Computer Arts has been killin’ it lately with their handbooks and the recently released Design Studio Handbook is no exception. Whether you’re a creative that’s always dreamed of running your own studio or you already are, this guide is for you.
This issue covers all the juicy business details that I’ve often found to be scarce in detail when searching online. Topics covered include what it takes to launch your own studio, managing money matters, how to be more efficient, how to win more work, the nitty gritty of dealing with clients, advice on building the perfect team, creating an awesome studio culture and more. Even better, a resources section is included in the back of the guide with links for startup advice, basic business information, the best design blogs, events and of course, books. Everything you need to acquire essential business savvy is at your fingertips. Pretty awesome.
In the first chapter about launching your own studio, that pesky document a lot of designers tend to skip over when launching their studios is right there, in a very simple breakdown: the business plan. With the design industry becoming increasingly competitive, this is a must-have. What I like most about their explanation of what to include is that all the jargon is cut out — which, if you’ve ever researched business plan how-to’s, is definitely the exception. Funding is also covered, as well as how to make your business legal.
Next up is money. Most of us creatives hate talking about it because it always feels a little dirty, like we’re admitting to not just doing a project for the sheer love of it. There’s no escaping it, though and the better informed you are, the better you’ll be able to manage your bottom line and heed off potential disasters. Setting rates is always a struggle — do you charge the same for a similar project scope but for very different clients? How do you build in pricing that takes into account your reputation and experience? This is all covered, including the basics of balancing the books (ugh)! Oh, and project management software options are also recommended.
As a studio, if you want to be profitable, efficiency is key. Time is money and the more efficient you can make your processes, the more time you’ll have to focus on the creative side of your business (which is what we all really want, right?) Understanding the basics of creating an automated workflow that functions in a similar manner for all of your clients is so important — the more informed they are, the easier it will be to manage their expectations and avoid disappointments.
Without new work, your studio will grow stagnant. But the process of how to win it can be a little fuzzy. This guide details how to spot opportunities and what to consider for your pitch. Pitching takes a lot of research, polish and confidence and it’s important to know what to include so you have the best shot of winning.
And without clients, your studio wouldn’t exist so it’s important to take care of them. After all, word of mouth is a powerful thing and happy clients create happy referrals. Managing expectations and giving them what they want (before they even know it) is key. The basics to building long-term relationships are covered and I especially agree with the tip to “become irreplaceable.” That, my friends, is key. But not all client relationships are meant to work out — understanding how to choose them wisely and recognizing red flags will take you far.
Finally, for a studio to grow, it takes a team. Understanding how to expand it in a healthy, flexible manner will keep you from becoming overextended both mentally and financially. With employees comes a whole set of laws so understanding what you’re responsible for before you get in over your head is also important. And, once you have a team in place, you need to take steps to keep it (thank god that’s covered as well)!
I adore these guides (remember, I covered the Design Student Handbook a few months back?) because the information is very straightforward and avoids fussy language that only accountants and lawyers can understand. I love that these issues are written by creatives for creatives. Computer Arts constantly knocks it out of the park — while beautifully designed, their publications are never just about the ‘pretty’ — I always feel like the business side of design is demystified and for that, I’m forever grateful.
Images: Computer Arts Design Studio Handbook.