Kim Leary: “That we are safe”

That this too will pass That we can only do what we can do and that we shouldn’t put ourselves under too much pressure That we will find new ways to achieve what we did so easily before and this will give us courage The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of […]

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That this too will pass

That we can only do what we can do and that we shouldn’t put ourselves under too much pressure

That we will find new ways to achieve what we did so easily before and this will give us courage

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Leary.

Kim is a fantastically dynamic businesswoman and entrepreneur who has combined her dream of establishing and nurturing her own company whilst also delivering, communicating and sharing such skills to her clients. Kim is a multi-award winning business woman having been crowned ‘Young Entrepreneur of the year 2016’, a finalist as ‘Business Woman of the Year 2018’ and Squibble her design agency won ‘Digital & Creative Business of the Year 2017.

In July 2019 Kim joined a new initiative called Birmingham Tech Week, which she now Chairs. The tech focused week celebrates the diverse, innovative and growing city whilst uniting students, start-ups, business owners, investors and sponsors for a week of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My story starts back in 2008. Alongside the likes of Uber, Airbnb, Slack and WhatsApp. You see, we all started in the middle of a recession and as it happens we’re about to enter another.

After graduating in 2008, with a degree in design, I went on 2 years later to start Squibble, a creative brand and web design agency. I started the company because nobody would hire me. Prospective employers told me I didn’t have enough experience. So I took matters into my own hands and started designing for friends and family so that I could demonstrate a more varied portfolio with ‘real-life’ examples of work.

As it happens 2008 is also the year that the markets crashed. Overnight all graduate schemes were gone, along with the reduction of marketing departments. I was now competing with designers that had been made redundant as well.

So in 2010 I took a leap of faith and left my sales job in a Forensic’s company to go it alone. I had won a big contract in London which gave me 6 months to make it or break it. Fast forward 10 years and I’ve grown from a Sole Trader into a Creative Agency with a team of 3.

I am now responsible for our sales and growth.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

In 2017 we were crowned Digital & Creative Agency of the Year. We were the underdogs and nobody expected us to win. We were up against some heavy hitters and we were the smallest agency, team-wise, with the smallest turnover (1 agency had a reported turnover of more than 10 million).

However, I had set my sights on winning this award the year before. It’s actually part of the reason why I changed my business name. Up until 2016 I was still using my sole-trader name: Kimberley-Jane Design. In early 2016 I attended an event and on the tables were these very glossy black brochures. All these amazing businesses were being showcased inside. I knew, at that moment, that I would never win a spot on one of those pages because of my business name. We looked too small. So we rebranded as Squibble. Immediately our presence exploded and people started to take us seriously. We were now sitting alongside some of the biggest brands in Birmingham.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have just finished building a platform called the Power Platform. It’s one that I am immensely proud of because it helps people make purposeful relationships to drive individual, economic and social growth.

The platform has been built to support peer-to-peer mentoring and is free for all to use. There are currently 8,600 members who are all sharing their knowledge and supporting each other.

What started as a way for the Northern Power Women to engage and respond quickly to offers of help has turned into a global platform with a far greater purpose. The Power Platform is currently being used to connect furloughed staff and students with volunteering opportunities to help keep our economy moving and support charities and businesses in need during COVID.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I first started out I very quickly learnt that it’s not what you know but who you know. A strong network is vital in opening doors to opportunities that you might not have discovered. My boss at the Forensics company helped me to secure my first big contract. The one that enabled me to start-up on my own. She introduced me to her network and supported me in my quest to go it alone. Where most company owners would decline to help she wrote me awesome testimonials and gave me a chance where others had not.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I’m not a teacher and yet I have found myself teaching my 5 year old daughter to write, read and learn numbers. No easy feat when I myself am dyslexic. With the help of my Mum, who is a teacher, together (during lockdown) we have used technology to enable my daughter to carry on her learning journey and I have watched her confidence grow. She is now writing a diary everyday so that at the end of the summer she can look back at all the exciting things she did.

On the flip side between myself and my husband (who also runs 3 businesses) we have kept our 2 year old entertained. We have managed her outbursts of absolute disgust and anger that I dare to cut up her toast the wrong way and we have dealt with the guilt of saying no when she tries to join in on our conference calls.

That being said I know that I am very lucky and that neither of us have suffered job losses due to COVID but running multiple businesses from 1 household has put us under immense pressure. I am proud and whilst I feel slightly nervous to do so I celebrate that my business has continued to thrive during such a difficult time.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

A big part of my business revolves around delivering brand discovery sessions in our studio. We are still not able to do this safely and I lost 2 major contracts at the start of lockdown. However, within 48 hours we had discovered a range of tech platforms that enabled us to deliver our sessions as if we were sitting in the same room or at-least near enough. This included tech to help us collaboratively sketch out website wireframes so my team and our clients can join in from home. A big part of our session also includes the use of post-it notes (every marketer’s dream tool) but is impossible to do over Zoom. So we found another digital tool that enabled us to share boards on our screens and all have the ability to move and add post-it notes.

Feedback from these sessions is that they were more productive (lets face it nobody wants to sit around on Zoom for too long) and much more collaborative with attendees feeling really comfortable and excited to get involved.

As for home schooling I’m in a very fortunate situation to have a family member that could help and this was only made possible through FaceTime and my Mum’s desire to help, even when she was still working full-time herself.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I tried to manage client and staff expectations from the start. I immediately added an auto response email to advise of delayed response times and I made sure our clients knew that we were working from home with families. In all honesty not a single person has complained even when the children are screaming in the background. Everyone I’ve spoken to during lockdown has been super understanding and more than likely in the same situations themselves anyway.

I have been working less in the day so that I can spend time with my kids and make the most of them being at home. It’s not their fault that my phone keeps ringing or emails keep piling through. Then, I tend to catch up in the evening, once the kids are in bed.

I don’t have any earth shattering advice, I’ve learnt as I’ve gone a long and just got on with it, because realistically what else can you do? Bills still need to be paid and children still need to be fed.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Wine. Wine. Wine. Then when that’s gone I follow people like “BrummyMummyof2” on Facebook because they make me laugh and make me realise I’m not alone and that being a Mum is hard work and that it’s ok to not be ok sometimes.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis

  1. That this too will pass
  2. That we can only do what we can do and that we shouldn’t put ourselves under too much pressure
  3. That we will find new ways to achieve what we did so easily before and this will give us courage
  4. That we will be much more resilient in the future
  5. That we are safe

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I had a friend who would text me at the beginning of each week, just to check-in on me and to let me know that she was there. Because this made me feel so loved I did the same and in-turn would send the same message to my friends. We supported each other and I knew that I had people to turn to when the long days felt even longer.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Culture Beats Strategy” I love this quote because, for me, it sums up how we should treat each other. If everybody is part of the team and we’re all going in the same direction with the same purpose we shouldn’t really need a strategy because we will naturally be taking those steps anyway.

How can our readers follow you online?



Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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