A handful of self-belief and three teaspoons of determination

Do you think that’s enough to be successful in UK? Unfortunately and definitely not. Nevertheless, being an immigrant in this country, it is possible to do things that you like doing and make a living. You are welcome to read an interview with Robert Topolski, the owner of a graphic design studio LONDONSTORY Creative Studio.

Robert Topolski runs LONDONSTORY Creative Studio www.londonstory.co.uk which offers graphic design for print, website design, 3D animation and Flash applications. Among its clients there are such names as GfK (a multinational company), Camden Council, and Kensington & Chelsea Royal Borough.

I have noticed Facebook on your client list. How did it all begin? 

RT: It started quite inauspiciously from an online photo gallery presenting photographs of London. That’s where the name LONDONSTORY came from. Gradually, I started to receive enquiries about design, web development and other elements needed for graphics design for both internet and print. LONDONSTORY Gallery gradually became LONDONSTORY Creative Studio.

One of the applications we are currently working on – as you mentioned – is to be implemented on Facebook. Have you always been an enterprising type?

RT: I have always been interested in doing imaginative and creative things. In Poland, I used to work as a copywriter, reporter and a language tutor. When I arrived in London 6 years ago I started off like many others, by working in a pub. Gradually, increased number of contracts as well as improved fluency in English, brought an increase in various new opportunities, which I tried to seize. 

What does your typical day look like?

RT: It starts – and finishes – with checking my emails. The rest of the day is varied; I answer telephones, prepare briefs, discuss various projects, send and receive comments, seek and implement solutions. And how do you unwind after a stressful day?RT: I go out ‘hunting’ with my camera. 

Did you need a proverbial wad of cash to start your own company?

RT: Money becomes less important when you have a brilliant idea. It’s easier to start your own business in the UK and this allows you to concentrate on what is important for the company. Unfortunately, the business will not run itself. The market is very competitive and making one mistake can cost dearly. Also, in comparison to Poland, the environment for running a business is very different. 

What differences do you have in mind?

RT: It’s even difficult to compare. In the UK the amount of bureaucracy, accounts, or time needed to start a business is incomparably smaller than in Poland. I think the biggest difference is in the way entrepreneurs are treated by the governing bodies. Over here, enterprising skills are seen as something natural and officials are there to help you start your business. In Poland entrepreneurs are treated with suspicion, by both officials and society. It is changing – but very slowly. 

Some Polish business people complain that the British make it difficult for them to run their businesses. Have you experienced anything like that?

RT: No, I haven’t. If a service or a product offered by a Polish company is of interest to the British, then the only obstacle I can think of is a language barrier. If the offer – or the ensuing conversation – is in Polish or in very poor English, then it might work to the disadvantage of the business. 

So what advice would you give on doing business with the British?

RT: Impeccable manners, good presentation skills and confidence are, in my opinion, the best ways of winning the British over. What is also quite unique about Britain is the fact that the way you are treated may depend on the type of accent you speak with.

 Have you noticed any other differences between Poland and the UK with regard to business communication and etiquette?

RT: The differences are quite considerable. The main ones can be described in two words – trust and communication. I know from my own experience that the British value good communication between the client and the business irrespective of whether the news is good or bad. Keeping each other informed is a question of good manners. When it comes to trust, I’ve been known to agree on projects worth several thousands of pounds via telephone or email and neither party had concerns about quality or keeping deadlines. There are exceptions to every rule, but I think that the quality of communication and trust between business partners as well as between businesses and their clients, differs considerably between Poland and the UK. 

Does success in business always comes at a price of exploiting others?

RT: Absolutely not. You should always aim for win – win situations, where both the client and the business feel they’ve benefited from the deal. It builds long lasting relationships, which are valuable in all types of business. Personally, I’m not interested in either exploiting anybody or being exploited. 

Is ethics important in business?

RT: I would say it is of key importance. Without it, you can’t talk about healthy relationships whether between businesses or businesses and their clients. 

Do you think it is possible to find balance between developing your business and your personal life?

RT: If you feel comfortable with what you do, you can find that balance. You should aim at finding balance not only between work and your private life but in all spheres of life. I agree that having your own company brings more responsibility and this requires more time spent working at the cost of your personal life. However running your own business gives you – in my opinion at least – more satisfaction, which makes up for the extra time. It also helps to have an understanding partner or family.

Which Polish entrepreneur in the UK is, in your opinion, particularly successful?

RT: I don’t really follow the Polish community that much, so I find it difficult to answer your question. But if I am to point to particular people, I like what Maciej Tatarka does with www.mojawyspa.co.uk  and the work of the photographer Ewelina Stechnij. 

Who do you think a business should contact for help?

RT: Citizens’ Advice Bureau (www.citzensadvice.org.uk) would be my first choice. Depending on a situation you may find that your local council or local branch of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (www.hmrc.gov.uk) are also very helpful. Sometimes it is worth visiting an accountant or a solicitor. It is not always necessary to pay when we need advice – it all depends on what we’re looking for and how complicated the matter is. 

What’s your recipe for success in business?

RT: A handful of self-belief, three teaspoons of determination, a good measure of stubbornness, a glassful of skill and a bit of luck. Gradually mix all of the ingredients and leave it to settle at room temperature, keeping a close eye on it (laughter). If it doesn’t work, you need to try again, providing that you’ve got enough determination left. 

What 5 pieces of advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting their own business in the UK?

RT: Have an idea and a clearly defined vision of what you want to do and how you’re going to do it. Make sure that there is a need for your service or products. Be disciplined – you are working for yourself. Believe in your abilities. Don’t hesitate. 

Thank you for the interview and congratulations on your success.

Matylda Setlak Interview for www.sukces.co.uk

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