We Go Together: Steph and Olivia

By Charmayne Allison

They say opposites attract. And for Kialla graphic designer Steph Boyle, 32, and Shepparton marketing manager Olivia Smith, 41, that was certainly the case. They are the dynamic duo heading up local marketing and creative agency So Creative — and say much of their success is owing to their close friendship.

Olivia: I first met Steph in about April 2018.

She was working as a graphic designer for a publication and I was working as a marketing manager, booking advertising for my then employer.

She came to my office and I can still remember the first time we chatted across the boardroom table, I thought, “This woman is really clever, she’s creative, she gets advertising”. For me it was refreshing.

I’ve worked in marketing for 20 years and it’s rare to find people so passionate about what they do.

From there I asked her to collaborate with me on a project, to relaunch a business, it was fun, easy and really successful.

Fast forward a year later and I found myself wanting to start my own business, but I needed a business partner.

I thought immediately of Steph, I even had our business name in mind. At first I hesitated, I’d met her maybe twice, we’d spoken on the phone a few times. Asking her to go into business with me was a crazy idea, surely.

But I’ve always been one to go with my gut instincts, so I made the call. Can you imagine, “Hi Steph, it’s Olivia, we don’t really know each other, but do you want to start a new business with me?”.

I remember her simple reply, “I do”. And there our work marriage began.

We work really well together. Collaborating is still great fun. Starting a business can be stressful, you need to have faith in your own abilities and that of each other.

We both work to very high standards, we have that expectation on ourselves and each other.

I am constantly amazed as she brings my ideas to life. We often joke about this.

The fact is we both are qualified graphic designers, having completed the same degree, in the same university, only nine years apart from each other.

Truth is she’s a much better designer than me, so the saying goes, “I’ll start the design concept, and she’ll fix it". It’s exactly how it happens.

Olivia Smith.

Starting the business has been the highlight in our relationship, and being able to grow the business in such a short time.

We started at the Shepparton council-operated business centre — what a fabulous resource, more people should utilise it.

Within five months we were in a position to move into a CBD office. It’s exciting, it’s liberating to be in the driver’s seat of your own career.

Steph and I are quite different. We obviously have a shared love of design and advertising, and by chance we each have two little boys the same age, but that’s where the similarities end.

We grew up in different decades. We dress differently. She’s routine-driven, I’m not. Her desk is tidy, mine isn’t. She likes boy bands, I don’t!

You’re going to think I’m not being honest, but there really isn’t anything I’d change about Steph.

The only thing I can think of is more for her benefit than mine. She likes to have all the answers, she’s often thinking a long way ahead, she’s happiest when everything is organised and under control.

I think I’m more prepared to go with the flow. I think it’s important to have both in business. It’s another example of how we work well together, or maybe the latter just comes with age!

There haven’t been any arguments or conflict. Maybe it’s too soon. I certainly operate with full transparency, it’s all on the table.

If I perceive any issues, I’ll ask — it’s always better to talk about it.

What I most admire about Steph are the characteristics I noticed from day one. She thinks outside the square, there’s no place for mediocrity, good enough is not good enough, it must be the best we can produce.

She’s truly passionate about design. It’s a real pleasure working with Steph, I feel it and so do our clients.

Like every small business we are about to hit our biggest challenge. There’s no textbook on how to maintain a business through the current economic climate.

Quite frankly, for many businesses it will mean diversify or die. We all must think outside the square.

I’m loving the rise of ‘support local’. We are all getting a first-hand lesson in economics and its domino effect.

We will continue to support our clients and community any way that we can. For us, we’ll face our biggest challenge in our first year of business.

It’s unavoidable, we will adapt. I never have to wonder about Steph’s support, I know I’ve got it.

Steph: Liv and I met in a boardroom to talk about a feature one of Liv’s brands was going to be running in the newspaper I worked for at the time.

From then, we spoke via email and had a few phone conversations prior to Liv calling me out of the blue one day months later asking if I’d be interested in starting a business with her.

It just so happened that, at the time, I was working at the newspaper and my own freelance business was growing to the point I was about to go out on my own or look into a partnership.

The timing was surreal. Her background in marketing and mine in graphic design — along with our abilities to cross over in the middle with ideas — were a great match.

Who would have thought our initial reason for meeting would lead to where we are today? As my favourite saying goes, ‘it never hurts to ask’.

We clicked from the start. I would suggest things and she would agree or grow on the idea and vice versa.

In the months since, we have learnt from each other and built on our own strengths — all while getting to know each other professionally as well as personally.

I have found Olivia pushes me to take my design skills and ideas further. She has also built my knowledge of marketing (her domain), which helps me to understand a creative direction from a different perspective.

Together, we were able to move into our own studio space in town, with Olivia handling a lot of the requirements (for which I am grateful).

She has helped me achieve my dream. Everything we have achieved in such a short timeframe for a small business is a testament to our partnership and blossoming friendship.

Steph Boyle.

I haven't known Liv for all that long, but I can tell that her life and work experiences have built her resilience and confidence.

I love listening to her talk about marketing with a client, as I am learning a lot at the same time.

I like her ability to be direct with me and clients when it comes to making the right decision for their business.

I admire her social ability to walk into a room and talk to anyone. I also love that we can be completely honest and have a joke about each other.

Because after all, communication, honesty, trust, positivity and laughter are the key ingredients to any relationship.

We're not similar at all. They say opposites attract. I feel like we fill in the blanks for each other.

Our family life is similar as we have kids the same ages and all boys, so we can relate to each other in that way.

And we are both dedicated and driven to do what we do. It’s not just a job, it’s a passion — and we love what we do (pardon the cliché but it’s true).

We are different in many ways, such as her social ability to talk to anyone — I suck at making conversation with strangers.

She would rather have a phone conversation that goes for at least 20 minutes (I’m usually waiting for her to get off so I can talk to her about something), where I’d rather email with emojis.

She’s short and I’m tall.

I’ll walk everywhere for a meeting (within reason), she’ll drive even if it’s just around the corner — she blames her heels.

I wouldn't change anything about her. If I changed something, then she wouldn’t be herself.

We haven’t had an argument yet. But I’m sure just like any small issues we face, we will just talk it out and listen to each other to come up with a solution.

I don’t like focusing on the negative — it's always best to find the positive.

COVID-19 (sorry to bring it up) will be a testing time, for sure. But our drive and passion for our businesses will see us through to the other side where we will be ready to help businesses who need it get back on their feet from a marketing perspective.

That’s what it’s about, the community rallying together in tough times — just like Liv and I will help support each other.

We have already supported each other during times of sickness, whether it be us or family members requiring time off work.

One person will handle everything at work so the other can rest or look after whoever they need to without worrying. We can trust in each other.

I am proudest of what we are doing right now — together. As we build our friendship I’m sure we will discover more moments of achievement along the way.