An innovative graphic design studio opens its doors in Cardigan, with start-up support from Business Wales.

Mana Design was set up by graphic designers Robin Stanley and Dan Rickards to provide innovative graphic design services. Having attended a Business Wales start-up workshop in early March and benefitted from further advisory support on how to set up, the entrepreneurs successfully started the business in Cardigan town centre in October 2020.

  • Successful start.
  • 2 jobs created.
  • Large contract secured to provide graphic design services to all schools in the county

Introduction to business

 

Launched by experienced designers Robin Stanley and Daniel Rickards in Cardigan, Mana Design is a new graphic design agency, utilising cutting-edge technology to provide brand management, 3D design and printing, as well as general print and web design services.

We caught up with Dan and Rob to see how they’ve gone about starting their own business in the middle of a pandemic.

Why did you decide to set up your own business? 

We are a couple of creatives from the West coast of Wales who believe good design shouldn’t cost the earth. After the best part of two decades of freelance work within the design and print industry and many opportunities that just didn’t quite align, we decided that if you need a job done properly, you just do it yourself.

We started out working together on freelance projects, specialising in graphic design services. Always looking ahead to the possibility of opening a print shop to run alongside our design and being able to offer clients a ‘one-stop’ shop service. After a couple of years planning and multiple attempts to take over existing businesses, we finally found the perfect place, managed to source the funding, only for the owner to let us down at the last minute. It was at this point we decided to see if there was another way for us to make our idea become a reality.

About a hundred ideas, one skate park committee and a year or so later, we had begun to see the landscape around design evolve rapidly. With new technologies and processes coming to the fore, we began experimenting with 3D printing and Augmented Reality (A.R) design. We saw an opportunity to do what we had always dreamed about, opening our own business doing something we love to do. Coupling our design and print experience with these modern developments gave us an advantage over local competitors and the possibility of establishing ourselves in a very competitive marketplace.

What challenges did you face?

At the start, we had built enough local reputation as designers to keep work steadily flowing in, whilst we develop the print side of the business. Utilising our contact network to the best of our ability, we had a few different options when it came to projects and funding. We had an asset finance company on board; we had applied for grants and even spoken to private investors, all of whom seemed keen and able to help us, seeing the potential and being very positive about the direction we were taking. We’d found the perfect location for our studio, had all the equipment lined up and ready to go. Unfortunately, the next few months were extremely testing. Every avenue we’d explored fell through for reasons we could do nothing about. But we’d come this far, we couldn’t give up before we’d really got started. And that’s when a little virus called Covid-19 came to town!

We had yet more figuring out to do. Opening a new business is never easy, let alone when the entire planet is hit by a pandemic. So after another look at the drawing board, we decided that, pandemic or not, now was the time. So here we are, a few months later and we’re proud to announce that our studio opened its doors in October 2020 and we haven’t looked back. Well, except to wonder why we hadn’t pushed further already. The truth is, many people will give you reasons not to do things, but not many will tell you to go out and do something.

How did we help?

  • Successful start.
  • 2 jobs created.
  • Large contract secured to provide graphic design services to all schools in the county.

Having attended a Business Wales start-up workshop in early 2020 where they met like-minded people, built their confidence and decided to pursue their dream, Rob and Dan worked with business adviser Clive Davies, to get their ideas off the ground.

Clive helped them with their business plan, including assisting with the business’ pricing model, market research and identifying target markets. Clive also provided support on cashflow forecasts and an Arfor grant application:

“Once we decided to go for it, we found out that for all the work we could do ourselves, everyone needs help from time to time. We sought advice from people who were more experienced in fields we were not. We got in touch with Business Wales to help us validate and improve our ideas, set the business plan up properly, and most importantly (or so we thought) to help us secure funding to get the ball rolling a bit quicker.

We were assigned a business adviser, Clive Davies, who immediately set us on the right course. After the first couple of meetings, we were able to begin clarifying our business plan and breaking things down from an experienced perspective. This enabled us to start setting small, achievable goals to push our business out of the spare room and into our very own studio.

We went to a Business Wales workshop in Cardigan Castle and on one of the very first slides, we saw a company we had previously designed for. We saw other people struggling to explain coherently their business ideas, unsure of themselves or the viability of their plans. It was a good yardstick for us to gauge where we were at as a business. The little boost of confidence that came from seeing our work as a leading example, however small, and all the other business owners still figuring things out, made us realise that we really had to push things forward, it was now or never.

Following advice from Clive as well as the workshops and personal research, we have been able to understand and implement so many aspects of the business that we had either missed or had not been fully aware of.”

Future plans and ambition

That’s the bit of our story that’s already written. At the moment, we’re looking into innovative ways to incorporate new technology into everyday life. We believe that between 3D technology, as well as A.R and V.R, design will become much more prevalent in the coming years. One of our main goals for the future is to be able to offer everyone the opportunity to learn or develop new skills and use equipment within the fields of print and design. But that’s a little way into the future, currently we’re focused on refining our range of specialities, which include:

  • Visual identity and brand standards development.
  • Brand Strategy.
  • Print design.
  • Graphic design.
  • 3D Design and printing.

We’ve always been personally driven to improve and to push our own and cultural limitations, but our aim is to be the best version of ourselves every day. It’s all the small improvements that add up to make something big.

Our goal is to push the boundaries of possibility, challenging ourselves to design a better world, one step at a time. And we know this is just the beginning of our journey, we are always looking for ways to expand our personal and professional horizons. We believe that through following our passion, hard work and a deeply ingrained resilience, we can be successful, or at the very least, be able to deal with our failures.

If you want to read more success stories of how Business Wales has helped other people like you to start or grow their businesses, visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/case-studies or follow @_businesswales / @_busnescymru on Twitter.
 

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