Advertising and design in the United States is still a viable business to start. Although the techniques and focus have changed in the last 20 years, thanks to the Digital Age, some core objectives still remain that every first-year design agency should have.
Overall, the graphic design industry has grown in recent years, to about $15 billion this year with a growth rate of 3.6 percent over five years.
If you decide to strike out on your own and open a design agency, you’ll want to focus on some definite goals during that first year.
1. Choose a Niche
The industry is made up of everything from web design to advertising to print media design and digital goods. Before you gather too many new clients, decide what areas you’ll specialize in. Choose those areas within your wheelhouse and where you can excel over larger or more established agencies you might compete with. For example, you might choose areas such as website development services, online advertising or product packaging.
Understand that choosing a niche doesn’t mean you don’t also offer other services. It simply means this is the area where you excel and how you’ll attract new leads.
2. Set Up a Legal Structure
Before you open your doors, it’s essential to protect your personal assets by separating them from your business assets. Approximately 12 million civil lawsuits are filed in the United States every year. The average legal costs run between $3,000 and $150,000. Fortunately, you can do a couple of smart things to protect yourself.
First, set up a legal structure, such as an S-Corporation or an LLC to help protect your personal assets. You also should look into small business insurance, which would cover a claim if a client were to come into your office and get hurt walking down the front steps to leave or something along those lines.
3. Hire Employees
You may start as a one-person show, but as your agency grows, you’ll need help. Set some goals about the type of help you’ll most likely need and who you plan to hire first. Perhaps you want to start with a virtual assistant who can handle paperwork or hire a receptionist to answer the phones.
You might also want to bring in a designer or two to help you with turnaround time. If you do bring in additional designers, look for ones who have skills you do not. Adding new skillsets via employees allows you to expand the areas you specialize in and bring in more clients.
4. Find a Printer
More than likely, you won’t have an in-house solution to printing needs at first. Finding a reliable, high-quality printer to handle your printing needs is a vital component of running a successful design agency.
When doing print work, the quality of the finished product matters. Around 85 percent of consumers say the quality of printed marketing collateral impacted how they viewed the overall quality of the business. Don’t skimp on the material you use to provide print ads.
5. Create a Philosophy
Your philosophy shapes your business both in the first year and going forward. Take the time to write out why you do what you do and the purpose behind your work. Do you have a heart for other startups and want to help them? Think about the type of company you want to build and the underlying philosophy that drives you.
6. Establish Company Culture
From the first day you bring another employee into your company, work hard to establish a company culture. The cost of churn adds up. If you can establish a strong company culture, employees may be more satisfied and feel part of the team. A feeling of connection makes them less likely to leave your company and go to a competitor. A strong culture also helps you work as a team.
7. Market Your Agency
One of the best ways to highlight your abilities is to market your agency. You must first figure out who your target audience is. The target audience ties back into choosing your niche. Understanding where you excel allows you to see where you’ll best help others.
Create amazing marketing plans targeting that audience. You’ll also want to announce your new business to people you know. You may gain a small business client or two via your contacts. Once you have a few happy clients, ask them to tell others about you.
8. Nurture Your Clients
Longtime customers spend around 67 percent more than new customers. Even if you only complete a very small project for a new client, make sure you follow-up. Strive to create the absolute best experience you can.
You’ve probably heard the advice to under promise and over-deliver. That is vital when getting started. Your new clients haven’t worked with you before, so they watch to see how you handle their account and if you care to have their business.
9. Take Time to Breathe
Getting a new business off the ground isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming, sweat-inducing and sometimes heartbreaking. Make one of your goals in the first year to create a balance between work and family life. You need time away from the business to destress and restore your energy. Spend time with family or friends or take a walk around the block with your dog. Create a balance now, so you remember the importance of a balance when your business grows to double its size.
You may be surprised that this list didn’t include goals for revenue. Revenue is a difficult thing to predict in the first year of business. It’s much smarter to focus on the things you can control. The revenue will come if you plug ahead and work toward your goals with intensity and focus. The first year of your business should set standards for how your business runs in five years, 10 years or 20 years.