1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
I have always been what others would call ‘a creative person’ so I guess I have naturally always looked for outlets and ways to exercise that. If I got a skateboard, surfboard, pencil case, or just about anything really, I always had to customise it somehow. Having things that were the same as everyone else’s just never satisfied me. I’m still that way now. I just have to find a different way or a different look, or feel.
I did fine art in high school and I liked that but it didn’t really do it for me. When I left school I decided not to study. Instead, I got a super-boring job in property valuations and saved money for a year so that I could start a surf clothing label. In the meantime, I was learning Photoshop on a friend’s computer.
The surf label thing is where I really realised that I loved design. I designed the clothing (cuts, patterns etc.) and I designed all the prints and marketing materials. That’s where I really got into it and realised I’d always be a designer.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I had been doing the surf clothing label thing for about 7 years when I met my wife, Lindsay. At that time the clothing label made enough to support a single, feral surfer who didn’t need much to survive. The prospect of marriage posed a problem to solve though. I needed to earn more money in order to increase living standards to a point that would be sufficient for a wife. So at that point, Lindsay and I started a second business together where we offered design and video services to clients.
The first big hurdle was getting clients, as I am sure it is for many people starting out. Fortunately, we started getting clients pretty quickly and although we definitely experience the feats and famine cycle, things were actually pretty great on the whole.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
It’s always been referrals and word-of-mouth. I am not sure that will ever change, to be honest. Do great work > make your clients happy > they tell people > you get more work. It’s almost fool-proof. Almost.
Other than that it’s just networking, being at meetups, and giving help where I can without trying to make a sale. I genuinely like helping people and solving problems so I naturally do that. Some of the people I help turn into clients.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Step one is to do great work but that is pretty much a given. I find that solving problems for clients is a major part of them staying clients. Seeing things that can help them make sales or improve a part of their business that is unrelated to what you are working on and letting them know some things they can do to make things better. It shows that you don’t just care about doing your work and getting paid, but that you actually care about them and their business. I guess another way of saying it is that people value relationships and people who care. And, for me at least, having clients you care about is preferable to having those you don’t.
Whatever you do, try your best not to just do what you are told. Some clients want to hire a button pusher that does whatever they are commanded. Those clients aren’t worth having in my opinion. You’ll never solve a problem for them because you have no voice to, but every problem that comes as a result of your work they’ll blame on you. I’ve been there so I know. It’s not fun.
We have also started sending our clients hoodies and caps after big projects or after they have been with us for a decent amount of time. It’s a way for me to still have a hand in an apparel brand (hahaha) but also a nice gesture that we love doing for them.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Not so much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some who are notorious, but for the most part, they are great. I think it comes with looking for the right kind of clients to begin with.
One thing we do though is to have automated invoice reminder go out from Xero after 14 and 21 days of non-payment. That usually helps. Otherwise, it’s a case-by-case thing where we try to navigate the situation in whatever way seems best at the time and for that client.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I’m heavy ADHD so if I am honest, my days are not very structured at all. I vacillate between doing random stuff with no focus and hyper-focus on the other end. It’s a blessing and a curse.Fortunately, I have an amazing business partner and team members who make up for the weakness of it and I get to be creative a lot.
You know how it is, I’m sure. Sometimes the best ideas come at the most random times. I really need that unfocussed time doing random crap to help me get ideas and solve problems. Actually sitting and staring at it doesn’t really work for me.
Albert Einstein said it like this – ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.’ For me, that thinking about the problem part happens all the time no matter what I am doing, so I might as well be doing something other than staring at the problem.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
To me, design is problem-solving. Look for problems and solve them. Look not only to solve the problem of the design you are working on but look for the end-users’ problems and solve those. Look for your clients’ problems that seem unrelated to your project and think of ways to solve those.
The more you train yourself to solve problems the better you’ll become as a designer but also as a business owner. That is obviously all just my opinion, but I believe it and I’ve seen it work for me and my business.
Shane Rielly is the founder and co-owner of the South African agency Lonely Viking. Committed to helping overworked business owners grow their businesses and get their lives back. That’s achieved through providing branding, marketing, business automation and custom software development services.