TARA FROM DREAM & Do

She used to throw Power Rangers parties for her sisters, she only hires entrepreneurs for her creative agency, and she’s one half of Cereal Entrepreneurs. Meet the founder and creative director of Dream & Do, Tara Shelton.

The day has finally arrived. Everyone’s seen me banging on about Dream & Do for months and months, and here it is. My interview with founder and creative director, Tara Shelton. Look, I’m going to be perfectly honest (when am I ever not?!) … I did this interview back in January. Yes, January, that really hot month that came right after Christmas. Almost a year ago. What the what?! Sorry to make you all panic, but it’s happening. Christmas is a mere eight Fridays away. That’s eight more Cool People stories before I drop the microphone, throw my hands in the air and lie on the beach for a week or so.

Back to Tara Shelton. Dream & Do is a creative agency based in Sydney, specialising in branding and creative content for start-ups, business visionaries and dreamers everywhere. Tara champions the age of the entrepreneur and believes that if you can dream it, you can do it. Less than a year ago, Dream & Do was just Tara in her house with her laptop. When I interviewed her in January, she had just taken on a junior designer two days a week. Now, as we speak, the business has grown to include seven staff, has moved office twice, and undertaken branding work for 29 clients. Her biggest point of difference? Tara only hires fellow entrepreneurs; all of whom have a business or love project on the side of working at Dream & Do.

I really do believe that if I dream something and imagine it, I know that I can do it. I’ve proved myself throughout my life in that way.

Tara is a serial entrepreneur from way back; she used to charge her three younger sisters and their friends 20c per hour to play with her. But this wasn’t just whimsical child’s play; it was organised activities, that soon extended to throwing themed Power Rangers parties, and she recently unearthed a home-made poster advertising her tutoring services. Much like myself, she’s always had more than one job at once. Not because she was "greedy", but because she craved the challenge and variety.

When we met, it was one of those ‘Where have you been all my life?’ moments. I found Tara on Instagram, which is where I pretty much find all good things. I emailed, she wrote back, we met for coffee in the city, and the rest is history. We did a contra deal – branding for copywriting. Her business was growing and she needed someone ‘with the words’; my website was made by little old me, and could do with a freshen up. Pretty soon, I started working as Dream & Do’s official copywriter and content editor. You guys, this is a big deal. Writers out there will understand how hard it is to get someone to pay us for our words.

Dream & Do is responsible for the new Cool People branding, and Tara is my partner-in-crime/co-founder of our new breakfast event series in Sydney, Cereal Entrepreneurs. It’s a match made in biz heaven.

All photography by  Prue Aja

All photography by Prue Aja

A quick (funny) story. On my first day renting a desk in the Dream & Do office, many moons ago, we got sidetracked and started talking horoscopes. I told her I was Taurus, and she said, “I get along really well with Taurus. Most of my friends, and my husband, are Taurus.” I had a think about the star signs around me, before saying “Now that I think about it, all my ex-boyfriends have been Leo. It hasn’t really worked out; I find them pretty overpowering and ‘me me me’… Anyway, what star sign are you?” She smiled. “Leo.” Awkwaarrrd. Cue six months of lesbian jokes. They just keep on coming (boom boom ching!)

The business card is so important for start-ups. It’s the initial impression. If you’ve got something quirky and different someone will remember it.

Me, Prue Aja and Tara

Me, Prue Aja and Tara

Dream & Do is the only creative agency in Sydney to specialise almost exclusively in start-up branding, with an accessible price point to match, and a view that the blossoming business can grow with the agency. ‘It does make it hard sometimes,’ Tara admits. ‘We’re inundated with work, which is amazing, but we do have big dreams of our own too!’ The vision, she shares, is for Dream & Do to become a brand in its own right, marrying the skills of her team with her passion for all things start-up. It’s more than just a creative agency, with several friends and clients calling Tara ‘more like a business coach than a designer’ on more than one occasion. After realising the thrill of starting her own business while living in London a few years ago – a range of ‘helpful hankies’ called Moi Self, stitched with comforting messages for girls, from girls – Tara knew that when she returned to Sydney, she had a definitive purpose.

Tara’s dreams know no limits, and she’s passionate about helping others make their own dreams a reality. I’m in awe of her every damn day.

Watch the pilot episode of Cereal Entrepreneurs below!

by Amy Lovat

Tell me about how Dream & Do started?

I’ve always had several business ideas and knew I wanted to have my own business. Moi Self was my first “real” business launched while I was living in London for four years and the brand went really well. I was in Vogue and Sunday Times Style and I had heaps of orders and won a competition with Mary Queen of Shops. I just found that while I love design and working for other companies to deliver their branding, I knew that my calling was having a business of my own.

When I got back from London I studied at Tracta, a digital design school, because I thought I needed to brush up on my digital skills. We had an exhibition where we had to do a business card and I I was thinking, for years, what would my business be called? It’s like getting a tattoo … once you name yourself, that’s it, I didn’t want to change it. So I came up with Dream & Do, which I think really sums me up. What I really love doing is working with smaller business to bring their ideas to life. Since being back from London I’d been freelancing and working with start-ups and it really got me going. I realised that my strength is design and creativity, but I also love business. Dream & Do puts those two together; it was kind of like an epiphany.

How did you get involved with The Entourage?

I met Jack [Delosa] at a wedding, he asked me what I did and I told him I run a creative agency for start-ups, and I gave him my card. He runs a ‘Make It Happen’ day. So I had a Tues morn meeting at 7.45 then by Tues lunch I had to do a pitch on what I would teach. Then on the Thursday I found out I was doing it on Sunday. It was a quick turnaround but that was great. The Entourage is an amazing school and that is exactly my target market. People starting, wanting to rethink their business. One session I run is called ‘Don’t be like the rest of them darling’, which is all about innovation and creativity as being drivers of your business. A lot of CEOs and business managers tend to look at efficiency and that can only improve your business incrementally.

Were you scared before the first day?

Yep. I’m usually pretty confident, but the night before I felt quite sick. I thought, I don’t think I can do this. Andrew, my husband, said ‘When have you ever not been able to do anything?’ I was worried that what I was doing was hands-on and creative and people wouldn’t receive it well. My husband is in finance and I often test my ideas on him; he’s very logical. I ran through the presentation with him, and I gave him a rock and said ‘Ok let’s try and solve a Dream & Do business problem using this rock. Let’s come up with a creative idea.’ And he just didn’t get it! But the stories people came up with on the day were awesome.

What are the biggest challenges of running Dream & Do?

Being alone… *insert fake sobbing* I find that’s why I really like getting out and about, talking to clients, having phone meetings. Everyone in my life is 9-5, husband and friends. It’s hard when they go to work and you’re left at home. But I don’t envy that anymore, I don’t want it. I was on the ferry this morning just looking around at all the people going to work and looking miserable and it sucks, I feel so lucky to have freedom and flexibility.

What’s the appeal of business for you?

I love creating and designing and business is a creative answer to a problem. I like thinking about the whole picture, which is why business is nice for me. I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I have three little sisters and used to charge them to play with me … I would write programs, like a craft course or a sports course. It was $1 for six weeks and they could pay me in instalments.

I think we have undiagnosed ADD. All the people I’ve met in these Cool People interviews are very creative, dipping their toes in all the ponds…

It’s the key to being creative. The more I’ve looked into it, the more I realise that you’re only as creative as the experiences you’ve had. A good way to be creative is to do something different every day. Take a different route, different coffee shop, read a different magazine. The more you expand your mind, the more you have to draw from.

What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

Seeing people’s satisfactions when they come to me with a business idea that they half believe in, then I give them the other half of the idea by saying ‘this is what you need to do’ and helping to make it happen. The confidence that gives people when they have a logo and business card and they can see ‘it’s real now’. They’re following their dreams and it’s extremely satisfying being on the journey with them.

If you really want to push business forward and take risks, you need to be creative.

What does the future look like?

I always wish I had a thousand lives so I could do a thousand things. But Dream & Do is about having one life, to be able to enhance the lives of 1000 other people, taking their dreams forward. I want to see creativity in the masses, work with more people, have a creative space and work environment and turn agency life on its head. When I was working in-house for agencies, every day I was doing the same thing, same desk, same computer, and it’s a way to kill a creative person. So I envision a life for Dream & Do where there’s an amazing work space environment where entrepreneurs can come and rent a desk, and designers can work in their own time, from home, or go out for the day. it’s not about doing time.

Tara, me and Nikki from Unbirthday

Tara, me and Nikki from Unbirthday