If you have strong design sense, a well-marketed business concept, and the energy to keep moving forward, your design startup is sure to grow.
However, not all growth is good growth; it is dangerous to expand in unsupported or erratic ways. By laying out a plan for your business’s future now, you will move forward with a stability that is built to last, and make a name that consumers can depend on.
“As you plan, there are small things you can start doing now that will really pay off down the road — some of which you may already be doing with your marketing! Here’s a list that will help you identify the good practices you’re already pursuing, along with some that it would be wise to implement:
- Always take time to brainstorm. Set a specific time each week to come up with new ideas for your business. An idea you need might be lurking at the back of your brain, waiting for a good brainstorming before it’ll jump out.
- Reach out to current customers about working with them on future projects.
- Play around with unfamiliar social networks. You might discover that a platform you’ve never heard of is actually a perfect fit for your design business.
- Advertise yourself more than a general “designer” — include your specialties. Leave the explanation of your full range of abilities to face-to-face prospective client meetings (it’s less overwhelming that way).
- Talk with fellow designers — and don’t just dispense advice in an attempt to sell yourself as an authority figure in your field. Listen and take an interest in others. Get your name out there through as much online and offline interaction as you can.
- Write a piece on how businesses can more effectively use design in their self-promotion, and share it with local businesses. This establishes you as an authority and gives them someone obvious to call when they realize their current brand image is underperforming.
- Be prepared to pitch a short summary of your services whenever you strike up a conversation in public — commonly known as an “elevator speech.” Explain what you do and why you do it so well, without talking so much that you alienate your listeners.
- Keep your online portfolio updated and limited to only your best work. When you give out a link to it, on your business card or other informational item, you want to be confident that what your prospects will find best represents the work you do.
- Learn something new: coding, content writing, SEO, or another skill that ties in well with what you already do and enables you to offer more to your clients.
Little self-improvements here and there will make you a stronger company in the future.
Ways to Build Relationships that Strengthen Your Business
Your relationships with your clients — especially in your early days — will set the tone for your future business interactions. Those who come later, referred by your first clients, will already have an idea of what to expect. This means you must be proactive and personable when going on the hunt for new patrons.
According to industry veteran David C. Baker, you won’t get very far without four things: a unique statement of your own value, confidence in your abilities, strategically sought connections, and ongoing involvement in the client search. If you aren’t original, don’t nurture connections, and aren’t confident, you won’t get much business.
Even if you’ve nailed the uniqueness, confidence, and connectedness requirements, you can’t slack off from your responsibilities. You are the driving force behind your design company, especially in the beginning. Don’t let yourself fade out of usefulness as your team and business grows.
You may have been told “beggars can’t be choosers” when you’re looking for customers, but that isn’t always true. Undervaluing your services for the sake of making a quick profit can trap you in a rut of taking on projects from cheap, demanding clients. If you have a bad experience with a customer, don’t be afraid to turn them away.
It’s not only clients you need to consider, but employees. Unless you plan to remain small enough to handle everything on your own, you’ll probably need to bring in help to keep up with demand. Hire those who are excited about your vision and seek to give rather than take. Involve workers like this in higher-level decisions that benefit everyone, rather than relegating them to drudge work.
Not building the right kinds of relationships can affect your profit. If you don’t hire strategically or bring in experts when you need to, you could find yourself overworked and in major debt. Similarly, undervaluing your services with attractively low pricing may bring in a flood of initial business, but this low profit margin will not be sustainable. To avoid this, focus on the areas that are most profitable for you and promote your work in those fields.
Long-Term Goals to Work toward Today
If you see your business as a potential career rather than a temporary gig, it’s never too early to start thinking about the future. Your first long-term consideration should be to build a brand that you’ll be happy with for years, rather than blindly latching onto the latest trends.
A brand is more than just a logo; it’s the story you tell prospective customers about yourself. If you produce halfhearted content (tweets, blog posts, etc.) instead of building a valuable and strong foundation with your clients, your sales will suffer in the long run.
Another way to grow well over time is to focus on moving forward and producing quality work. Let go of some decisions and trust your employees to handle them. At the same time, don’t be afraid to urge others forward even if they don’t see the need; letting complacency develop is the shortest route to bad, lazy decisions.
In addition, learn how to sell yourself in a way that feels natural to your temperament and the atmosphere of your business. People prefer to do business with someone who is persuasive because they know their own value. Know why your services are just that — and don’t be afraid to talk about it.
Are you feeling more confident about your foray into the business world? Let us know how your design startup is going, and share any wisdom you’ve learned in the comments!