Finding the sweet spot - Designer Tom Ross

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If you discount the 3 consecutive Saturdays he spent at Waitrose, Tom’s a thoroughbred entrepreneur. He started out knocking on the doors of local businesses at 16 years old, and then went from freelance to founder when he launched Design Cuts - the global marketplace of resources for designers.

Tom loves his company, but he’s learnt some hard lessons along the way. He talks openly about his experience of burnout that led to serious illness, and how he’s still dealing with the effects of that today.


Steve Folland: It’s freelance designer Tom Ross.

Steve Folland: Hey, Tom.

Tom Ross: Hi Steve. How are you?

Steve Folland: I am good. Well, I said freelance designer but clearly you've evolved way beyond that. But, if it's okay, maybe we can retreat back into those days. How did you get started being freelance?

Tom Ross: I got started pretty humble beginnings, like most of us. I think it was actually doing design contests if you know the kind of thing I mean? So, these days it will be sites like Fiverr. I was pretty young so I was like 12, 13 years old learning Paintshop Pro, pre-Photoshop even. And, I started participating in some of these contests and our member at first I wasn't very good. I would not win any. Then I might start winning one out of every 10 and by the end I was winning about 50% of them, which was great because I was a young kid at the time. But, you know, they would pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars each time.

Tom Ross: So, that kind of wet my beak in terms of freelance opportunities and how I could make money remotely and through my creative skill set. And, then from there I just developed to doing the classic thing and pitching a lot of local businesses, restaurants, bars, that kind of thing. Getting some very bad clients sitting on my shoulders and all the horror stories that you hear, but that's just you know, experience. And, then kind of developed from there into a relatively successful freelance career.

Steve Folland: When you said you went out to restaurants and stuff, not when you were 13? Or were you?

Tom Ross: No, I wasn't that young but maybe 16, 17, yes.

Steve Folland: And, you were literally going in there and say "hey, I think you could do with a website."

Tom Ross: Yes. So, it would quite often it will come from connections like least that might be, you know, a friend of a friend who ran a bar, that kind of thing. But, that's like the intro into design.

Steve Folland: So, when you become a fully fledged freelance designer, so you never went and worked for somebody else, if you see what I mean. You didn't go into an agency or anything like that? You stayed self employed.

Tom Ross: Yes. I like to say I've never had a job because I feel like I'm a thoroughbred entrepreneur, but I did go and work at Waitrose for three Saturdays when I was 15 years old and then I quit. So, apart from that no, I've always been self employed and freelancer for a good few years.

Steve Folland: How did it change from there? Because, obviously now so in your introduction I was chatting about design cuts, it's changed quite a bit. Talk us through that.

Tom Ross: I think really, from day one, I have been really passionate about creating and design but also entrepreneurship and marketing. So, I've kind of learned both of them in tandem. But, yes, I would never go back and change my freelance career. It's given me a massive platform and a decent amount of expertise for what I'm doing now.

Tom Ross: I don't know if you know Steve, but I run the Honest Designer's Show podcast as well. That's become quite popular, which was total shock to us. You know, it started with us just talking in a room about design, but that's taken off quite well. And, through that you can share all the horror stories and all the experience. So, at the time you think, "how is this going to benefit me? This is ridiculous. I'm being mistreated" and all that kind of stuff. But, over time you realise only in hindsight actually, they're fantastic experiences. You need those experiences to develop a meaningful career into actually have credibility of knowing what you're talking about.

Steve Folland: What were some of the challenges that you particularly remember facing?

Tom Ross: It was all kinds of stuff. It was not being paid. It was, being screwed financially and that kind of sense because you didn't have a proper contract. It was clients that would ask for endless revisions over and over and over again and wouldn't pay you any more. As I alluded to before, it be client sat on your shoulders, micromanaging you. You're feeling very much like the bottom feeder because you go into these spaces and they kind of put you in like a cobweb ridden room in the back and be like, "get to work, minion." But, all of these things, which many freelancers in particularly for freelance designers experience, I went through and lived and like I say, they kind of sucked at the time and he, you think to yourself, "I'm worth more than this." But, actually in hindsight I probably wasn't.

Tom Ross: You know, I was very young, I wasn't super experienced, I wasn't confident enough with how I priced myself and pitched myself. I was saying yes to some of the wrong clients. So, all the stuff, which at the time you begrudge, when you look back, you're like, "actually I was probably right where I should have been." And, it was just part of the journey.

Steve Folland: And, at that time were you, I don't know where you, Tom Ross, Designer. Did you have a company name?

Tom Ross: I think I was always Tom Ross, Designer. I was never like Globo Corps Design Solutions.

Steve Folland: Yes.

Tom Ross: That's something I advocate against for any freelancers by the way. Like, just be true and honest. I'm not saying you have to use your own name, but don't purport to be like some giant studio if you're not, because people see through that stuff.

Steve Folland: So, but you said that you always felt entrepreneurial, so how did that affect your freelance career?

Tom Ross: Well, I think they can go hand in hand quite naturally because you are operating as your own business. So, you know, you have to market yourself as a designer, you have to learn about approaching clients, you have to learn about market demand and a lot of those fundamentals. But, alongside the freelancing, I would be building and flipping websites. I'd be starting these random web projects and learning email marketing and all that kind of stuff. So, again, if you have those entrepreneurial tendencies, but you don't want to go and grow out a big team and run a company, they're still your best ally as a solo freelancer because a lot of freelancers, you know, they are good at that design work, but they do kind of suck with the marketing, whether it is pitching or email marketing or social media content or branding themselves and that kind of thing. I think often they fall short because they are so all about the work. But, when you combine the two, it's a really powerful thing.

Steve Folland: What do you mean when you were, you were building them flipping websites?

Tom Ross: As in you create a website from nothing, build it up to a certain point then flip it simply means to sell it.

Steve Folland: So, what kind of thing would that have been? So, you try to create like I don't know?

Tom Ross: All kinds of stuff.

Steve Folland: Yes, actually I can't even come up with an idea. What sort of ones did you do?

Tom Ross: I've done so many projects and again I see them now as learning experiences. These are not things which went and made me a millionaire by the way. All kinds. One was like a gallery where it featured other people's design work and web designs and that kind of thing. So, it was like a little online gallery, kind of like CSS mania for any web designers out there who might know that. So, that was one. There was another one which wasn't designed related at all. Am I allowed to swear on this podcast, Steve?

Steve Folland: Go for it.

Tom Ross: Which was called,

Steve Folland: I'm shocked. But, what was that?

Tom Ross: That was people sharing stories of stuff they did that was kind of a dick move and then people would vote how badly what it was. Like, if they were a decent person or if they were horrible.

Steve Folland: So, you came up with the idea of, then you built it and what? Built up a significant enough audience that you would then go off and find someone to buy it?

Tom Ross: Yes, that one, even it didn't have the best audience. It was just that I'd built it up, I hired a freelancer to help code it so it was like a functional thing, which had a proper system that worked and a fairly small audience and then I sold it. But, that's probably one of my lower ones, over the years I think that sold for like one to $2,000 or something, it wasn't a lot of money and I felt really good until I worked out all the time I poured into it meant I was probably at a massive loss financially.

Steve Folland: But, it's really interesting though, that from an era where there would be more revenue to be made out of a website through ads?

Tom Ross: Yes, yes. I think definitely that has shifted fundamentally. I think myself and many creative entrepreneurs online now see the benefit in a much more long term business vehicle. You know, building a real business, whether you're selling courses or membership sites or client services or whatever it might be, is much more long term. I think back in the day there was inherently more flipping. It still exists. There's still people selling websites every day, but you know, it was quite attractive to build a nice looking website, get some ad revenue and then sell it on.

Steve Folland: And, so what did you then shift on to?

Tom Ross: I continued freelancing actually for quite a while. I started working with a lot of solo online entrepreneurs but not marketers so it'd be really interesting people. So, one of my favourite clients was the biggest teacher of online base, like electric bass, guitar and that was a really fun project and he had a massive audience. But, I started getting known as the guy that would get results for your business. So, he implemented his redesign and overnight got 50% more paying customers. So, he was like, "this is awesome. This has paid for itself in like one to two months" what he paid me. And, so through that I'd start getting word of mouth and I get more and more interesting clients for web design work. Alongside that I would dabble in things. So, do you know Smashing magazine?

Steve Folland: No.

Tom Ross: A blog about design and coding and that kind of thing. They put out a book on Photoshop and I was editor on that. So, they hired me to do that. So, it was a few projects such as that. And, a lot of that happened because I, alongside this other stuff, I started a blog all about design where I was teaching Photoshop and I was doing Photoshop tutorials, photo manipulation lessons, videos, that kind of thing. And, that grew quite substantially. I think it had 100,000 visitors after the first month and then it went on to get kind of millions and millions of visitors. So, that built up a few connections and a nice profile and attracted stuff like the book thing and a few other projects whilst I was still freelancing alongside.

Tom Ross: But, my biggest lesson from that was the numbers really don't mean anything because the audience was a bit hollow. I was doing everything I could to get eyeballs on my content and drive that awareness. But, you know, it didn't build anything sustainable. It made some money along the way, but I didn't build a proper business model. I didn't build a proper community because I was just chasing traffic because whenever I tried to learn on my marketing, I said, "how did we do online marketing?" And, it was all about getting more followers and more traffic. And, so now a lot of what I do is I preach the opposite of that. You know, it's not about the numbers, it's about getting people into care and support what you're doing and build a proper business.

Steve Folland: You still very much sort of placing yourself as that expert in design and feeding off of that element of your freelance business?

Tom Ross: Yes, so whilst I no longer freelance, it did give me quite a lot of experience to talk about it, which as I mentioned, I channelled into the Honest Designer's Show podcast. We do and we've been doing that for two years, over a hundred episodes now and we've still got stuff to share and anecdotes and stories and experiences about freelancing and yes, like I'm, I'm talking more and more about it. I'm going on The Future, if you know that? You know, none of that could really happen without the foundation of freelancing, so I know your audience's freelancers, whether they want to stick being a freelancer, which is amazing, as a career or they want to move on to something else. If you want to move on to something else, I think freelancing can be a fantastic foundation. It can be a great platform to open up other opportunities.

Steve Folland: Just to put all of this in perspective, by the way, when you were like, doing that blog for example, what year are we talking about?

Tom Ross: So, the blog I think was like 2008 when I started that.

Steve Folland: So, you're building that reputation, all of that. But, you're also doing the freelance work. So, were you just somebody who was working every hour. Like, what was your work life balance like at that time?

Tom Ross: It wasn't too bad back then because I would work very quickly. I remember an agency was feeding me regular work where they were basically outsourcing to me. So, they'd pay me for the work and then stick a load of margin on top of it and charge their client. And, that was fine because it gave me a steady stream of work. But, I was at university at the time and so I'd be out getting drunk with my mates and have a two week or four week deadline. And, I'd normally kind of scramble it together in the last couple of days to be honest. Because, I did the same thing with my studies and my essays. I, you know, I'd pull all-nighters back then and be really last minute. But, thankfully though quality of the work normally came through as well.

Steve Folland: How did your story move on towards where you are today?

Tom Ross: Yes, so on the back of doing the blog, I learned more about the online landscape, like marketing, design, like I say, I made a few connections and so on. And, then fast forward to 2013 that's when I started Design Cuts, which is my current company. And, that's like the perfect fusion of everything. I loved that marketing, entrepreneurship and design. So, we're basically a global marketplace for designers for the tools that designers use day to day. So, that's things like fonts, graphics, illustrations, templates, all those things which either make your work look more beautiful or save you time or both.

Tom Ross: And, we started that and we now work with about 400 of the best product creators in the world. So, these are people creating stunning, stunning fonts, illustrations, all those kinds of things. And, then we've got this global community of about 400,000 designers who regularly benefit from them and grab them and engage in the community.

Steve Folland: So, how did you start that? Were you just do doing on the side or did you think, "well, actually, this is something I really want to do" and build up a load of cash from your freelance work and then pile into it. How did you go about it?

Tom Ross: Yes, the latter. I piled into it actually. I've talked openly on my personal show about this, but I worked 18 hour days, seven days a week. So, it was well over a hundred hours a week for about 18 months. And, that's how I got the company off the ground. And, the whole time I wasn't taking a salary so I was just eating into savings and then ended up putting myself in hospital having major surgery because I'd put myself under so much stress, I had to have major stomach surgery.

Steve Folland: Jeez.

Tom Ross: Yes, so when you asked about work life balance, the freelance days were nothing like this to be honest. Like, me doing the odd client projects and that's not to undermine freelancers, you know, it can be stressful, it can be very busy. Absolutely. But, my personal experience was that was a lot calmer than doing a startup company.

Steve Folland: So, you found that you were able to put in all of those hours for 18 months, but eventually your body just said "no."

Tom Ross: Yes, pretty much. And, then after the surgery I was chronically ill for two years, but I couldn't just give it up and go and rest because that would mean throwing away my company and having to fire the team, or make them redundant, rather. And, I didn't want to do that, we'd worked too hard. I cared too much about them. So, I had to try and find a way to keep the company going but at this time I could barely stand up out of my seat. I was like an 80 year old man or something.

Steve Folland: So, by the time that happened by the time, and I think it's fair to say we were allowed to use the word "burnout" because it seems like-

Tom Ross: Oh yes.

Steve Folland: -that definitely applies. By the time you got to that point then, had the company started to work? If you see what, like, you'd hired people? It wasn't just you.

Tom Ross: Yes and no. At this point part of the reason I burnt out and did all those hours is I was a complete control freak. I was like Steve Jobs without the level of talent or turtleneck if you want. So, I felt I had to do everything and we didn't hire for 10 months and the first hire was part time. By that point we should have had four or five staff, it was insanity, but I just didn't want to let go of anything. I was just truly trying to do at all. So, the silver lining of getting so sick is, as I came out the surgery and I was so chronically out, it forced me to delegate it and it forced me to hire out a team which set the foundation for now where we've got about 20 members of staff and it's in a much more sustainable place.

Steve Folland: Flipping heck. How do you make sure you take care of yourself now?

Tom Ross: I try and I've got a few ideas around this but I'm currently having a week where my "to do" list is so long that I've had to half my meetings times to pack more in and I'm still not getting it all done. So, I'm going to have to work all weekend and this is coming from someone who outwardly preaches against burnout and working yourself into the ground. But, I also recognise the reality of sometimes is just that crazy, but my answer would be try and find your sweet spot because if you are hardworking and aspirational and ambitious, you're going to want to work hard and it might not cut it work five hours a day, but there will be a point where you start to burn out and it starts to damage your health. I've discovered for me, my sweet spot, if you will, is about 12 hours a day.

Tom Ross: If I work eight hours a day, there's no way I get everything done. If I work 13, 14 hours a day or more, that's where my health really starts to suffer and I kind of fall over. So, everyone's sweet spot is going to be different the same way. You might need five or six hours sleep, but I might need eight or nine. You know, you need to pay attention to your own system and whether you're running a company or a freelancer, it's so worth kind of auditing yourself and working out what your sweet spots are. That sounds kind of rude, doesn't it? Talking about your sweet spots? Like an erogenous zone or something.

Steve Folland: It's so true. So, overall like you don't regret that?

Tom Ross: No, because I've built the thing I'm most proud of ,in the world. I love my company and it's thankfully as is doing great and we've got an amazing team. So no, I don't regret it and it's okay. It was a road I had to work with a dietitian and a personal trainer and a therapist because it was destroying my mental health, feeling so ill and like seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. But, I've had to kind of claw back from that, and now, thankfully, I'm feeling great. I've got some residual health issues from it, but they're kind of, I'm working with doctors to kind of gradually improve them and then nothing compared to the chronic illness.

Steve Folland: Yes. If you did it again, would you do it differently?

Tom Ross: Yes, a hundred percent but sadly time machines don't exist otherwise I would go and do it probably quite differently. You know, I would have hired a lot earlier. I would have not made a lot of mistakes, but that's not how the world works and I would be a different person without everything I've learned along the way. The mistakes are always useful. You always develop character and those kinds of things through these experiences.

Steve Folland: How did you find becoming a boss, after all of that?

Tom Ross: I found it was a very sharp learning curve because all I've done before, it's manage people remotely from my blog, like guest authors and that kind of thing. So, to go to managing a full time team in person, it was literally learn on the job, figure it out as I went and just try not to screw it up and do as good a job as I could. But, it's true what they say, "the hardest part in business is generally the people." It's the best part. It's the most rewarding part, but it's also the toughest part because people aren't robots, you know? There's a million variables which constantly can go wrong or be unexpected or fluctuate.

Steve Folland: Yes. Have you had any support at all through this whole thing? I don't mean from a nutritionist, I mean that as a business mentor or coach or anything like that.

Tom Ross: Yes, I have. So, I've got five co-directors and shareholders at the company, but I'm kind of the founder and majority shareholder and for a long time I was the only one working full time but they were hugely, because some of the shareholders run a larger business and support us in that capacity. So, through them I was getting support and mentorship and there were all kinds of like HR things which would come up, which I'd have no idea about but they'd have 25 years experience because they're a bit older than me too.

Tom Ross: And, so yes, that level of support, if you can find yourself a mentor or a partner or someone to kind of balance you out, it's a huge asset. I couldn't have done it without them to be honest.

Steve Folland: How did you find them?

Tom Ross: I ended up getting a very bad experience happened to me in business, which I can't talk about unfortunately. And, on the back of that, I ended up in a meeting room with them and did a kind of Dragon's Den, a thing or Shark Tank for any Americans listening, where I had to pitch them my idea and I didn't know them at this point. It was like a family friend of a friend of a friend kind of thing. And, I had to say, you know, "I'm this young kid, I've got this idea. I think it could be great. Take a punt on me." And, they did.

Steve Folland: And, that was, what stage did that happen? Was that after you'd already spent the two years in a bedroom building it?

Tom Ross: No, that was before we built anything.

Steve Folland: Ah, okay.

Tom Ross: So, that was just an idea and I went "help support me build this thing."

Steve Folland: Yes, no, it's interesting about the whole, it's not just the funding, it's the brains that come with it.

Tom Ross: Yes. Well, we never had any funding actually. It was just hard work. I mean they support it in terms of like development resources but that came from the other directors and shareholders who have that skill set. So, it was all of us just putting our skills into it, but we never invested any money beyond like getting a domain name.

Steve Folland: And, so now as we're here in 2019 so you've mentioned last couple of years of doing the Design podcast. You're also now making your own YouTube videos and podcasts, but actually as you, right?

Tom Ross: Yes, I'm doing the whole personal brand thing and it's really fun. It's taken me a lot of years to get there, but I started trying to connect the dots in terms of what I enjoyed the most. I worked out it truly is helping people. It's what I've always gravitated back towards. I know some of my early design clients came from me being in a forum where I helped about 400 people. I gave them free consultancy for their websites just because I love doing it. And, I'd be on calls every week with people. I would help so many people over the years and I'd be running up to my girlfriend and saying, "you know, that guy where I helped him with his business and he couldn't pay his mortgage, but now he can and he gets to save his house" and I'd get such a kick out of that kind of thing.

Tom Ross: And, so I decided I want to combine my passion for helping people with the credibility I've now got from actually having done it and built a real business and scaled it and learn a lot along along the way. I'm now in a position of hopefully a authority where I can talk about this and know what I'm talking about and really give people actionable quality help. And, it's my biggest passion, to be honest. I love my company, but every week I'm helping dozens of creatives, freelancers and entrepreneurs, whether they're, you know, filling up my Instagram inbox and asking questions or they're watching the show that I'm doing the Honest Entrepreneur Show or I've got a weekly call with some of them where helping them through there business or Instagram live. It's like every moment I'm not working on my company, I'm doing that because I just get, it energises me. I get the biggest kick out of it. I just love helping these people.

Steve Folland: Yes. It doesn't actually sound like you're somebody who likes to switch off even if you could.

Tom Ross: Yes. It's weird because I was quite good at being lazy growing up to be honest. I really was. This is not been like from the age of eight or something, and I know I'm saying since 12 I've done all this stuff and I have, I was never completely work shy, but at the same time I think I've wasted enough time growing up that when I hit about 25 I thought, "you know what? No more, the rest of my life is on me. I better get my act together" and that's when my company really took off. And, I think that becomes quite addictive because you think, "oh wow, I didn't realise I was capable of that. Funny enough, when I work really hard and pull my finger out, big stuff happens." And, so from there, yes, I've got really good at spelling my time and yes, I should get better at downtime, but I'm not very good. I sit there and get like a five minute rest and be like, "no, I need to be doing something."

Steve Folland: Yes. Do you think that's partly, do you think you were addicted to making progress on your business? You know, like when you were making yourself ultimately sick, it wasn't just what you needed to get the work done, but actually you were, you were loving it so much.

Tom Ross: Yes. So, it's definitely a love for it and a passion for it. But, through my new show, this is something I talk about a lot because I think entrepreneurs, whether they're creative, entrepreneurs or otherwise, there's a big thing on the scene where everyone's very black and white in their advice and it's just "work harder, be more productive, Rah Rah Rah" or this motivational stuff and no one tends to give the wider context. And, so I really try and give a very, very transparent look at it, hence the name the Honest Entrepreneur.

Tom Ross: But, I think that transparency is so key because yes, to answer your question, when I was growing up, it's like a drug addiction almost because the harder you work, the better it does and the better it does, the harder you work. And, it's like an endless cycle. And, another kind of metaphor I could use for that is, imagine Steve, there is a giant pile of pound coins or for the Americans dollar bills, next to you, and you take one and you put it in your pocket and you've just made a pound, so you take another, you've made pounds. At what point do you stop? And, I'm not someone who's like particularly all about the money, I'm genuinely more about like building something meaningful in their success, but I'm just going to use money as an example here because it's quite relateable for people. At what point did you stop? You know, you're going to keep doing it.

Tom Ross: You're probably going to find ways to do it faster and get more efficient with that and you're going to go, go, go, go. Because, you could be there all day and getting more and more of what you want, whether that is wealth or success or passion, all of those things. So, it does become quite addictive when you see it through that lens. Maybe that sounds quite depressing. I'm trying, I like to think I've got more balanced now in that, you know, I'm doing it for the right reasons. At the time I was just seeing "what am I capable of?" And, then I was like, well you know it just went like a rocket. It really took off and I was trying to hold on for dear life to be honest and push it forward. So, I'm taking you back to like 25 year old Tom's mindset. I like to think I've grown up in a lot of ways.

Steve Folland: It's interesting because you've managed to restrain yourself from I think saying the word "hustle" once.

Tom Ross: The first episode of my show I said "hustle culture is killing us." And, then the second episode I talked in depth about how ill I got and all the rest of it. I didn't want to mention it cause not everyone's familiar with the term, but yes, hustle culture. It's a dangerous, dangerous thing I think.

Steve Folland: It is. Yeah, I agree. I think it's dangerous and yet equally you can sit there and point to the fact that hustling did create for you, what you wanted, it just happened be that it was killing you off at the same time.

Tom Ross: Yes and I talk openly about that as well because I think there's two sides. On one side and you've got like all the Hustle Bros on Instagram, right? "I'm hustling my face off, man" and just really pushing that. On the other side you've got a growing movement, there's anti hustle and then are really denouncing some of the A-listers like Gary Vaynerchuk and people like that who seem to be at the origin of the hustle movement. I sit somewhere in the middle because I've got a huge amount of respect and admiration for a lot of those A-listers because I think they're geniuses in a lot of ways and I have no desire to like tear them down. They also tend to talk quite openly about "be self aware and do what's right for you." And, I think that's spot on.

Tom Ross: So, the way I look at it and talk about it is I know I'm never going to be the world's strongest man and I'm never going to be the world's fastest man and I'm never going to try to be. Because, if I did, I'd ruin myself and I'd be miserable in the process. Like, it's just not going to happen. I'm not built for it. And, the same way I might not have the physical builds go and be Eddie Hall or someone. I also probably don't have quite, you know, fully the mental build or fiscal build to go and work 18 hours a day for 30 years and almost no one does.

Tom Ross: So, just because there's one or two celebrities that seem to live that lifestyle and that works for them because they've got that constitution or the outlook or whatever, it's not going to work for 99.9% of us. So, we need to work out, like I talked about before, our sweet spot. And, I think a better way to look at it. It's not hustle because for me, hustle is connected with extremes, but it is hard work. It's okay to work really hard. You need to work hard. I needed to really, really work my face off to grow my company. I couldn't have done it without that hard work but hustle as a movement I think is connected with a lot of people saying stuff like "give up your 20s and have no social life only work" or "sleep less and only work" or "you can't be in a relationship because that's going to detract from your work" and like anything, right. You need balance. Whenever you take it to these extremes and you get these subcultures which push them to unhealthy extremes, it's not going to result in a good thing.

Tom Ross: And, my worry is and why I talk openly about this Steve, is I think there's a tidal wave of mental health issues looming around the corner. I think it's already beginning but I think a lot of people at where I was at six months in or a year in and they don't see what's around the corner and I think a lot of people are going to crash incredibly hard and that does scare me.

Steve Folland: If you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?

Tom Ross: That you need to be patient and realise you're not going to get there overnight. It will generally take years and years. You've got to keep putting one step in front of the other. Don't worry if it's not all perfect from day one. You will have to go through the trudge of bad clients, you know, not being paid a huge amount as long as you're heading in the right direction. Slowly but surely. That's the main thing.

Steve Folland: Thanks so much for being on. We as ever for all of our guests put links at so you can check out what they're up to so you can find out more about Design Cuts and also Tom's shows that he's been talking about. I mean you said actually that this is, you create your personal brand that in quotation marks now, which I can see, but equally I have followed Design Cuts for years-

Tom Ross: Oh, have you really?

Steve Folland: Yes, and I definitely remember very early on, videos with you in it. Like it would be you in the office.

Tom Ross: Yes, that wasn't so much in my personal profiles. That was for the company. I decided I wanted us, it was important to me that we were a very human brand. You know, I didn't want to be faceless. I wanted us to to be out in as people could get to know us and we could show our personalities.

Steve Folland: Yes. And, it was, and that I think ties in really well from your freelance career. And, in fact you even said about not calling yourself a company name, of being the human.

Tom Ross: Yes and so few people do that. I think a lot of us are video shy and don't want to put off photo out there even. And, I was too, it's not like I'm some guru on video or audio. It just takes practice. But yes, I was absolutely bricking it when we did these, you know, we all got really silly and like nervous about it and you put them out and we look back and cringe now at some of those early videos, which you probably saw, but you get better over time. And, I just think it's such a good way to not only brand yourself as more human and brand yourself successfully, but to differentiate because no one else is you. Right? You're different from anyone else.

Steve Folland: Yes. So, did you find that maybe it's hard, it's not like a thing that you've A-B tested for example, but you think like putting your face and indeed the faces of your team to Design Cuts helped?

Tom Ross: Hugely. Like, we have so many customers that know us on a real personal level and resonate with us. You think that would happen if we were just like hidden behind a generic logo? It wouldn't be the same.

Steve Folland: Yes. I suppose that goes back to that thing you said earlier about building a massive audience or building an audience that you are connecting with?

Tom Ross: Yes, all very deliberate, Steve, honestly. I'd done the bigger thing and ironically, by trying to build something smaller, more personal, more human, it ended up being the biggest thing I've ever grown. But, that wasn't the intention.