How to start a studio: 18 pro tips

Essential nuggets of advice on how to start a studio from those who’ve been there and done that.

Happy in your underpaid, under-appreciated design job? Thought not. Well you could always follow our tips to get a promotion – but you'd still be implementing someone else's ideas and marching to the beat of someone else's drum. So why not strike out on your own? Fortune, as they say, favours the bold.

For those creatives who are less experienced in the business side of things, it can be a huge challenge. That's why we’ve contacted a pro selection of designers who have made it – and are responsible for starting some of the most successful studios around – to bring you some expert tips on to how to start a studio.

01. You need to be ambitious…

Design studio: Mainframe

To emulate the success of a studio like Mainframe, you need to start with the right attitude

"Don’t bother starting a studio if you don't have the intention of being the best." Adam Jenns, founder and managing director of Mainframe, challenges you to succeed with any other attitude. "Few people ever get there," he adds. "But if you don't start out with that intention you'll get lost in a sea of one-man bands with novel company names."

02. …but don't get carried away

It's very tempting to believe your own hype, and design is certainly a business that demands a little esprit de corps. But that's not a sound footing on which to start a studio, says Russell Townsend, managing director of Clusta. "Firstly, don't kid yourself, and secondly never kid the people that make your studio work – your clients, staff, suppliers, bank manager and the tax man. They make your world go round."

03. There's nothing to be scared of

Design studio: Loft

Loft Digital made it, and with a bit of a leap of faith, so can you!

When you start a design studio, essentials like renting out work space and hiring new people are big financial commitments, and they're always terrifying in advance. For Nick Nettleton, director of Loft Digital, these are psychological barriers – you just have to take the plunge. "Once you're on the other side, you wonder what all the fuss was about," he says.

04. Be prepared to take some risks

Following on from the last point, remember that logic and restraint are not always your best friends: they can lead to piecemeal decisions and compromise. “If you don't take risks, you'll stay a one-man band forever,” says Adam Jenns, founder and managing director Mainframe. “I rented a big studio very early on in Mainframe's life, and it seemed to fill itself.”

05. Choose the right location

Location is king, ask any estate agent. So check out the area you're thinking of setting up in thoroughly. "How accessible are the nearest supply shops? What about banks and nice pubs to meet clients? Is there parking?" asks Aurelia Lange. And finally, how accessible are your premises? Is it 24/7? If not, how will you manage all those late nights?

06. Start your studio in summer

Thinking about heating bills, illustrator and designer Aurelia Lange, founder Aurelia Lange, has some practical advice: "Setting up in the summer will give you a head start," she laughs. Also, research all your expenses thoroughly – public liability, insurance, rates and such: "Business Link is a great resource for advice on this."

07. Search on foot

Searching the internet for studio space might have the advantage of speed, but you won't be getting there via the internet superhighway. It’s best to get out and walk around until you find somewhere you like. "This is a much better way to get a feel for an area, and you can also find some hidden gems that don’t appear on larger estate agent websites," says Bob Gray, design director of Red&Grey Design.

08. Quirky charm vs modern convenience

Design studio: IKEA

It may not be the designer's dream, but IKEA is cheap and convenient

"Think carefully about what you want from your office space," warns Josie Harold, managing director of Dirty Design. "The quirky older building that feels really individual and is cheaper than more traditional office space might seem perfect, but trust me, with no double-glazing the heating bills won’t be. And if you buy flatpack desks from IKEA, plan in three days to build them."

Next page: the remaining tips from the pros