Interview with Sean Tambagahan

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

I’ve always known that I wanted to do something creative, but I’ve never wanted to be a freelancer (and I never have been one). I’ve known from the beginning that what I wanted to do required collaboration with people who were strong where I was weak. In 2012 I realized it was time to step out and start my company, so I did so with one employee, so I’ve always had staff.

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

I was real strategic in how I got started. I was the operations manager for my mom’s company (well, about 6 of her companies actually) and one of my jobs was to oversee marketing and branding. I outsourced everything to other companies, and got really bad service, so I convinced her that she would save money by allowing me to run everything inhouse. Instead of hiring a team, I told her to let me hire a webmaster and we would both be the branding department for her enterprise.

She knew that eventually she wouldn’t need the extra hire, so I told her I would assume him as my own employee when that time came. As my webmaster and I worked on my mom’s brands, we were simultaneously developing our own brand. It was a seamless handoff by the time we opened up to the public as a branding agency.

The biggest hurdle I needed to overcome was not knowing anything about the industry. I had to learn (and still continue to learn) how to better myself at what we do. Another hurdle is managing the time spent working IN my business as opposed to working ON my business.

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

Brand positioning. I’ve learned how to set myself apart as an expert in my industry to my target market and give value for free (information, education, and resources) to build trust and credibility. When people trust you, they’ll work with you. So on the one hand I had to position our brand accordingly, but on the other hand I needed to be found where my target market is looking, so SEO and networking have been huge as well.

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

Make yourself indispensable. Instead of offering a variation of a service that already exists, try to go above and beyond by offering something completely different. If I positioned myself as a designer, then my clients would quickly realize that there are great designers out there willing to do the same (if not better) work than we can do from an aesthetic perspective, for less money. However, we don’t sell design, we sell clarity. We help brands connect with their users through strategy and design. Strategy is the key. Clients want the designers to help them solve problems, and not just aesthetic ones. This opens up the door for more work than just a one-off design.

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

Yes – we used to have it worse. Before we would charge half up front, and half on completion. The problem was that sometimes clients would lag on the balance. Now, for web-design work and work that needs to be “launched” (or printed), we charge 50% up front, 25% progress payment before revision cycles, and the 25% balance upon completion. The worst case scenario the client is late on the balance, which is only 25%, and that should be profit. So I’ll never be at a loss. For graphic design projects, though, that require a lot of time spent up front, we’ll charge 100% up front.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

For me, every day is different. For me, as CEO and Brand Strategist, very little of my time is spent designing nowadays. I’ll probably have about 8-10 hours a week of design work, and the rest is emails, in person and phone meetings with clients, making proposals, conducting strategy sessions, making strategy documents, and spot checking my teams work.

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

If you’re looking to just create art and be a crafter of design, don’t expect a lot of money. Design as a craft is becoming more common and less valuable. If you want to make yourself more valuable as a designer, learn business and marketing. Become someone who can sit at the table with C-Suite executives contemplating how to achieve business goals by bridging the gap between business strategy and creative marketing execution.


You can follow Sean Tambagahan on Twitter, Facebook and his Website.

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Interview published on: Feb 27, 2017

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1 Comment

  1. Kathy Sisk

    Good interview Sean. Proud of you. I still remember that day In Calcutta India after you saw me to some training and speaking with over 200+ people that you too wanted to do that one day and asked me how. We sat down and I shared with you that you must have a desire, love what you do and work hard at it….and years later here you are!!


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