On April 14th, we officially put the “Open for Business” sign on our front door — metaphorically speaking, of course, since our announcement came by way of Instagram and LinkedIn. We didn’t actually have an office door to hang the sign. Then again, we didn’t have a single client either. Or a project to our credit. So basically, nothing.
In our announcement letter, I mentioned we'd keep our followers informed about the trials of starting a new business. We try to keep good on that promise with our creative posts on Instagram and Facebook. Hopefully, this article will provide a little more depth to the story. I can’t tell you how other design agencies start, though there are plenty of great books on the subject, which I would happily recommend. This is just how we launched, and how it's been going over the past 3 months.
Do you need one? Not really, unless you need to secure funding or a loan. It seemed like the professional thing to do, however, so we took the time to write our thoughts on paper. It’s about 25 pages, acts as a general description of the business, outlines what we think is our point of difference is in the market, and sets up a few basic creative and financial goals for the first year. If anything, we thought it would be interesting to review in a few months and see how far off we were.
Funny thing is, taking the time to put your plan on paper really forces you to set realistic expectations. While we didn’t execute the marketing plan exactly as proposed, we're tracking ahead of schedule on several fronts, including new business. This will help us make better projections for future growth, and allow us to shift some of our spending to other important business needs.
At first, we went a bit "old school." We sent out a mailer to 200 prospective clients. It was hardly a creative execution — a simple letter in a #10 envelope that announced our opening and listed a few services. 75 of those mailers included a customized letter, where we researched accomplishments of the recipient, and addressed them personally. The remaining received a more generic letter, simply because we couldn’t find any specific information. We sent them to office addresses, though we knew most people would be working from home because of the pandemic, and just crossed our fingers.
We then followed up a week later with either a phone call or an email. Generously, I’d say the response rate was about 20%, which isn’t bad considering the total cost for everything was around $500. (The biggest expense in this case was a new laser printer.) One recipient even sent a response back by mail, which was interesting. In total, the mailer resulted in 5 offers for proposals. And, we secured our first client who has since returned for multiple projects! Even more importantly, since we targeted the people and businesses we wanted to work with, the types of projects we've been awarded since have provided very meaningful opportunities. Which is why we started the business to begin with.
Having spent the past 7 years at an Ad Agency, one of the first things we wanted to do as an orginazation was become more involved with the design community. However, the pandemic really put many of those clubs on hold, and most events in early 2021 were still being held virtually. That didn’t appeal to us, and so we are holding off membership until 2022. We figured we’d have more to contribute next year as well.
On a whim, we joined our local Chamber of Commerce, and that decision paid off almost immediately. We were introduced to a new business owner in town that needed a logo and a website, which has been one of our favorite clients and projects to-date. (On the other hand, this specific project was also put on hold for months. This taught us the importance of continuously working on a new business pipeline.)
We gave a presentation at the local library on the Power of Branding, and invited all of the members from the Chamber of Commerce. The idea was mostly goodwill — to provide businesses with an introduction and basic understanding of how branding works. Obviously, we also wanted to get face time with local business owners. 2 people showed up. I suppose that shouldn’t have been a big surprise, given that most people were still uncomfortable getting out in public. But, 8 people did attend virtually, and one of them reached out afterwards to potentially collaborate in the future. While we were initially disappointed with the turnout, we learned a valuable lesson with regards to networking: you just never know what connections will work out. We're already making plans for our next workshop.
While I’m still acting as creative director, art director, designer, bookkeeper, and receptionist, there have been several projects where we’ve had to bring in experts for different services. We’ve partnered with an account professional to help make media buying decisions, as well as a social media expert to consult and recommend executions in that channel. We’ve also brought in partners to help develop proposals, brainstorm conceptual territories, and freelance designers to help execute tactics when the workload has been too busy for one person to handle. There's no doubt we'll need to partner with a front-end developer in the near future. We just delivered several new business proposals that could potentially necessitate full-time hires as well. A big business decision, for sure, and one we won't be making without a lot of deliberate thought and planning, including a trip to the accountant's office.
This is a topic of real debate, especially since many agencies were going remote even before the pandemic. As of now, we’re keeping our eyes open. We’ve made several appointments with Real Estate agents to look at studio space. Until we make a decision, our home office is officially a shared workspace, complete with a kids’ Ikea kitchenette.
Did we launch the right way? That’s a rhetoricall question, of course, because we’re not exactly sure what the right way is. All we know is our way. And so far, it seems to be working. The economy is picking up, and we see no reason why our business can’t grow exponentially over the next year. As always, we’ll continue to look for that next big project to walk through our metaphorical doorway.