You may have heard the expression that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, in the world of business, that’s often the case. It’s also relatable to Steff Lee: a graduate of graphic design and animation at Norwich Art School, who always knew that she wanted to work in animation. After a year of freelancing, Steff would get her first full-time job in animation, but her vision for the future only grew.
Steff takes up the story: “I finally got a full-time job as a junior artist at Education City. The role involved animation, illustration, and design all in one, and the company would primarily make children’s games. I stayed there for three years, but while I was there, I was still freelancing on the side. I left because I wanted to go travelling and study abroad. I lived in China for a while, but freelance life and the idea of working for myself was calling me. I came back to the UK and moved to Leicester, and that’s where I started my full-time freelance career”
This was when Steff would officially create her own company, known as Steff Lee Studios. But again, it doesn’t happen straight away. And after several years of working freelance, a game-changing opportunity came up.
Steff continues: “I applied for the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity loan in 2017. My husband was still working full-time, so my plan was to build up a client list until we had enough income that he could quit his job and come and work with me. That was the whole purpose of applying for the STWLC loan: to buy new equipment for both of us (primarily office equipment), to pay for a new website to be made, and also to cover the costs of rebranding.
“The idea was to transform from a one-person freelance business to both of us working for the organisation. With the STWLC loan we did just that. Operating under Steff Lee Studios for the first year, we spent the time working out what our brand was going to be. By 2019, we relaunched as Kino Bino, and that’s what we’ve been doing since then. We’ve been very busy; it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind!”
Kino Bino is an indie animation studio that offers 2D animation, illustration and design services, with a focus on educational, children’s and healthcare content. Working with clients worldwide they have created work for TED-Ed, BBC Education, NHS and The National Trust. Steff is particularly excited at receiving a commission for a short film that will serve as their very first narrative piece, which is funded by the BFI (British Film Institute). The long-term goal is to create in-house content within children’s animation. But that all feels a world away from the early days of the company, and Steff still fondly recalls her decision to apply for the interest-free loan.
Describing the loan, Steff commented: “I was a bit nervous about applying at first, but because STWC come to my local networking event, Creative Coffee, I’d been able to sit down and have a chat with them without any pressure. After speaking with them, I felt confident to go for it and the application process itself was really straightforward. I worked with a business mentor who helped me put together a business plan and the STWLC accountancy team provided a free review of the sales forecast and cashflow. The interview itself went fine; the staff were all really nice and friendly.
“Obviously, getting the loan has really helped because it enabled my husband to leave his full-time job. We probably could have started together without the loan, but we wouldn’t have had that boost; it took away any financial worries. I knew that the website and the branding would be all covered, so it wasn’t like we would be scrambling for work to pay for those to be done. Simply put, Kino Bino wouldn’t be here in its current form without the loan. We’d have had a much bumpier start otherwise!”
So, the future looks bright for Kino Bino, and for Steff Lee, who has already had an amazing journey in her career, and the interest-free loan has made a huge difference. Steff even helps as an ambassador for the Charity. Furthermore, Kino Bino made the animation explainer which currently sits on the STWLC website homepage.
“I was asked about taking on that role and I was like ‘yeah, sure!’ I’m always happy to talk about STWLC on my website and help promote their offer. If you need money and you know that you’re going to grow your business and make the money back, this zero-interest loan is great. And you have so long to pay it back too!”
To find out more about STWLC’s interest-free Business Loans, which are available up to the value of £20,000, please click here.
For more information on Kino Bino, please visit www.kinobino.com