5 essentials for your start-up studio

You've always wanted to be in creative media, even before you knew what "media" meant. So you spent years doing the school, intern, and entry-level thing, but like your buddies have been stuck in a mid-level job for years.

Tired of being a worker bee, you and some buddies have started thinking about opening your own shop. You feel the time is right and you're all ready to go for it. Hopefully you have a few clients and maybe investors to help get you off the ground. Either way, you'll likely be counting every penny and looking for ways to pay all those bills.

The following are five cost effective ways to help afford opening a small team creative shop and, maybe more important, help keep it open.

01. Affordable media workstations

You got your first big project and need to hire eight creatives artists. The default solution is to buy each of your workers an iMac and Adobe Creative Cloud. This is fine, and will serve you well. But it will cost about $1300(US) for the computer, and $50 each month for Creative Cloud. That's over $2,000 (US) per worker for the first year, or a total of $16,000(US). Add a few more thousand if you need 3D software. And remember Creative Cloud charges every month, that's $400/month for your eight workstations.

The alternative to consider is the Windows, or even Linux option, and using the great range of free Open Source graphics software available. There is an equivalent open source application for almost every graphics program you currently use. For example, you could use GIMP instead of Photoshop, Inkscape instead of Adobe Illustrator, and even Blender3D instead of Maya. And many of these programs even save in the same file formats as the programs they replace. So exchanging files with other shops is still easy.

How about getting your shop set up with workstations about as powerful as iMacs, but at half the price? Well it isn't hard to find HPs, Dells and others with great specs, for around $500, plus or minus. Add a monitor for $2-300 and you have a kicking Windows workstation.

We could even take things a step further and suggest you simply build your own boxes – it's super-simple today. And skip the OS costs altogether by installing Unbuntu Studio, a single install that puts the Unbuntu Linux operating system on your new computer, complete with almost every open source creative program you might want.

I'll grant you that the more adventurous you get, the more tech savvy someone in your shop will need to be. But setting up a team of eight for a one time cost of just $4400 — an almost 75 per cent saving on the first year — is very tempting.

02. Modern and affordable telephony

The costs of traditional telephone systems have become unaffordable. Especially when compared to the free and low cost alternatives of Skype and Google Hangouts. These are VoIP systems based on the internet as a network (as opposed to private network VoIP systems which cost a lot more). Downside to Skype/Hangouts are that call quality can vary, and support is slim pickings. But both continue to improve.

In the low end the most common way to use Skype/Hangouts is to simply use your computer/laptop's speakers and mic. This works, but won't give either listener the best sound quality. Nor will it be very private.


One of the stand-out lines of telephony headsets is from Logitech, who currently offer a large range of great sounding hi-tech designs. I sampled one high-end, and one affordable model.

Logitech's Wireless Headset Dual H820e looked like art from the Modern Museum. It has great ergonomics with discreet controls, and left/right side mic options. Its wireless DECT technology reached further around concrete walls in my studio than any other headset. And my phone-mates said I sounded better than ever before — not easy for wireless.

It's street price is about $125. Worker bees should be plenty happy with the quality of Logitech's H570e, which is based on a very similar design, has similar sound quality and many controls in a wired USB unit. Its street price is under $40 (US).

Convert your existing system

Prefer phones to headsets? A company named Obihai makes tools to convert your existing telephones into Google Hangout phones. Just unplug your standard RJ-45 phone jack into the back of their box, and then their box into your network. After a quick registration on their site, your old phone becomes a Google Hangout internet phone!

I got to try out their OBi202 VoIP Phone Adapter, which currently sells on Amazon for under $70 (US), and there are no additional service fees. The sound quality was good to excellent, and it doesn't even require a computer, so you just set it and forget it — nice! This has become my main office line.

The OBi202 connects two phones, but their OBi508vs connects up to eight. If you need to add more, you can take a look at their VoIP phones that are ready to connect to many VoIP services right out of the box.

VoIP Conference Calls

Logitech even has an affordable VoIP solution for your conference room, to connect your creative team with the clients. Called the Mobile Speakerphone P710e, it is a high quality speakerphone system that connects to your computer, phone or tablet via cable, Bluetooth and NFC pairing. It enhances the audio and video conference call, for a street price of under $120 (US).

03. The Network server

When you have a team of workers — especially those producing large creative files — you need to have a good system for sharing and streaming content, and backing up work. This could be done with another computer box, sure. But I'd argue that this is one place dedicated hardware can make life a lot simpler.

We looked at a great and affordable Network Attached Storage (NAS), the DiskStation DS415+ from Synology. Designed for the SMB office, with a street price under $580 (US), it does more than just storage. It sports a quad-core CPU, high-speed data throughput up to 225.81 MB/s, fast data encryption, four hard drive bays.

Using its browser based interface you can easily create Home folders for each worker, and control permissions. It works across Windows, Mac and Linux. Add software and it can become your email server, and even VPN server, all while running under 15W passive, and 33W active.

04. Office supplies

The office supply category is huge today, and often includes technology and food supplies, in addition to printer paper and staples. And the monthly bills for these items can get big.

So we learned of a new option we want to share with you. It happened when I was in need of a simple HDMI cable. I found that local pricing for such an item was $18-30 (US) here in NYC. Compare that with the $6 option at Amazon.com for the same item. But I needed it that day, so I was stuck, right?

Well, both Amazon and Google have launched local same-day delivery of a wide range of products. Amazon takes the lead here with their Prime Now service available in many major cities around the world. They offer delivery to our studio in just one hour (with a $7 charge) or in just two hours without any delivery fee.

Prime Now requires ordering via a specialized mobile app — a dumb idea we hope will change. But once installed I was able to order that $6 HDMI cable, a 9-volt battery, and paper good for the studio...all for $22, about the same price the cable alone would have cost at retail. Plus I had it within two hours without having to leave work!

05. Studios run on caffeine

If you want to keep your start-up's doors open, then you need to keep your team working. Not taking 30 minute breaks running down the street for a $4 latte.

So when looking for a new unit I wanted a sturdy machine capable of keeping my small team caffeinated across the day. I quickly eliminated some machines due to their bad coffee, and others due to their less sturdy build.

I focused on the Gaggia line, long known for its great machines and its true Italian heritage. Their 'Classic' fit our studio perfectly. Like a scaled down commercial machine, it would last for years. It brews from ground coffee, but also from pods which might suite an office better. It's push-button controls make it easy to learn, and its large water tank will keep it rolling all day without refills. This machine (above) was a steal at under $370 (US).

Words: Lance Evans

Lance Evans is creative director of Graphlink Media.

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