Feel like working for someone else is holding you back? Freelancing and tired of jumping from place to place? Starting your own studio can be an extremely rewarding experience but there is a lot more to it than a laptop and internet connection. Here are some of the most overlooked aspects of the process.
Who’s the boss?
If there is more than one of you, one of the first problems you’ll come across is what role you take and who has final say on what. No hierarchy might seem attractive at first but you’ll soon discover that if everyone is the boss then no one is the boss. This is especially important in a team of two where there is no deciding vote. Take the time to write job descriptions to make sure who’s in charge of doing what is clear.
There’s not much point in starting a business with someone who has the exact same skill set as you. If everyone aims to be creative lead and no one is looking after admin, accounts or new client development, your business will inevitably suffer.
If you build it, they won’t necessarily come
Once you’ve opened your door, don’t expect clients to come running. Unless you have set your website up with some brilliant SEO, it is extremely rare to get blind enquiries from the get-go. Initially, the majority of our projects came through people we knew some way or another. Your friends and family may be the most important business network you didn’t know you already had.
Having a steady flow of new work coming in is imperative to a new studio maintaining itself. Current work doesn’t continue forever. Keep your portfolio up-to-date and put yourself out there so clients can easily find you. Take advantage of all the free social networks at your disposal, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Behance, LinkedIn. But don’t just sit around hoping for new work to appear in your inbox, chase after it. Get in contact with some businesses you would like to work with and let them know who you are and what you do.
Designers may not be expected to wear a suit to work, but we are trained professionals, employed by professionals. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to act accordingly. It’s about practicing what you preach – present yourself well, from the way you dress when meeting clients to the quality of your own business cards. Meet your deadlines and manage client expectations by sticking to the rule of under-promising and over-delivering.
We’re lucky to have so many low-cost options for studio spaces these days. The growing popularity of co-working and share spaces means there’s little excuse to be still working from home. Don’t underestimate the effect that having a nice workspace to show clients through will have on their perception of your business as well as improving your own productivity.
Also, never whinge about a problematic client on social media. It will reflect just as badly on you as it does them and, as they say, the internet is written in ink, not pencil.
Have a plan
Create a five-year plan and know where you want to go from Day One. Do you want to grow? Take on staff? Plan ahead and make sure everyone in your team is on the same page. There will be quiet months so be realistic about cash flow and have some capital set aside to keep the lights on while you get yourself settled. Before splashing out on any new equipment, keep your head down and concentrate on building up your bank account. You will need a decent buffer so you can eat and pay the rent in between projects. These slow periods are a great time for developing side projects for the studio that have the potential to sprout passive income or exposure e.g. developing fonts, products, apps, blogs etc.
Don’t be an island
Find a quality accountant who has experience with small business and don’t be scared to ask other studio or business owners for advice. Everyone has their own tips, tricks and advice to offer, which is invaluable information. What works best for others won’t necessarily work best for you, but we have always found talking to people with more experience than us to be the best resource out there.
There are only so many hours in a day and you can easily find yourself being stretched so thin it starts to affect your social life as well as your creative ability. Bringing in a freelancer or running a paid internship program helps to lighten the workload and increase the amount of daily billable hours you have.