Fig. 7 A Guide to The Scenery

What We Learned In 2015: Part 2

15 simple tips for getting your new design agency off the ground

2015 was a very stretching year—in the best way possible. Here’s the next five things we learned along the way that will help you start your new agency in 2016. If you missed the first five be sure to check them out.

6. Don’t live above your means.

This is one of the easiest ways to get in trouble. Starting small and making strategic choices can be hard when you see people with crazy offices and cushy benefits packages. We didn’t get an office until we could easily afford the rent (which took four months of sitting on Andy’s couch). We didn’t furnish our conference room for another two months. We started with all our own equipment. We added things like a full HSA, exercise stipend, and computer upgrades only after we had the means to—a strategy that’s kept us from incurring a lot of unnecessary overhead that might have crippled us early on. Buy what you need, when you need it, and realize you actually need much less than you might think.

7. It’s easier to keep existing clients than find new ones.

Our goal is to keep our clients for as long as possible, and that means putting a greater emphasis on the soft-skills of project management and client communication. As partners we realized early on that this wasn’t one of our core skills and that we were ending projects poorly. Starting off with a bang is easy, but maintaining that energy for the duration of a project and wrapping it up with the same purposeful planning is a skill we’ve had to learn (and get help with).

8. The best thing you can know is what you don’t know.

The greatest skill that you can cultivate when starting off is a clear and honest sense of self-awareness. Focus on what you can do well, and don’t be afraid to punt roles or responsibilities to people who can do them better. For us that meant outsourcing bookkeeping, legal, and HR services, and hiring early-on for missing core roles. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know,” and finding the right help. Neither is there any shame in waiting to make a decision until you have the right amount of information to make it responsibly.

9. Find products that help make life easy.

Speaking of knowing what you don’t know, there are a whole lot of products out there that will make your life easier in a multitude of ways. Here are a handful of products that we used over the last year to drastically simplify our business (and lives):

  • Harvest for time tracking and client invoicing.
  • Gusto for contractors, payroll, and taxes.
  • Slack for internal and client communication.
  • Hightail for creative collaboration and design review.
  • Dropbox for file management.
  • Github for code management.
  • Digital Ocean for server deployment.

You may have your own product stack, but these saved us so much time and headaches over the year we couldn’t help but mention them.

10. Friends can (and will) help you out.

We wouldn’t be here right now without the support of our friends and colleagues. Our biggest hat-tips of 2015 belong to Matt Rubin, Rob Harr, Chad Mullins, and the whole crew at Big Cartel. While starting off can be scary, don’t be afraid to look to your friends for help, guidance, assistance, and the occasional project. Community is a very powerful thing in our industry, and it’s incredible how much people genuinely want to help each other. Once you find those people, never let them go.


The third and final installment is now posted. Onwards to Part 3!

Written by Ryan Clark Published on January 19, 2016