How to build a thriving studio

illustrated D

Get a firm hold on studio management, project management and cashflow.

01. Make cashflow king

"Cashflow is the main downfall for small creative businesses," says Giansante. Yet making sure that there's always cash in the bank to pay for everything is a big task, and easily forgotten amongst the more 'fun' aspects of agency work."So as well as using tools like Xero, I've got a budget spreadsheet on my screen 24/7," he says. "Everything we spend on a daily basis goes in there and I keep constant track."

02. Be ruthless

In a small business, the person responsible for keeping clients happy may also be the person who needs to chase client payments, yet that can be problematic. "We don't like talking about money, it's a very British thing," says East. "But you need to get over that, or you may end up in trouble. Of course, you need to have proper payment systems, but beyond that it's largely a communication issue: you need to keep talking to clients about money, as well as everything else." 

03. Create an 'all hands on deck' culture

In a small business, everyone must be willing to pitch in with administrative tasks, believes Cecere. "We do have people that manage core areas of our business, but we're also a 25-person firm, so we talk about wearing a lot of hats," he says. "Even if you're a leader in a certain area, no one is too big to do any kind of task. People help each other out; we all roll up our sleeves when we need to."

04. Learn when to delegate 

When you're a small business, you can keep costs down by handling administrative tasks yourself. "But sometimes that's a false economy, and it's important to recognise where your energies are best spent," says East. "We got a great bookkeeper after about two years and it was worth the cost, because she gave us so much more information about cashflow and we could do projections. So as with design, these things are often best left to someone who knows what they're doing."

05. Manage workflow

It's the kind of problem everyone wants to have, but being over rather than under capacity can still be a serious problem for a small studio. "It's a really fine line between having too little work and too much," points out Giansante. "But that's one of the biggest challenges you can have on the project management side, to strike that balance. It's hard to say no to work from a cash point of view, but there are other options, like outsourcing to a pool of trusted freelancers."

06. Review everything you do regularly

With the constant hustle and bustle of agency work, it's easy to forget to take a step back and examine how things are going. But it's vital for the health of the company to do so, argues Misener. "We begin the week with a careful review of finance, operations, staffing and marketing across the entire business, developing a list of of goals for the week, along with any issues that we need to address," he says. "By minding the store, we create a sustainable and creative environment."

Next page: How to establish a good work-life balance

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.