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Creative Eleven Team: Ingrid Blohm & Robyn van der Toorn

A small design agency responds to the economic downturn with simple, but effective, solutions.

Juliet Pitman



Ingrid Blohm & Robyn van der Toorn of Creative Eleven

Entrepreneurs who survived previous economic recessions will tell you that you need to adapt in order to thrive.Whether it’s changing the product mix, adding a new service or coming up with innovative ways to reduce costs, the companies that do well in a recession are the ones that can respond to changing conditions quickly.

This is something the team from Creative Eleven Team design agency understands better than most. Recognising that clients were feeling the financial pinch, the agency quickly added cost-effective service offerings to their line-up. Director Robyn van der Toorn explains: “We’ve traditionally been an above-the-line and print-focused agency,but we realised that the credit crunch means that our clients, many of whom are small to medium-sized businesses, need less costly ways of getting brand exposure.

So we geared ourselves up to offer digital as well, something we hadn’t really focused on in the past.”Her partner Ingrid Blohm adds: “Digital solutions are great for SMEs because they get you good exposure with a variety of audiences for a fraction of the cost. As a simple example, our clients used to want brochures but I can’t remember the last time we printed one. That’s partly a cost thing and partly a trend thing; today a well designed website is all the brochure you need.”

Changes need to be drastic

The act of adding digital solutions to their suite of services is not a groundbreaking one but changes should not always have to be drastic. Indeed, experts advise that companies don’t undertake a complete overhaul during times of uncertainty. Both Blohm and Van der Toon are at pains to point out that they haven’t changed their business into a digital solutions company.

“We have always and still do offer a full suite of services, including name generation, logos, corporate identity,packaging and above-the-line solutions. Digital is just another service we decided to add to these in order to respond to clients’ needs for more cost-effective solutions,” says Van der Toorn.

Understanding market shifts

In other words, stick with what you know, but be flexible enough to make the necessary tweaks where they are relevant. Knowing exactly what tweaks are needed requires being in touch with evolving market needs.

“We own another company called Flowermill and we knew how difficult it was to get the brand out there without a big marketing budget, so I suppose it made us think like our clients. We understood the cost-effective benefits of digital so when the recession hit, it made sense to include it in our offering,” says Blohm.

Using what you have

But responding successfully to changing market conditions is not only about doing something new. Sometimes it’s about repositioning what you already have, as Van der Toorn illustrates. “One of the things we’ve always done well is packaging.

When people are cash-strapped and don’t have enough money for a large marketing campaign, they need to pay extra attention to their packaging and make it work harder for them at point-of-sale.” Blohm adds: “Research shows, for example, that packaging has four seconds to make an impact and sell your product.

When we share this information with clients, they quickly understand how important their packaging is.” It provides the company with another selling point and illustrates the ease with which some entrepreneurs can turn challenges into opportunities.

Being well informed about the current climate is not enough; what Blohm and Van der Toorn have done well is to interpret what the economic downturn means for their business and to formulate a response that’s relevant to their clients.

Reaping the rewards

Experts report that what companies do during tough times will influence not only how well they are able to ride out the storm, but also how quickly they are able to take advantage of opportunities when the good times eventually roll around again.

Creative Eleven has done well in this regard. It hasn’t cost them a lot to implement digital solutions or reinterpret their packaging offering for new market conditions,but these initiatives will continue to benefit the business long after the recession is over.

Creative Eleven Team

Players: Ingrid Blohm & Robyn van der Toorn

Est 2004


Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

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  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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