Companies House SPAM

I decided to have a clear out of my Company Gmail SPAM folder today. I’ve been getting the odd dodgy email from what initially looked like an official .GOV HMRC email, but then realised the web address is spelt incorrectly in the small print… naughty!

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As a Limited Company, however big or small (in my case, small), my company and personal details are publicly available online. Any Tom, Dick and Harry can use my data to either steal my identity or Spam me mercilessly, which is somewhat disconcerting. In this day and age with data protection being such a hot topic especially with the recent GDPR law, it annoys me that Companies House haven’t addressed this massive flaw! As a business I have nothing hide. I am not syphoning my earnings into the Cayman Islands by any means. My business accounts are transparent. What I object to, especially for sole trader freelancers like myself who are Limited, is that my home is also my office, and it’s just me as the Director, therefore all my personal data is displayed publicly. Companies House say they have addressed the fact that peoples D.O.B’s are available by only showing the Month and Year of the Directors birth date… Well, that’ll stop them! (not rocket science is it)

Apparently there are new laws in place to protect your home address being publicly available but you have to pay £55 for the privilege for each document that displays personal information.

Anyway, I’ve reported my dodgy ‘Companie’s House’ emails and consigned them to my SPAM folder in Google Business Mail, but whilst in there, I noticed I had a whole load of other SPAM messages, mostly asking for money for invoices. All in all, if I was gullible enough to believe them I would owe them £22,225! This certainly makes me wonder just how safe our business information is!

What’s your ‘Type’?

Last night whilst channel surfing we came across a programme on BBC Four about Typefaces. My partner who has no affiliations to design whatsoever groaned when I said “Hold it… I want to watch that!” but it was actually really interesting. It was about two typefaces that defined an era in Britain. Those being Johnston (by Edward Johnston) and Gill Sans (by Eric Gill). It’s available for the 29 days still on BBC iPlayer.

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I’m a little bit too young to have done proper Typesetting at college or at work as I became a designer at the dawn of the digital age of computers. At college though, I did a project about the branding of the London Underground/London Transport and one of the areas I explored was the typeface used by London Transport, “Johnston”. I had been familiar with Gill Sans up to that point but I didn’t realise that Gill was a variation of Johnston, as Eric Gill had been a student of Edward Johnston. Eric Gill took the Johnston typeface and refined it further and thus, Gill Sans was created.

I didn’t realise as well that neither men were not really typographers as such. Johnston was a calligrapher and was more used to swirls and flourishes in his work, whereas Gill was a stone sculptor and was responsible for the statues on the front of the BBC building in London. Quite apt considering the BBC now uses Gill Sans as its primary font since the late nineties*. Not so apt is the fact that Eric Gill was somewhat controversial as he had links to paedophilia and sexual experimentation, something the BBC is all too familiar with in recent years.

(*although the BBC is now developing its own corporate font based on Gill – perhaps to distance themselves from the work of Eric Gill!)

Anyway, it was a fascinating watch, (maybe not for my O/H). It’s only when the footage onscreen depicted the fonts used in a generic high street, that you realise how often these 2 typefaces are used in their various forms. We take them for granted these days as they are everywhere but a century ago they were considered a bold move. Creating a brand for something like London Transport which is still so instantly recognisable today.

Worth a watch for all you Type nerds out there!

Coping with my OCD tendancies when freelancing

Following on from my previous post about Pro’s and Con’s of freelancing…. today I thought I would muse on the things that make my inner OCD go into overdrive.

Often when I’m working, I turn up and I am just directed to the nearest hot-desk or wherever a computer is free. That’s usually fine and you know where you stand if you are just there for a day or so. If I am working somewhere on a longer term basis and I actually manage to get a relatively permanent workspace, I like to have my desk set up as if I want it. Maybe I am weird but I believe if your working environment is set up as you want it, you actually work more efficiently. As a freelancer though, you have no say about certain things and it makes my OCD go into overdrive…

You get given the keyboard that could clone the DNA of every single person thats used it…

My previous post illustrated some of the disgusting keyboards I’ve been given to use.  As you look around the office as everyone is using their pristine new equipment, or fancy Wacom tablets, then you look down at your desk at either the ancient piano key keyboard circa 1998 that I.T. have unearthed from a cupboard. Or you get a keyboard that is utterly filthy. This is guaranteed to make my skin crawl and I actually consider learning to type with my elbows so I don’t have to touch it with my fingers. Even worse, is when you all you can find is one tiny screen wipe sachet to clean an entire keyboard that look likes this… I have it down to a fine art now! Elbow grease works wonders as does the alcohol hand rub stuff!

You get the chair that NOBODY in the office wants… 

You know the one… the chair with the gammy wheel, or wonky backrest, or no arms. It’s no co-incidence that since I started freelancing, my spine is now ‘S’ shaped and my hips no longer align properly. I blame these chairs. Everyone else in the office has the spanking new posture-pedic, Herman Miller-esque chairs from the million pound office refurb. But not you, noooo, you get the chair from the Office World basics range. No really, it’s fine. I like designing at a 45 degree angle and having a curved hump on my spine.

You get the desk right by the air con / printer / cutting area / radio playing the worst radio station

I appreciate space is tight some offices, but when you get the desk in the area where everyone dumps the crap that gets jammed in the printer, it does my nut in. Especially as they always put it right where your mouse is, leaving you with a postage stamp area to work in. Or if you’re at the desk which doubles as a cutting mat area and you have to dodge the scalpel. I like my fingers thanks.

Alternatively you get the seat under the air con which is set to ‘Lapland’. Guaranteed this will always be the days when it’s about 28 degrees outside, I’ve got a T-shirt on and I’ve forgot my cardigan. It’s a great look when you are the same colour as a Smurf.

And finally I know I am old, but Kiss FM/Radio 1 just causes the worst ear worms ever. *starts rocking back and forth at the yoof DJ’s*

Everything gets pilfered from ‘the freelancers desk’

After enduring the battle of cleaning said keyboard, swapping the 90’s rollerball mouse for a Magic Mouse that has full batteries, finding a chair and monitor riser so you don’t get chronic Osteoporosis, finding a pen that works, you leave work and have 1 day off…

… Then you return, and EVERYTHING IS GONE!! You have no mouse/keyboard/extra monitor on your desk as they’ve all been pillaged. All you can find is the the 90’s rollerball mouse (except I swear it’s even dirtier than it was before). The chair with a wheel missing is back and your riser has disappeared or been replaced with packs of photocopier paper. And who the hell has signed you out of Adobe CC and added a gazillion icons of files to your Mac desktop. And so the process begins again… *sigh*. I think I need to get out more!

Does anyone else feel like this or is it just me going slightly insane?

*Disclaimer: Most places I work are perfectly fine but I have experienced all of the above in various guises at various agencies. Come on people, be nice to your freelancers and they will make you tea!! 



The Pro’s and Con’s of Freelancing…

As I said in my previous post I have been freelancing now since 2010. Events that transpired back then (ie being made redundant) turned my career in a different direction. I kind of fell into freelance as I had been out of work for 4 months and was at a point when I realised I needed to find the confidence to try something new. Having lost a LOT of confidence in the full time job I had been made redundant from, I went into my first day of freelance like a deer in the headlights. It was terrifying at first but I soon started to really enjoy it. As much as those early days involved long hours in a world I was totally unfamiliar with (I’d never done any brand marketing design before), my work was appreciated and I realised I wasn’t bad at my job!

I was fortunate in the sense that once I got my foot in the door of my first freelance job, I ended up being there a year, a ‘Permalancer’ as they say in the biz! After that, a 6 month stint somewhere else, then back to the first company for another year and quite a few ‘month’ stints pinging between a few key companies I’d gotten to know. Work was steady and cashflow was good. BUT…  as I soon realised, when circumstances change, this stability can easily be shaken in the world of freelance and then you then get the opposite effect of worrying where the next job is going to come from. It’s a rollercoaster of sorts but I am now at a stage in my life that I try not to panic and have confidence that a job will come up, and do you know what, it always does! I’ve now learnt to value the downtime as well as the busy times and it seems to work for me.

So in my humble opinion, here’s a few of my Pro’s and Con’s of freelancing…

What I like about freelancing:

Variety of jobs: working in different agencies, you see a huge variety of clients and the kind of campaigns they do. It’s always interesting and every day is different.

Variety of ‘work’: one of the things I enjoy about freelancing is that I get to do a bit of everything* (*within reason… I am not a developer!). From print campaigns, to digital media designs, large format design (ie shows and events) and retail POS, it’s always exciting to see what comes next. Admittedly there are just days when I am art working typos which is generally a bit boring but I still get paid, so it’s not all bad.

Meeting new people: I have met some really interesting people over the years of freelancing. There are some really talented designers out there, each with their own wisdom and knowledge to impart. It’s always good to learn from them. I’ve definately met some ‘crazy characters’ too. Some a bit too crazy for my liking when you have a deadline and you are trying to concentrate, but they are certainly entertaining. Mostly I have made some really good mates. I’ve realised that the industry I work in is a tad ‘incestuous’ (apologies for the want of a better word)… It’s like that 6 degrees of separation thing, there’s usually someone, who knows someone, who knows someone. It’s a good thing when you want to try and expand your network a bit.

Learning new things all the time: Being around so many different skill-sets in so many different places, you do pick up bits of knowledge that I don’t think you’d get working in one place all the time. I always try to ask how something is done as you never know when that information might come in useful elsewhere. Occasionally I even get to impart my own knowledge. I am prided for my OCD-ness in file structuring! The other good thing about meeting many other freelancers, is that they are so helpful in advice on just BEING a freelancer. When I was deciding to go limited, a lot of people I met gave me so much good advice. I have a solid network of people I’ve met, some I see a lot, some I only run into on occasion. All of them have been valuable to get me where I am today.

Working in ‘quirky’ creative environments and offices that have pets at work: My partner finds it funny that I work mainly in converted barns and offices that have ‘funky’ designs on the wall and toys everywhere. Though he is jealous of places that have Lego he wants on display! I do love some offices where the surroundings aren’t just corporate. It makes it a fun place to work when music is on and it’s colourful.  And it’s especially nice when there’s an ‘office mascot’ – usually a pooch. My favourite has to be this little one.

She’s a spaniel called Cookie and is just a gorgeous little dog. It’s so nice to get a welcome from her each time you go in. Plus it gets you out the office at lunch if you offer to take her for walks.

Not getting involved in Office Politics: So nice as an outsider to the company to not have to get dragged into daily gripes about stuff.

Pay: When  work is steady, my cashflow is good = one happy Sharon! Even in short stints here and there, the pay isn’t bad either, but obviously no work = no pay… not so happy Sharon!

Tax breaks:  Being able to offset expenditure against tax has been good so far, especially since I took the plunge and went Limited. Though if George Osbourne keeps punishing small businesses, who knows what the future holds!

The downsides (although not ALL bad):

Long hours: commuting is a b*tch. Especially when you need to work further afield and you’ve had a project run late. I avoid London like the plague. Am too old for that crap! Couldn’t do trains every day… So I sit in my tin box on motorways, back roads, behind tractors, behind traffic jams, adding a few extra hours to my day. Sometimes it’s good downtime though so I just turn my music up loud and blow away the cobwebs of the day. In winter though, it sucks and I am longing for the day when there’s an option for a car to drive itself! The one big plus though is that I am now a boss at finding shortcuts and backroads and I know Berkshire and Buckinghamshire pretty well without a sat-nav!


Being expected to know how a company works from the moment your bum sits on the seat of your first day working somewhere new & technical issues: And by that, the account managers assume you know where all the files are on the server, where all the images are linked to and you know the brand guidelines inside-out don’t you? Oh and can we have that done in 2 hours please?! …  Sometimes its a good challenge and you always have to hit the ground running, but on the days where the file structure is chaotic or non existent, or the equipment you’re using isn’t logged into all the right servers, not so much!

Timesheets: the bane of anyone’s working life.

Admin: See above… As much as I like tax breaks, I have never hoarded so many receipts before in my life, ever! My home office used to be super organised, now it’s like a tinder box full of paper!

Freelancers always getting the crap *desk/chair/keyboard/mouse/monitor*. I’ve had several occasions where I swear the keyboard has been pulled out of a bog somewhere. Case in point…

I swear I could clone another person with the detritus that is stuck to said items. As for chairs and desks, I guarantee I will end up getting the one with the wonky back support (hence why my spine is knackered) and I will end up at the desk right under the air-con or where everyone dumps spare paper or equipment. My tips… Always ask where the office equipment wipes are or bring your own mouse!

There’s probably loads more I could waffle on about but on the whole, I do enjoy being freelance. I enjoy the freedom it offers and the fact that every day is different. Maybe one day I will settle down (that sounds like the lyrics of the ‘Littlest Hobo’) and go full time again, but for now, I’m enjoying my career choice…

The anxieties of freelancing…

I read an article today titled ‘Freelancing with depression‘ by Shayna Hodkin from the Nu School website. In it she talks about her experiences with depression and how she ultimately dealt with them. It resonated with me a little so I wanted to share it. With mental health being pushed more into the open these days, I wondered if any of my other fellow freelancers have experienced anything similar.

I don’t think I’m depressed. I’ve never been diagnosed as depressed… but I would say I am somewhat an ‘anxious’ person, even if I don’t outwardly show it. Ever since I was a child I was always the one at kids parties who would have a bit of a cry if my mum left, or if my mum was there, I would check constantly to make sure she didn’t disappear. Growing up in school I was fairly easygoing but I was quiet and introverted, sometimes a target for bullies but I eventually found my way in life.

When it came to work and getting a job, I was always that little bit scared to try new things. After my degree  I carried on working in a retail job I’d had throughout studying. When I eventually go the opportunity to apply for a ‘proper’ design job, as much as I disliked the retail job I was scared to leave what had become my ‘norm’. Surprisingly when I got the design job, that fear went and I found confidence in learning the ropes of design and the new technologies that came with it.

So when I found myself redundant for the 1st time in 2006, it all came as a bit of a shock. It didn’t hit me at first as there had been such a long build up to our company collapsing, it didn’t seem quite real. But I remember standing in the veg aisle of a supermarket and just suddenly having a panic attack at how I was going to pay for stuff in future. Luckily I found some freelance work almost 2 weeks after being made redundant and my anxieties eased a bit. The offer of a Full Time job came in Jan 2007 with an ex colleague, which was doing similar stuff to what I’d always been doing since starting work in 1998, so I took it. It seemed a safe option. The 3 years I worked for said company beat any shred of confidence out of me that I had. It was an all male environment, the work was not at all what I’d hoped it to be and I felt I just didn’t fit in. I used to wake up and immediately think of excuses not to go in. When the economic crisis was in full swing, this company laid me off in 2010. Whether it was to save money or whether it was just to part ways with me as I didn’t ‘fit’, I don’t know, but it was actually like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and it was a chance to re-evaluate what I wanted to do.

I was out of work for 4 months in the summer of 2010 before a chance opportunity via a friend of a friend meant I started freelancing full time. Those few months whilst I was out of work were very up and down. Money was tight with a mortgage to pay and I hated signing on but needs must. The flip side was that it was a glorious summer that year and I made the most of it with friends and even went camping by the sea on my own.

My freelance career began in September 2010. It was in a completely new environment for me, much more design based (the job I previously had that I’d hated ended up being more like a developer), was fast paced and I got to work on several big brand campaigns. I worked steadily for the first 3 years without much of a break. In 2013, I had a minor car crash and it seemed to co-incide with a time when all my regular clients went quiet and stopped using freelancers. Not only was I faced with the financial worries of getting a new car so I could least GET to work (if some came in), there was also the worry about how I would pay for said new car. Luckily I was able to get a banger that got me from A to B so I was at least mobile. (As an aside, I am always slightly envious of fellow freelancers I meet who own expensive or swanky cars! Most freelancers I know own bangers… must be a perk of the job… or not!) But from that point onwards, work was always a bit up and down with regards to its regularity, which in turn brings its own worries about money etc.

When work IS steady and regular and the cashflow is good, even then there is always that little anxious voice in the back of my mind, saying “Am I good enough?” “Can I do this?”, “Do I know enough?” … Some days I can be confident and say a resounding “YES” to all of these, but other days, not so much. Often I think,“Can people see right through me and that sometimes I am actually terrified I will mess up”. Its usually at it’s most prominent when I start working for someone new, but then I realise, actually I DO know what I’m doing, I CAN do this and whilst I may never always know enough, you are never too old to stop learning things and sometimes it’s okay to SAY you don’t understand.

That said, I AM so much more confident now than I used to be. If you’d have said to ‘young me’ than I would have to go into new places every few weeks/months, learn how they work – often at a frantic pace, speak to new people, have conviction in my abilities…. ‘Young me’ would have probably stayed as a till tart! And every now and again, you get a client who praises your work, or a piece of design you’ve done gets recognition and the anxieties quieten down a bit to be replaced with a warm glow. I like those days.

I know that every now and then I will always have anxious moments. I will have doubts in my abilities and worries about my finances, but it’s how I cope with them that matters. I try not to let them overwhelm me. Also it’s about knowing when to take a step back… I love getting into the garden, feeding the birds, doing a bit of DIY, talking with friends or even just a walk in the sunshine… It all helps 🙂


Favourite ad campaigns this month…

Two of my favourite ad campaigns at the moment are for the National Lottery and Ikea.

The National Lottery ads created by Abbot Mead Vickers, feature Piers Morgan and Katie Price sending themselves up with what they’d do if they won the lottery, along with with the hash-tag #pleasenotthem

Piers Morgan gives a nightmarish theme pier with everything branded as him whereas Katie Price offers us a TV channel with nothing but her as the star. Though they are both quite dislikeable, I do like the way they are happy to rip the p*ss out of themselves. Could be worse though, good job Katie Hopkins wasn’t available! See links below…

Pier’s Pier

#pleasenotthem Pier’s Pier


#pleasenotthem KTV

The other ad that just make me chuckle and just wonder how on earth they did it is Ikea’s new one featuring lots of mischievous monkeys rifling through an Ikea kitchen. Part of the Ikea ‘Wonderful Everyday’ campaign, the ad was filmed in the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Costa Rica. Created by Mother London, it’s all about rediscovering the joy that can be had in the kitchen. I just love the expressions on the cheeky monkey’s faces when they are up to mischief…

Ikea – The Joy of Kitchens

#Ikea wonderful everyday

Lovely photography by Stephen Wilkes

Photographer Stephen Wilkes created these Day to Night shots of various landmarks around the world using a technique of taking thousands of shots from dawn to dusk. The blended results are beautiful!

Night to Day

Central Park NYC Central Park NYC

Wrigley Field, Chicago Wrigley Field, Chicago

Coney Island, NY Coney Island, NY

Eiffel Tower, Paris Eiffel Tower, Paris

Trafalgar Square, London Trafalgar Square, London

More of his work can be found at: Stephen Wilkes Fine Art Photography

More client feedback from hell…

Following on from a previous post I did a while back, I have been steadily collecting these as and when I see them as all of them ring true in so many ways in my career as a designer. More so of late in the world of ‘Brand Marketing’ where everyone has a say in how you do your job. I believe a lot of these posters were created as part of a project in Ireland where Illustrators, Designers and Photographers collated their worst client feedback into an exhibition. Proceeds from the sales of these posters went to Temple Street Children’s hospital.

So, I thought I would collate them in one post as they are worth sharing.

Images courtesy of