1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I’d say it was in my late teens. I played bass in a band, and the duty of creating our show posters, website, album art, and other elements. This also introduced me to business as I had to book shows, negotiate payments, and try to get press coverage for the band. The music thing was fun, but not a path to true happiness in my opinion, but it did put me in the direction of business and design.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

I continued to play music, and found a local college well known for design. I learned a lot, but coupled with the real life experiences of being a musician helped me overcome a lot.

For instance, speaking in public isn’t as daunting for me as others as I was used to being on stage in front of a few hundred people. It also gave me confidence in interaction with others, especially teamwork. I learned collaboration in its truest form where a collective creates something better than we would as individuals.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

Focusing on a niche has been the biggest success. It takes dedication and a bit of guts, but it’s paid off greatly. It’s also in line with a tenant of Vigor, “practice what we preach.”

Identifying and bolstering the niche of restaurant, beverage, and hospitality, allowed to build expertise not only in branding and marketing, but those disciplines as they pertain to the nuances of those industries. That gives us a focus for how we market and build our own brand, who we target to engage, and where we build our knowledge.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

The easiest answer is to do a better job than they expect you to do. Communication and collaboration are key. No one wants to work with people who make them feel like they’re aren’t being heard, or a group who aren’t open to collaboration. A lot of designers have a persona of being snooty or sensitive.

This is a put off for a lot of people, and it doesn’t create a good working relationship. This is an industry of communications and fantastic communications start with the realization that you may be wrong. Open your ears, open your heart, and they’ll realize you really are on their side working towards a common goal.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

I wish the answer was “no,” but it’s most certainly, “yes.” We haven’t solved that puzzle yet, but we do have a phased approach to payment. We also make it very clear to our clients when we get paid and what happens if they don’t remit on time.

There is a friend of ours that built a company for this scenario. They’re called NOWAccount. They basically handle your accounts receivable and collections. They deposit the money for invoices immediately, and take care of the rest so you don’t have to worry. This is a service we’re about to put into effect to remedy the AR issues that we’ve experienced.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

If I had to paint a picture it’d look like a Jackson Pollock. It’s a spastic mix of creative direction, account management, business management, meetings, calls, and a bit of design when I get a moment to breathe.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

Learn to collaborate well, and be a good partner. Embrace competition openly. It’s a good thing. Find your niche and pursue it fearlessly. Live our mantra: Do it with Vigor.

Joseph Szala is the creative director and principal of Vigor, a restaurant and beverage branding and marketing agency based in Atlanta, Georgia. For over 15 years, Vigor has built a reputation for bullish brand thinking and marketing excellence in the food, beverage, and hospitality space. He’s also the founder of Grits X Grids, the number one blog for restaurant and beverage branding inspiration. Joseph writes for industry publications, speaks at industry events, and discusses the power of design and branding on many podcasts around the globe.