A roundup of need-to-knows, industry expertise, and exclusive resources, along with details of the direct support the DBA can provide to your design business.
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“This might seem surprising from someone who teaches client satisfaction and retention, but my New Year’s suggestion is to consider firing some. Do any of them demand free creative solutions in re-pitches? Do they provide the right work? Do they generate enough income? Do they pay their bills on time? Is the relationship (mostly) hassle-free? Do you actually like working with them? No? Then it’s time to let them go diplomatically.” Shan Preddy, Preddy&Co
“Many still think of the freelancer as an expensive necessity. But now that all the really good senior designers are freelancing we have to embrace them and re-think the financial model to include them as collaborative partners. So work out your project profit, deduct the freelancer’s share and accept that your share is what’s left. Remember a senior designer employee on £50k costs you £253 per day!” Gary Baxter, Lightbox
“During times of uncertainty it’s all about having true grit, determination and remaining confident in your product offer and positioning. Creating a mantra that captures in a heartbeat the very essence and spirit of your agency’s core belief is of value because it cuts through to the behaviour and standards required. All great teams have a mantra in times of need. They don’t panic, because they are; “Steady Under Fire.” What’s yours for 2017?” Rod Petrie, Rod Petrie Coaching
“I frequently meet talented sensitive creatives who’ve been slowly stripped of their joy by critical leadership, unconscious communication or lack of praise and recognition.
In this turbulent world, why not put JOY top of your list for 2017? Have the courage to ask for feedback, compassion to truly listen and commitment to increase joy in your studio. Your people and the world will be more joy filled because of you.” Emma Collins, Collins&Co
“Christmas is the ideal time to take a step back and consider what you want from life. What will success look like to you? After all, the ultimate purpose of any business is to help its owners achieve their personal goals. So, identify those goals, and make it your resolution to ask your team, accountant, and other advisors to help your business deliver what’s important to you.” Ifan Lloyd, IDH Accountancy
“Every time you are distracted – it takes approximately 23 minutes to get back to the task you were taken from. A group were asked to review their daily emails – over 35% of what they received was useless; 12% was considered immediate; balance could wait. Notifications and emails are spamming our lives and staying in control is the key to your maximum productivity. Don’t let them distract you.” Mark Lawrence Saunders, Agile Non-Exec Ltd
“There’s a reason why most agency business comes from referrals or existing clients. You have a far better chance of converting opportunities where you already have a relationship (your existing client) or a tacit relationship (a referral). So for your next new business meetings, instead of selling, take the pressure off and just listen. Think of this as just hello and the start of a relationship and the work will follow in time.” Lucy Mann, Gunpowder Consulting
“2017 is set to be a year of change. Change can often bring out negative behaviour if it is not managed correctly. But if you implement an open and honest forum, employees will feel safe to discuss their concerns. By nurturing this atmosphere and developing a positive culture you’ll maintain motivation and results through this uncertain period.” Aliya Vigor-Robertson, Journey HR
“Find out what your client wants, then give it to them, on time. Deceptively simple, but it is the very foundation of a good business that gets repeat work and referrals.” Jack O’Hern, Wright Vigar
With thanks to the DBA Experts for their contribution.
Image credits: © Yuliya Pauliukevich Dreamstime.com
“It’s fizzy, it’s ginger, its (rebrand) is phenomenal! I’m talking, of course, of the mighty Irn Bru. Scotland’s second national drink has re-enforced its bold maverick spirit with a witty homage to the brand’s differentiating claim, ‘made from girders.
Quite simply their 2016 rebrand reaffirms its status as a Scottish Icon. Iconic in its simplification of core equities and Scottish through its nod to the country’s industrial past. All hail the Bru!”
Brian Mansfield, Managing Partner, Taxi Studio
“I am truly impressed with the new Microsoft Surface Studio. It is the first Microsoft product I have seen in recent years, which will challenge Apple. The perfect balance of technology and “human centric” design.”
Paul Flowers, Chief Design Officer, LIXIL Water Technology
Take a look at Microsoft Surface Studio
“The Royal British Legion released a limited edition, hand-made brass poppy pin for Somme 100. Formed from British shell fuses collected from the front line, the brooches’ red-enamelled centres are partially made of battlefield mud. Each is dedicated to a life lost, coming with a certificate with a soldier’s details. It’s also a smart, modern looking piece of jewellery. I think this is exceptionally thoughtful design with real emotional punch for which the Legion should be commended.”
Erika Clegg, Co-founder, Spring
“Perhaps it’s a nostalgia thing and the fact that I’m old enough to remember Green Shield stamps, but I’ve liked watching the Co-op rebrand this year. It’s repositioned the business certainly in my mind, taking it back to fundamental values with a contemporary take on the heritage. It’s not just the identity design, but the careful consideration to the service offer and business model too. I like the authenticity.”
Lesley Gulliver, Managing Director, The Engine Room
Image credit: © Aprescindere Dreamstime.com
Now, three years on, Uniform are over 50 strong, with revenues in excess of £3.5million and with a second office opened in London. Nick Howe, co-founder and MD of Uniform says, “It was critical that we supported our senior team in their development as they moved into more managerial and leadership roles. Planning a bespoke professional development programme over a 12 month period with a mix of internal and external training was key to this, and helped ensure our investment paid off for both Uniform and the individuals involved.”
From tailored internal mentoring, to identifying external courses every learning area was closely matched to outcomes and aligned to the four key areas of their business strategy – client service, creativity, operations and business performance.
Success measures were built into the plan and included improvements in overall business performance (financial and non financial measures), development and growth of key clients, and improvements in staff satisfaction. With the team sized doubled, and turnover having soared no one would deny that Uniform’s development plan has been a huge success. A structured approach – like they took – to assessing the needs of the business, enables goals to be set and measured, instilling greater confidence in development investment by focusing in on the expected returns.
Business growth does just happen; if you rely purely on ‘doing great work’ you may get more clients, and they may be more profitable, but to underpin this you need to develop the skills within your agency to effectively manage the increasing quantity and size of clients, to address issues and opportunities that come with this growth, and to prepare for the complexities that arise from being a larger business.
Building your business from the bottom up through a structured development programme such as Uniform’s, allows you to understand your strengths and weaknesses and address them in a coherent manner by investing in the right places. By better understanding the ‘in’ in your training investment, you’ll maximise the opportunity for the ‘out’ results to be far reaching for your business in driving long-term growth.
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Read Masters of the (design) Universe – the value of being mentored by an industry pioneer.
Twenty/Twenty is the innovative business mentoring programme from the DBA. The programme pairs rising leaders in design with one of the leading lights of the design industry. Through 1-2-1 meetings, the mentor’s role is to listen, share experience, provide a sounding board for ideas and ultimately help the mentee to define their goals and grow their business.
As your shop grows, you personally take on more of the heavy lifting, forming more of a bottleneck in the process. You know what sort of people you’d like to hire, but you just can’t afford them yet. As soon as you can, though, you begin filling those slots with more qualified people.
Often their performance is judged primarily by how effectively they free you from the weightier responsibilities that you need to shed. “Ann is invaluable to me because she’s the first person who can handle a client crisis on her own.” Or “Stephan guides the staff by answering a hundred questions every day so that I can focus on new business.” Or “Judy is the only person at our studio besides me who can close new business.” Or “Tim has raised the quality of our work far beyond what even I was capable of.”
So when you have someone who helps you breathe easier in these four areas (clients, employees, prospects, creative), you might understandably overvalue their contribution, be too quick to give them partnership, or let them get away with bad behavior. It took you so long to find that first really capable person that you assume that finding the next one will be just as hard. It won’t, and be sure that clear values are driving your decision making.
I publish specific metrics for what principals should make, keyed to the size of the firm, and most principals are right at or just under that range. But for some reason, principals are nervous about employees knowing what they make, especially if it’s what they deem to be a lot. The reality is that well-managed employees operating within a great culture couldn’t care less if you make a lot of money.
In fact, great employees will support that notion. If you’re stingy with them or abusing them in other ways, they’ll hate the double standard. By the way, there’s a very direct but inverse relationship between how open principals are about the finances and how well they and the firm are doing. The most poorly performing agencies are the most open about their finances.
Principals are very different from each other. Some are introverts. Some value control. Some believe in process. But the common struggle all of them have is feeling like someone is taking advantage of them. That’s the flip side of aptitude for risk, and organisational development scientists know that but haven’t yet figured out the cause.
You’ll see this in yourself when you determine what bonuses will look like this year, when you guide the policy on remote work from home, when you have a discussion about a title change, etc. Just recognise that you have a tendency to overreact when you’re feeling this way–it’s very common and comes with the territory.
Many principals are obsessed with how well they are doing in relation to their peers. They pump new employees about it, scan competitor’s websites, quiz common freelancers or suppliers, and generally want to know how they measure up. Some may care more about doing better than a rival business than whether they meet more objective performance criteria. It comes with their competitive natures.
This is something that principals avoid at nearly any cost. They might continue a tradition even when they can’t afford it, hold onto people longer than they should, or not even consider bringing the business to an orderly dissolution. Not because it’s not the right thing to do but because it smacks of failure. I really understand this, too.
To pull off running a business like you do, requires a certain level of confidence. Pierce that confidence and you falter in front of clients, lose some of the killer instinct that’s served you so well, and so on. It’s good to recognise this in yourself, though, and not be trapped by your own fears of perception. Part of the new authenticity pervading our world is that there is less stigma around “failure” and I think that’s a very healthy development.
What keeps you awake at night? Do you struggle making the right decisions when fear has too large a role? Do you have a trusted colleague or competitor or business associate who can help you think objectively when you’re struggling?
I hope this helps you realise that there are many effective principals like yourself who struggle with the same things.
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