Last week the We Are Duo team had a visit from some students that are part of the Exploring Enterprise programme that is being held in Antrim Enterprise Park. 10 students of the programme called in to speak to me about what it has been like setting up a business and the challenges of running a studio that provides Graphic Design and Web Development.

It will have been 6 years in December since I started We Are Duo and it has been an amazing journey but not without its challenges. Like starting any business, there's a steep learning curve and making mistakes in an unavoidable but necessary part to that process. So long as you pace yourself and take things one logical step at a time then mistakes don't become catastrophic and become an essential part of shaping your business, making it into a resilient and efficient machine. The temptation to do too much too fast or look for the quick and easy route presents itself regularly, but i've always been taught not to build my 'house' on the sand and unfortunately the long hard road is the only way to success. As I told the students that called in to visit, if you think that it will be easy, if you're not prepared to feel the stress and pain of failure, if you're not willing to get knocked back and have to pick yourself up time and time again then don't try and start a business. It has to be something that you are going to enjoy doing, otherwise the hard side of it will swallow you up.

That all sounds very doom and gloom but I admire and support anyone who takes the step into starting their own business. You can prepare everything on paper, have the best business plan in the world and have all the financing you need, but my concern is always with the mental preparation that is often underestimated.

I support small businesses and those who start them and if you asked me today would I advise anyone to start a business of their own I absolutely would. Find an idea that you love or take something that you enjoy doing and work out how to make a career out of it and then get cracking. I love what I do and it makes all of the stress that goes along with running a business well worth it. I know how lucky I am to be doing what i'm doing and I count myself truly blessed to have a great team around me and it really makes even the hardest of days in work in We Are Duo better than my best days working somewhere else.

The second part of my talk to the students was more specifically about what we do and how important it is to have a studio on board with your vision. Many of the students had a product they were developing and we all now how crucial the presentation of that product is to attract customers to buy it. You could have the best soap in the world, a soap that does something that no other soap can do, but if it looks like its an inferior product to the competition the consumer will struggle to take notice or find it harder to trust the claims that you make and switch away from products they feel safe and familiar with. Having a studio that wants to support you and work with you to realise the ambitions of your company is an essential part of any start up and building brands is something we really enjoy doing within We Are Duo. The marketplace is a battleground and a good design studio will aim to give you the best advantage over your opponents as they can and... yes here comes the cheesy battle metaphors... the best armour, shields, horses and weapons that they can so you can cut through the enemy, survive and win.

As I let out a sigh for using yet another metaphor when trying to describe something (it's a habit of mine... i'm a bit like Dr. McCoy in that regard), it's time to bring this blog post to a close. It was great to see so many people looking to start a business and develop a new product or service. I get great excitement when working with new businesses and we all thoroughly enjoy the challenges that come with developing the first mark a company is going to make on the world. It's like the old saying goes, 'If you love what you do then you never really work a day in your life'.

The Exploring Enterprise programme is a free course focused on self-employment and helping people make the first step along this route. On this particular course there were between 10 & 15 on the course the received one to one mentoring at the start to carry out research and create an action plan and at the end to help with further research, training and assistance with business plans. Participants go to a few classes, work study visits and talks from business owners like the one I provided. These are running for the next 18 months in Antrim and Newtownabbey so if you or anyone you know is interested you can contact Vivienne Walsh at