Just a Card


The Latest news and features from our campaign

Patricia van den Akker - The Design Trust

By Kate Marsden

Now, I know I’m not alone in being in need of a little boost at this time of year. So who better than to give us all a lift than long term Just A Card supporter Patricia van den Akker of The Design Trust. Read on to hear Patricia’s story, get some great tips for dragging yourself and your business through these winter months, and enter our competition to win one of her wonderful Dream Plan Do planners!

Hi Patricia, thanks so much for joining us on the blog this week! Could you start by telling us a little about yourself and your role at The Design Trust?

Creativity and entrepreneurship are in my blood, as from a very early age I learnt how to sell in my mother’s gift shop in The Netherlands. My dad was an alpha male business man and my mum was creative and I got that combination inside me. After studying Graphic Design in Belgium and Arts Management in The Netherlands I came to London 25 years ago for a work placement at the Crafts Council, who then offered me a job after 2 weeks. Ever since then I have worked with 1,000s of creative businesses, especially in design and crafts, as a creative business adviser, trainer and coach.

In 2012 I took over The Design Trust from London Met University, to turn it into an online business school for designers and makers. We now get around 50,000 visits per month to the website, and are very active on Twitter too. We provide one day online workshops on topics like business planning and costing & pricing, to 6-week courses on marketing, finance & money, and how to launch and create your collection. We also have a business club with more than 100 webinars, interviews & podcasts with successful creatives and experts.

I regularly teach and write about creative business development for small businesses; for example, I was the business adviser in 2016 for the Etsy Resolution programme, have spoken at the Small is Beautiful conference in Scotland for the last 3 years, and I write the regular business column for Crafts magazine, published by The Crafts Council. And recently I launched my first book on Kickstarter, Dream Plan Do - a 12 month business planner for creative product businesses - with great success.

My official title is Director, but the reality is that The Design Trust is mostly me! I develop and run most of the online training, do a lot of the marketing, and coordinate everything. I work regularly with three freelancers who help me with specific areas including bookkeeping, web development and marketing. We are a very small team, with me working from home in North London and the others from their own space.

Please tell us about The Design Trust itself. What are its aims and what does it set out to do for the creative community?

The Design Trust was originally set up, more than 25 years ago, by a lady called Peta Levi MBE. She was a design journalist for Homes & Gardens, and she also set up Design Nation and the annual New Designers exhibition in Angel. I worked for her for a couple of years at the end of the millennium.

The aims of the organisation are still the same: to provide business training to designers and makers. Since I took over The Design Trust the focus has been on online training rather than live workshops or talks, although I do those sometimes too.

The motto of The Design Trust is: “Create a business you are proud of”. What is it that would make you really proud of your business? I hope that The Design Trust provides practical but also strategic and thought-provoking business advice to both new and more established designers and makers. Not a cookie-cutter approach, but really developing the business that’s right for you, and your clients and family. I like to offer real-life advice that gets creatives inspired and into action. You can read all the blogs and books in the world, but if you don’t do anything with it then it still won’t make your business any better!

What made you decide to support the Just A Card campaign?

I have known Sarah Hamilton for a couple of years and 18 months ago she came to visit me with an idea she had. I knew straight away that it was something that I would love to support. (Who can resist the charming Sarah?!) My mum ran a creative gift business in The Netherlands when I grew up, and I know how important small businesses like that are. Not just to sell the work from other small creatives, but also to keep the local economy going and The High Street independent.

I also love it that the campaign connects creative producers with small retailers. So often I hear creatives talk about ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it is about retailers, and I do think we really need to support each other here much more. We are in it together, and we all do need to educate the general public about how important those small purchases are to keep the country much more alive, with diversity and more pounds.

It’s just brilliant to be able to use our big network on social media and our database to support this artist-led campaign. The Design Trust is a social enterprise, and this is exactly the kind of thing I love to bang on about myself. So it was easy! And Sarah is so enthusiastic and has kept the momentum going. With the recent thunderclaps and the poster/logo design it’s only getting better!

Our readers will almost certainly be familiar with your recent successful Kickstarter project, Dream Plan Do. Can you tell us what prompted you to write the book?

Haha, many things! Basically, the idea of the book had been developing for many years. On one level, I thought ‘Who would be reading a book by me?’ and then again ‘How can I share my ideas to help more creatives in a useful way?’.

Then, last year I was invited by the marvelous Emergents Makers in Inverness to do a workshop on crowdfunding, and I decided to interview lots of creatives who had done a campaign before. The more I delved into it, the more excited I became. In the Summer, we had a lot of work done on our home, so I was a bit lost as I couldn’t really do the usual online training as easily as it was too noisy. I spoke to a friend who really got excited when I shared the book idea, and she was also able to help me with the admin and marketing, and then Yeshen was available for the video filming and the photography, and so it all kind of came together – at last!

The idea behind Dream Plan Do is that many creatives fantasise but don’t dare to dream BIG. Once you know what you are aiming for you need to work out how to get there. You will need to plan what to do. And then it’s the doing and getting into action! Not just the making and being creative part, but working on your business foundations: your marketing, the finance and the systems to get you there.

The monthly planner is split into monthly themes as most creative product based businesses are very seasonal – most of your sales will be generated in the last 3 months of the year. So the books starts in January, with setting juicy goals for the year, then in February we focus on finance and money, in March we look at what you actually do (beyond the product), in April it’s about who your client really is etc. The book works towards the launch of your new collection in September, with lots of practical advice on marketing and social media thrown in too.

It’s a beautifully designed book, heavy with nearly 300 pages, with lots of practical exercises, creative tools, and thought-provoking questions. There is lots of space for you to doodle, sketch, scribble. To me that was really important as my kind of clients love paper and writing, and the act of physically putting pen to paper is so very different from writing on a computer.

I really hope that people dare to get messy, that they dream bigger as a result, plan to make the most of their time and energy, and get into action to share their great work with the best clients for them. It’s so exciting to see how so many creatives are now working ON their business!

Finally, we’re all keen on a positive start to 2017! Do you have any quick tips for creative business owners who may feel in need of a boost at the moment? What should we all be concentrating on this month?

Oh, that’s a tough one! January is a bit of a difficult month for many as it gets so quiet. But you can also use that as an advantage! January is perfect to:

•    go on holiday! Possibly ideally to a far away land that inspires you and keeps you warm haha! Joking aside ... if you plan ahead next time this is a really good time to go away. And even if you are unable to go away now, do give yourself some ‘weekly artist dates’. This is a great exercise by Julia Cameron from The Artist’s Way, that are aimed to keep your creative alive and kicking. Now is a great time to spend some time to top up your inspiration and creativity for the year.

•    take stock and set your business goals and aspirations for the year. January is a natural time to plan ahead and think about what you want to achieve this year. Think about your financial goals and how much salary and turnover you want, but also make a list of 50 people or organisations you want to work with this year. Write that list down. Identify why you want to work with these organisations or people, and identify possible recurring themes and values. And then work out for each of them how to go about getting in touch with them, and then go for it! Approach say 8 each month this year, and just see what happens. Have fun! Get inspired.

•    have a sale and a clear out! January is the perfect month to get rid of old stock. I know so many creatives who are sitting on old stock and that’s a loss in terms of money, but also in energy. What if you could let it go and it takes less space (in your studio but also in your head!)? Give your studio or work space a bit of a Spring clean too (this can be so cathartic!). Can you make your space more ‘you’? I also would advise to check your numbers from 2016 and see what your real best sellers were, and which products were most profitable (not necessarily the same thing!). Identify your top 5 best sellers and most profitable products. Based on the 20/80 rule you might be surprised that 20% of your collection is responsible for 80% of your sales! What other new products or services can you then develop based on this new knowledge? Only start creating and launching new products if you have taken 25% of your old stock out. Review your website or Etsy shop and take 25% off, improve your images and product titles and texts, and you might be surprised that this leaner online presence might actually get you more sales!

And yes: It’s time for your tax return ... and although that might not cheer you up much – it feels good when you have done it, doesn’t it? Work out how you want to feel about money, read some ‘money emotion books’ or watch some inspiring TED talks, and educate yourself more about money and finance systems so that this issue becomes less of a drag. Charge what you are worth and make yourself more valuable! 


And now for the giveaway! To win a copy of the Dream Plan Do planner AND a 2017 Wall Planner, leave a comment below letting us know what your big business goal is for 2017, and how you think the planner will help you achieve it. Please leave your comment BY MIDNIGHT ON THURSDAY 26 JANUARY. 3 winners will be notified during the following week. Good luck!  THE GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNERS HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED - THANK YOU FOR TAKING PART!


Do you feel overwhelmed? Are you juggling too many hats? Do you want to make the most of 2017?

On Tuesday 31 January Patricia will be running a one-day online workshop on Creative Business Planning & Time Management. In this practical online workshop you will work in 4 sessions of one hour each on setting goals for your business; find out what is not working so well in your business; you will create a one-page business plan for your creative business; and will learn lots of big stuff and practical tips on managing your time better! 

It’s online and you will be able to join wherever you are in the UK or abroad. These will be an intensive day, with lots of practical activities, thought-provoking questions and great insights. 

Patricia has kindly offered a 15% discount to all Just A Card blog readers! You can also book in addition a special coaching session with Patricia, and you will get the 15% off for that one too. For more info and how to book click here.

To claim our special discount, use promo code: justacard when you book – valid till Friday 27 January. 



Kate Marsden53 Comments