Starting your own business can be a “lonely” experience, but “it’s great to be your own boss”, says Lisnaskea graphic designer Ronan Cassidy.

SugarProjects specialises in graphic and web design and was set up in April 2013, based in Lisnaskea Enterprise Centre. Ronan is now planning to move to Fermanagh Enterprise’s Killyhevlin Industrial Estate premises and hopes to take on an apprentice from South West College, before growing his business further.

Ronan’s route to self-employment is typical of the many micro-businesses in the County. Following studies in Belfast, he gained valuable work experience in London and Belfast, before returning home to start a family.

A degree in Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast led Ronan to a job as a designer for a framing company in Omagh. Following a year out in Australia, he worked as a graphic designer in London, including for McLaren Mercedes. He gained employment in Belfast, first for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and then for Navigator Blue Advertising. He then worked for the Quinn Group, but was travelling to and from Belfast. When its marketing department moved to Dublin, Ronan decided to make the leap into self-employment.

Liberty Insurance was his first customer and the company has since retained his services. SugarProjects’ most recent job for the company was a seven second ‘GAA 15% Discount’ advert that was shown on the big screen at half-time in the All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park on September 27.

“I started in April 2013 and thankfully I’ve been able to take on local Fermanagh customers, as well as customers from Tyrone, Belfast, Monaghan and Cavan,” Ronan tells The Impartial Reporter.

“The cross-border opportunity for Fermanagh businesses is huge”, he believes. Other customers include Dowlers, the Slieve Russell Hotel and Hair by Imelda Maguire.

At the moment he has managed through word of mouth, but is well aware of the importance of social media and search engine optimisation, which means he has to find the time to keep his blog updated in order to stay relevant on google’s search engine.

“It used to be that people would want a flyer, or an advert in a newspaper. But now they want graphic design, web design, social media and help with search engine optimisation. The world is changing and businesses realise that,” Ronan comments.

“A lot of my customers are starting a new business. There is so much going on out there; Fermanagh is definitely an entrepreneurial place,” Ronan notes.

Ronan completed a Postgraduate Degree in Digital Media and Communications in June last year which gave him a great insight into this ever-changing area. He recalls doing his university work with a pen and paper. In order to stay on top of new trends in design and the latest technology gadgets and apps, he buys industry magazines and tries to attend relevant events in order to hear from expert speakers. He points to events hosted by the First Stop Shop in the Clinton Centre as an example. Ronan also finds it beneficial to attend business events in Belfast and Derry.

Such events also provide an important networking opportunity, something self-employed micro-businesses can miss out on. “It’s lonely,” Ronan states. “Sometimes I could go for two weeks without leaving Lisnaskea.” He adds that he misses the interaction and feedback that comes with an office environment. “When I was in London or Belfast, I could be working on something and turn around and say to a colleague: ‘What do you think of this? Should I move that logo?’ That’s another reason for moving to Enniskillen; there are a few photographers based there and it will hopefully give me more interaction with other like-minded business people,” he says.

A higher internet speed is an added impetus for moving to Enniskillen, according to Ronan, who is “dealing with huge file sizes.” As a creative individual, Ronan also advises local business people to get out of their locality now and again to catch up on the latest trends and to generate new ideas. “You need to get out and see and do things, even to go for a coffee somewhere. I’d sometimes go to Dublin Zoo, the Ulster Museum or Titanic Belfast, or travel to London or other cities in order to inspire myself and catch up with the latest trends, because rural areas do tend to be a bit slower in catching up.” However, he does point to the “fantastic” facilities at the South West College’s Image Centre. “They have some fantastic courses there such a ‘Moving Image’. If I was 19 again, I would love to be studying there!” Ronan has requested an apprentice from the College to come and work for him. “I’ve asked them to send me someone with a creative mind because everything else can be taught; you can’t teach creativity,” Ronan comments.

Ultimately, he hopes to expand his business and hire more employees.

Access to finance is difficult, Ronan concedes, but realises that he has to make his own way. “Technically I am an exporter as I have customers in the Republic of Ireland, but that’s not enough to get finance. I am lucky in that it didn’t cost me much to get set up because I already had my PC and the printer was given to me by a friend. I pay rent but my biggest outgoing is my phonebill, which includes internet, which is essential for my business.”