Why you should start your own agency

So you've decided it's time to build your own team. How do you get started? There are number of questions to answer and elements to organise before you can launch your first agency. Let's take a look at a few of them.

Find your niche

In the overcrowded current creative world, it is generally advised for you to find your niche rather than generalising. Maybe you already have one as a freelancer, maybe not. If so, it usually makes the most sense to continue it into your agency. After all, you already have the work samples to prove your expertise.

A niche can be industry-specific (i.e. specialising in food service businesses) or discipline-based (i.e. specialising in only web design, or even more specifically, landing page design).

If you don't have a niche already, that's OK. You don't even have to narrow your focus yet. But, ideally, you will want to work your way toward a niche over time. This can either be an active process (you can do some research and decide what you want to focus on) or it can happen naturally, as you see what kinds of work you naturally gravitate towards.

You need to decide how niche you want your work to be

You need to decide how niche you want your work to be

No matter what your niche is or how you arrive at it, you'll want to start to market to that niche sooner rather than later.

Even if you don't have a plethora of work samples to show, you can still pursue it with detailed case studies of the few examples you do have, and a solid marketing plan. The more great work you do in a certain area, the more of that kind of work you will attract.

Establish your brand

When starting your own agency, the first thing you want to consider is the branding. One of the first things to do is to brainstorm a name. You can certainly go with your own name if you like, many firms do – or you can think of something more creative that fits the voice of your agency. 

But beyond that there is plenty to think about. What is the overall personality and voice of the new business? Since it's coming from you, these elements should be congruent with who you are and your key values. Here are a few things to consider to help you find your brand voice:

  • Think of three adjectives to represent your brand: Ideally, these should accurately represent you as well, since you are the face of your agency. Any incongruences might read as inauthentic to your clients.
  • Keep it timeless: The last thing you want is to have to rebrand a few years into your agency because you went with something too trendy or unambitious.
  • Nod to your niche, but don't overdo it: Let's say you plan on going after the pet industry as a niche. You might call your agency Red Dog Creative. This works, because it plays to the niche, but it would also work if you ever decided to pivot to a new niche for any reason. Just be careful your name or branding isn't locking you into anything that may not work out.

Then you need to start work on your own logo design, website and company collateral. For any designer this is the fun part, but it can also be draining. Designing for ourselves can spiral out of control based on the sheer number of options. I recommend putting a deadline on each phase, and treating it like a project for any client. Remember, 'perfect' is often the enemy of 'great'.

Assemble a creative team

Recruiting new studio members is the part that most creatives stress over, but if you're going to grow, you need a killer team on your side. Choose your collaborators carefully, as they can propel your agency to the top, or sink it like a stone.

The success of your venture rests on picking the right people

The success of your venture rests on picking the right people

You have a choice here. You can either hire employees outright, or start by simply hiring contractors as needed, per project. For those just starting out, with no real capital, I recommend going the contractor route to start with. This allows you to grow slowly, and try different people out until you have assembled your dream team.

There are many types of contractors you may want to bring on, from other designers to web specialists, project managers, marketing people, accountants and copywriters. You may choose to work with people in your local area, but these days it's really not a requirement, because, you know, the internet.

Figure out a workflow

Once you start putting your team together, you need to get a process in place for managing everybody and their workflow. You may not have a brick and mortar workplace where everybody can collaborate under one roof (or even one time zone), but you can simulate the experience using the right software.

There are many online apps that will allow you to delegate work to your team, make lists, share files and keep track of what remains to be done. Most are not free, but when you consider they are freeing you from the overheads associated with a permanent workplace, the cost is negligible, and well worth it. Take a look at our list of the best tools to help you work remotely.

Adjust your pricing

Once you have made up your mind to ditch the freelancer title in favour of 'owner', you'll want to alert your current clients of the switch, as well as any pricing changes that have taken effect. Most agencies do charge more per hour than freelancers, so you are well within your rights to do so.

You will probably need the extra money to pay your contractors (or employees), since multiple team members will now be working on a single project. You may lose some of your current business due to the price hike, but now you can start going after bigger clients with bigger projects, and the budgets to match.

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Wes works as creative director/lead web designer for The Deep End Design in Chicago.