I don't often talk about running a design consultancy, so this post is a little treat if you're into that kinda stuff.
We wrote our last cheque last week.
Over the last 3 months we've slowly been phasing out cheques and getting everyone set up so that we can pay people, suppliers and Gordon Brown's buddies by bank transfer. It's more complicated than you might think, especially if you use a Mac. Banks don't like Macs, as a rule.
So as from last week, no more cheques. That's it. If you want a cheque, you can't have one. Bank transfers? No problem. Cheques? Nope.
We've done this for 4 main reasons:
1. It's easier to automate a payment than find the bloody cheque book.
2. It's environmentally friendly.
3. It's easier to trace payments.
4. It's 2006 for God's sake.
Posted at 13:06 in How To Start Up A Graphic Design Consultancy (Sort Of) | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
I wasn't sure whether to talk about this, but the point of this blog is to talk about design and what it's like to be a practicing graphic designer. This post falls under that remit.
In 1998 I was young Art Director at a now defunct ad agency. We had a fairly standard artworking studio with a staff of six. The whole company had about 25 staff.
The studio manager was usually run ragged. A brilliant guy, very talented and continuously hard working. Able to pull rabbits out of a Mac. The kind of guy you want around in a crisis.
Every year that everyone could remember he'd missed his kids nativity play. And he hated himself for it. This year (1998) he'd cleared his diary, told all the agency and all the clients, and he was determined to attend his youngest son's nativity.
The morning of the play, there was some crisis (can't remember what) and, surprise, surprise, agency pressure forced him to stay late into the night and miss the play. He was seething and his wife was furious.
I was 23 at the time and a million years away from having kids, yet this affected me in quite a big way. I promised myself there and then that I would never miss my kids' nativity plays for work. Especially for a company or a client who didn't really care less about me.
I never really thought about that day afterwards. The studio manager had a breakdown the next summer. He was a director of the company.
When people talk about starting a business it can be for all sorts of reasons, money, fame, the challenge or a better way of life. I suppose you never really think about kids or starting a business until you've experienced it.
Fast forward eight years and I'm 'experiencing' both. Two of the founders at The Design Conspiracy have kids and for us the flexibility that brings is invaluable. And a thousand times more important than money, or awards or nice lunches. Even more important than my Technorati rating.
I have a friend who once told me he'd take a 50% pay cut if he could get home just one night a week to see his kids before bedtime. Mind you 50% of his salary is still pretty significant.
Today is my son's first ever nativity play and I'll be there. I guess that's what all this has been about.
Posted at 06:00 in Graphic Design Industry Stuff, How To Start Up A Graphic Design Consultancy (Sort Of) | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
So here we are.
When we needed some new letterheads we thought about how we use them. Obviously we don't send many letters any more. We're more likely to send a note with a CD or some samples or something. In the Old Days 1.0 that would be called a Compliment Slip but decided to do a letterhead that allows you to type or scribble something short and sweet.
We use this one a lot and it's one of my favourites. Sometimes we have to send longer letters in which case we'd use this one.
Very rarely, but often enough to print a letterhead, we may have to write something sensible and formal. In that case we'd use this baby.
I don't think you can read the text, but basically it says that you won't find any bollocks like Brandrama or Brandscape here. Just vital information like the stuff found in this letter.
Lastly we have one especially for invoices. I'm very fond of this one too.
We were trying to have a little fun with these pieces of communication. To make the recipient smile. If you can make some lonely soul in a procurement office smile you must be doing something right, right? I hope they have the same playful nature as the ones Russell refers to.
The other thing you should know is that we have no logo. Everything we do has to say The Design Conspiracy on it and it has to be clear that the 'thing' could only have come from us.
What do you think?
1. Record Covers, CD covers, anything musical
I hate the music industry.
First off, they (still) really haven't got the "digital" thing. They're still unit shifters and this is years and years after people started saying things like 'The only CD's I've bought since 1998 have been blank'.
Secondly, I know people who work in the industry and whilst it is good fun and it is cool and you will get to do and see things that your mates won't, there is a downside. At a junior level that downside is normally cash. Or lack of. It tends to work like this, because you got to see XYZ band play a secret gig we won't pay you very much. Because you have to drive to Cardiff on Wednesday night to see ZYX band, we won't pay you very much. Because we got you back stage at Glastonbury (don't get me started on Glastonbury) we won't pay you very much.
Perceived glamour in return for long, hard hours.
It's kind of the same for designers, the budgets for designing album artwork are very, very, very slim. Which is why albums tend to be done by friends or small music dedicated one man bands. Which is fine, you takes your money and all that.
Sure, every once in a while a Beck comes along, but as the 'unit' gets distilled down to effectively this:
less and less time, money and care is being put into artwork.
I've designed album covers and I may do it again. I'm not saying everything is rubbish, I'm saying you thought they would be fun / good / cool / glamorous to design but actually they aren't.
2. Film Posters
I imagine the movie industry is much the same as the music industry, and probably fashion too. They almost expect you to be grateful to be working for them.
Take a look at this brilliant link from CR Blog it's a list of companies that design film posters. Let's have a look at some of them.
OK, I'm not saying anything radical here - they all look the same.
You think that's fun? I imagine that people are thinking, 'I'd love to do a film poster, I'd do it all differently. I'll be like Saul Bass for the Noughties.'
You won't be the next Saul Bass. You'll have the lead front centre, cos we paid him (and it will be a him) $20M. We'll have both female supports on either side of him. We'll have the title big. No bigger. No bigger. Bigger! And so on and so on.
There's a reason they all look the same. They all want to look the same.
I have designed some small film posters but nothing big. I did have an interview once with a large, respected (and good) agency that did film posters. Essentially all they did was resize the artwork from the US. Think that sounds like fun? That sounds like something you thought would be fun / good / cool / glamorous to design but actually they isn't.
OK, I've offended the entire music and film industry, who's next?
3. Start ups.
Remember I'm not slagging start ups off at all (we were one once) I'm saying you think it will be fun / good / cool / glamorous to design the identity for the next big start up, and it won't.
Here's the problem. How do you know which one of the 400,000 new businesses started each year in the UK is going to be the next Apple or Coke or Google? It's simple, you don't.
Most (actually every) start up is frantic, short of cash, short of time and run by people who really care what they're doing. Care so much that they'll stay up all night arguing about font size. And you don't want that, that's your job.
To put it another blunt way, start ups are often too close to the cash. This makes them unable to stand back and make rational decisions about something quite intangible and often irrational. Again, remember, start ups aren't bad, it's just that you think it would be fun / good / cool / glamorous to come up with the next swoosh. It won't be.
Anyone got any experience of designing in those situations?
Posted at 14:22 in Graphic Design Industry Stuff, How To Start Up A Graphic Design Consultancy (Sort Of) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
I had a conversation with someone yesterday that reminded me of a situation that we used to find ourselves in a lot when we were much smaller.
If you're serious about running a business, you have to be serious about collecting money. Now, that's not as hard as you think and most people pay on time, most of the time. But problems do occur.
Sometimes the debt is not worth collecting.
Let's say a client owes you £1,000. It's been 120 days and it's obvious they have no intention of paying. You write, you ring, you email. That all takes time, and time costs money.
Still no luck, so you decide to get the solicitors involved. Even if you are a small company, and you are chasing a small debt and using a small law firm you are still looking at a bill upwards of £1,500. That's before we've counted all your man hours and the inevitable stress.
And therefore the debt is not worth chasing. The solution? Only work for invoices worth chasing. Simple.
(Graham, what do you have to say on this?)
Posted at 12:08 in How To Start Up A Graphic Design Consultancy (Sort Of) | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
If you are a blogger, and many of you reading this are, then you'll always have several posts saved up in your head. I know I do.
I'm always waiting for the perfect image, event or news story to trigger my awesome post. But that never happens. Rather obviously.
So over the next few days I'm going try and get these often half arsed posts down on to paper. Or screen. Here's the first, it's called Advice: Always do it for real.
This is something that I 'think for granted' and I presume everyone else thinks like this too. But they probably don't.
As a designer, if you're asked to put some hand writing onto a brochure of a document, do it for real. DO NOT use a hand writing font. (How can you have a hand writing font, anyway?) Write the text out and scan it in.
If you need some distressed type, then print the type out, screw it up, photocopy it, re-screw it up, re-photocopy it and so on and so on. Distress it for real, DO NOT use a distressed type font.
If the client asks for a scrapbook style brochure, then make a scrap book and scan it in. Page by page. DO NOT use Photoshop layers.
If the job requires some chalk writing on a blackboard - then do it for real.
Sure, all this takes a lot more time (and therefore costs more money) but it will look a million times better, it will make you think about the thing you are designing and good people will be able to tell you've done it for real. And they will appreciate that.
It's not just designers, ad agencies need to do it too. Actually the good ad agencies are very good at it. For example, if you need to chuck some coloured balls down a hill, then chuck some coloured balls down a hill, don't just CGI it. If you need to make a six foot pencil, then make a six foot pencil, don't just enlarge it back in the editing suite.
And if you're not convinced, then take a look around. There are millions of examples of hand writing fonts, photoshopped 3D text and models comped onto dodgy backgrounds.
Don't do it kids. Always do it for real.
Won't be any posting today as we've got our AGM.
Yes, even funky little design companies have to have boring stuff like that. Our accountant is coming over in the morning and the founders are having a strategy type chat in the afternoon.
We all love our accountant. He's a genius. But his presentations tend to go like this, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, oooooh a nice chart!
What will constitute a good year? Turnover up? Profit up? Just making a profit? Measuring us against where we were last year?
I'll try and reveal more next week.
Posted at 00:21 in Graphic Design Industry Stuff, How To Start Up A Graphic Design Consultancy (Sort Of) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Here's the second question from Alex at thinkdust: I want to keep my style of creating work but that does not attract the bread and butter clients to keep the money afloat. So how do I go about tacking this?
There are probably several answers to this question.
I don't think there is anything you can actively do to find a bread and butter client who likes your style. I'm sure they're out there, and I'm sure you will find one, but I don't think you can actively target one. Just keep showing the work you like, on your website and in your portfolio, and eventually clients will get to know you for that style.
You could obviously try targeting clients that already commission work similar to your style.
If you have a style that you desperately want to keep hold of and you don't want clients diluting your style, then the simple answer is to say no. Say no to projects that don't fit your style, say no to clients who haven't bought in to your style, say no to clients who try to dictate your style.
I don't like this approach though, I'm very much a function over form kind of designer. I believe you solve the problem first and the style will probably come from that, rather than applying a distinct style to every solution. However, other people think differently.
Most consultancies have bread and butter clients and shop window clients. In fact most businesses operate like this. There is stuff that you'd probably never show anyone that pays the rent and stuff that looks fantastic but would make you go bust.
We make sure that all potential projects meet at least two of these criteria;
1) the client has the budget to pay our fees
2) the project is one where (we know) the end result will look great in our portfolio
3) the client is of a profile that will attract more clients
If a project only meets one of those criteria, we turn it down. We are working towards all clients ticking all three criteria.
Anyone else got any ideas?
Alex, how did you get on with last weeks suggestions?
Alex Haigh from Sheffield has just set up his graphic design business and he's emailed me to ask for some advice. He's very kindly agreed for me to put his questions and my responses on this blog. His new company has been going 3 weeks and it's called thinkdust.
I think this could be a fascinating insight into what it's like to start up a design company from scratch, a test of what I've learnt of the last decade or so, an interesting series of conversations and decent publicity for a new start up.
Without wanting to sound arrogant I think this is quite a risky, innovative thing to do. Let's see how it goes.
Let me also make something clear from the start. This advice is aimed at Alex, in Sheffield starting a graphic design company. It's not advice for starting your business, necessarily. I feel qualified to talk about this because I've done it.
OK. First question: What is the best way to generate new work without sending tons of emails, and spending endless amounts of money on google adwords, and useless flyers?
When we started out I asked this question all the time and almost all the answers I received were unsatisfactory. I didn't have the staff, the budget, the profile or the clients to do any of the things suggested. In fact, like Alex, we had no staff, no profile and no clients. (Hence the question, idiot.)
Also, lots of this sort of advice can be very wooly and not practical at all. So I'll try and list practical things Alex (in Sheffield, with no employees and no budget) can do, right now.
1. Think small
Pick 4 companies you can easily get to (so Sheffield, Nottingham etc) that you really, really want to work with. A big push of any kind won't work. You don't have the resource. A small, bespoke, innovative, careful, nimble approach will work.
2. Get their correct details
Contact those 4 companies and get the correct details of the people who buy design. That might be a marketing manager, brand manager, or comms person. It might be the sales director, in smaller companies it often is. Get the right details. The correct name. Spelt right. The correct job title. The right address. Basic stuff but very important. How to get these details? DO NOT rely on the internet. Get off your arse and make some calls (say you're updating the Christmas card list or say you just want to check a spelling, all these old tricks still work). Ask the receptionist which person deals with design companies, they will probably tell you. Remember to be nice to the receptionists, that's very important.
OK, we've got four companies, we may have eight names. That's more than enough to be getting on with. Research them. Google the names. Go visit their offices or their shops. Find out what they're about. Try and take a stab at how you might be useful to them. The more you know about them, the more genuine you will seem and the easier it will be to speak to them.
3. Send them something
This DOES NOT necessarily mean sending them a mailer. It might just be some samples, it might be a box of chocolates, it might be a sock with a video in it. But it will be researched, it will be interesting and it will be targeted at that particular person. You're not overly selling anything, you're just saying , 'Hello I'm interesting and good'.
4. Follow this up with a phone call
Again, get off your arse and make some calls. Calling is hard, but you've got to do it. You'll say, 'Hello John, remember I sent you a sock with a video I'd made about your branding' - John will say 'No',
Don't get disheartened. John gets loads of stuff like this everyday. Be nice, be polite and offer to send your sock in again, he will probably say yes. Ring him next week and ask the same question. If you're lucky, he'll say 'Yeah, that was interesting, let's meet up'. Out of the eight people you contact probably only two of these people will agree to see you.
5. The big meeting
John has agreed to see you. Don't blow it. Be on time, wear clean clothes (as someone once said to me, if you're going to wear your scruffy old jeans, wear your best scruffy old jeans) be polite, speak up, be confident. Be at the right address.
6. Selling not telling
Every single creative person I've ever met makes this mistake. Here's the difference:
'I was looking at the lovely patterns electronics things make and I wondered if I could design something as beautiful as that. I've used my three favourite colours and added in some more complimentary ones. I think the best bit is this bit here, where the five lines cross over.'
'This design makes navigating a really complex system of underground trains really quick and easy for the passengers. It will improve the experience of your customers.'
See what I mean? Sell the benefits of your design.
Don't take shit loads of work, John will get bored. Take 3 or 4 things that are relevant to his company.
7. Follow this up with a phone call (again)
John will probably say he likes your stuff but he doesn't have any projects at the moment. That's OK, that's the truth. He will ask you to call back in 6 months. PUT THIS IN YOUR DIARY and call back in six months.
That little lot should probably take you a month. When that month is over, start again with another 4 companies. Do things carefully, don't piss people off, don't try and do too much. Getting work will take a long time. Maybe even six months. Sorry, but it will.
You are (trying) to build a relationship, or at least a rapport. That takes time and consideration.
There is some other obvious stuff you can do.
1. Ask all your friends and family if they know anyone who needs any design work doing. Don't be afraid to sell. You have rent to pay. You've already asked? Ask again.
2. Get as much free press as you can, where you can. Press works. People like young and new, so play on that. Contact your old college magazine, they love stuff like this.
3. Meet as many people as you can. Go to Business Link events, go to conferences, go to networking events. All this sounds hideous but it's how the world of commerce works I'm afraid.
4. Get onto as many online design directories as you can. Don't pay more than about £30 for a listing. It's not worth it.
5. DO NOT pay for any ridiculous advertorials, adverts or directory enquiry type nonsense. It won't work. In fact, as above don't pay more than about £30 for anything, yet.
6. Don't listen to anyone who tells you they can get you new business. They can't.
7. Get proper, well designed, well printed business cards made. Hand them out liberally. Ask people you meet for a business card in return (again, almost every single creative person I know forgets this bit).
8. Don't go for massive bits of work from massive companies. You won't get it. Ask them to try you out on a small brief and make yourself invaluable. You'll get asked back.
9. Never sell yourself too cheaply. No one ever says, 'Ooh I've got more money than last time, can you put your fees up?'.
10. AdWords works, but it has to be really targeted and you have to be really strict with what you spend. Don't just advertise design, advertise expertise in toothpaste packaging for example. But don't use AdWords just yet.
Phew. That was longer than I expected. I guess there's a lot to say.
So, has anyone else got any advice for Alex? Alex, was that helpful? Anyone in Sheffield got any design work that needs doing?
Does anyone think this could make an interesting series of posts?
As ever, all comments welcome.
Posted at 20:51 in How To Start Up A Graphic Design Consultancy (Sort Of), thinkdust | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)