Fig. 9 A Guide to The Scenery

What We Learned In 2015: Part 3

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

Welcome to the final installment of “What We Learned”. 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 other tips, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

11. Don’t take your first hires for granted.

Your first hires will be the most important ones you make. At this stage, flexibility is incredibly valuable so team members with multiple skill sets are absolutely necessary. You want people who can help in a myriad of ways and organically fit into different projects and responsibilities. You’re bound to make some mistakes and the going can be rocky, so make empathy a core team value. Everyone needs to know everyone else is human. Also make sure your team knows how valuable they truly are. Don’t relegate anyone to a little sibling dynamic. That’s a surefire way to make them look elsewhere.

12. HR is important.

Most people have a view of HR that’s somewhat biased. Sure, you probably don’t need a full-time HR role with a team of only six, but you definitely still need to purposefully manage your team. Setting expectations, goals, reviews, job descriptions, and benefits are all things that you should aim to get good at while you’re still young. And that means prioritizing the aspects of HR that you need at any scale. You’ll be happy you learned the ropes sooner rather than later.

13. Find a niche.

Our industry is changing. And in the midst of this is a move towards a plurality of complementary agencies—companies are less likely to have an “agency of record” and instead are using multiple experts for niche tasks. Think about what you’re best at and focus on that. For us, having a niche meant not trying to hire for or sell pure back-end development work. It’s not our strong suit and we’re connected with enough good dev firms to back us up when we need it. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. And you’re better off not trying to be.

14. Start with a runway.

Starting is easier when you have a small base of cash or contracts. When starting The Scenery, we were looking for three medium-sized contracts to start us off. Once we got those all lined up and could bank on cash flow for a bit we jumped all in—cannonbaallllll. For you it might be different, but having some irons in the fire will make things a little less volatile (and stressful).

15. Beware of burnout.

My most recent lesson. If you’re one that’s prone to burnout like I am, owning your own business is like pouring gasoline on that fire. If you got your start like I did, slaving away at an agency for an entry-level salary, imagine how much pressure you’ll feel when your company is directly tied to your own productivity. Or when you provide for the people around you. When more hours equal more profit and more income and more…you need to set boundaries. Accountability can help you maintain a proper work-life balance, so ask your business partner, life partner, or another trusted mentor to help keep you in check. You may not be as wealthy at the end of the year but you’ll be a better version of yourself—and a better teammate and leader.


Wow—we made it (through 2015 and this little series). Starting up something new is one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done. Like getting married huge. Kids huge. Like those things, business presents a whole new set of challenges and goals to attain. It helps you learn things about yourself you didn’t know before. It’s a journey we’re thrilled to have started in 2015. And you can do the same this year.

Written by Ryan Clark Published on January 26, 2016