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Opening a new studio - Advice needed please

Discussion in 'General Business Forum:' started by AF2010, Sep 21, 2010.

  1. AF2010

    AF2010 New Member

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if anyone can offer any valuable advice in relation to running a design studio? It's a bit of a long one but if you could spare 5 minutes it would be a great help.

    Myself and my business partner setup a small graphic design studio a couple of months ago and are now in the position where we are wondering if this was the right move to make. We started out with the intention of building a studio which we would keep small and work to a high standard (maximum of 4-5 people in the future). Whenever possible we try to use nice materials, embossing, foils, overprinting...etc (even if it's as simple as changing a horrible glossy brochure to FSC uncoated stock)

    The issue is that in our area (east mids) there is an enormous amount of competition, we respect the agencies that respect design but there are unfortunately plenty of budget agencies, students and freelancers around that are bringing down the average charges for the work in the area. We are regularly getting asked to produce brochures, websites, identities...etc for very low sums of money and having to regularly explain and battle clients just to land work and a lot of the time we are turning work away. This is also combined with the issue that 90% of customers that approach us have no understanding and no desire to learn about design. We often have our minimal and well thought out solutions ruined by requests to over-complicate work.

    We are both late twenties and need to focus on either getting things working or moving back to agency positions.

    We would like to hear from others who were in the same situation once and if you have any advice on starting out then it would be most helpful. Should we stick it out or not?

    Our area's of concern are:

    • Winning new work with such a vast ocean of 'budget services' as competition.
    • How long does it take on average to start bringing in good work, 6 months-1 year...etc.
    • How to get those first clients (friends and family don't run businesses so that's not an option)
    • Should you offer pro-bono work to large organisations that would at least have decent printing budgets?
    • Are self-initiated projects worth doing or are they a waste of time and money?
    • How can you prevent clients from overcomplicating work? Cramming in text, too many images...etc
    Anything else anyone can think of (we have all the business and finance sides covered)

    Thanks, J
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2010
  2. Peter_su88

    Peter_su88 Member

    hmm sounds like a interesting ambition let me know how it goes.

    sorry got no advice to offer. Just a soon to be graduate
  3. Peter_su88

    Peter_su88 Member

    How can you prevent clients from overcomplicating work? Cramming in text, too many images...etc

    don\t you just hate people who don't understand good graphic design.....sighs* but oh wells it's just one of them things in life it's like 90% of people in the world, so sometimes you just got to do what they say?
  4. mcskillz

    mcskillz Member

    Design, one of those rare places in life where the client is never right. lol

    Will be following this thread with interest!

    Good luck!
  5. linziloop

    linziloop Member

    I have a bit of experience working with clients and have learned a few things, but a lot of these questions i have myself too!

    Can i just ask, currently how do you approach/react to clients when they want too much text/images? Do you just do it, or do you spit your dummy out and refuse? Do you meet them somewhere in the middle? I've often come across this problem in work and I've usually managed to calmly talk them round stating the facts and reasons as to why the bombardment of text and images will actually work against them (a small lesson in design, if you will). Solutions might sometimes mean increasing the amount of pages in a brochure so that the content has space to breathe, or suggesting where cuts can be made. In doing this however, you need to make them feel like control still lies with them, and remember that they will always know their business better than you.

    Remember that the higher end clients will not go for the budget designers. I have a friend who was doing work for a massive london laywers where his dad worked. He gave his Dad the invoice at the end and his Dad added a couple of 0's onto the end of it (without him knowing!). When he got paid and he asked his Dad what was going on, his Dad said had he given them the original invoice, they wouldn't have thought they had got a quality website and may well have been suspicious of the low price. A fantastic lesson in pricing according to your client i think!

    Personally i think self initiated projects are a good idea right throughout your creative career as it allows you to get out some things you may have had in your head, really get creative etc. but i would be careful in how much time and money these take up. I would perhaps do one per year.

    Ignore the budget designers - it has been said on here before, budget designers will get the budget work, the more rubbish work, if you will. If you're striving for better work, you will get better payment. Hopefully.
    Be true to who you are and your design style.

    Are you willing to travel a bit to meet clients? Maybe look for some outside of the densely designer populated area you're in? Do you do web design? In which case, that's not going to matter on location so much to some clients.

    Do you send your portfolio out to large companies on a regular basis?

    And finally - can we see some of your work!? I'm intrigued!
  6. Katedesign

    Katedesign Well-Known Member

    ^^This is absolutely true. Tailor your price to your client. Remember some people will only shop at Waitrose and never go near Lidl. You want the Waitrose (or better still - Harrods) shopper. It is possible to do budget work - just don't spend too much time on it. You can do design quickly if that's all they are paying for!

    How to get to them is much, much trickier.
    You can try networking events - get your name out there.
    I would avoid doing anything for free - people will abuse you and not expect to pay next time anyway.
    Otherwise it is done by talking to people, letting them know what you are really good at, phoning, mailing them - you could target companies you would like to do work for or whose design work you think you could improve.
    Keep your eyes open for shops opening or offices being moved into. It will be a slog but it can be done!

    Good luck - keep us posted.
  7. Ian Bonner

    Ian Bonner Member

    As far as doing overcomplicated work I never say no to their requests. However, the way I like to approach it is to say 'Yes of course I will do that for you, but I do think that you should bear in mind that it will do this, or that to the finished product...' so I am letting them know I am aware of the control issue, but also as a professional I would advise against doing it, leaving it up to them with that final thought.

    The response I normally get is that once they have seen it with their complicated changes, they usually revert anyway.
  8. AF2010

    AF2010 New Member

    Thank you all for your responses so far, this is obviously a popular issue amongst us designers.

    To answer some of the questions asked:

    We currently work with the client from the start and throughout the project very closely, our concepts and ideas for materials and design approaches are generally expresses and approved in the initial drafts and then further continued throughout the project as far as budget will allow. It is often the case that clients will show initial excitement at our ideas but then having talked through the projects with business colleagues, husband/wife, family and friends after our meetings we usually find that by the second round there are weaker ideas and suggestions that aren't beneficial to the client creeping in to the concepts we have produced. This can sometimes be altered given reasoning but some clients are also very stubborn, we don't fight clients so are forced to work with the new concepts in knowledge that they are wrong. We may come up with a group of design ideas for a project and then narrow these down to a just a few very different concepts as to not show the client an array of weaker designs (which adds confusion to the work).

    The problem we face, a common problem I believe, is that without educating the client (which is very time consuming) they don't generally trust or understand the concepts delivered to them and furthermore when they are presented with an identity that uses fine quality materials or a well presented, yet somewhat minimal brochure there is a sense that a 'value for money' has not been achieved.

    I believe this is a lot to do with money and the influx of 'budget' designers out there who are influencing the clients decision on design based purely on value for money.

    Whilst we cater for those who require some budget work (cheaper business cards, flyers...) there is no financial impact of using the right typography, layouts and colours yet clients often feel that their magazine ad, brochure or identity should include every scrap of info about their business rather than an an attractive and effective summary to entice the audience to interact with the ad/service on offer.

    The customer in the case of design is (without intending to sound harsh) often wrong, but also as they are the ones paying for the service they are also unfortunately right so that perfect logo will end up with unneeded sub-text, borders or incorrect colour spectrum. As passionate designers, this hurts to see this happen.

    Our issue is that we have both grown up aspiring to be as good the great agencies such as Pentagram, Marque and Spin and realise that whilst the scale of our works are not going to be worldwide this should not mean a decrease in approach, application or standards on our part. There are many other job roles we could both take that paid higher incomes but are involved in design because of our passion.

    It's early days yet for us and we have little work we can show; simply because we aren't proud of our client-sabotaged work to date but we know time will allow a decent piece to come in and we're looking into a self-initiated projects to demonstrate our design in the meantime. We're exploring the possibility of new cities and networking where we can so will post updates soon.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2010
  9. Ian Bonner

    Ian Bonner Member

    I completely agree with this statement and I was recently talking to someone from marketing at a company called Remedy Creative who said that they know of a designer that takes a complete project to every new pitch, showing the client the project from scamp to finished article to educate the client on how the process works, time involved, research undertaken, etc. Apparently this has worked well for them and it irons out issues before they even arise.

    The client is then aware of what is going into their project and also that they are paying for extensive work for a profitable outcome. It's a simple idea but also one that as far as I am aware, not many designers use. As designers, we always go with a polished final project that tells them nothing about the work involved and where their money is going. They know what they are going to get when they go to budget designers, as they see what they get and get what they pay for.

    It also makes sketching and brainstorming profitable for us and not seem like such a waste of time!
  10. linziloop

    linziloop Member

    That is a VERY good idea, I love keeping all my workbooks and sketches, this would be an excuse to show them to the world instead of staying stashed under my desk! Why don't more people do that?! Genius!
  11. john watters

    john watters Member

    Knowing who you are, and what you are about.


    I, over the past years have set up studios and Agencies in both Design and Advertising.

    The basic element, is who you are, and what you do.

    I would suggest you both work out a presentation of core values and principles, together with a demonstration
    of your particular way of working...make it bouncy and easy to get across to the uninitiated.

    A Powerpoint or Keynote presentation, add music/sound to lighten it. If a client knows your work
    methods from the start it makes the whole thing easier. I would add in how you require to be paid and
    when, you ARE running a business, and they again are aware of what the deal is from the start.

    Never be shy to ask to be paid, get an order number...if you chase money, don't chase the person who
    briefed you. Contact the accounts department, they get money in, and pay it out. No major problem to them
    if the terms are agreed on outset. I have done this for years and it works, if they don't get on board it always
    suggests a problem to come.

    Do not pitch for FREE, pitch by all means, but suggest the cost of the pitch can be added to the first job if chosen.
    This clarifies the strength of client commitment and shows you as professionals. Avoid the old 'do this job free and there will be plenty more to come' it's the same as saying 'Make me look good to my boss, squeezing blood out of people for nothing' Don't buy services like print and photography, you can get landed with a job that is rejected by your client and you pay the bill, lose a source of print. Let the printer deal with the client whims.

    Just a little suggestion based on nearly 40 years in the business.

    Good Luck
  12. AF2010

    AF2010 New Member

    Hi all,

    This seems to be a popular topic with everyone and thanks to all those who have offered advice, I've taken it all onboard and it has been helpful.

    Another question here, and one that I think we all experience.

    We're currently designing a logo for a client and did an interview to get all the answers we needed for the project, things like competiton, where they want to be in a years time, what they provide and target audience....etc. We then produced a clean and minimal logo as requested when they came to us.

    We managed to get lucky and hit the nail on the head after only a few attempts but the client feels that we've not put in the work to earn the amount we are charging, furthermore they feel that the logo should be brighter, bold and more youthful which it clearly should not be.

    Having explained our reasoning, and taking on board previous users comments in this post, should we maintain a stance of reasoning to try and get them to see our way (the client has no knowledge of design and no desire to learn) as to not destroy the design or compromise and weaken the design to please the client? If we go for option two we can't use the project in our folio when all the stationery and printed items are produced because the logo will be weak.
  13. Ian Bonner

    Ian Bonner Member

    You say that you produced them a clean simple logo. The fact they are unhappy with the time it took is not your problem. They must have agreed to the fee before the work was started and if at the end of the day they were happy with the result then I don't see their problem.

    If they want it changed then charge them. They cant just make you work on it for the sake of it, thats just ridiculous, but if thats what they want give them a new quote and leave it up to them. If they want it reworked then do what they want and take more money.

    The problem is that the clients don't understand the work that goes into it. I don't understand the logic behind what they are asking for. Sounds like they just want you to ruin a good logo to make the hours up!
  14. Dave L

    Dave L Well-Known Member

    If the client feels that the logo should be bolder, brighter and more youthful, I'd argue that you haven't hit the nail on the head at all; if that's what they want and they believe that the current logo doesn't communicate it (it's all about the image/values they want to project, after all) then the brief hasn't been met. I''m of the opinion that one of the first and most important lessons to take on board when working as a commercial designer is to avoid being precious about what you do.

    With regard to the general point about a client not feeling that you've put in the amount of work they would expect, one truism of design - in common with many other disciplines - is that you're paid for what you know as much as for what you do; if you get it right first time, that's because of your skills and experience which is significantly more valuable to the client in the long run than the hours you put in on any given task. In this case, however, it sounds like they're basing their view on the fact that you haven't yet come up with an option they like.
  15. john watters

    john watters Member

    Dave's comments

    I totally agree with Dave on all points, Design is subjective and therefore we all see things in differing ways...clients included.
    The point the client makes about time, I always explain that the time you spend on the design, is to a great
    deal irrelevant, you spend a few hours on it, backed up with all of your years of practice, which in turn
    adds to the reasons you can produce work slightly quicker in certain circumstances.

    They come to you for your advice and creative skills...they should listen and take on board as they would from any other kind of professional..Architect, Dentist Solicitor and on and on.

    It's because it is subjective everyone and their dog has a view...but that is the choice of career we chose.

    I have the skin of a Rhinoceros and 40 years in the business to achieve this.

    Soldier on, if not go in swinging!

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