1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
The turning point came when I met Dean Walker, a real life graphic designer. I was 17 years old and was picking up some artwork for my boss. Dean worked from his home and invited me in while he put the finishing touches on the work. Prior to this period in time, I had never met a graphic designer before. What I saw in his house was, to my uniformed self, completely blew me away. He was working on an early beige Mac with blue monochrome monitor.
His entire setup and working process crystalized to me that it was possible to live a creative life and make a decent living. It was at that moment that I knew I would become a designer.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I got started in design after graduating from Art Center in 1995 with a BFA in graphics and packaging. I managed to work full time at Epitaph records for about 2 months. It wasn’t a good fit for me, so I decided to try my hand at freelancing.
I managed to work at a couple of prominent motion design studios in Los Angeles (Novocom and R/GA, later reformed as Imaginary Forces). But it wasn’t until late in December that I decided to form my own company and try to get clients on my own. What I thought would have been a “nice” experiment that would run 9 months or until my student loans were due, turned into 22+ years running my own company.
The biggest challenge was inexperience. I had no real portfolio, few clients, no business, marketing or sales experience. I struggled through how to find clients, how to bid jobs and how to even run a new business call.
No one wanted to represent us. So you can imagine, the early days were difficult. I literally slept on the floor next to my computers, managing the rendering pipeline for a job that paid us $500. The first 2 years of business were the hardest, especially when our 2 biggest clients decided to no longer work with us (for different reasons). One left because they were in-housing and our other clients retired, so a whole new marketing team took over and wanted to work with new people.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
We have several full time, independent sales reps (east, mid-west and west coast). They’ve been responsible for getting us the majority of the commercial work we bid on. Today, our biggest lead generation tool is our website and the work I’m producing on our YouTube channel “The Futur Is Here”.
After being coached for over 10 years by my business coach, I’ve learned the essentials to being a great listener, negotiator and therefore able to close jobs at a very high percentage.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
If you act as a fiduciary for your clients, learn how to prioritize their goals ahead of your artistic wants, then you tend to keep clients for a long time. This goals of course with under promising and over delivering on jobs. Of course the work we produce needs to be really solid. But it’s a mistake to think that doing good design work builds long term relationships. This doesn’t take into account great customer service.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Most clients we have pay in a timely fashion. They’re large corporations for the most part and don’t avoid payment because they’re having cash flow problems. In fact, some clients pay us 100 percent up front or for future work yet to be determined.
On accounts past due, our book keeper and executive producer call up their respective contacts and help to encourage them to pay since we’ve delivered the job. However, because we partial paying, our liability is limited. We employ a 50/25/25 billing method. 50 percent up front. 25 percent progress payment and 25 percent net 30 with a late penalty clause.
In 22 years only 2 clients have refused payment. One was angry, the other was a crook. Both of which I had a bad gut feeling about, but ignored it. Lesson learned.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
My day consists mostly of responding to fans (on social media), answering questions, writing and producing content for the Futur, meeting with the management team, interviewing guests, and providing art direction to a handful of projects. I rarely have the time to do client work except for the strategic portions.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Follow your passion first.
Find a company or mentors who know a lot about what you want to know more about. Work with/for them and don’t be too concerned about the hours or hard work. If you are learning, then you will get a huge return on your investment. In school, you pay tuition to learn from instructors. In life, you get paid to learn, so I would keep that in mind. Conversely, if you’re not learning, you will find that in a few short years, your market value will diminish greatly.
Catch up with Chris Do at The Futur.