Helen Brent

Business: Helen Brent
Design Company: Hughes & Co.
Business Type: Horticulture
Employees: 1
Founded: 2004
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Business Background

If Helen’s business flourishes with the same effect as the many gardens she has cared for over the years, then her future looks decidedly rosy.

A Horticulturalist with over 17 year’s experience including 4 years at Kew Gardens and several more as Head Gardner at Eltham Palace, her credentials are without question but Helen still felt there was room for improvement and embarked upon
an MBA to expand her knowledge even further.

To help fund the course, she provided training to staff at Homebase and Wyvale Garden Centres on a part-time, freelance basis. Not only did she enjoy doing this, she also found that she had quite a knack for it, so much so that referrals were building up with a fair degree of pace.

Reasoning that as a freelancer, she was already halfway there, in the summer of 2004, she set up in business proper as “Helen Brent – Horticultural Consultant”.

Key IssuesResults
  • A need to overcome the barrier of gender
  • Portray extensive skills and experience in a start-up environment
  • Distinguish key differences from competition
  • Greater acceptance and credibility within the market place
  • Increased confidence to approach new clients

Identifying the need for design

The commitment to go it alone required Helen to take a subjective look at how she presented herself at all levels and the first hurdle was not one that could be easily resolved – she’s a woman! Horticulture is a male dominated profession and even in today’s politically correct world, women in such an environment are seldom given the same level of acceptance than a man.

“This was only a problem on first contact” explains Helen. “Once I’d managed to gain their attention and started talking, they quickly realised I knew my stuff and any notion of unsuitability would rapidly disperse. But it was that first contact that had to be overcome.”

Can design overcome the barrier of gender in business?


It’s not something that features often in design briefs but for Helen Brent, a woman starting a business in a male dominated sector, it was a vital part of the requirement.

Looking at some of the marketing literature used by her (male) competitors, she noticed the designs full of uncreative clichés – lots of nice pictures of flowers, plants and the like. Reasoning that the first line of communication with a potential client would likely be something printed, she realised that how this would appear would prove crucial in developing an understanding of her skills from the word go. Helen’s first stop was her local high-street copy shop;

“They presented me with a book of logos and type styles and just asked me to choose from them. I wasn’t impressed. Design is part of what I do so I know the processes involved and know that to develop something as personal as a company identity, you need a bit more input. The problem was that the design I had been involved with before was garden layouts. Graphic design was alien to me”.

Design management

Helen turned to Business Link for Essex for advice. They were holding workshops
for start-ups, aimed at showing businesses such as Helen’s how they can manage design to help achieve their aims, even at the earliest stages, going through the basic issues that a start up company faces in developing an identity and communicating it. Using the following process, Helen was able to move towards obtaining an appropriate identity.

Develop an outline design brief
Helen was asked to write out a brief for a designer, explaining the business strategy and how this would be expressed in the design.

One-to-one with a Design
Management Adviser

The brief was developed with the Adviser challenging Helen to consider the wider issues of the business identifying those elements that would help to inspire the designer.

Meet the designers
Helen took the opportunity to meet with several designers, reviewing their portfolios and assesing their suitability for the work.

“The selection process was quite interesting. Many companies were keen to show me work they had done for similar businesses – all of it really good. But I wanted something different and selected a designer that hadn’t worked in my industry before as I felt this would provide that totally fresh approach I was after”

Having gone through this process, Helen felt that Hughes & Co, displayed the most appropriate credentials to develop their identity.

The rationale

Hughes & Co set out to create an identity that got across Helen’s skills in a professional manner but avoiding the “sea of green” approach used on much of her competitor’s material. The use of white space suggests open, clear thinking – an important aspect given that much of her work involves complex and difficult issues.
The script typeface used in the logo portrays a personal touch whilst the jocular use of green fingerprints throughout provides a subtle link
the industry sector.


Helen’s delighted with her new identity. It has given her added confidence to pursue and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. She has already noticed that potential customers have began to be more accepting of her than they otherwise would and this credibility is something that will only increase as her business grows.

To develop her identity by using good design, the seeds have been sown for a blossoming future.

They SayWe Say
Make sure the designers are on your wavelength and that you like them as people. Design is a process that requires a great deal of personal input so it’s important that everybody is working from the same level. Getting on with them is thus an important part of this plus of course its much more pleasant to work with people you get on with.
Know your market Knowing what is likely to stimulate them will enable you to write an excellent brief to get the results you want. If you don’t know your market, work with your designer to gain an understanding.
Agree a schedule Designers can get very involved with the creative process - which is no bad thing - Talk to the designer to establish a timeframe that is workable without hindering the process.
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