Welcome to our YCL Women's Series; a space created to share the stories & insight of women all around the world, whom inspire us.
YCL WOMEN'S SERIES | Tess Robinson
Meet the passionate and authentic woman behind Smack Bang Designs, Tess Robinson. Smack Bang Designs is a design agency based in Sydney, Australia. From very humble and uncertain beginnings, Tess has created an established and successful agency with an incredible team that breaks all the rules.
01. How did you get to where you are today? Tell us a little bit about your journey.
It has been equal parts challenging and equal parts fulfilling. Having never actually worked a typical ‘9 to 5’ job for anyone else, I’ve had to learn everything the hard way. Being a business owner, with no industry experience has meant that I’ve been thrown in the deep end and have had to figure everything out on my own terms, all the while trying to keep up with the daily demands of business life and what it takes to run a 15 man design agency.
The first couple of years building the business nearly killed me. There were long days, sleepless nights, teary eyes, countless dinners at the desk and so much hard yakka. For the 2-3 years I worked my butt off, pulling 60-70 hour weeks most weeks and not once taking a holiday. I relied heavily on the support of my amazing partner, the love of my family and the continued advice of some great mentors. But as time passed on, things became clearer and I was able to bring together an insanely talented team who continue to ease my load each and everyday. I’m very lucky that I have such an amazing support network who believe in my vision and are passionate enough to help me bring it to life.
After nearly 8 years in business, I can truly say that I wouldn’t have it any other way and absolutely love the life I’ve made for myself.
02. Who is your ultimate muse / inspiration?
My current idols are Michelle Obama, Sophia Amoruso (of Girlboss) and Emily Weiss (of Glossier).
These three ladies sit loud and proud on my desktop wallpaper to remind me to embody their values of humility, grit, tenacity and innovation.
But then there are also so many women in my everyday life that inspire me to no end. I feel so lucky to have so many friends doing creative, cool things with their lives - whether it be running amazing businesses, being the ultimate mums or just simply living life on their terms.
"Listening to my gut and allowing myself to be guided by my overarching vision is, as far as I'm concerned, the only way to do life."
03. You are based just south of Sydney. What are the local sights, cafes and restaurants you frequent on your days away from the business?
I live in a little coastal suburb tucked away below the Royal National Park called Coledale.
We’ve got the towering escarpment to our West and beautiful coastline to our East, and only a few blocks of houses in between. The air down here is fresh, the people are friendly and the bottle-o is 100m from my house. We scored ourselves a sweet little fixer-upperer and spend our weekends between the beach and the paint brushes. You can read more about my move to Coledale here.
Down here we mostly just bask in nature. We love taking a picnic rug, gas cooker, pancake mix and coffee down to the beach on a Sunday morning for a swim and hang in the sunshine. There are so many beautiful beaches to choose from and the best part is, they’re mostly empty!
I also love doing the ‘Sublime’ hike up through the rainforest to the top of the escarpment (only 1,500 steps to the top, plus a few ladders to climb!). Just taking the expanse of it all up there is pretty magical. There’s something about seeing the horizon and the limitless blue ocean out in front of me calms my crazy and settles my mind.
Our local cafe is Earthwalker which is half the reason we moved to Coledale. They do epic coffee and delicious food - such a necessity to have in walking distance.
04. What is your favourite piece of jewellery and what story does it hold?
For Christmas I got a necklace from my mum that has my daughter’s name, Dylan, engraved into it. It’s a very simple design, but I just love it and never take it off. It’s so nice to have a little reminder of both my Mum and my daughter around my neck wherever I go.
05. What does your selection process look like when trying to find the perfect Smack Bang team members, to not only fill a specific role but whom will integrate seamlessly into your team culture?
I look for grit and grace. I admire people who go about their day to day with a sense of tenacity and humility. Life’s certainly not easy but if you have the grit to keep going (even when EVERYTHING around you is screaming ‘give up this is too hard’) and the grace to accept whatever life throws at you, well that’s pretty admirable if you ask me.
I look for people who have the same fundamental values as the rest of the pack - people that are genuine, down to earth, have a zest for fun and are insanely passionate about what they do. We hire people with a consideration for the differences in each other and those excited to embrace new ways of thinking. I’m also a huge advocate for people with a splash of fun and an air of positivity. If you attack all situations with positivity and don’t take yourself too seriously, you will bring out the best in those around you.
So far, my team are my greatest achievement - they are a collection of some of the sharpest minds and brightest thinkers I’ve ever met. They are a bunch of the most committed, talented and treasured team who understand the vision of the business and bring their A-game to work every day. Although we have an insane workload, often working with 80 clients at any given time, each of them bring a unique skill and flair to the team, and they make going to work each day an absolute pleasure. Every day they teach me something new and inspire me in some way or another.
"It sounds cliche, but we truly do need more women in leadership roles. I think more women in power will lead to a far better world."
06. How has social media been paramount to your business’ success? How do you ensure you remain authentic within this platform?
Social media has been such a driving force in our business. At Smack Bang, we’ve cultivated some of our best relationships and best work through the power of social media, in particular, instagram. My number one rule to staying authentic whether it be online or offline, is to trust my instincts. Listening to my gut and allowing myself to be guided by my overarching vision is, as far as I'm concerned, the only way to do life.
7. You are now a Mamma to a beautiful baby girl. Congratulations! At what stage did you take a step back from the business and if so, how did you ensure things ran smoothly while you were on hiatus?
I hired a General Manager about 2 years ago. Her name is Elodie and I can hand-on-heart say she’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. El is not only my wing-woman, confidante and other half of my brain, she’s also become a very close friend of mine. El’s hard work, tenacity and commitment to the business has meant that I have been able to relinquish control and take a step back. El, along with the rest of my amazing team, are now able to drive the Smack Bang Bus without me (as much as I miss it dearly!!). The team and I worked super hard in the 9 months leading up to my daughter’s birth to ensure we had a strong and capable team onboard and great systems in place to allow me the time to be at home and away from the business. I still have regular check-ins with my core team members, but am not doing any hands-on work or emails at all, which I feel so grateful for!
8. YCL stands for Your Core Light, what does Your Core Light mean to you?
Your intuition - a (wo)man’s best friend.
09. What advice would you impart on the next generation of women?
It sounds cliche, but we truly do need more women in leadership roles. I think more women in power will lead to a far better world.
So my advice would be, if you think you can do it, you can. And don’t be afraid of failure, because saying you tried is success enough. Being a leader is more challenging than you’ll ever imagine, but if you have enough determination and an unwavering self belief, you can take on the world on your own terms.