This past month we were lucky enough to sit down with Steve Pannett of Coffee & Toast a creative partnership of Steve & Jack who are based in Hertford. We talked to Steve about their work, favourite projects, future plans, how they’ve overcome problems in business, advice for graduates & more.
“Starting a business, especially a B2B company like a design agency, is always a challenge. As you’re not just designing anymore, you’re running a company. “ – Steve Pennett Coffee & Toast
Who are Coffee & Toast? What is the makeup of the team at C&T?
Coffee & Toast Creative is a partnership between myself and my business partner Jack; we work B2B with clients from lots of different industries on their digital presence, branding, visual identity and marketing.
We formed the business in March of 2012 and have purposely kept this same, very tight-knit team. With all of the communications and tech out there it’s more than possible to work and collaborate with other experts on a project-by-project basis, and we tend to bring others into the fold as-and-when we need to. This also means that you develop a very active network where you might be referred work from a professional working in a slightly different sector, and vice versa.
What have been your favourite projects to complete so far in 2014?
We recently signed off some identity work and the website for a specialist, aerial-filming company called Verticam. They’re the first business of their kind with a background specifically in television and film so it’s exciting to see the enormous waves they’re making already. They were great to work with and really trusted us with the creation of a brand new visual identity for them, and with their website too.
We also have several really great jobs on the go at the moment too; we’re launching a brand new website for a top wedding-planning agency based in London and we have a very exciting project in the pipeline with a fashion stylist which will see the creation of a new e-zine. On top of that there is work with a heritage-building restoration firm, a Swedish-timber supplier and a high-end fitness business too, so plenty to get excited about!
What advice would you offer to someone looking to be a part of Coffee & Toast?
We get lots of emails and post from people interested in working for/with us, so if you want us to notice you then make sure that you stand out. That said, remember that at the end of the day, we are providing commercial services to our clients and we need to see a similar approach from potential employees/interns/collaborators.
In logistical terms, connect with us via social media, which we’re pretty active on, or sign-up to our mailing list for news of when an opening/vacancy comes up.
Who have been some of the biggest creative influences for you all growing up? & in recent years?
I personally love the work of the late Storm Thorgersen and the illustrations of the El Famoso duo; and if you’re embarking on a career in design or branding then you should definitely read up on some of the thoughts of Adrian Shaughnessy and Wally Olins, respectively.
However, I will say that whilst it’s great to celebrate your influences, make sure you don’t put them on pedestals or you’ll end up trying to emulate them instead. Your creativity is yours, go do something else with it.
What was your initial plans when you were leaving university? Was C&T the plan straightaway?
I’m not sure either (of the C&T founders) really had longterm plans after university, I graduated in 2010 and worked in a few in-house design positions before striking up a conversation with Jack (my business partner) at a chance meeting.
After a few more formal chats we decided to set up shop and offer our skills to businesses as a partnership. From there we’ve gone from strength-to-strength.
What have been your biggest stumbling blocks with the business since 2012? Has the landscape of the business changed much since 12′?
Starting a business, especially a B2B company like a design agency, is always a challenge. As you’re not just designing anymore, you’re running a company. The biggest challenge is always finding new work and developing new relationships with clients or potential clients.
When we first started (2012) the effects of the recession were still being felt, with marketing budgets being tightly managed everywhere we went. It’s gotten much better in the last six months or so, but you still have to ensure you offer true value in what you do and how you do it.
What plans do you have for 2015 & beyond?
Our business development plan for this year is well underway and ticking along nicely. For 2015 we anticipate further growth and we might start thinking about expanding the team on a more permanent basis. There are technologies and professions that we think will be key over the coming years and we’ll need an expert pair of hands to help us out in offering them to clients.
Is all your work focused in the South & London or do get many projects in the North also?
We’re based just north of London so it makes sense that a lot of our business is conducted down here; but I still have good connections in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire – and there are plans to diversify the business so that one of us is situated in the North whilst the other manages projects in the South, but it’s early days on that right now.
Do you agree that creative work is more heavily based in the South with better Businesses or has the North still a lot to offer?
There’s quality on both sides of the invisible border, so I don’t buy into this “London versus the rest of the UK” conversation. Costs are generally lower in the North, so you might find that some London-based clients will start shopping further north for their design needs; there is more than enough comms, infrastructure and tech available to make that a commercially viable solution.
Who are some of your favourite people/brands/accounts to follow on twitter?
@MatDolphin – Often blunt, often funny commentary on industry developments.
@SpursOfficial – We’re both big Tottenham fans…
@CureSimple – They deliver artisan bacon, direct to your door. I shit you not, it’s amazing. Expect tweets of incredible-looking bacon.
Do you prefer to seek and look for inspiration online or offline in print and at exhibitions/events?
Excuse the cliché, but inspiration is everywhere. Anyone who only looks for creativity behind a screen will inevitably fail, but likewise you can’t ignore the Internet as a useful resource/tool.
My best advice is to remember that every project starts and ends with people; so if you don’t pay attention to the people involved (the client and the intended audience) then you’re already shooting yourself in the foot. Speak to the folk involved and if you’re smart then ideas will be triggered by these conversations, or at the very least they’ll set you onto an exploration that will lead to a winner.
Are you involved in any local creative events/groups or meetings?
We network with other businesses frequently, and we’ll always head over to exhibitions/galleries/events if we hear about them and they pique our interest – but we’re not members of any specific creative group.
When the clock strikes 5 o’clock on a friday, what are you most looking forward to at the weekend?
It’s often a little later than 5, depending on deadlines, but we’ll grab a beer if we can and then I look forward to football, or whatever other weekend plans are in the pipeline. This weekend I’m off to an open-air screening of The Italian Job inside a castle, so that should be a good craic!