Interview with Nate Spees

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a brand strategist/designer?

For most of my life, I’ve been fascinated by building things – from legos to forts and all sorts of make-believe. Receiving a bootlegged copy of Photoshop and Illustrator (Sorry, Adobe!) was my first real foray into graphic design. With that copy, I made t-shirts and swag for our high school sports teams, and I’m sure I had one or two t-shirt company ideas around this time.

Fast forward to college, I realized I was an okay designer but a strong strategist. I was fascinated with enabling business and marketing clarity through creative problem-solving. I enjoyed the intersection of business and creativity, and I acquired a marketing degree and leveraged it into a career working in marketing and brand strategy.

I loved brands and studying the relationship between the business and its people. I knew I wanted to work in this space when I realized it allowed me to think about using creativity to solve organizational challenges.

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

My path into a creative field was not a traditional one. However, from my experience, creatives would enroll in design school and work their way into the industry.

After college, I joined an education technology company doing marketing. During this time, I was introduced to advertising and branding through interacting with ad and creative agencies and fell in love with that world.

It’s a joke; I tell my mom – I found the one career path where having ADHD was a significant advantage. I can continually come up with fresh ideas and think about new ways to solve the problems a brand/client is experiencing.

My biggest hurdle was initially not having agency experience. I wanted to divert my career to working in an agency. Still, with seven years of corporate marketing experience and no agency background, I was told multiple times that I would struggle to enter this world.

Like anyone that couldn’t take no for an answer, that’s how I ended up starting an agency. The second alternative to joining one was to create one.

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

My number one belief is that the best way to get clients is to serve the clients you already have well. Your work, your output, the relationships you build, and the experience you create all matter.

From day one at Grizzly, we have believed in crafting the best experience for our clients – an ethos built on wanting to serve our clients well.

By delivering above and beyond expectations and doing everything you can to create value, these relationships blossom and become newer relationships across industries and categories.

Essentially, you need to be equally committed to serving their outcomes as a business as you are to the creative work you’re delivering.

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

By creating value. The more value you create, the more people will want to keep working with you. Ask yourself, “Am I able to see a correlation between what we’re doing creatively and the business’s real-world outcomes?”

There’s also great merit in having sticky skill sets and services. If you’re a solo designer, can you solve more than one challenge with your design acumen? If you’re a creative agency or an agency like ours, do you have the breadth of work to scale a brand’s business?

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

Admittedly, we don’t have too many issues with this. We work with a gambit of different types of organizations. We manage this by having an excellent bookkeeper and bookkeeping team that supports our ability to grow as a business and pay the bills.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

As our team has grown, my day-to-day is not as connected with the day-to-day creative work as it used to be. However, I still get to participate in problem-solving for our clients regularly.

My time is spent mainly on business development and relationship-building on behalf of Grizzly. I get to spend my time sharing about the work we’re doing and helping our leadership team operate successfully so that our whole team can do their best work.

It’s different from the early days when designing and building brand strategies, but I wouldn’t trade it. It’s a privilege to serve our team by doing what I get to do daily.

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

My friend Michael Dauphinee is a performance coach, and I would like to share a lesson he imparted to me early on in my career and building Grizzly.

Entrepreneurship is like staring into the abyss. It’s an unknown world, and it never gets easier – you just become more resolute doing it. I see this as a great reminder of the messiness of creative work and any entrepreneurial endeavor.

When you start to get comfortable in the abyss, rest in that you must keep going and have the discipline and fortitude to stay focused and committed to your vision for the future. In these moments, you can experience the most transformation in your career. The more resolute you are in the face of uncertainty, the better the outcome.

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Nate Spees

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Nate has engaged in brand strategy, marketing strategy, and creative efforts for organizations such as Microsoft, WeWork, Qualcomm, ServiceNow, Surfrider Foundation and Marriott.

Interview published on: Sep 25, 2022

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