Case Study: Streamlining for international success

The challenge

Starting your own business can be an exciting time, especially when you have a strong passion for what you’re creating.

With a desire for more creative freedom, Kim Sandford decided to leave her job as a graphic designer to set up her own company, Illustrated Identity. Based in Middlesbrough, the company is an online store specialising in designs for clothing, home and gifts.

Kim commented: “After studying graphic design at university I landed myself a job in the fashion industry, designing prints for clothing. I learnt lots of new skills, but I wanted to put my stamp on my work, so I decided it was time to go it alone and set up my own business for full creative control.”

Kim began her business in 2016 with just £800 and in its first year of trading, Illustrated Identity turned over an impressive £60,000.

Since then, Illustrated Identity has grown exponentially. With her business going from strength to strength, Kim realised she needed to safeguard her business for the future and protect herself and her two employees from risk.

Kim explained: “My business had grown so quickly, which was fantastic, but expanding at such a rate meant I had never taken a step back to see other methods of selling or considered the challenges my business could face. I knew I was on the road to growth, but I wanted to make sure I capitalised on all avenues and I also had ambitious plans to trade internationally.”

Kim’s products were proving a success with her customers, but to grow further and to mitigate her business from risk, she knew she needed to set time aside to learn business planning fundamentals.

The solution

Kim found out about free training available from the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme when she attended Women in Collaboration, a local business networking group in Tees Valley.

A representative from Enterprise Made Simple, one of the registered training providers for Calderdale College in Tees Valley which oversees the delivery of the SSW programme, was a guest speaker at the event, presenting information about the free training and support available in the region for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The SSW programme supports businesses looking to grow and is available to SMEs seeking non-compulsory, work-based training. It is free to businesses through the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

After hearing about other attendees’ business success thanks to the programme, Kim decided to reach out to Enterprise Made Simple and after a short consultation, they identified the most effective courses that would help her reach her goals.

Kim enrolled onto a residential weekend to work through two qualifications, achieving a Level 2 Certificate in Developing Enterprise Skills and a Level 2 Award in Digital Promotion.

The training was delivered in an in-depth, focussed format made up of networking and practical activities, giving Kim time to reflect on her business and refine her strategy moving forwards.

Kim commented: “It was really inspiring to be able to spend time with 80 other entrepreneurs, many of which own successful businesses. My business grew quickly, and I had no idea about the risks that I could potentially face, but the course really opened my eyes and I learnt about potential challenges which had never crossed my mind.”

Kim was also able to develop her digital skills through the Digital Promotion course, explaining: “Before the weekend, I felt confident in my digital skills ability, so I was surprised that I came away having learnt lots of little tips and tricks. For example, I now understand the best times to post on social media for maximum impact and how to target audiences effectively through paid for advertisement, which is extremely helpful, especially as I wanted to reach an international audience.”

Following the successful completion of both courses, Kim enrolled onto a further Level 3 Award in Business Innovation, Sustainability and Growth. Through the training Kim was able to refine her business goals for the upcoming year and put relevant policies in place to protect the business from risk, as well as implementing personal development plans for her employees.


Since completing her three awards, Kim has seen a 131% increase in sales on the previous year, as a result of streamlining her business processes and effective use of social media.

Kim also now understands the importance of setting out clear individual roles, responsibilities and goals for her employees.

On implementing personal development plans, Kim says: “I never had the chance to step back from my business to look at the future as I was dealing with high customer demand and the day-to-day running of the business. Introducing personal development plans has been one of the most significant changes I have made, and it has given us all clearer guidance on what we want to achieve individually and how this contributes to the growth of Illustrated Identity.”

“Being more confident in our roles and knowing what we are all collectively working towards has increased productivity. I’ve learnt it is vital to invest in employees for business growth and I’m looking forward to growing our team as we hire our fourth member.”

Kim’s international presence is also soaring, with 40% of items now shipped to America. Thanks to the training, Kim now has a better understanding of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and how to increase the quality and quantity of her website traffic, alongside social media insights, that have enabled her to reach an international market through a targeted and tailored approach.

With the business going from strength-to-strength, Kim only has positive things to say about her SSW experience, commenting: “The training has given me the building blocks to safeguard my business and continue to watch it thrive. My next step is to focus on growing my client base in the USA with the goal to have a business premise there in the future. With my strategic growth plan in place, this looks like it could become a reality!

“I can’t recommend the courses enough or the team curating it, and best of all, it has been fully funded.”

Success from skills training

The SSW programme has helped over 3,180 employed people in the Tees Valley area, with over 1,000 businesses, including Illustrated Identity, having taken advantage of the opportunity.

Ebrahim Dockrat MBE, Director of Commercial Services and Partnerships at Calderdale College, the main contractor for Skills Support for the Workforce, commented the success of the project, saying: “The SSW programme has successfully helped a number of businesses working in a range of industries. Despite the differences between each business in terms of sector and goals, our training brings business owners together to learn from each other, as well as the course content.

“The opportunity to network is invaluable and the feedback we get from businesses is hugely positive. We are so pleased that the training has unlocked Kim’s international potential and we hope this will encourage other businesses in Tees Valley to set themselves ambitious goals.”

For more information on the Skills Support for the Workforce project, please visit



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