I’ve had a few folks reach out recently to talk shop and ask questions about starting a small design/marketing firm. After a few of these conversations, I realized I was more or less giving everyone the same collection of advice. Not that my opinion’s worth anything, but as CODO nears its fourth anniversary, I figured I could share some of what I believe has helped us build this business in an organic, healthy way.
#1. Only work with people and organizations you like. This may sound like Millennial bullshit, but I’m not going to bend over backwards to substantiate it. We run a small design firm and personally handle every aspect of every project that comes through our doors. If we took on work we didn’t like, it would undercut one of the biggest benefits of owning our own shop—working for people we like.
If you can manage to do this, it creates a happy cycle of cool people (clients) telling their cool friends about what you do and getting more cool work. Cool!
#2. Trust your gut. This may sound like an earnest piece of woodsy wisdom, but it’s one of the most important pieces of advice I can offer. If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe a potential new client or opportunity—listen to your gut and turn the work away. This is a wonderful tool that a lot of young businesses ignore when starting out and need cash.
#3. I could write forever on the importance of branding and positioning a new business (or an established one, for that matter). but for the sake of this ramble, I’ll just say that if you don’t position yourself, your chances of success are greatly diminished. How are you different? What do you offer and for what type of person? Why do you matter? There’s so much competition out there that if you’re not actively positioning yourself away from the crowd, you’ll never get to do the type of work you want.
#4. Have a client dream list. Some of these will be absolutely unattainable, but that’s ok. As I look back on how CODO’s dream list has evolved over the years, I’m shocked at just how many of those people we’ve met and done great work for. And while we’re on this subject, hey Orvis or Seed Savers Exchange, if you’re reading this, get at me!
#5. Don’t ever half ass anything. At some point, you’ll find a client who graciously accepts work you know to be subpar. That’s no excuse to turn in shit work. Take pride in what you do and deliver the same level of quality whether you’re working on a $500 project or a $50,000 project.
This goes back to #1, but if you produce only quality work, people will come to you for quality work. They’ll respect your process and’ll be a joy to work with. Conversely, if you make bullshit, people will want bullshit.
#6. Surround yourself with good people. This may sound obvious, but I’m always surprised to hear about people working with someone they may not particularly like. It doesn’t matter how good a web developer is, if he’s an asshole, you’ve created a situation where you have to work with an asshole everyday. In a small shop, this is cancer.