I first came across Nicola in August of last year, I think. I was scrolling through Nadia van der Mescht’s Instagram feed and noticed the username “askashe” pop up with relative frequency. I also saw her featured I one of Nadia’s Insta stories where Nicola was presenting a talk at a workshop. After scrolling through her Insta profile for a bit, I made a note to stalk her a bit more – girl has awesome taste, and she has a slick-chic-classy look that I love. Also, she’s a branding consultant. And she’s a Durbanite (to add to my growing list of awesome Durban ladies). Nicola is also a fellow member of a Facebook group for South African creatives.
It was during my time spent on this group that I’ve seen her comments on posts and realised that she’s a straight-talker and I liked her sass. We connected over a comment thread in aforementioned Facebook group where cheap logos were being discussed. We were both outraged at one member’s extremely cheap rates for logos, because neither of us can charge such a low rate for a logo design (a topic for another blog post). So I dropped her an inbox message and we had a short exchange. I then shamelessly asked if I could feature her on my blog. I had a fangirl moment. She agreed, and here’s our interview.
Q: Briefly tell us about your business journey. (What helped you decide to start your own business?What did you do before working for yourself?)
A: After 18 years in corporate working at some of SA’s top design, advertising and production agencies, I threw in the towel after experiencing massive burnout, in order to preserve my sanity! I took a few months off and just enjoyed writing on my blog, Ask Ashe, which I started in 2008. Setting it up as a business was a natural progression and it’s now been just over 2 years that I’ve worked as a Brand Consultant, assisting small businesses establish their own online presence.
Q: What was the process you followed when starting to set up your brand?
A: Because the Ask Ashe blog existed and I wanted my company to fall under the same name, I worked with Nicola Tweed to design a new website which communicated that I was a consultant, offering a specific set of services. The blog is still contained on the site and still shares my passion for SA places, spaces, creativity and design, so everything is on the same domain. I set up a business Facebook page and tweaked the content shared on my Instagram feed, to share less of my personal life and I kept my twitter account – although I don’t use it anywhere as much as the other 2 platforms. Twitter is a dying platform for me.
Q: How do you manage your branding and make sure everything you do (from business cards, to packaging, to branding collateral) keeps in line with your brand?
A: I always recommend setting up a style guide for a brand, so the same is true of mine. This establishes a clear design guideline which makes a brand recognisable – from the logo and any submarks, to the colour palette, fonts and photography styling. I also ensure that logos used across the various channels people can find me on are consistent.
Q: How do you manage your social media commitments?
A: With an A4 printed monthly planner, a notebook and pencil!
This is usually met with a quizzical look from people who think working in a digital space means you should be embracing digital planning. But I have a long-time love affair with stationery, coupled with an old-school affinity for seeing things written down in one place. My monthly planner lets me see 4-5 weeks at a glance and a simple page turn brings up the following or preceding months, as opposed to scrolling through screens and clicking highlighted blocks to see what they stand for. I colour code with stickers and highlight content themes, which I then translate into chunks of content by batch designing using online and offline design software.
I’m online from 6am – 9pm most days, sourcing, researching, creating and curating content for a number of brands, including my own.
Q: How do you motivate yourself to keep going when your inner critic’s voice gets a bit too loud?
A: I silence my inner critic with this quote which has been a firm favourite for the last 3 years: “Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be” by Eckart Tolle and that pretty much sorts out anything I’m muddling over!
Q: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned since you started your business?
A: That working with corporate clients who are bullies is just not worth it – this is more a realisation than a lesson, as working with small businesses has been such a pleasure and I don’t miss bitchy brand managers and full-of-themselves directors with big chips on their shoulders!
That community over competition is thriving and the businesses that are embracing this are reaping the rewards.
That people are sick to death of being sold to and are actively looking to engage with brands that are authentic, run by people they can relate to and who are consistently delivering good service.
I look up to Nicola and want to be like her when I’m all grown up. You can find Nicola on her website here. She blogs about all the lovely places to visit and eat at in Durban – makes me want to hop in a car and drive up the coast. You can find her sharing snaps of her life over on Instagram here.
Melissa De Klerk
Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi
Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.
You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.