Mistakes happen. We are human, and we are not infallible. The trick is not necessarily avoiding mistakes altogether, but instead using them as a learning experience. In business — particularly when running a startup — it’s also essential that you deal with any problems as soon as possible to prevent them from growing into something insurmountable. Some business mistakes may even come back to haunt you later down the line, in that case, it’s about being prepared.
Of course, the best thing to do is to avoid making the mistake in the first place. That’s not always possible, as some things are just going to play out how they play out. However, you can avoid some common problems during your first year of business — mistakes which many other entrepreneurs have made in the past. Here are eight examples.
1. Register as a Business Entity
In the U.S., most states require you to have a business license or at least be registered before you can start operating as one. This process is not the same as incorporating or starting an organization, but it’s just as important because it separates your personal assets from your business assets. What does that mean?
If you’re selling a product that hurts someone or makes them sick and they decide to sue your company, that’s where the business entity comes into play. When registered as a business, that essentially takes over, and the person(s) suing can only collect from your business assets and funds, including available insurance. If you’re not an “entity,” your personal assets are on the table, too. It could very well be the difference between only losing your business funds and supplies or losing your home and personal materials, too.
The most common form of business entity is an LLC or limited liability corporation.
2. Plan Ahead
There’s no way to know for sure what’s coming in the years ahead. Your business could slowly start to grow, die off entirely or hit a sudden boom bringing in millions of dollars a day — you just don’t know. But that doesn’t change anything in regards to planning. You should always plan ahead and have multiple contingencies for when an event or scenario plays out. Don’t prepare just for success, either.
More importantly, you should remember to set goals you can strive toward. Don’t just set them in the near future, either — consider two, five and even 10 years down the line. What would you like to achieve? What new avenues, products or services would you like to pursue? Would you like to be in new markets?
Expanding your business into new markets or opening up new locations, for instance, will be necessary to grow influence and support. But it’s important to understand the risks, timing and requirements, so you don’t incur more significant problems. Do it at the wrong time, and you’ll stretch your capital and assets thin, which could result in failure for the entire operation.
Start with a huge list of desirable yet realistic goals and narrow down what you want to achieve as you continue to grow.
3. Learn to Protect Your Business
Too many startups fail simply because the owner or owners were not prepared to deal with certain unfortunate yet legal events. They did not consult legal assistance, they did not file the appropriate paperwork to protect their assets or they did not draw up a contract to prevent gutting or theft.
Imagine two friends working together to build a startup. Things start to go sour, and one decides to leave, but they want to take “their” ideas or accomplishments with them. It’s too late to draw up a contract to protect the business at that moment. So, you should do it beforehand.
Here are some things to consider:
- Protect intellectual property through trademarks, copyrights, etc.
- Draw up a contract before things get hot and heavy, explicitly outlining what stays with the business and who gets what during a split
- Create similar contracts for partners, vendors and investors
- Consult attorneys, accountants and bankers for advice and support — don’t do everything yourself
- Acquire the necessary insurance or emergency financial support
4. Don’t Incorporate Too Early
Many companies and business owners will decide to incorporate when they’re running low on funds, which opens up their business to public investments and incredible growth. It’s a good idea, and it’s a great source of capital — but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your business.
Do not incorporate until your business has a clear foundation and it’s apparent whether you’re going to sink or swim over the coming years. That might sound vague, but you can predict relatively well through past performance how a business will do on its current trajectory.
There are many requirements of an incorporated business you may or may not be able to deal with. For example, investors are going to want the company run the way they think is best, which means making decisions that please them — not necessarily how you would want your business to be shaped. This can completely alter the planning and design phases, as you must incorporate what your investors want as part of your decision, as opposed to only what you or your team might want.
5. Undervaluing Your Products or Services
The price you charge for your goods when you enter the market sets a precedent for your business. In most cases, it’s difficult to raise prices or change a payment plan after your company is in operation, even with iterative product updates. You’d have to make substantial changes to warrant the increase, and many customers are going to be against it or upset by it.
That doesn’t mean you should never change prices, but the critical point here is that you don’t want to undervalue what you have to offer when you’re just starting. A lot of businesses set their price points too low because they aren’t confident or they fear failure.
Before launching anything, explore the market thoroughly to review comparable products. What are similar companies charging? What do your products or services have that others don’t? What’s a good price range for your industry?
6. Avoiding New Technology
For any business, the adoption of new technologies, systems and tools is going to be a costly endeavor — that’s just how it is. The bigger the team, the more time and resources it will take to roll out a new solution — which includes higher costs.
Money aside, you should never be afraid to adopt new technologies or solutions. Many will help teams do their work more effectively, increasing output and ultimately lowering operating costs. In other words, it’s almost always worth the investment.
Do your research beforehand. Also, don’t adopt too many new platforms at once, just work on a single upgrade at a time. When assessing what to try or what to install, consider what parts of your normal day-to-day operations could do with a little improvement.
7. Know Your Ideal Customer
You could have the greatest idea ever for a business or product, but it won’t make a difference if you don’t know who your customer is. That also means understanding what they want, how they live and how they might interact with your business in the future. Will they be willing to upgrade to a new model as soon as it’s available, for instance?
Knowing your customer is not just vital for regular business operations and development, it’s also crucial to marketing. You need to speak directly to your customers through your marketing campaign, including those that have yet to invest in your business.
8. Need Strong Marketing
Speaking of marketing, you won’t see a lot of growth if you aren’t continually promoting your business. Marketing takes many forms from online and social media content to word of mouth referrals. Furthermore, as a local business or new startup, your marketing campaigns are going to look a lot different than large organizations.
You won’t succeed at marketing, however, if you don’t understand your market. That means getting to know your customers, understanding your competition and knowing the current market sentiment. Are people just not interested in the products or services you wish to sell, for instance? How can you change that?
If you don’t learn to market early, you’re going to have a much more difficult time later on. Not to mention, you won’t have a consistent way to bring on new customers and clientele.
Mistakes Happen, So Learn to Correct Your Trajectory
Even armed with these incredibly helpful tips, you’re going to make a few mistakes. That’s okay. What’s important is that you correct your trajectory as soon as you realize what’s happening and that you learn from any errors, so you don’t repeat them.
Running a startup business is not a simple or easy feat. It’s challenging, there will be lots of obstacles and it takes a lot of time, patience and money. But you can make it happen. Just stay focused on your goals, trust in your support and keep pushing forward.
Before diving into my position at Cleveland Design Firm Go Media, I knew the basics of personal branding.
My understanding went something like this:
1. Figure out who you are
2. Package it up nice and neat
3. Show it off to the world
How to do all those things, I must admit, was a little vague — until now. Let’s just say, I’ve just been enlightened by Michael Cavotta, certified personal brand strategist and professional headshot photographer. As it turns out, there’s more to it than a shot in the dark and a nice photo.
“Personal branding,” explains Michael, “is the external expression of the authentic self, which is by definition a unique and powerful commodity. It’s the ability to tell someone else—to show someone else—in words or an image—what it is that simultaneously sets you apart and draws others to you.”
Whatever your role within an organization, Michael emphasizes without an authentic personal brand, your success is on the line—both as a business and an individual.
“In my former life as a venture catalyst, I learned no one invests in business plans—they invest in the people behind it,” Michael recounts, making a strong personal brand a fundamental element of entrepreneurial success.
But personal branding isn’t limited to the world of business. It’s for anyone and everyone who wants to walk a little taller in their own shoes.
“No matter if you work for a company or you’re out on your own as a musician, an artist, a designer…everybody is their own salesperson—their own branding agent.”
“Some people do a really shitty job of branding themselves,” Michael chuckles, “or worse, they’re completely unaware there’s a job to be done. Instead, they’re out there floating, confusing their function—what they do for a living, with their fire—who they really are.”
What kind of fire? “It’s that thing that gets lit up and effortlessly erupts when someone’s allowed to just be themselves, in their element—without friction, without limitation and without a sense that they need to be something else in order to succeed.”
From Function To Fire
Michael’s process hinges upon the idea of freeing yourself from an external sense of self driven by what you do for a paycheck. It begins with a deep drive to find the authentic you, the exceptional person people are drawn to both in business and in life. Accomplish this, and you’ve got the core of your own personal brand.
3 Words Exercise
Addition by Subtraction –
Michael recommends an exercise he calls 3 Words, clients are asked to identify the three words that “unmistakably, irretrievably, undeniably” describe themselves. This process isn’t one to be taken lightly, and if done right, can take weeks or even months. Michael notes, “Start by writing down words that describe someone in your profession. In the case of a designer, these could be words like creative, visual, passionate. When you’re finished, go ahead and cross them off the list. What you’ve just described is a brand tied rooted in function, rather than fire. You can’t set yourself apart by saying me too.”
Build Your Tower
Michael is big on imagination. He’ll ask you to “think of yourself as a Jenga tower, where each block is a facet of you with a word associated with it.”
You start by building your tower with blocks/words connected to your powers, your passions, and your purpose—the things that make you extraordinary and set you apart from the rest. “Don’t worry about what I do; let me tell you about me.” Suddenly, the conversation is no longer about the mundane expectations we have about someone in your field, it’s about activating the things that are most engaging about you.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take your time building your tower. “You have to see the whole before you can touch what is essential.”
Pull the Pieces
Just like in the real game of Jenga, once you build, you start pulling pieces. Except in this game, your job is to figure out which three blocks are the keystones that can’t be removed without the entire thing falling apart. You’ll know when you’ve found them when you get to the point where no meaningful conversation about you can happen without them.
OK, Now What?
Finding your 3 Words is really just the beginning—the point where a process becomes a practice. “The only way to work, live and love authentically is to be mindful of where you stand. Whenever you’re presented with a challenge or an opportunity, stick your finger in the air and check which way the wind is blowing. Ask yourself, ‘is it taking me closer to or further away from my authentic self?” If the answer is no, Michael asserts, “the result will be neither lasting nor exceptional, since any effort engaged in the absence of authenticity is doomed to mediocrity.” But the converse is decidedly more optimistic. “When approached from a foundation of authenticity, there’s nothing that you can’t do.”
Massive Drawn to Business Price Drop: Build A Million Dollar Business for Less with this Must-Have Resource
Massive Drawn to Business Price Drop
As many of you know, we are incredibly proud of the content inside our newest eBook, Drawn to Business.
Drawn to Business is a transparent look inside our business, a complete guide on the way to build a design studio the Go Media way. It’s chock-full of tips, tricks, techniques and best practices straight from the founder of Go Media himself, William Beachy, plus more than a dozen contributors from other companies.
We came to realize that our initial pricing proved to be a barrier for some folks.
Because of that, we decided we needed to do something drastic.
Permanent Price Drop
We want any and everyone to benefit from the extraordinary insight inside this resource, so we’ve drastically reduced prices on all Drawn to Business products up to 60% off. (Yes, for good).
Discounted items include our Plus Package, eBook, Paperback, Supplemental PDF content, Bonus Video Content and Business Plan Workbook.
Plus Package – now $59.99 (
eBook – now $19.99 (
Paperback – now $34.99 (
Supplemental PDF Content – now $15 (
Bonus Video Content – now $15 (
Business Plan Workbook – now $15 (
Enjoy and please share your thoughts on Drawn to Business below!
Things to consider before rebranding your company.
Here at Cleveland creative agency Go Media, we take branding very seriously. We have helped many companies, who’ve undergone natural growth and change, take necessary steps to transform the face of their company for the better. Consider these six simple questions when rebranding your own company and you’ll be on the road to success.
1. What is the goal?
Don’t rebrand simply just because. You should have a specific set of goals driving your rebrand. Perhaps, for example, you are a tech company who needs to modernize a logo designed in the 70’s. Ask yourself why you are rebranding and give yourself an excellent answer. Don’t have one? It may not be time.
2. Is brand boredom the reason for the rebrand?
Many times business owners will rebrand because they’re suffering from brand boredom. They’re looking at their brand all day long, every day. Brand boredom, on the part of the business owner, is normal and only natural. This, however, not a good reason to rebrand! Remember that clients are not coming into contact with your brand as frequently as you. They need to become familiar with your color schemes, fonts, mark. This can only be accomplished through consistency.
3. What is your brand equity?
Is your brand equity good or bad? When customers come in contact with your logo, do they remember the amazing work you’ve done for them? Or, do they instead only recall a negative experience with you? If you believe your brand to have a positive brand equity, this is extremely valuable! Hold onto that value! If you feel a change is in order, a brand refresh, is what we recommend. With a brand refresh, you’ll use enough new elements to move the brand forward while keeping enough old elements to maintain brand recognition.
Consider your brand to have a negative equity? You may want to try something new, so far as considering a new name and a new brand. You’ll want to completely break any negative association with your brand if needed. For example, imagine you owned an airline that had a 50% incidence rate of plane crashes over a one year period. Your brand equity would call for a complete change to say the least.
4. What costs are involved?
When thinking about doing a rebrand of your company, you must consider all of the costs involved. Your brand is more pervasive than you may at first think and if you’re considering a rebrand you’ll have to replace everything relatively quickly. This includes your letterhead, your website, building signs, ads, etc. Hesitate to do so and your customers will be seeing two brands for an extended period of time. Focus on primary touch points first, then go from there. Also, possibly hold off on a rebrand until you have exhausted your stock of items with old branding. This way, when you’ve rebranding, you can restock and be all ready to go!
5. Have you considered your whole brand?
Keep in mind that your brand is not only a logo, but that your brand also embodies your company in its entirety. Your brand is your personality, its messaging, copy. Your brand is what you say and how you say it. Your brand is your company’s vibe, the music you play, your uniform, the furniture in your office. Consider a rebrand and how these elements may be impacted.
6. How will you transition the rebrand?
The rebranding process can be very disruptive if not handled with finesse. Making major aesthetic shifts or changing your names can confuse customers. Consider how you’ll educate your customers about the transition to your new brand. Some examples? Place your old brand next to your new brand, or explain very clearly to customers that “ABC Company is now XYZ Company.” Take some time to let things sink in.
Considering a rebrand? Don’t forget to consult your friends here at Go Media!
How to Hire a Web Design Firm: Ask These Questions Before You Invest
When hiring a web development firm, we here at Cleveland creative agency Go Media are firm believers in looking before you leap. Make the right decision and your financial investment will pay dividends for the long term. This is one serious decision! Knowing that, you’ve got some serious questions to ask to potential firms. Ask this list of exhaustive questions and you can feel confident about your decision.
And of course, all consulting for a new website is free when you come to Go Media, so feel free to start your new search with us!
Recommended Questions for Other Firms:
Get to know your team:
At the end of the day, you want to know if the team handling your work is a cohesive one. You’ll want to ask if they have been working together for years on a reliable web solution, or figure out if there is a middleman that will cause disruption or confusion in the process. Try asking:
- Where is your development team based?
- Is all of your development work handled in-house?
- What is the size of your team?
- How long has your team been working together?
Get to know the technology:
Ask potential firms to give you a little back story on the technology they’ll be implementing. Really get a gauge on their history with the technology and their familiarity with it. Then, get a feel for the back-end. Trust us, you’ll need to have quick and easy access to your website, as well as be able to edit it without having to contact your web development team. Not only will that be an aggravating experience, but an expensive one. Ask:
- Can you tell me a little bit about your history deploying similar websites and what my user experience might look like?
- What might the back-end of my experience look like?
- Can I take a peek at some sites you’ve deployed in the past?
Request it be Responsive:
As over half of websites are now viewed on mobile devices, this is a must-have. This one is simple. Say:
- Will you build my site responsive or mobile ready?
Check into CMS:
Dig deep into the content management system, or CMS, used by the web development firm you’re interviewing. As there are so many on the market, as well as varying fees associated with each, you’ve got to take note. If you ask our opinion, you’ve got to go with the most inexpensive, widely adopted technology that gives you the most functionality. That, to us, is WordPress.
- Tell me about your content management system and the associated fees. Is the CMS proprietary or open source?
What is the warranty?
Because the web is constantly changing, your site will require constant maintenance and upkeep to stay up to the times. Talk to a future web design firm about things like their warranty, maintenance plan, service plan and web hosting. This way, you can feel safe knowing that the firm you have hired for web development will handle this support in the best and the worst of times. Cover these questions:
- What is your warranty, what does it cover and what costs are involved?
This is important, now. When talking pricing remember to ask, ask, ask away and never, never assume. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask right out of the gate to ensure you are communicating clearly and leaving nothing to imagination.
- Tell me about your pricing system?
- Are you project-based or hourly?
- What is your policy for payments?
- How frequently do projects go over budget?
- What happens when extra features are added or work is added over the projects initial scope?
* Side note: many times our clients tell us our proposals are bigger than the average bear. Why, they ask? Well, it’s simple. We get down to the nitty gritty, giving our clients extremely detailed discovery and project scopes, leaving nothing to the imagination. We want to make sure we nail deadlines and accurately meet the budget outlined. Honesty is the best policy. If the web design firm you are speaking with doesn’t provide you with full details, run!
Take a look at the timeline:
Gain an estimate of the time it will take to build the site at hand. Take note, then check with a reference. What’s the estimate they gave their reference? How long did it actually take to build the site? Do some of your own research and be the judge. Does their internal team have the technology down this to a science or a third party at play here?
- What is your estimated timeline to build the site?
Process, process, process:
You want to be sure the firm has thought through their process, as this is crucial to their, and your, overall success. Process, to Go Media, equals quality, consistency and reliability. We have our own detailed 32 step web development process mapped out. But that’s us and we love process!
- Talk me through your design process?
Find out who owns the source files:
You’ll want to know, upfront, if you will have access to your design files upon project completion. Do you they belong to you? The design firm? Should it end badly for some reason and you no longer have access to the files, you’ll wish you would have asked this question earlier.
- Will I be able to access my files upon project completion?
Once your website is launched, you’ll want to track its success. Make sure the firm you’ll hire has metrics built directly into the site, whatever those might be (sales, conversions, traffic, etc.)
- What ways do you track the success of the websites you deploy?
Look out for the Long-term:
Once you’ve made a commitment you’ll want to settle in and stay for the long-term. Choose a company that has some size, stability and staying-power. We suggest a company of six or more. With a firm this size, there will most likely be a couple designers and a couple developers. Even in a pinch, when someone is out sick, you’ll be covered.
- How long have you been in business? How large is your firm?
Ask about the Project Management Piece:
You’ll want to know if a dedicated project manager will be assigned to your project. If so, you’ll have someone on your side building timelines, scheduling meetings, coordinating feedback, reviewing and organizing content, etc. If not, you’ll have some more work on your plate.
- Do you have a dedicated project manager that will be managing this project?
Ask for References:
Last but not least, don’t forget to ask for some references. Like any investment, this is a natural and normal request.
To learn more about Go Media’s web development services visit us at gomedia.us!
Networking Tips: Secrets to Networking Success
“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” – Robert Kiyosaki
Networking is without a doubt one of the most important efforts to get your name out there and grow your business. Like the old adage says, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Whether you’re a freelancer working out of a house or working in an established company, getting out there and meeting folks can do wonders.
As Go Media’s Account Manager, networking is an important part my job. In fact, each member of the sales team has a minimum number of networking hours to hit each month. We recognize the value of getting out there and spreading the Go Media word. Sure, there are days where the last thing I want to do after a full day at the office is go and mingle with strangers for hours, but I look forward to networking most of the time!
Often times, the hardest part is finding and getting yourself to the events. It can be uncomfortable to walk up to people you don’t know and start a conversation, but the potential outcome can be worth the 30 seconds of awkwardness.
Some people are natural born social butterflies, while others aren’t. For those who are looking to network more, here are the tips I’ve learned from my experiences:
Bring a wingman (or woman). If you have a fear of flying solo, bring an outgoing friend or colleague along! It’s important to not isolate yourself though. Don’t sit in a corner and only talk to the one person you know. If you’re going to do that, don’t bother attending. The goal is to make new connections, after all.
Find a common ground. It certainly helps to have something in common with the person you’re chatting with, other than the weather. This is can be tricky, but helps to establish a level of trust. I tend to jot down notes on business cards with this sort of information. It creates a personal touch when following up at a later day. Otherwise, the little things tend to be forgotten after chatting with dozens of people.
“If people like you they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.” – Zig Ziglar
Listen! Take interest in others and what they do. This is key. Networking is not just about telling others about you, it’s about making valuable connections that ideally result in mutually beneficial relationships. There are countless leads that I’ve sent to folks I’ve met while out networking while never receiving one in return and that’s OK! Don’t keep score.
Master your 30 second pitch. After you’ve started a conversation and someone asks you what you do for living, have a concise response in your back pocket that touches on the value you bring. If you start rambling, you’ll lose your listener fast. It’s important not to be too ‘salesy’ (no one likes that guy). Be authentic. Be you.
Casual followup. Now that you’ve collected a slew of business cards, don’t let them sit in a stack never to be touched again. A few days after the event, shoot a quick email following this simple outline:
Thank the person for taking the time to chat with you
Touch on something personal (i.e. the ‘common ground’) that is not business related – humor always helps!
Reiterate how you can help or be of value in a casual, not pushy, way
It’s important to not bombard your connections the minute you get back to your desk or call once a week to ‘chit chat’, though. Reach out to them when it matters or if you have a lead for them. Maybe even invite them to another event with you!
“The bigger your rolodex, the bigger your business.” -Anonymous
Mastering the art of networking takes time and experience. There are going to be uncomfortable moments and maybe even some rejection. Most events offer small plates and cocktails (which certainly help to loosen people up). Just don’t overdo it or you’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
What are your tips for networking success? Please share with me in the comments below!
Hey Go Media Faithful! Here’s another excerpt from my book, Drawn to Business, about the number one myth I’ve found in the hiring process. For more of my insights and actual tools to help you start your own million dollar company, pick up the book as well as its supplemental materials, now available on the Arsenal.
When to Hire Employees
Simply put, your staff IS your company. And your relative success or failure is frequently a result of the quality of your people. If you think you can hire mediocre people and train them to be great, well, think again. Particularly when you’re small and getting started, the impact of your staff is amplified. A very small business is really more about its people and less about its systems. You need to make sure you’re finding and hiring the very best employees.
Here’s What I Had To Overcome
The Myth: more employees equals more profits.
I had this idea stuck in my head for most of my life; the more employees I have, the more money I make. Even before I was seeing any real return on the hours I was working in my business, I was anxiously trying to hire on employees. The thought was that an employee was like a little engine, churning out profits. The more little engines you have running, the more profit is pouring out onto your company floor. Well, this is a fun idea, but what if your engines produce $1 per hour in profits and what if your engines require $2 worth of gas each hour to run? Now your little money engines aren’t churning out profits, they’re burning money at a rate of $1/hour.
It’s important to blow up the myth in your head that staff will somehow magically make you money. Having an employee is not inherently good or bad for your company’s profits. They may make you lots of money, or they may cost you lots of money. The only real guarantee is that you have to pay them either way. So, before you run out and start expanding your staff…
Get out your calculators
Do the Math: hire what you can afford. Don’t be tempted by that high-priced gun. When Go Media first got started, we wanted to hire the very best employees, so we did. We paid them what they asked for. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford the quality of employees that we hired. We never did the math. We assumed that because they were good designers, somehow their value added to what our firm would produce: the extra income necessary to pay their salary. We had a problem. We weren’t charging our customers enough hourly to cover the employee’s hourly wage. After six months, we were broke and forced to lay off our newfangled employee.
So when DO you hire?
When do you hire? A good rule of thumb for hiring is when you have enough money coming in that you can afford to pay that new employee EVEN IF THAT NEW EMPLOYEE DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE ONE PENNY TO YOUR INCOME. If you have any doubt whatsoever about your ability to afford a new employee, you probably shouldn’t be hiring them.
Before you start to scale up your business you need to ask:
- “Is this system humming? Am I dialed in? Are we churning out rock-solid profits every month?” Or, are you hoping to fix your system by bringing in more people? Are you bringing on people hoping THEY will be the ones who start bringing in the money? If this is your perspective, then you shouldn’t be hiring.
- Another question you can ask yourself when considering whether or not to hire someone is: “Is there historical precedence for their job?” In other words, are you getting regular requests for the job they’re going to do? If there isn’t a proven track record of demand, then I would look to an alternate option to hiring a new employee. Build the demand first, line up the work, and THEN hire a new employee.
All in all what I’ve found is that more employees do not necessarily mean more profits. Employees are a liability. Whether you’re busy or not, you need to pay them. Wait to hire more employees until the evidence and need is overwhelming.
How about you? What have you found to be the biggest myth in your hiring process? What hurdles have you faced? Join the conversation in the comments below!
For more hiring tips, including Supplemental Materials like “How to Hire the Rockstar Staff of Your Dreams,” head over to the Arsenal, where you can pick up all of our bonus content!
So recently I took a couple of months out from design to go travelling around South East Asia. Get me. I’d love to peg it as an adventure where I was searching for the lost city of whatever to find the hidden treasure of something something, but this was really just a straight up holiday.
I really don’t do holidays that often. I don’t really feel the need to – I love what I do for a living so why would I ever need a break? That being said, I’d had one too many big projects with tight deadlines in a row and even I was starting to feel like I was getting worn a little thin.
However after just maybe a week of exploring the Orient I genuinely started to pine for my wacom. I missed designing. I’d told myself that this was going to be a proper refresh for me, so I’d brought no laptop, no drawing pads, not even a pen! “Anyway”, I told myself “Bangkok really isn’t the kind of place you could sit down a get a really productive days work under your belt”, and so I tried to put it out of my mind.
So I meandered on, from country to country, collecting currencies and filling up my passport with oversized visas, until I got about halfway through Vietnam, to a little city called Hội An.
I spent the first couple of days in Hội An doing the tourist thing, I wandered around the temples, ate in the ‘secret’ restaurants, I even had a very nice suit made. Hội An is a remarkably beautiful city, and there’s a real European vibe that comes from all the colonial French architecture that lines the river running through the city. There’s none of the hustle and bustle that I’d found in some of the larger Asian cities and it was also one of the cheapest places that I’d visited so far (I’m talking a beer for $0.14 cheap).
After those first few days though I had a realisation – I’d had WiFi connection everywhere I’d been.
I’m not just talking bars and restaurants here (although each and every one of those has their own network), the whole of Hội An actually has a giant network that you can connect to, just to make sure you’re still able to send those tweets between cafes. One of the days I actually decided to rent a motorbike (which was all of $3 for the day) and see if I could find the coast. It took me maybe ten minuets to reach a stunning almost deserted beach and guess what I found? Free WiFi.
It was insane, I was in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, I couldn’t seem to actually spend my money everything was so cheap and I could genuinely have worked from the beach.
And this wasn’t the only place I stumbled on in my travels where I could have happily and easily set up shop; Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, the list goes on. All beautiful, all cheap to live (even in hotels), all with excellent WiFi and amenities.
The more I though about it, the more sense it made too. I’d put my entire business on hold to go on this trip, but there really wasn’t any need to. In fact I could probably have had the same number of free days and just stayed away for longer using the extra revenue from my work to pay my way.
I know I’ve stumbled onto nothing new here, Tim Ferris coined the phrase ‘geoarbitage’ long before my epiphany, but what was perhaps new to me was just how possible it really was. You always hear stories of people packing in their 9 to 5 and living the good life, sipping coconut milk on a beach, and it kinda goes to the same part of my brain that emails from wealthy African princes go; the ‘bullshit’ section.
No doubt you’re reading this and part of you is thinking just that. Bullshit. Trust me, it totally isn’t. It’s totally totally possible. The fact I feel like a total idiot for not doing it is testament to that.
It doesn’t even have to be that mega life changing event either. Ask yourself really, what’s stopping you from leaving for say six months? Even three months? Are your clients all going to abandon you because you want to do a few meetings over Skype? Can you really not work without an office filled with stuff? Is that second monitor absolutely critical?
I’m not talking about changing your nationality here, just give yourself some new scenery for a bit.
There’s an article by Tim Gregg that I read that recommends renting out your home whilst you’re away, and it makes a lot of sense. Some of these countries are so cheap to get by in, what you make in rent could probably cover your mortgage and your day to day living expenses. Add to that the fact that you’re working and earning, and there’s a very good chance you could come home with a bigger bank account than when you left.
There are tonnes of places you can do this too, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, Argentina, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Romania, Uruguay, just loads. All with a very high quality of life and a very low cost of living.
So the next time you’re thinking of taking a holiday – be professional, take a sabbatical instead.
Launching Your Apparel Line
Designed your own original and unique t-shirt, printed and branded your work, ready to launch? Now you’re ready for the big time.
For a lot of brands, the holy grail of going big-time is getting into well-known retail shops. There’s certainly an appeal to being able to go into your local mall and see your brand on the racks. How do you get there? Here are some general tips for breaking into retail, straight from Cleveland Design Agency, Go Media Partner Jeff Finley’s book, Thread’s Not Dead: The Designer’s Guide to the Apparel Industry.
Never Say Die.
Most of the successful “big-time” brands will tell you it wasn’t easy getting to where they are and that there’s no formula for success. But you’ve got to be willing to tough it out, deal with rejection, and be ready to ride the roller coaster. You must also have the capabilities to manufacture hundreds or thousands of shirts. For those wanting to go beyond the side project phase and go bigtime, read on.
“How to My Apparel Line into Stores,” you ask?
1. Be Proven. Your line needs to have a history of selling well. If you consistently sell out online or have built up a large fan base online, this increases your chances of getting into a retail shop. If all you have are mockups and no history of selling anything, you need to prove yourself first. It’s like a band trying to get signed to a major label and play big shows when they can’t sell out the local pub down the street.
2. Be retail-ready. This includes hang tags, custom poly bags or packaging, printed shirt tags, etc. You need to look put-together in order to be taken seriously by retail stores. Johnny Cupcakes often reminds people at his talks that those that pay extra attention to these little details are the ones that stand out and are successful.
3. Have a line sheet or lookbook. A line sheet is basically a PDF of your t-shirt line with product info and photos of product. Include info about your brand, the names of the shirts, t-shirt color and specs, item number, prices, sizing, and other specs unique to your product.
Don’t forget to mockup your designs.
4. Do your homework. Find out what stores you want to be in and get all the information you can about them. Make sure your brand fits the style and will look good
with the rest of the products they sell. Talk to the buyers. Find out who makes the buying decisions and set up an appointment to show them your samples. The employees at your local retail shop are not likely the ones making decisions.
5. Talk to other brands who have made it. Learn from their experience! Walk into the stores you want to be in and write down the names of the brands you find. Do your homework and look up contact information for them and introduce yourself. Be polite and see you can set up an interview with them to discuss their experiences. If you have trouble finding information about a brand, it might be because they’re a store brand under a different name. For example, I saw a brand called Aces & Eights at JCPenney once and couldn’t find a damn thing about them online. From what I gathered, it was just JCPenney putting out a line of tees under that name.
6. Go to Trade Shows like Magic or Pool. You can meet a lot of retail buyers and talk to brand owners and consumers alike. You can really get a feel for what the current trends are at these events. Eventually, setting up your own booth should be on your annual to do list. There are others like Agenda, ASR, and Threadshow.
7. Hire a Sales Rep. Find someone who has experience selling apparel to retail buyers. They do this for a living and are likely better at it than you. They also already have the contacts that everyone wants but doesn’t have. Some stores already have relationships with certain reps and buy from them often.
8. Bring samples. Retail buyers and sales reps like to be able see the actual products before they make a decision. It makes sense right? They like to feel the garment and test the quality and fit. This also gives your buyer a chance to notice all of your attention to detail!
9. Be professional yet personable. This is common sense in the industry. Buyers are attracted to people that know their product inside and out and can speak about it with passion and conviction. They buy from people they are comfortable with. If you can’t manage to clean up and persuade someone to want your tees, then get a sales rep.
10. Be persistent and follow up. When you contact a store, rep, or buyer, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back. These people can have hundreds of brands trying to get into their store! Make a spreadsheet of all the people you are contacting and when you need to follow up. Make sure you follow up and be persistent. Just don’t be annoying and if they say no, it usually means no. Don’t nag anyone, you don’t want to damage your reputation.
Sell at Local Boutiques and Consignment Shops
You can swing by your local clothing boutiques and ask if you could sell your line on consignment. The terms vary, but you only get paid if the shirts sell. The shop gets to keep a percentage. This is a good way to get your feet wet selling in stores. There’s no guarantee of making any money, but you can test the waters and get your brand name out there a little bit. You’ll need to find shops that sell to the type of consumer you are looking for. Do your tees fit in with the boutique? If you find that your tees are selling locally, then you can consider moving on to more national stores.
Sell at National Chains and Department Stores
If you want to sell your stuff at Hot Topic, H&M, or other chain stores like that, you’ll need to talk to their regional sales reps. You can find them at the major apparel trade shows looking at hot new brands to buy up. However, if you’ve got a large following online, these stores may find you through word of mouth. Urban Outfitters contacted Go Media asking to purchase a bunch of Obama skate decks that Oliver Barrett designed. We agreed on a price, signed the deal, and saw the deck in their stores. It was kind of a lucky shot there, but his design was timely and fit with what they were looking for.
Working with Distributors
Dave from Paint the Stars says, “Distributors are a great way to get your brand into places that you might not be able to reach independently.” They can also help you with manufacturing and producing your tees. Getting a distribution deal is like getting a record deal, which is one way to get more exposure and sales. Dave says he’s had good and bad experiences with distributors. “We’ve found ourselves bound by some pretty unreasonable contracts that have only benefited the distributor and left us with nothing but a bunch of empty promises.” He warns, “It’s easy to get drawn in with promises of brand exposure, marketing you never dreamed of, and crazy production. So make sure you go through every minor detail of a contract before you sign it.” Through their roller coaster experience, they have decided to start their own distribution company called Breakout Distribution to help themselves and other indie brands take it to the next level without a lot of the fine print from major distros.
Hi Go Media faithful! Bill here! I’m back to talk about beating busters, a topic I discuss in my book, Drawn to Business. This week’s piece deals with one simple fact: in business, you’re going to get ripped off. Get used to the idea. Over time, luckily, you will learn how to spot what I like to call busters, or bad clients. Here is a list of the different types of busters I’ve come across over the last 15 years in business. Hopefully my bad experiences will spare you the same headache. Look out for these guys!
For more about busters, and all I’ve learned growing my own design firm, pick up Drawn to Business.
Types of Busters
1. The Promoter.
The promoter is probably my favorite type of buster simply because they’re so entertaining (and easy to spot). A promoter is full of energy, and everything with them is bigger than life! I think of a carnival barker: “Step right up! Step right up to the greatest design project on earth! Wealth and fame beyond your wildest imagination are just behind this curtain!” They feed off your emotions, pump up your ego and make outlandish promises. They also operate with a constant sense of urgency. They’ll promise you part of their “can’t-lose” business, but there are never any contracts or lawyers, just empty promises. There is always one more problem, one more project, one more step.
Fortunately, the deposit first policy works very well with promoters. They will never give a deposit, or pay a dime. But one funny thing is that they’re so damn persistent. Even after you tell them your policy…it’s likely they’ll say something such as: “Great! No problem. I’m happy to pay a deposit. I just need this one little project done before I’ll have access to cash to pay that deposit!” Don’t get sucked in! Stick with your policy!
2. The Delegating Entrepreneur.
The Delegating Entrepreneur is also deflected easily by a deposit policy. They are a little like The Promoter except the main crux of their pitch is that you will be a part owner of the company. They will also play on your emotions and hype the dream of “your” business. But here are the problems with these types of busters.
First, “The Company” is mostly just them giving you work. They don’t do much themselves other than daydream about how amazing the company is going to be, then pile up more work on you. Second, they’re not necessarily good businesspersons, they just happen to be arrogant and overconfident, so it’s easy to believe in them. Third, if “your” company ever does start to make some money, this buster will surely keep it himself or sink it into other people to build the business more—after all, he already has you working for free.
This is not to say that there aren’t good, honorable entrepreneurs out there who need a business partner. But taking on a business partner is a serious undertaking. In my experience, nine out of ten people who will quickly offer you a portion of their business in exchange for free work are busters
3. Mr. Add-On
Mr. Add-On is the first type of buster who slips past the deposit policy. He or she will pay you for the services that they have you quote. Here’s their trick. They won’t tell you everything that they need done. Then at some point during the design process, they’ll start asking for a little more. They try to play-down the amount of work something will take and try to make it seem like it’s part of the current project. You might hear something like: “Now that you’ve finished my business card, can you just slap that information onto a letterhead? That should only take a second, right?”
If the designer in your company is not the salesman, Mr. Add-On will exploit the situation by telling the salesman as little as possible, then trying to trick the designer into doing extra work for free. It’s important that your staff knows exactly what’s been paid for when dealing with this slippery buster.
4. The Slave Driver
The Slave Driver. The slave driver is similar to Mr. Add-On with one critical difference. Mr. Add-On is at least pleasant in his approach. The Slave Driver is merciless and hard to please. He may not add-on to a project, but he’s going to squeeze every ounce of effort from you that he can. The Slave Driver is incredibly picky. He’ll make you feel like you’ve made a mistake, done a poor job or misled him in some way. He’ll lay heavy guilt trips on you. The difference between a high-maintenance client and a slave-driver is that when you’re done with the project for the slavedriver you never want to work for them again.
5. The Long-Con-Artist
This type of buster has a long term plan. He’s trying to get design services for free, or for a greatly reduced rate. Here’s his plan: pay for services, get most of my work done, then act like something is wrong, set the designer up for failure, then demand their money back. This type of buster starts out all sweet and loving, but the closer you get to completing his or her project the more difficult and demanding they’ll become. At some point they’ll start shifting deadlines or making demands that are virtually impossible to accomplish. Near the end, this con-artist will start acting inappropriately upset, start claiming that you’ve somehow hurt his business. He or she will invariably ask for a refund, refuse to pay his balance or even threaten to sue you. All of this is done as a way for him or her to steal your design services for as little as possible.
I’m sure there are many other types of busters out there, but these are the most common ones I’ve come across over the years. It takes time and experience to know how to identify and deal with these sleazebuckets. Good luck and stick to your guns!
Extracting a Budget from your Client
It’s a commonly held belief that giving a vendor your budget upfront is a fool’s approach. Because of this, many clients will play dumb when you ask them for a budget. That’s fine. Don’t be a jerk. It’s still important to have a money conversation early on. You need to qualify your clients before you spend a minute working on a proposal for them. In those cases where a client doesn’t give me a budget, I’ll give them my ballpark pricing. This starts with me asking enough questions to get a general sense of their project. Then I might say something along the lines of: “OK, Bob, this sounds like a fairly typical website design: Homepage with slideshow, About, Services, Contact Us and the whole site to be responsive, correct? Great. Obviously, we’re going to need to get into the nitty-gritty details about your website in order for us to provide you with an accurate time and cost estimate. However, just so I can make sure our firm will be a good fit for you, my very rough estimation on a website like this will probably be somewhere between $15K and $30K. Does that sound reasonable to you? I just want to make sure we’re not wasting each other’s time.”
This approach works almost every time. If this ballpark is significantly more than they were expecting, they’re going to let you know. They might say something like: “Whoa. OK. Yeah, I was hoping to get a website built for about $2K.” Well, there ya go—you just got their budget! It’s funny how they will suddenly give you their budget after they said they didn’t have one. Or they might say something like: “Well, that’s a little higher than I was expecting, but I think we can get something done.” I would interpret that to mean that their budget probably starts lower than my range, but definitely is within the lower part of my range. Maybe their budget was $12K to $17K.
Of course, if they say that they’re comfortable with the range, I will proceed. If the client falls out of their chair and/or faints, I know I need to adjust the options I offer. Hopefully, I do have a solution for them if they cannot afford me. My follow-up with a client whose budget was well below my range might sound something like this: “OK Bob, I certainly understand you’re on a tight budget. Many clients don’t fully understand the work that goes into building a website. We have a few options here. I have a pre-built website template that can be customized for you at a fraction of the full cost. Or we could break your website development into phases and just scale back the project scope of the first phase so we’re within your budget. If that doesn’t work, I know a few freelancers you can talk to. How would you like to proceed?” Obviously, this is just one possible response.
You don’t want to be thinking of solutions and writing proposals in the dark. Get that financial conversation going early. It’s perfectly OK to talk money. Just make sure you do it in a very friendly way. Take the time to explain that you have website options that range from $10K to $100K, and you just need to know what’s going to be a realistic range. You’re still going to do your due diligence and present a complete solution and pricing upfront before they will have to make a decision. There will still be an opportunity for them to negotiate with you if they feel the need.
Hi Go Media faithful! Bill here! I’m back to deliver another teaser article from my book, Drawn to Business. One of the most common questions I get from young designers who are either freelancing or starting a firm is “What should I charge for my design services?” Today we’ll cover one aspect of the Go Media pricing model. I like to call it the Responsive Pricing System.
The Responsive Pricing System
When I started Go Media, it was just me. I had a set list of prices I wanted to charge, but I was frequently desperate for money. When times got lean, I dropped my prices to secure enough work to pay my rent. In effect, I had a responsive pricing system. When I was slow, my rates went down. When I was busy, they went up.
As Go Media grew and I had other members in the company selling with me, our pricing became very rigid. Under any circumstances, we charged exactly XX dollars an hour.
Here’s why we learned that being extremely rigid on your pricing can be a problem:
If your pricing is too low, you’ll soon find yourself swamped. Despite being swamped, your pricing remains low, which means the work piles up. When the work is piled up, you start falling behind. You’re not capturing the maximum amount of profit for the time you’re working. The quality of your work suffers and clients start to leave.
If your pricing is too high, then you’ll be too slow. While you’re capturing good money for the hours your staff is working on paying projects, they’re also sitting idle some portion of each day. That’s also leaving money on the table.
What you’re shooting for is to keep your staff as busy as possible while collecting as much money as possible. You accomplish this by having your price points respond to the current situation.
It works like this
If our staff is booked solid for:
- 12 weeks or more, we offer no discounts and will only sell projects that are worth $5,000 or more.
- Between 8–12 weeks then we’re willing to discount our rates by 20% and we’ll take any project worth $2,500 or more.
- Between 4–8 weeks, we’re willing to discount our rates up to 40% and will take any project worth $1,000 or more.
- Less than four weeks, we’re willing to discount our rates up to 50% and take any project worth $500 or more.
*Note: these are example metrics only. You will have to experiment with discount rates, minimums and time ranges that work for your particular situation.
This formalized responsive pricing system allows us to always stay busy and ensures that we’re capturing as much money as possible.
1. First, don’t share this information with your potential clients. This is for your eyes only.
2. Always present your potential clients with your full retail rates first. Only AFTER they tell you that they cannot afford your normal rates do you start to negotiate down.
3. Ask for their budget upfront. If you know what they can afford, you’ll tailor your solution to their price.
4. Follow up. The simple act of following up with clients after you’ve sent them a proposal can frequently spark a conversation that will lead to a negotiation.
5. Be enthusiastic about the project. Sometimes, if a customer knows you really want their project badly, they’ll assume that you’ll be willing to come down on price.
6. Keep your retail rates high enough that they will allow you enough profit margin to quickly grow your company.
7. Keep a system in place for knowing how far out your team is booked. This is one of the fundamental metrics that drives this system.
8. Lastly, the minimum order portion of this system does not apply to existing customers. Obviously, a current client who calls with a need, even a very small need, should be taken care of immediately.
Want to learn more about becoming the greatest design firm you can be? Buy Drawn to Business, a nuts and bolts strategy guide to building a thriving design firm!
Go Media prides itself in brand-building.
We’re adept at tapping into the core identity of our clients’ brands and helping them find ways to reflect their values.
So why would we hire an outsider to help with our own brand?
It ultimately comes down to two key points:
- A process of leadership introspection
- The value of a fresh perspective
As a professional design firm building on nearly two decades of experience developing imagery for companies of all sizes, our knowledge of the brand principle is refined. When we begin a new project, we are viewing the client and their company with fresh eyes. Usually, they understand that what they’re doing is not working. They realize their current branding is either stale or simply ineffective. It is our responsibility to fix it for them.
But we struggled when it came to making this evaluation of our own brand. When we started the company, our look and messaging worked. But as we expanded, the brand grew in random directions. It was like we planted a nice little tree in front of the house. Then the tree grew up and now branches threatened the roof and the power lines! Do we cut branches? Do we uproot the thing and move it? We were stuck on how to address it.
Not gonna lie, we were somewhat neglecting our own landscape maintenance. We saw it day in and day out. We knew we needed something to reflect all the innovation happening within our walls. We pruned it here and there, but we were unable to settle on a single look or direction. And that was part of the problem too. We were moving in so many different directions, and there was a general lack of cohesion.
In 2006, we launched a new product line, the Go Media Arsenal. Those familiar with it will know this is where we sell products to the design scene. However, that market is predominantly not the same as where our design clients are coming from. We reasoned the Arsenal deserved its own separate brand.
Then, we kicked off this here ‘Zine. This was partially corporate with news related to our design services. However, the tutorials offered are primarily to support the Arsenal and design community. So we started to explore a different design here as well.
The bottom line is: We were having an identity crisis. Were we a design firm? Were we a design product company? Were we also artist advocates with our Weapons of Mass Creation festival?
Some of our staff believed we were cheapening our design services by selling stock graphics. On the flip side, the fact that we were a working creative firm fueled most of our product ideas – and bolstered the legitimacy of those products.
We were divided. We had lengthy debates, some of them quite heated. It’s no wonder the brand was off-base. Our whole identity was confounded.
It went on like this for years.
Finally, what we began to realize was, we were simply too close. We were too close to our own concept, too familiar with our own brand, to really address the issues from a standpoint of solid logic. We needed an expert, but we also needed someone who could be objective.
Enter multi-talented brand strategist Jackie Bebenroth. We met her at the 2011 WMC Fest. We were impressed and enamored by her talent from the onset. If anyone could help us solve this branding conundrum, it was Jackie. Fortunately, she was thrilled for the opportunity to tackle the challenge. We went to work immediately.
Over the course of several meetings, we let Jackie in. Everyone in the firm had a say as we discussed the projects we’re passionate about. We showed her our everyday work environment. We allowed her to see our company culture firsthand.
Jackie commented more than once we were doing everything right: Maintaining a robust blog, developing ancillary products, nurturing a unique and exciting culture, promoting our city and the art community at large. Our major malfunction was we simply weren’t touting it. In fact, we were hiding it! She realized despite our multi-pronged efforts, we were a fragmented company. We were one firm and we needed one voice to take full ownership of everything we do.
The new Go Media Website
This was the a-ha moment we needed. What we’ve been internally referring to as “our brand unification” is now fully underway. We’ve styled our print materials with a fresh & clean cut. And the real flagship of this exercise, our corporate website, has just gone live. We’re proud to announce the launch of the all new gomedia.us! The aim was to bring together Go Media’s smörgåsbord of activities into one place, to better say what the heck it is we do all day and night. You’ll see artwork first with a portfolio carousel right at the top of the page. Also note the responsive CSS, allowing the layout to adapt to your screen size on mobile, tablet, laptop, or desktop browsers. Other amenities include a quote request form, social network & content syndication, and a copious footer. We even hired a fanciful photographer to try and make a bunch of beatniks & geeks look presentable for the staff page. Moreover, our new site does a better job of bringing together what Go Media has to offer in a way that is clear and concise.
As the vice-president and co-founder of Go Media, I take immense pride in making this company successful. In this case that meant listening to and embracing someone else’s perspective. It meant having some difficult discussions about who we are and where we’re going. And it meant stepping aside and temporarily handing the reigns to someone I trusted to take a hard look at us from the outside and show us what we needed to show those looking in. In the end, it made us a stronger, more unified firm.
There’s an old saying, “sometimes you can’t see the forest from the trees”, that might be spot-on for what happened to us. We were so caught up in the details and our own ideas of the way to go, we couldn’t take a far enough step back. We felt like experienced hikers. But pride may have been preventing us from admitting we were lost. Frankly, we might still be wandering the wilderness if we had not run into Jackie who offered a map of the way out.
When it begins to feel like you’re juggling different companies with different brands and different agendas, take a moment to reevaluate.
Here’s an exercise to help redefine your brand:
- Define your company in two sentences or less.
- List all the feelings you want your customers to have when they come to you.
- What makes your firm unique? Are the “other brands” spinning off actually what make you unique? Can they potentially complement each other?
- If you answered #3 affirmative, wouldn’t it make sense to bring those spin-offs back into your core brand?
Obviously if you’re operating an auto garage & a restaurant, they might not be brands you can combine. But even that example leaves room for the imagination. Maybe the restaurant takes on a classic car theme and then they can share a family brand name. Those same diner patrons are bound to need car maintenance sooner or later!
If it seems like your current brands are meandering or you’re spending too much time juggling what could possibly be unified, stop and try to reframe the problem. If you’ve let it go too far in different directions and your team can’t see a way out, don’t hesitate to ask for help. We’re glad we did.
What does it take to go from freelancing to building a design firm like Go Media?
Do You Really Want to be a Studio?
Before you embark on your journey to build a design studio, you should stop and ask yourself an important question: “Do I really want the responsibility of a full studio (firm) rather than staying a small 1-3 man shop?” In your mind you may be assuming that larger = better. But this is definitely not always the case.
For instance, you may assume that more employees will equal greater profitability. But what happens when you’re slow? Payroll doesn’t stop just because your work load slows down. Also, if you’re the boss – how do you think your daily job will change when you have 10-15 employees? Will you even have time to design anymore? Or will you spend most of your days in meetings, corresponding and managing?
And what happens when you have a bad employee (they’re not all roses.) Are you prepared to deal with, and possibly fire trouble employees? Talk to other small business owners about their day to day struggles. Make a budget – what’s the overhead of employing 10 people at a reasonable wage?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t grow your freelance shop into a studio, obviously, that’s what I did! But I also had a background in management and a real passion for business. And even feeling like I was WELL equipped to build a firm, it’s been a very long and difficult journey.
So before you go any further, just stop and take a moment to consider all the pros and cons of growing your solo operation into a studio.
Ok, so assuming that you haven’t been scared off by all the negative stuff, why exactly would you want to hire a bunch of designers and build a studio? Go Media’s main impetus was that we wanted to share our daily lives with other artists that would inspire and push us. There is just something a lot more fun about a design collective than being a one-man-shop.
I was completely on my own for several years and found it completely depressing. Also, there is greater efficiency when you have job specialization. And, assuming you ARE very busy – there IS the opportunity to make more money. One really cool thing that I’ve discovered about Go Media is that crazy amazing things happen that I never would have ever dreamed of. Those life experiences are priceless. Without my staff to dream them up and execute on them, I never would have experienced them. I’m very appreciative of the different perspectives, ideas, and energies they bring to the company.
Money Money Money
What steps need to be taken once you’ve decided to grow your business into a studio? First and foremost you need the money. And I don’t suggest taking out loans or hiring with the anticipation of getting more work. Hiring new staff should only take place when you’re so slammed with work that you need them – desperately. That and you should be relatively sure that the work load isn’t going to drop off suddenly. How many new projects are lined up for the near future? If you’re unsure about your workload for the next few months, I suggest outsourcing your overflow until you’re sure you will have enough work for your new employees.
It’s Not All About Design
If you don’t already have a good lawyer, accountant, and payroll service, you’re going to want to find them and form good relationships with them. Your lawyer and accountant are extremely important advisors for your business. You should feel very comfortable and confident in your lawyer and accountant. They should feel like trusted family friends. Don’t just pick one from a list on Google. If you have friends or family with good contacts, meet them first. And then meet a few more for good measure. Basically, you are interviewing the people that will have a major impact on how you structure and run your growing company. I hired and fired several lawyers and accountants before I found the ones that I now trust.
“But Bill,” you ask “what if I can’t afford them yet? Lawyers and accountants are expensive!” Well, if you can’t afford them – you’re not ready to build a studio! I suggest going back to evaluate your pricing, business systems, how you find new work, etc. It’s called organic growth! You only grow when you can afford all the things that go along with growing.
Artificial growth is when you go take out loans and spend money before you’ve earned it. Basically, you’d be gambling on the fact that even though you cannot afford lawyers and accountants NOW, you’re going to get a loan, hire them anyway, and hopefully, before the loan is due you’ll figure out how to make more money. Hhmmm… sounds risky to me. I suggest focusing on making the money first, and growing second.
Suit & Tie Stuff
Once you have a lawyer and accountant that you trust, you should sit down with each of them and discuss your planned growth. They will advise you on how to structure your business, legally and financially. Typically your accountant will have a payroll service that he trusts and works with. Go Media is set up as an S-Corporation and we are on a cash basis accounting system since we don’t have any inventory. These are pretty typical for a design firm.
Along the way there will be a thousand little problems that will surely make you question whether or not you’ve made the right decision to grow your solo design operation into a full blown studio. At the end of the day, you just have to battle through them like anything else in life. One thing that was a major issue that I hadn’t really accounted for was the amount of time it takes to manage.
The time I could spend designing was reduced to virtually nothing the first year that we expanded the staff to over 10 people. Even with a sales/project manager and a full time accountant/customer service rep – I was still inundated with questions, problems, and correspondence to deal with. As I was the primary sales person, I also had to spend significantly more time selling now that I had 8 people to supply with work instead of just 3.
Fortunately, the longer you keep a group of employees together the better they become. They learn the systems, improve at their jobs, get better at working together and require less and less management.
If I did it all over again there isn’t too much I would change. Whatever mistakes I made were good learning tools. If I had to give advice to others making that leap in growth, I think I would just suggest that you take it slow. Don’t be in a huge rush. Take it in steps a little smaller than what you want. You’ll benefit from holding yourself back – I promise!
The Next Step
So, what are the next steps for Go Media? Right now we’re feeling really comfortable as a 12 person firm. We still have some lessons to learn and some systems to refine before we’re ready for our next growth spurt. We’re working really hard to expand our circle of influence and dialing in our business model. There is a lot of growth ahead for Go Media, but right now it’s the internal growth that we’re focused on. We still need to get smarter and more efficient.
Another great interview with Go Media’s Jeff Finley over at Colorburned. Jeff shares his process and insight regarding his goal to design for movies and the film industry. Lots of inspirational and motivational advice for any designer looking to do the same, regardless of industry.
Plenty of great Finley movie poster design as well.
Design Solution: we give an imaginary project at the Go Media designers, and ask them to give us an overview of how they would approach the project. Not so much a tutorial on how to create the artwork, but rather how to tackle all of the logistical details. This installment features Go Media’s Adam Wagner.
The indie coffee shop liked your WordPress design so much that they have asked you to design their corporate identity. They don’t have a huge budget, but are interested in experimenting with different printing techniques and on different papers. They’re also going to use this logo on their site.
When designing an identity for a business, I usually do not start on any of the print or web based material until the system is established. However, this situation is somewhat unique in that I would have already designed collateral material, the WordPress design, before I created the identity system.
• Do your research
Under normal circumstances, my first step would be to have a consultation with the client about their business. I would find out as much as I could about how the business functions and what their business does, who their customers are, who are their competitors, what their future plans for the business were, and why their business matters. In general I would just collect as much information as possible about the company. In this instance, a lot of this information would probably have already been collected in preparation for the WordPress site design.
Next, I would brainstorm and try to come up with some interesting concepts for the identity. These could be informed by the way the company operates, what their name is, or their specific industry as well as numerous other aspects of their business. I would narrow the ideas down until I had one to three directions to explore further.
The next step would be to start doing some rough sketches of the various logo concepts. I typically like to set up a page with multiple boxes and in each box I sketch a unique mark based on the concept. The most important thing when sketching logos is to never erase. Even if you make a huge mistake, just move to the next box or section of page and keep sketching. This process helps you get as many ideas out on the page and lets you weed through the bad ones and refine the good ones until you have a few really solid directions. Sometimes I find something interesting in forty sketches and sometimes it takes many more to hit on something interesting.
• Refine your sketches digitally
When I have my sketches narrowed down, I then scan the pages into Illustrator and begin roughing out the shapes. At this point I may have a more developed idea in my head as to how the mark is going to come together, or it may come together naturally as I am working on it. I also start thinking about pairing faces for the mark if I haven’t drawn a custom treatment for the logo.
• Present logo to the client
Once I have the mark to a point that I am satisfied with, I would propose the concept to the client. We would begin the revision process, if necessary, and refine the mark until we are both satisfied with the outcome. In this case the end result would probably be a one color logo, because the client has a tight budget and needs something that will work both on the web and in print.
• Expand the identity
With the logo being finished, I would then move on to the creation of all the collateral material. In this case it would probably involve menus, table top cards, cup sleeves, cups, parchment paper, take away bags, and environmental graphics. The most important thing to remember when designing these items is that they are all part of the system and should relate to the feel and tone of the branding and the logo. Since a lot of waste is involved in the daily functioning of a coffee shop, from an environmental standpoint, I would seek out sustainable materials and eco-friendly inks to use in printing. I would go through the entire design and review process with the client until all the materials were completed and approved.
• Double check everything
Before I sent anything to print, I would review the website and make sure that it is totally integrated with the system I created for the rest of the store’s branding and graphics. If there were any inconsistencies, I would correct them before there was a costly printing mistake. After everything looked great, I would pass the final proofs by the client for approval. If everything went well, I would send it all to print. Don’t forget to ask the printer for proofs, and check them carefully to make sure there are no mistakes or things that need to be changed. When the project is done being printed, make sure to ask for samples to add to your portfolio.
• Send files
After all the printing was complete and the project was fully paid off, I would send the client all the final files for everything in the identity system. It never hurts to send a thank you note as well to let them know that you appreciate the opportunity to work on their project.