Finding the right fit: Dan Greene on his unique consulting practice and knowing what clients want
With over 15 years of experience working with some of London’s biggest creative agencies, plus running his own business, Dan Greene has an abundance of insight into brand growth and development. Through his creative consultancy practice, Greene & Sons, he partners with ambitious founders and scaling teams to design brands that accelerate business growth. In our conversation, Greene explains his unique approach to client collaboration, what his practice offers, and how it all began.
PT Hey Dan, how’s 2023 been so far for you?
DG 2023 has been good, thank you. I’ve been keeping busy working with a new food tech business and beauty platform.
PT You mentioned to us before starting the interview that you found your place at Wolff Olins, what initially drew you to them, and why did it suit you there?
DG I had been working for smaller design studios up until that point and while I loved the craft and rigour, it felt quite narrow in terms of impact on the world. I wanted to do work that would be seen and have a real impact on customers. Wolff Olins had just launched the controversial 2012 identity and to see a creative business on the evening news (for good or bad) was unbelievable to me. I think I suited WO because designers were given the opportunity to discuss design at the highest level within a business. You were put in front of CEOs relatively early which made for brilliant training. I also loved the fact they were constantly evolving and rethinking what it meant to be a brand business. It could be quite chaotic but I enjoyed the ride.
It’s about offering an alternative way of working.
PT Can you tell us about the unique way you’ve set up Greene & Sons? Why did you decide to create an offer in that middle ground between agency and freelancer?
DG Put simply, some people don’t want to work with a studio. Either big or small, there is still (what can seem like to some) an overly difficult process getting to and delivering the work. Particularly for start-ups, working with an agency isn’t always a natural fit, culturally. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a huge appetite to work with agencies but it’s about offering an alternative way of working, one that moves faster than the client’s business and delivers the design they need. In terms of the difference to freelancers – specifically freelance designers – I’m brought in very early to shape what the project actually is, so rather than being managed by the client I’m viewed as an external advisor, responsible for delivering a new brand without draining internal resources.
I’ve actively avoided pitching... I don’t agree with it.
PT What are the benefits of choosing you over an agency or freelancer?
DG In both instances, it comes down to the mix of access, accountability and agility. What I’ve found over the years is it’s a great fit for people who want a genuine creative partner – someone they can call, talk through their challenges with and those challenges get addressed at pace. This isn’t always as easy with an agency or a freelancer. There’s also an upskilling process that takes place. Often clients have a junior design team I can work closely with and help raise the general level of creative output. They get to ask questions and better understand what’s required of them once the project becomes theirs. The whole project will feel more ‘baked in.’
PT What are the differences between working with start-ups and the big corporate brands you worked with in your previous agency jobs?
DG In corporates, a lot of the work is in managing the politics and checking in with senior leaders across the business to make sure they feel heard. Bigger budgets mean bigger groups and in theory bigger risk, so the process needs to be conservatively managed over a longer period. The startup world is simpler, quicker and with more appetite for change.
PT As a plug-in creative director, at what stage of a project are you typically brought in?
DG I’m usually brought in at the very beginning, when a founder or client team is thinking about doing a rebrand. An investor might have recommended they take a look at their brand or they may have reached their own conclusions that in order to grow, they need to rethink how they position themselves.
PT How do you typically find new companies to work with?
DG I’ve been very fortunate that most of my clients come from word of mouth. I’ve actively avoided pitching as one, I don’t agree with it and two, it takes up too much time when I should be doing paid work.
PT What is your relationship with a company once you start working with them? Are you full-time and in-house for a set period, or do you balance a few clients at a time?
DG Once we start working on a project together I like to spend the first few weeks full-time on their challenge. The projects usually start as a 10-12 week self-contained brand project, covering strategy and design system. I try to integrate myself as much as possible into their team and culture. It’s important they feel comfortable collaborating with me and they can ask me questions as we go. I tend to have two projects on at once, usually at different stages, and I pull in my network of freelancers as and when I need support. A lot of clients I still work with today and continue to mentor members of their creative teams.
It’s important to get ahead of the curve.
PT Can you tell us a bit about your former e-commerce nursery design business Milk & Poop? (amazing wordplay!) What did you learn from it?
DG It was a career-altering experience, for sure. My wife and I felt there was an opportunity to make children’s nurseries look much better and do it in a cost-effective way. The idea was you could pick your nursery design style and you receive everything you need – paint, blankets, posters, toys – in one box. We ran the business around our full-time jobs and raising a baby. It was tough but rewarding and showed me I could apply my branding skills to early-stage businesses. This experience was my launch pad into working with startups.
PT To what extent does being a parent influence your work and business?
DG It is the biggest influence on how I work, even down to the name! Working for myself means I can drop my son off and pick him up every day, which is important for both of us. It also means I’m focused on doing great work for clients as I spend every working minute on their challenge, not being pulled into various meetings.
PT Which projects have been the most formative to your development as a designer? Both from Greene & Sons and before?
DG The EE rebrand was brilliant. As a senior designer at the time, to be immersed in one of the UK’s biggest rebrands was incredible. Ably was the first job for Greene & Sons where everything came together: a full rebrand, a true collaboration with the client team and a visible result. It gave me the confidence to push ahead with the offer and showed there was a market for this way of working. More recently, KEEO because we started with a complete blank sheet of paper and created something really beautiful.
PT What’s on the horizon for Greene & Sons?
DG I’m keen to keep pushing myself and the work. Like everyone, I’m deeply interested in AI (yawn, sorry) and have already started using it in project work. I’ve found it allows me to scale what I’m doing and creates a shared tool clients can use to continue to grow the brand without me. I could be designing myself out of a job but it’s important to get ahead of the curve and figure out how to put it to good use. And if all things fail, I’m now pretty good at writing prompts :)