If you’re wondering how to build a successful design agency, then you’ve come to the right place.You’ll find everything you need to know on how to start with your design agency and build it into a successful empire.
What is a design agency ?
The term agency has evolved over the years. There’s the legal term, traditional term, and the modern term. Here’s how Hubstaff explained it.
There’s the legal definition. A consensual relationship created by contract or by law where one party, theprincipal, grants authority for another party, the agent, to act on behalf of and under the control of the principal to deal with a third party. An agency relationship is fiduciary, and the actions and words of an agent exchanged a third party bind the principal.
And there’s the traditional definition. Often with an adjective or noun modifier] A business or organization providing a particular service on behalf of another business, person, or group. [as modifier] ‘an advertising agency’
Finally, there’s a modern definition. An agency is defined as a group of excellent people collaborating around a difficult challenge and finding solutions that drive our clients’ business.
– Andrew Bailey, CEO of The Partnership
Two people who collaborate to create and execute a design or marketing campaign can now be an agency. Several years ago, you’ll need to be an organization to show legitimacy as a design agency. Clients mostly trust agencies that are established and has several accounts and successful campaigns to their name. But now, as long as you’re able to deliver you can land clients in all sizes, small business to big companies who needs graphics and website design. You don’t need a lot of employees to be able to build an agency. You can even do everything by yourself if you can but it will limit you to expand and scale your business. With that said, we’ve compiled the 10 best practices in building a successful design agency.
Build Your Portfolio to Wow Your Clients
The first thing a potential client will ask from you is your portfolio. This is one way for the client to see if you have the skill to do the job they will require and if you’re a fit to work together. It will tell as well what genre you’re good at and what successful campaigns you have worked on (if any). You do not have to include all your works, just pick out the best and expand on it. For example, you created a social media ad that effectively converted leads to customers. Add captions and references to tell the story of that design. Remember that one the most powerful way to reach people is by telling them a story that they can relate to. Also, make sure that your design portfolio is consistent from the colors to the theme of grouping the same genres. You don’t want to come across as disorganized. Lastly, make sure that your portfolio is strong, creative and confident. Choose colors, fonts, and images that best display your beliefs and values. Portfolios have diversified over the years, from what used to be just a printed version is now available as a video portfolio, interactive or a website solely for the portfolio. Be creative and unique and set your business apart from your competitors.
Build Your Website
A website is essential to every business. We can’t reiterate more how vital this is to get your business outthere and build trust, brand awareness and credibility to your design agency. This is also where most of your clients will find you, that’s why building your website has more benefits than drawbacks. There are so many websites hosting platforms out there, free and paid. One of the best rating low-cost website hosts is Interserver.net. Another is Bluehost.com for $2.95/mo you can build 1 website, unmetered bandwidth and 5 email addresses. Not bad if you’re at the beginning of your business. There are also free website hosts like Wix.com. The downside is your domain name will look like this: www.wix.com/yourusername/sitename but you can get a custom domain name if you purchase a plan. The goal of your website is to have leads and prospects find you online that builds trust and credibility on your brand.
Create a Powerful Social Media Presence
One step towards a successful design agency is creating a powerful social media presence. This is the best and most economical way to boost your business. Creating your social media accounts in line with your portfolio will add value to you and your business. Facebook is the go-to platform for business owners to promote their products and services. They even have Facebooks Ads that give the page owner the ability to reach out to relevant people and not just a random person on Facebook. You can set your budget, demographics and target audience. This is one of the most widely used paid advertisement - not only it’s much cheaper but you are confident that the people who will see your ad is relevant. The same goes for Instagram. Another social media platform essential in lead generation and brand awareness is LinkedIn. Since this platform caters to professionals, a lot of business owners, founders and independent practitioners are on this site. You can reach out to them and offer your service. They also offer a paid tool where you can search for a specific business you want to connect with. Don’t forget that it doesn’t stop at creating these social media accounts, you need to make sure they are active and offer valuable information. Post your work, client meetings, relevant articles and your creative thoughts on trending topics.
Establish a Workflow and Business Process
You have landed clients and a lot of them! So now you are overwhelmed with all the things that needed to be done, what to prioritize and how to complete everything. Never worry, workflow and processes are here to help you. Every successful business has a workflow and business process in place. Having a one-man or small design agency doesn't mean you don’t need a system to help you be efficient and productive. For starters, you can implement a simple system from client discovery calls to project turnovers. Do not forget a payment, payment method, payment terms, due date and so on. Also, never start a project without a contract. This will give you and your clients’ security in terms of payment and project completion. As much as you want to trust your clients and vice versa, it’s best to have a contract you can refer to in the future.
Be in Control of Your Business Finances
As much as we hate to compute and figure out our finances, it’s important to be on top of it especially at the start of your design agency. It’s not enough that you have a bookkeeper but you need to be able to understand the relationship between accounting aspects and how it can affect your business (income, expenses, cash flow, etc) First, you need to have a separate personal and business account. Not doing so will result in unexplained losses and confusing cash flow. Track your everyday income and expenses and issue invoices. Read your credit card statements and make sure that everything is valid. Create a system when it comes to your finances. Like setting up a day every week to update your record, or if you have a bookkeeper, turn over your receipts and all necessary documents at a regular date. This will create a routine for you and will ensure that everything is recorded on time. Waveapps.com offer a free accounting service where you can record your income and expenses and monitor transactions. And also, spend wisely. Don’t make unnecessary purchases even if you can afford to.
Being able to assemble a talented team is essential in building a successful design agency. You can use a service like Graphics Zoo to get your design work completed. The best part is you can white label the service and have your own in-house design team! Bookkeeping may be another talent you may want to consider outsourcing. An option is bench.co
Clear communication will not only benefit you and your clients but you and your team as well. A lot of problems can be avoided with clear communication, for example, contracts. Being able to deliver exactly what your clients want and more is key in customer retention. Another example of good communication is being specific to your contract and avoiding general terms. Make sure your contract is simple, understandable and clear. Communication with your team in terms of task appointment and priorities improve efficiency and productivity. Tasks and assignments are only done once because you communicated clearly with your team. Always encourage your team and clients to speak up and share their thoughts on things relevant to them. Take note of internal and external feedback so you can improve on services and processes. This will not only keep things in control but a sure step towards a successful design agency.
Choose a Niche
The tendency for design and web agencies at the beginning is to get as many clients as possible without taking into consideration what type of industry it is. And that is perfectly fine, especially if you’re trying to build your portfolio and wants to discover opportunities. As time goes by, you will be able to determine which industry or field you want to focus on. You will greatly benefit from this because competition will be lower and you can master that niche from the relevant clients to their target audience. For example, you want to focus on real estate brokers or healthcare providers (you can still narrow down this niche to a specific field like pediatrics or chiropractors).
Set Proper Expectations
This is customer service 101. Setting proper expectations with your clients is essential in keeping them happy. Since they know what is expected from you, every extra mile is priceless to them. Let’s say you have a turnaround time of three days but was able to finish the design in 48 hours, this can score plus points to your clients that can result in more referrals.
All of these tips are useless if you don’t have clients. Every step you take with your design agency is towards getting more clients and keeping them and of course creating beautiful and unforgettable designs. There are so many ways of getting more clients, as noted at the start of this blog, creating a website and building a strong social media presence. Create your website in a way that it’s a lead generation tool. High traffic on your website is cool but what’s even better is if you can contact them. Add a blog on your website and offer free blog subscriptions. This way you can get their contact information and reach out to them in the future. Business owners pay a lot of money to get people’s email addresses but you can get it for free. Make sure that potential leads can contact you and better if they can schedule a discovery call straight from your website. Promote your business activities and ask for referrals. Clients are more likely to trust businesses that were referred to them. You can even offer a referral incentive but most of the time happy clients recommend products and services proactively. Another way to get more clients is to circle back to lost prospects. Just reach out again and see if they need help in designs and web layout. You can also inform them if you have a new service they might be interested in.
These tips may seem simple enough but it takes hard work, perseverance, and patience in building asuccessful design agency. Do not be discouraged with challenges but look at it as an opportunity to learn from mistakes and to be better. They say that businesses do not fail, owners quit. Move forward and never give up.
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