. Stick with us, we have lots more to share from our days in the design studio.


Unpacking soon!

Hello! We’re very excited to launch our very own blog so we can share our world with you! You can expect to read everything (well almost) about our daily doings, lots of design trends and tips, and a little bit of how we run our business (including the things that nobody tells you). We’re big on fashion and beauty, décor and daydreaming. You’ll get to meet the team and read a bit more about what we do and who we are with lots and lots of behind the scenes action.

We’d love to share what it’s like in our design studio and in our industry. We’re all about helping fellow creatives and start up businesses… and we have fun doing it.

Soooo, until we get our act together, we look forward to meeting up with you for a good laugh and a little work too.

Chat soon!