Q&A : Starting a Business
We get a lot of e-mails from people wondering if we have any tricks, tips or advice for people starting a new business. This is probably because, well, staring a business is totally scary and completely overwhelming. We know, we’ve been there.
So, in the hopes of helping the brave, we’ve compiled some small things we’ve learned along the way. If you have questions you’re not seeing answered, please leave a comment here and I’ll try to post a Part 2.
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Before starting a larger business, consider freelancing solo for a while. Both Nate and I did this, and I think it’s a great way to dip your toe in the waters of starting a studio. It teaches you to deal with a lot of the same issues and problems of running a studio, just in a much smaller dose.
Really like the people you’re going into business with.
Seriously. You may wind up spending more time with your partners than your significant other, so you better like them and be able to communicate with them honestly, even when times are tough—not unlike a marriage. And if you are married (or dating), it’s just as important.
Your business will most certainly spill over into your life outside work. Be ready for this, and make sure your priorities are always in check. I’ve known a lot of husband-wife teams whose relationships have been strained by business. As a romantic, I say always keep one eye on love.
Have a contract and always get it signed.
This is just good practice, but it also helps weed out potentially unserious clients. If you can afford to go to a lawyer, do it. If not, there are plenty of available resources. Every AIGA membership comes with a copy of their Design Business and Ethics booklet, which includes contract templates. Another amazing resource is the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook. This book is updated regularly and includes contract templates, pricing and ethical standards. It’s a must for any designer’s library.
Make estimating easy.
Hopefully, you’ll have tons of job inquiries—thus you will spend a lot of time estimating. Make sure to develop a template that’s easy to update. Be willing to adjust it as needed. This will not only save you time in the future, it will also help you organize and better understand the job and deliverables.
Estimating in detail.
Although you want to make estimating easy, you also want to make it as specific as possible. It should clearly communicate all the deliverables of the project. This includes the number of concepts, the number of revisions, specific project elements, usage and rights. This estimate is your only line of defense when it comes to scope creep. Make sure that your client is aware of this as well. Communicate to them that if they don’t see it on this list, it is not currently included in the project.
Client communication takes time and saves time.
Take the time to communicate as best you can to the client how you work. Remember, a lot of clients may be new to “the design process,” and everyone works differently. Be sure to clearly communicate the process, payment schedule, deliverables, additional fees, and everything else you can think of. This will take extra time up front, but will save you headaches later.
Put away at least 30 percent of every check for taxes. Seriously. We have been nipped by the IRS before, and they bite hard.
Get yourself some good people.
Bookkeepers, accountants, print vendors and others can be your best friends or worst enemies. You might not find the perfect person right away (we had a horrible accountant for a couple years), so keep looking. Look for someone who’s professional, but also makes you feel comfortable. Someone who can explain and communicate things in ways you can understand. This is important, because you will have many, many, many questions.
Work with people that respect you.
This goes for vendors AND clients.
Learn to do it better next time.
After every job, think about what you would have done differently. It could be any number of things: client communication, direction, process, vendor communication. Even the very best projects could always be better.
Don’t work for free.
Free doesn’t necessarily have to relate to money. Just make sure you have a carrot at the end of every project. Whether it’s money, supporting an organization you believe in or creative freedom, make sure it’s a big enough reward to keep you happy through the entire length of the project. Steer clear of those with low budgets who promise future work or high visibility. Jessica Hische did an amazing flow chart based on just this idea.
Don’t be afraid to say no to work.
Not every client or project is right for you. It’s OK. Say it with me: “It’s OK to say no.”
Trust your instincts.
This comes with time, but try to tune in to these feelings. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times we went forward with jobs that we had doubts about, only to regret it later. If it starts out rocky, it isn’t going to get any better. Trust me, it’s gonna get worse.
Promote yourself and others.
Get out there and make it easy for people to find you and promote you. This means print competitions, online competitions, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, flickr, you name it. Obviously, there’s a balance between just enough and too much, because it can start to interfere with actual work. So just figure out what works for you. Also, promotion isn’t a one-way street. Make sure to get out there and promote the people who inspire you. These connections can become a truly great network of colleagues and friends.