Denis, a Digital Media student, started his own digital design agency during his placement year on a Self-employment Placement Year option. He had a successful year and continues to run his business in his third year.
Denis encourages other students to take a placement year saying:
“There is a big difference between University theory and putting your ideas into practice.
You don’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it, you get on and try it.”
Tell us about your self-employment placement year company
I started a digital design agency called Wolfden Creative in May 2016. I originally focused on graphic design services mainly, as this was my predominant area of expertise however, after a short while I began to expand to offer services such as full brand design, web design, and social media marketing.
What is your role?
Being at the forefront of the business, I had to make sure that I am working on the business, as opposed to for the business. As important as client work is, working on the business development and growth of the company was often at the forefront of my responsibilities.
In the beginning of 2017, I began to bring in staff onto an external team to work alongside me. These were often freelancers from around the area, that had a variety of skills. This meant an additional responsibility of managing myself, the business, the clients, as well as now, an external team.
How was your placement related to your university degree?
Digital Media is a very broad course. From year 1 all the way to year 3 you touch base with many aspects such as filming, development and digital design – all of which are worlds apart from each other. In a way, that was a good thing.
It allowed me to dip my feet into as many aspects of digital as possible, and as a result, gave me a good understanding of what I enjoy and don’t enjoy, and similarly, the self-awareness of what I am good at and what I should probably have somebody else do.
This became true in the placement year, and put into practice. There have been several projects that required a skill that I wasn’t the best at. This is where an external team of vastly diverse individuals comes in. I was able to deliver projects with elements of programming, video editing and photography, after bringing in the team that had those skills that I don’t. It’s a far better method to find the talent and delegate, rather than try to do everything by yourself and struggle. Knowing your skills is crucial.
What are the benefits of being on a placement?
A placement year allows you take a year out of the “university bubble”. This is especially true for a self-employed placement, where you have a year to work on your business, as well as yourself.
Whereas in an industry placement you are surrounded by a team, managers, supervisors and the like, a self-employment placement is a real test of independence, resilience and perseverance. Personally, I have become far more aware of my skills, and tasks I enjoy doing throughout this year. Running a startup means there can be no time wasted on practicing elements that I was no good at, and instead, becoming better at the things I was. This again goes back to self-awareness skills, and betting on your strengths
as opposed to your weaknesses.
In addition, taking a placement year allows you to gain real industry experience that can’t be taught from a University unit. There is a big difference between University theory and putting your ideas into practice.
You don’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it, you get on and try it.
What have you got out of being on a placement?
Self-awareness, motivation, and a sense of what can be done in a short time frame, without being in the bubble of university life.
What have you most enjoyed?
Working for myself has been a stressful, uncertain and at times annoying period. I love it. The sheer motivation behind starting something from nothing and building it to be something of value is priceless. You suddenly get a spur of motivation rushing through in order to achieve your goals.
I enjoyed the independence. I enjoyed not having to be lead by others. And I enjoyed leading others and see them progress. The most important thing that I’ve learnt was to expect problems every day, but also to take ownership of all the good and bad things that happen.
What have you least enjoyed?
I didn’t hate a single part of it. Through all the headaches and uncertainties, I enjoyed every single minute of it, as it was my own business. I don’t think I would be able to duplicate this if I had gone on an industry placement and worked for somebody else.
What has been your greatest achievement?
One of my greatest achievements was being able to sustain myself and the business from day one. A big risk was always getting clients, getting paid and surviving the year. I distinctly remember one of my lecturers saying “all self-employed students have a
part-time job, you will probably have to do the same.” Disproving that was an achievement in itself. I was able to get clients, keep the business going and growing, and at the same time support myself just fine, which ended in a successful first year of trading.
What concerns did you have before going on placement?
The main concern apart from sustainability which is mentioned above, was work-load and accommodating the skillsets that bigger agencies can provide through having access to a skilled team. This wasn’t something I could provide due to being a one-man band. As mentioned earlier, I managed to build a team around myself to accommodate those skills I didn’t have. This also allowed me to outsource some general admin and lead generation work, so that I could be a little more hands on with the business growth.
What skills have you developed?
I have definitely developed commercial awareness skills, as well as communication skills. This is something that is taught at University level however, learning the theory will never compare to putting it into practice and trying it yourself in the real world.
What are your plans after your degree?
I am continuing to run the agency whilst in third year, which with the help from the external team, does take the pressure off me so I can focus a little more on coursework, but at the same time make sure the business is running and growing as it should.
What advice would you give students thinking about doing a self-employment placement?
Do it. This is super informal, but at the end of the day, it is meant for students. It’s far better to try work for yourself, fail and go back to uni now, than it will be when you’re 35 with 2 kids and a mortgage. And if you decide it is for you, third year becomes a lot easier once you’ve had the experience of working with real-life briefs, clients and deadlines.
Feel free to connect with us on social media:
And get in touch with me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LI: