Before I ventured into the world of business, I realize that I was a bit of a novice. Despite my years of design experience, I didn’t know where to begin with all of the tasks which go hand-in-hand with starting a business, I had previously taken for granted.
Knowing what I know now, I see that there are several key strategies which I could have used but didn’t. Instead, I learnt the long and sometimes hard way.
So I would like to put together this list of possible pitfalls, strategies for success and definite must-dos before launching a design firm, in order to help others begin their companies more smoothly than I did.
1) Recognize If It's the Right Time
What is your current situation in your life? Everyone has different reasons for wanting to start out. I tried and failed several times. Most of the times because of personal situations. Once we had just had our twins so my time at home was extremely limited. I ended up working late at home on personal projects which put even more pressure on my wife to do everything else.
It wasn't working out. I ended up finishing the couple of projects which I had taken on and winding up the business quickly as it was causing more problems than it was solving.
Any business can take an absolute minimum of 2-3 years to really get going and to start to bring in much income. Sometimes longer, so you need to be prepared and at a stage in your life when it is possible to put in the necessary hours to make it the success that you want.
2) What Is Driving You
What is your motivation for starting out on your own? Everybody has a different reason. Some will be for financial freedom and others could be to travel.
Most designers or architects who start out will tell you that it takes a lot of work especially at the beginning. There will be many weeks where you will work long into the night as well as early mornings. Rewards during the start out period will be small. All this with no one to delegate work to.
On the flip side you will have enormous growth potential, more flexible working hours as well as the ability to choose and be choosey about the work that you do and the clients that you work for. These reasons alone can make burning the midnight oil in the early years enough motivation.
3) Find Your Niche and Target It
What interests you? How can you differentiate yourself from others and what drives you?
It’s worth sitting down with a pencil and paper to take a long hard think about these questions before you launch. By just writing down your definition of what you love about design can help you define a direction to move towards and therefore drive your energies forward more cohesively.
- What in design do you love?
- What are your best skills?
- Will you be based on affordability or high-end design?
- Are you interested in environmentally friendly design?
- Do you prefer an ultra-modern style, classic or a mixture of the two?
Which clients that you can think of meet your above criteria? Now build a portfolio and target those customers.
If you’re starting-out it’s not easy to have the work you need to impress clients. If you don't, look around at competitions you can enter or speak with non-profit government agencies you can work for. Alternatively, offer your services for below-market-value rates until you have built-up enough work.
4) Target and Develop Your Clients
Once you have some clients, you will want this to develop into a process so that you can filter out the clients which you don’t like and duplicate those which you have good relationships with.
Often client to designer relationships can work on the Pareto principle or 80-20 rule. 20% of your clients give you 80% of the work. 20% of the work brings in 80% of the revenue. Also in the reverse, 20% of your bad clients cause 80% of your headaches!
Work out where and how you found your good clients and try to repeat the process. Ask your great clients for referrals. Finding new clients through existing ones is one of the most common and successful ways for finding new work.
Create strong relationships with complementary business types. Photographers, Graphic designers or Marketing specialists are great partners in the retail industry. Builders or Project managers equally in the residential sector.
One of my best friends is a Graphic designer. He has launched 2 successful Graphic design companies in different countries. He cites the time when he began to office-share with a photographer, as the time when his business began to get traction for both startups.
5) Create Your Social Presence
Especially in retail but more and more in any business, it’s great to have an online presence which works alongside a website or even instead of one. Whether it’s a Facebook page, a Twitter feed or more image based channels such as Instagram or Pinterest.
It’s easy to keep up a conversation with your audience by announcing great new projects that you have signed, on Twitter. Facebook easily replaces a website for showcasing your work, at least for a startup. Once you can, I would definitely advise looking at starting a Wordpress site for a real web presence.
Pinterest is also fantastic as a working tool as you can easily bookmark inspirational images for a project whilst at the same time building your social media presence.
Now start working on it.