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The design agency survival guide

Starting and running a successful design agency takes guts, determination and a fair bit of business savvy. It can be hugely rewarding, but you also need to know what you're letting yourself in for.

As our freelance survival guide (opens in new tab) shows, there are plenty of considerations to bear in mind when going it alone – but these responsibilities are multiplied when you're running a business and have staff, infrastructure and other things to worry about.

Whether you're just starting out or are looking to build your reputation and grow your studio, we've gathered together a collection of content to give you the insight and inspiration you need to be successful. 

This includes creative business advice, useful insights on how to create a better studio culture and working environment for your staff, and self-promotion and portfolio ideas to get your name out there.

So read on for our essential guide to how to run a more successful design studio. If we haven't covered a particular burning question for you, fear not – we will continue to add to this collection with more invaluable studio advice each month.

01. Inspirational design agencies

8 of the most successful indie design studios (opens in new tab)
These agencies achieved global growth while staying independent. Featuring Moving Brands, Pentagram, DesignStudio, Pearlfisher, Bulletproof, Elmwood, jkr and SomeOne.

Top 20 US design studios of 2018 (opens in new tab)
From boutiques to the biggest beasts, we present America’s most exciting design agencies. Featuring Pentagram New York, Sagmeister & Walsh, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, Landor, Meta Design, Huge, Firstborn, House Industries and more...

02. Design agency business advice

6 ways not to get hired as a designer (opens in new tab)
Pitching for your dream job can make you do funny things. Counterproductive, self-sabotaging things. This post is here to help you identify the behaviours that put clients off, and put a stop to the madness. 

How to attract top talent to your agency (and keep it) (opens in new tab)
Recruitment can be one of the toughest parts of running a successful design agency. There are so many factors involved, and it's a big responsibility – especially when you're still a relatively small, new business. Read on for six gems of advice to help you attract the best talent for your design agency – and keep it.

10 ways to be a more business-savvy designer (opens in new tab)
Keep the practical side of your business running smoothly with pro advice for controlling your cashflow, getting to grips with contracts and copyright, managing tax and VAT, understanding employee rights and dealing with staff difficulties.

8 ways to make more money in 2018 (opens in new tab)
Use your design skills to diversify your income streams by creating physical products, selling digital assets, writing about your specialism, teaching, or simply lobbying for a promotion or pay rise.

03. Advice on agency culture

7 ways to make your studio a better place to work (opens in new tab)
Develop a healthier culture in your design agency: provide shared refreshments, introduce flexible seating, create an inspiration wall, show work in progress, introduce more natural light, install a communal table and use breakout spaces.

5 design agencies that do things differently (opens in new tab)
How an agency works isn’t set in stone, as these examples show – including a 'freelance +' experience, a virtual consultancy, a pared-back management structure, a home-based agency and a broad-ranging design collective.

5 inspiring design agency side projects (opens in new tab)
Look what happens when agencies unleash their passions... featuring side projects by Conran Design Group, Bozboz, Carter Wong, Superimpose Studio and Snask.

04. Self-promo for design agencies

5 inspired self-promo ideas for design agencies (opens in new tab)
Take a look at these unusual but effective approaches to self promotion, featuring projects from BLOCD, Vasava, RRDCreative, The Clearing and TBWAHunt Lascaris.

8 brilliant design agency business cards (opens in new tab)
Featuring best-in-class business card designs by Ink Digital, Made Brave, Mediendesignwerk, L'Atelier Irradie, Aurora, CP+B, Nymbl and Curious Space.

05. Design agency portfolio advice

5 unusually effective ways studios show work (opens in new tab)
Design agency portfolios are rarely one-size-fits-all – especially if you want to show off your studio's personality and way of thinking, as well as the end product. We explore how NB, Koto, GBH, Spin and Graphic Thought Facility approach the task.

6 innovative ways to photograph your portfolio (opens in new tab)
Presentation is crucial in a design portfolio, and a beautifully art-directed approach can help you stand out  from the crowd. We reveal six top design agencies that have nailed the art of shooting work for their portfolios...

6 inspiring redesigns of design agency portfolios (opens in new tab)
What we can learn from the recent relaunches of six top design studio websites, including Pentagram, Johnson Banks, Rose, Studio Dumbar, DesignStudio and Superunion?

6 famous agency websites and what they teach us (opens in new tab)
These well-known agency websites offer lessons for designers: including Happy Cog, DesignStudio, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, The Partners, AKQA and GBH.

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Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards (opens in new tab) in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.