Erica Wolfe-Murray, 60, works across the creative, cultural and tech sector helping companies to innovate through imaginative use of their intellectual assets/IP. Referred to by Forbes.com as ‘a leading innovation and business expert’, she is the author of ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’, finalist in the Business Book Awards 2020. It’s full of easy-to-use advice on innovative ways to grow your business and is available from Foyles, Amazon and all other good bookshops. Read on to find out about Erica’s career and businesses.
Q. Tell us about your family
A. I’ve got a daughter and three sons in their 20s and early 30s. All of them work in the creative sector in some way or other, which is great to see.
I’d always wanted a close-knit family as having left home at 16, I missed the family dynamic, the warmth and laughter. So when I had children, I wanted to ensure they grew up in a loving home. Although I am now divorced, they have a really close bond. Their support and care for each other is wonderful. And though times haven’t always been easy, they’ve navigated life with imagination and courage.
Q. What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
A. I’ve run my own businesses since I was in my mid 20s. After some years spent in mainstream advertising and design, I launched my own small design studio in the same year as starting an independent production company with my producer husband. And we had our first child! Over the next few years, I worked on graphic and product design projects for household name clients, and designed my own range of home/garden accessories, made in the UK from natural materials. I traded via mail order and through a small shop. However as the documentary production company grew, I shifted focus, spending ten years as its financial head.
Following my divorce, I wanted to strike out on my own. Working with my ex was too painful. I thought long and hard about my options because I had no qualifications to my name, other than years working in the creative industries. As I’m one of the few people who has been both a creative head and a financial director, I decided to harness this unique knowledge to help creative companies grow in ways they had never considered.
Q. When did you launch?
A. I started my innovation studio, Lola, as a side hustle in 2010, going full time in January 2012. It’s been an unbelievable journey since then.
Q. How did you get started?
A. Whilst considering what I could do, I realised that every single person and business has a completely unique journey, set of skills, knowledge, client list, capabilities. Often the value of these is overlooked, or under-used, as they move forwards. I could see how this ‘store-cupboard’ could be used imaginatively as a springboard to develop innovative products/services, find new audiences, markets and revenue streams enabling them to develop commercial resilience and grow. And this is what Lola offers today – a combination of my creative experience and financial knowledge mapped against marketplace opportunities and trends to help companies grow using their existing assets.
No-one else does what I do – and in the early days this made it hard. Not only are you having to win business, but also explain a completely new concept. However, companies could see that it worked. I was also asked to be a business growth coach on a government scheme helping fast growth SMEs – the results spoke for themselves. And some of those companies are still clients today 6 or 7 years later.
Q. What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?
A. I largely work with companies in the creative, cultural and tech sector. And without doubt it is helping creative people realise their dreams and ambitions.
Many companies in this sector sell their time, which is a bit like being a hamster on a wheel, continually having to find new clients, with little repeat business. I help them launch products and services that bring in new revenues, finding growth in ways they’ve never considered but which is still true to their vision. Whether they are a tech company or a toy shop. Their relief, delight, and excitement as they see their business secured and growing is fantastic.
Q. What’s the thing you least enjoy about running your own business?
A. When I launched I thought I would be working for larger companies, but it is smaller companies that have the imagination and can develop new ideas faster. I find the cynicism of bigger, more traditional companies about what I do and the opportunities I can identify hard. But my day-to-day client work is a real joy.
Q. What has worked well about your business?
A. Because I have worked with such a breadth of clients – over 300 in the past 8 years – I am able to see patterns, can spot new interesting models, identifying and creating trends really quickly. My way of working is simple but powerful, which has given me a creative, effective methodology for any business. Their success has then bought me other clients – many through recommendation.
Q. What’s been your biggest business mistake? How did you deal with it?
A. I am pretty efficient and generally expect my own suppliers to be ‘on it’ too. I was quite a long way into a big self-generated project when I realized that the company I’d contracted was inept. What was worse, they had not given me full costs etc. I ploughed on seizing as much control as I could, replacing their poor suppliers with those of a higher standard, and re-negotiating terms as I went. At the end of the day it turned out fine, but I learned a big lesson.
Q. How do you fit in work with the family?
A. I never stopped working whilst I had my children or throughout their childhood. It was important to me they understood each parent could have a family and work at something they really loved. I ensured I could work from home as much as possible, but also got them involved in the business. I’d ask their advice, what they thought of ideas, include them in photographic shoots, in product designing, in counting takings if we did a show or fair. Yes, I juggled but it felt joyful. All my clients were aware I had children and often met them. Achieving this work/home balance is something I discuss with my clients today. And we build into their growth plans.
My four are all now living in or near London, so I have just sold my house on the Wiltshire/Dorset border to move closer to them. This will mean we can meet up more often. And it makes it easy for me to commute into London for client meetings rather than having to stay there two to three nights a week as I’ve done for the last six years.
Q. Are you working towards a financial goal for your business?
A. As with everyone at the moment – the huge shifts in the economy due to the virus, has made financial security even more vital. Maintaining a cushion against shocks is really important to me.
Q. Would you ever give up your business to do something else?
A. No, I absolutely love what I do and intend to continue as long as I can.
Q. Do you have an exit strategy?
A. No – because my business is just me applying imaginative thinking to help companies grow, exiting is not important to me. I do have interests in other companies and we discuss exits there. But not from Lola. The company and I are too intertwined.
Q. Have you had your ‘I’ve made it’ moment? Tell us about it. If not when do you think it will come?
A. These moments are like small jewels along the road for me, rather than one big event. Publishing my book with its 100% 5* reviews on Amazon is a real jewel. Helping a client pivot their business, spot a patent leading to a $6m investment was another. Being interviewed on BBC 5Live recently felt like a high point too. But whenever a client company’s growth suddenly ramps up about 2-3 months after we’ve started work together, is a real buzz time. Yes, I’d love more recognition for the methodology, but it is not, and never will be what drives me.
Q. Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?
A. I’d love to still be doing what I am now. I’d like to speak at more conferences illustrating inventive growth models to wider audiences. I’m also on a mission to ensure sustainable/eco working practice is fast-tracked in companies I work with. And am keen to explore the impact of childhood experiences on company boards and business growth – something that no-one has researched or ever considers, but which I see day in, day out.
Q. If you have a flexible working business opportunity, please explain briefly what you offer and how people find out more.
A. I can help any individual develop the right business for them around their experience and family. I can also help any company grow. I work with many small companies identifying overlooked ‘intellectual assets’ and IP to generate new revenues. I do this in the pages of my book, through short business coaching programmes or working on discrete projects. I work to fit in with you.
People find me through my websites, or via organisations such as the Design Business Association, through coming to one of my talks or via platforms like Not on the High Street, where I help many of their suppliers.
Find out more about Erica’s work at Lola Media and www.ericawolfemurray.co.uk/ To get a 40% discount on the digital download of Simple Tips, Smart Ides: Build a Bigger, Better Business, use the code Simple40 at the checkout on either website. The full-colour, easy-to-use book outlines ways you can grow your business in inventive ways. Dip in and out of it to find smart thinking, tips and innovative models, including over 50 case studies, and 50+ ways of earning money. The download from my site delivers a better result than the Kindle download which messes up the diagram/text layouts.
Contact Erica direct if you would like a 2-hour session discussing your business growth potential. Mention FFW for a 30% discount.