After working in the field for a few years, a lot of designers develop the urge to start their own agency. They want to control who they work with and when they want to be available, so it makes sense to eventually graduate to founding an independent firm. If you find yourself ready to take the leap into running your own design agency, here are a few key steps to take to set yourself up for success.
Make Sure You’ve Earned It
While the idea of starting your own agency can be alluring, this is a position that requires a significant amount of recognition and demand for your work. Although this isn’t necessarily to say that people just establishing themselves in their careers can’t jump ship and go out on their own, you do have to be exceptionally talented or have already built a well-established network. The goal is to justify your price; while owning an agency can be a business idea that makes money, it helps to have a reputation in the industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average graphic designer’s salary is around $47,640. You’re going to want to make at least double that as the founder of your agency; when you factor in the overhead of an office, software, taxes, and marketing, having that security of money coming in is a must and something you should consider before branching out on your own. Look at your current client list and ask yourself what people would pay for the level of work you’ve done. While it’s great to have big brands listed on your website, if you weren’t a major part of that campaign, it’s hard to explain why your price is worth it. Remember that whenever you’re starting out, there’s the possibility you’ll have to work your way up and gradually charge more over time.
Have Enough Runway
A common mistake a lot of designers make when forming their own agency is assuming that it’ll be similar to their experiences freelancing. While you might have an LLC for your freelance work that technically means you own a business, it doesn’t necessarily equate to what it’s like to start an agency. This requires runway, which is enough savings to not only pay for your company at the outset but also to sustain it during the slow periods (especially if you’re bringing on staff). Saving for additional runway is perhaps one of the most crucial steps in venturing out on your own, so you should start establishing a budget for it now.
In calculating your plan, look at your client list and make a conservative estimate of what your monthly income will be like. According to the Small Business Administration, your typical home business only costs around $1,000 to start, which is completely attainable, but you want to have much more runway than just your startup overhead. Start by saving for the smaller, more predictable costs, and remember that the first few months will most likely be establishing a foundation and networking. The goal here is to be comfortable even if it takes a little time to get momentum in your business, so some patience will be required.
Know Your Major Selling Points
As a designer, it can be all too easy to say “yes” to big gigs. Although this can be great when there are other supporting actors around you, when going out on your own, you should be much more careful and calculated in which projects you take on. For example, the average website can range from $3,000 to $20,000, so if you have several potential clients asking for a design you may be drooling over the potential sale. But even if you’ve done web design before, as the owner of an agency you’ll need to give a realistic timetable and price point to your customer; you want to make sure you have the resources to get everything done as promised.
Not only should your selling points be the things you are most talented in, it should also consist of what you can realistically take on as a one-man show. Even if you have a team of employees or contractors working with you to get the jobs done, you never want to bite off more than you can chew. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver, but always play to your strengths.
Market Yourself As Much As Possible
Finally, remember that the biggest marketing opportunity you have is with word-of-mouth referrals. According to Business2Community, a survey by Nielsen stated that 67 percent of customers are more likely to purchase a product after a friend or family member has recommended it via social media or email. The same principle rings true for your design, which is why it might not be a bad idea to comb through your contacts and see who might be able to reach out in their network.
Your network is going to be your biggest asset as a designer, so utilize it as much as you can. Try to see if there are any meetups or events in your area, even if they aren’t design-centric. Startup communities and other small businesses have a huge need for design, which makes these excellent opportunities to grow your business and cross-promote with another local vendor.
What are some steps you felt were important to launching your own firm? Comment with your insights below.