Starting your own design agency: 10 top tips

Want to be your own boss? Check out these expert start-up tips from Nalla Design founder Vicki Young.

Vicki Young

Thinking of starting up your own studio? Do you dream of being your own boss? If so, there's many things to take into consideration.

From getting out of bed in the morning to finding a mentor, Nalla Design founder Vicki Young shares her expert advice to help you make that leap.

01. Remember, anything is possible

Fear is one of the main factors that holds people back from doing what they want in life. Trying something new is scary and the 'what-ifs' can sometimes prohibit us.

For me being fearless helps give me the freedom to take calculated risks and be more spontaneous and agile. So try and banish the fear of failing and open yourself up to opportunity.

02. Get up, dress smart

Most businesses start at home, working on the kitchen table, lounge or spare room. I believe if you work in your pyjamas you will do pyjama quality work. At 5pm you'll break out in a cold sweat as you realise people will return home soon and you'll frantically dive into the shower!

Save yourself the stress. Sticking to a routine if your working from home is a great idea. Setting your phone to chime at lunch and signal the end of the day, along with ensuring you leave the house once a day will keep you on track for avoiding cabin fever and stay away from that fridge!

03. Why do you, do what you do?

This is an important one. I've met many 'entrepreneurs' on my journey as a business owner. Some have been driven by a passion, others by money - make sure that yours is passion and the money will still come.

People invest in passion and don't connect with those who are simply looking to make a quick buck from them. You will also be running the business for years, so you will need to keep that passion going for a long time!

04. Ban negative people from your working life

There are people in life who are afraid, who would not want to take the challenge of putting their neck on the line, of doing something different and taking the chance. These people can sometimes be a little negative, and tend to be stuck in a job they hate for years. Ban these people from your working life, they will only see failure!

The same goes for the hiring of staff, as one wrong addition to your team can upset the balance. During the hiring process, I always ask another member of our team what they think of the potential new recruit. We've even run a bowling night to check the potential new person would click with everyone. He also let the boss win - so brownie points there too!

Young always consults her team when recruiting new members

05. You're not a pound shop, so don't act like one

The minefield of pricing yourself: too low and you'll look like the creative equivalent of Tesco Value, too high and you'll alienate the smaller start-ups, which, in my experience, are essential in building business and networks. The key thing is to do your research.

Understand that if people go on cost alone, they are not looking for quality. Be prepared to negotiate too, loss leaders (projects that don't generate profit) should be considered at all stages of the business as can have a positive influence on future work and to expand your client base within unchartered sectors in the early days - we've even skill-swapped before as part of payment with one of our clients.

06. Get a mentor

A business mentor is a valuable tool for any business owner. For me, getting a mentor was vital as I am the sole director of my business. Mentors are great as a sounding board and as a support for any tough decisions. I really appreciate having someone who has been successful in his or her own journey, help advise me on mine.

It's not until you start looking that you find out that there are a lot of people around you who have the right know how to offer support and advice. Involving friends and family by asking for their opinion at times of stress not only ensures they are involved and understand why your home late again but also turns up some great advice.

07. Work on your business, not in it.

A piece of sage advice from Micheal Gerber, author of the infamous E-myth Mastery is 'Work On Your Business, Not In It'. It's easy to work 'in' your business, especially for those in the creative industry... it's likely that you're a designer, editor, developer yourself and can generate a great reputation for your business doing what you do.

However, being good at what you do isn't enough if you want to grow your business and evolve from a one man band. By taking the time to work on your business and its objectives, its systems, its projections and its forecastings, you allow it to flourish and not remain rigid.

08. Create a new business plan of action list, but then choose one

Referrals are a business owners best friend, so look after all your customers and give them the best experience as you don't know who they might talk to. Generating business this way is fantastic, so always ensure that every business meeting you have feels like double art on a Friday for your clients.

Don't only rely on referrals, create a list of all the things that you can do to promote your business and then just choose one to focus on in a month. It's better to do one thing properly than 10 things half hearted.

Florence, the office dog, keeps things in order at Nalla Design

09. Wearing many hats? Don't worry it's temporary

In the beginning you will need to be all things in the business, and it can seem a bit overwhelming, how you can do all these new roles, such as finance, new business, HR, etc, on top of your own job. It helps to write down all the jobs that need to be done and all the positions you are filling you day with, log what you are spending time on in a day.

This then gives a clear vision of what your spending the most amount of time on and what would be the most productive way to invest in a new team member, to help you out. The great thing about doing it all in the beginning is that you have a real experience of understanding the role and what the job entails along with who the right person is to fill it.

Once you start hiring your essentially handing one of your jobs over to be filled by a new team member, although you'll still be managing the process it will be taking the demand off you stretching yourself to cover it all, so there is an end to the multitasking!

10. There's no such thing as failure, only feedback

You know the saying: 'We learn from our mistakes'? Well, the best thing to do each time you get a 'no', is to analyse and learn from it. Taking this type of approach ensures that you keep learning and improving all of the time. It's OK to loose battles when you win the war, so try to think of the bigger picture.

Words: Vicki Young

Vicki Young founded Nalla Design in 2010. She uses her broad business knowledge to help SME's to get the most from their investment in design. A mix of entrepreneurial and design skills combined, ensures strong creative output that is grounded in reality and the business world.