1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
I’ve been doing design or art in some manner since I was old enough to hold a pencil. And while I think I boldly stated in highschool that I was going to, “Own a design firm” after I graduated, I’m positive I didn’t know what that really meant.
Back then, I probably thought it was more akin to illustration than how I see design today. It really wasn’t until I took my first class in corporate identity in college that I really began to fall in love with the mix of business strategy and form-making that brand identity design offers.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I’m proud to say that I didn’t attempt starting my firm right after graduation. Instead, I worked for other companies for the first four years or so. There are so many things that I learned on the job that I had no real concept of, including how to pitch and sell great ideas.
Not to mention, you’ll have the opportunity to see a bit of “what not to do,” which can be equally valuable. It’s not so much that what my former employers did was incorrect, but more accurately, their way wasn’t always what I would have done. And once your name is on the door, every choice is yours to make.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Although it probably sounds counter-intuitive, hanging out with peers and competitors has been one of the single-most productive methods of growing our business. Specifically, my early time with AIGA and a few local networking groups in town accounted for over 50% of our early client base.
It’s important to not only know how you’re different from other firms, but there may also be opportunities to collaborate and augment services that other firms can’t fulfill.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Coincidentally, this has been a hot topic in our agency this year. Although we’ve traditionally focused on building brand assets for clients (such as identity systems and websites), our goal to build a more holistic practice has guided us to doing a better job of finding opportunities to build out ongoing services like email marketing and ongoing brand strategy or consulting services.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Two simple things: good contracts, and progress payments. Work doesn’t begin without a contract, and working halts if progress payments begin to lag.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
Although it took me 40 years to get to this point, I’ve finally found a healthier mix to my work days. For the first time ever, I’m consistently hitting the gym in the morning and eating well. I do think that’s helped me carve a healthier balance in my work day. I’m typically in the office around 8 in the morning, and try to leave by 5.
To be clear, it took about thirteen years of practice to get to this point, and I used to easily put in 50-70 hours per week. Now that I have a business partner, there are quite literally two of us to split up my former role. Without him, I’m sure I’d still be in over my head.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
There are a few tips you may have already surmised from my other answers, but my top tips would be:
- Build and grow your network. You never know when you’re going to need more projects to keep the door open, and being involved in the community, both with your clients and peers, is one of the best ways I know to keep your pipeline full.
- Take care of yourself. The marketing world isn’t very well known for raising up healthy employees. Spend your first thirty minutes to an hour on your personal fitness, and it’s sure to come back to you in spades.
- Go work for someone else. If you’re considering doing your own thing, find another place to work first. Find out what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to collect some, “what not to do,” tips as well.
- Be obsessed with design. Like my podcast implies, the best designers are obsessed with what they do. Even when you’re not at work, you will continue to experience the world around you through the lens of design. If you don’t find that to be true, you might consider a future in a more general marketing or advertising role. And if you’d like some inspiration, please do check out our show, Obsessed With Design.
You can connect with Josh on twitter.