I know a lot of you run small businesses so I wanted to share the article that I just wrote all about media kits with you. It covers what media kits are, why they’re especially helpful for small businesses and the top 10 things to consider including in yours. Check it all out here and let me know if you have any questions!
Category Archives: Business & Marketing
Over the weekend, I met up with a long-time friend who just landed a way awesome job and is leaving Portland soon. We both started our careers with the same exact internship and I was so excited to hear the news. His climb up the ladder in the design world over the last few years has been nothing short of impressive. I thought about our conversation afterwards and asked myself why I didn’t want the same thing. After all, a well-paying in-house design job at a cool company is the dream, right?
For six years, I freelanced and worked full-time at a lot of design studios and agencies. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It was necessary for me to witness the inner-workings of how successful design businesses run on a daily basis in order to fully understand what it takes to keep things going.
But now, being on my own, I’m the most content I’ve ever been. I’m excited to get out of bed every morning to work with clients I love and feel a personal connection with. I’m excited to share new snippets of work on dribbble. I’m excited to have people on my team I admire like Star and Cathy, even though we’re not physically in the same city. I’m excited to manage things and create a vision that feels authentic, evolving and modern. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.
And that’s what I realized: we each have to block out the outside noise and follow our own path. It took me until the age of 32 until I felt comfortable enough to launch Branch. I needed that time to grow into myself and gain the confidence that somehow, some way, everything would be okay. This path feels right for me for right now and if it doesn’t in the future, I have the power to change it.
I know a lot of other designers that don’t want the headaches of running their own businesses. They are happy working at a job that treats them well, pays them well and provides them with great benefits. I completely respect that because I wanted that same thing a few years ago. It’s nice to not have any cares about work when you leave the office for the night. It’s a very zen feeling to lock the door and leave your work behind. When you work for yourself, that work and to-do list is always chasing you.
Working for yourself is definitely an uphill battle. But it’s a battle I’m more than willing to take on.
When it comes to your career, it’s easy to look around and obsess about people that seemingly have something more than you. There’s that someone that is younger, more talented and further along. But remind yourself that there’s always going to be that someone.
As hard as it is to not get hung up on what the rest of the world is doing, you have to remember that you’re on your own path. It really doesn’t matter all that much what everyone else is up to. I didn’t even finish my design degree until I was 27 and it made me feel like such a late bloomer compared with my peers — but I didn’t let that stop me. I just worked harder because I wanted to be a graphic designer more than anything. I put in the time to get what I wanted. I worked a lot of jobs, some of which I loved, some of which I hated. But I learned something unique from each experience and it was worth it.
This post is a reminder to block out what everyone else is doing. If you want to work in-house or at an ad agency or for a small, family-owned business, cool. If you want to work for yourself, cool. It’s all up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to build your career in design.
Over the last year, I’ve launched two new businesses in addition to running this blog. Juggling three separate ventures isn’t easy but I have a few simple tips to make the process smoother if you find yourself in a similar position!
1. Keep one set of books
Before I expanded my business ventures, I sat down with my accountant and asked him how I should structure my books. The thought of potentially keeping track of receipts and accounts across multiple businesses made my head spin! He suggested that I form one LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) and then create a DBA (which stands for “doing business as”) for all of my additional ventures.
I took his advice and formed a business under my name, Shauna Haider LLC and then created a DBA for Branch and another for Nubby Twiglet. Since all are housed under my LLC, I now keep one set of books when it comes to taxes.
2. Keep an editorial calendar
Because I am now running two blogs, it’s important for me to keep track of what to post and when to post it. I am constantly dreaming up new ideas and producing content and in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about which blog it is most appropriate for.
Nubby Twiglet is my personal outlet with content revolving around design and lifestyle topics. Posts relating to personal style, home improvement, travel and advice live here.
On the other hand, the Branch blog is a place for my studio to post business-related content as well as design projects.
I keep detailed editorial calendars with outlines for the next month’s worth of content for each blog as a safety net (though it often shifts for the day depending on my mood). Having that arsenal of ideas scribbled down keeps me from feeling like I’m posting on the fly and in turn, producing sub-par content.
3. Batch process as much as possible
Part of the reason I’m able to stay on top of multiple businesses is because I batch process a lot of smaller tasks. For blog posts, I’ll often shoot all of the images I need for the week over a few hour block of time on the weekend and set up folders on my desktop for each.
When it comes to my design business, if I’m working with multiple new clients at the same time, I’ll do visual research for both at once and produce any similarly formatted presentations on the same day. By mentally focusing on the same steps, I’m able to work much faster.
4. Link personal and business bank accounts
All of my personal accounts including savings and checking as well as my credit card and home mortgage are issued through the same bank. When I set up my business accounts, I made an appointment at my bank and had a separate set of accounts opened but had them linked in with the others. Now, I can log into my account online and see all of my balances across six accounts at the same time.
5. Don’t be afraid to delegate
I’ve always had difficulty with delegating tasks. I tend to think that I can do it all (and do it well) but I’ve had to learn the hard way that this isn’t always the case. Over the last year, I’ve gotten better at letting go. Joey now does all of our grocery shopping and runs most of our household errands so I can spend more time focused on work. A month ago, I hired my mom as the project manager for Branch. Just knowing that she’s taking care of all of my business correspondence gives me peace of mind.
These five changes have saved me so much time and helped my sanity tremendously! Do you have any more tips you’d recommend to make running multiple businesses even easier?
Last Monday, Branch went live. Less than two hours after flipping the switch, I rushed off to the airport to fly to LA for some client meetings and from there, straight to Palm Springs for Designer VACA. I barely had time to catch my breath, let alone explain the brand in more detail. Today, I’m sharing more insights on how I came up with the concept of the business, along with the nuts and bolts of the branding.
As I discussed last week, I knew that it was finally time to reach out and ask for help when it came to running my design business. In the year leading up to Branch, I’d co-launched The Blogcademy with Kat and Gala, was receiving many more freelance inquiries than I could possibly handle and struggling with the work/life balance on a daily basis.
I’ve always been tight with my immediate family — every time I talked to my mom and told her how I was having trouble keeping up with emails and scheduling, she’d offer to help me manage the administrative parts of my business. My brother, also a graphic designer, was beginning to see his photography career take off and had already been helping me shoot projects. I’d been working alongside Star since 2007 on web design projects. Joey had been doing paste-ups and print production since the late 90s. Everyone I needed to help me was already there, I just needed to put the wheels in motion.
Today I have a big announcement to make about a personal project that I’ve put a lot of time and energy into: I’m officially launching a full-service design studio, Branch!
This shift in my career has come along partially out of a personal evolution and partially out of the fact that I had to admit to myself that my design business was bigger than myself. From the outside, it might seem like designers dedicate most of their days to doing design. But as time goes on, project management, research, keeping up with emails, blogging and social media takes up more of our daily existence. I know that a lot of other small business owners feel this creep as well. Pretty soon, you have to stop and ask yourself where all the time to create has gone. I did. Finally, I had to stop what wasn’t working and take what was to the next level.
In The Beginning
As you probably know by now, I started my blog, Nubby Twiglet in 2001. At that time, I was active on Live Journal and blogging quickly became the creative outlet I desperately needed while in school for business. Six years into blogging, thanks to a heart-to-heart with my friend Star who insisted I needed to move my blog over to the WordPress platform, I relaunched here, in August 2007, on my own domain.
By that point, I was in school full-time for graphic design. As I finished projects, I shared them with my readers. Before I knew it, I was getting freelance inquiries. The more work I shared, the more work rolled in. It was a natural progression. Even as I worked at design studios, I kept my blog very active and built up my portfolio, spending nights and weekends wrapping up client projects. Nubby Twiglet had quite accidentally transformed from a lifestyle blog to a design studio as well. The thing is, that “design studio” was just me. This worked out wonderfully for the first few years — I was able to keep everything running smoothly and build my clientele without all the headaches that come along with managing other people.
Then, as the scope of projects grew and more inquiries than I could handle started flooding in, I felt a shift. And when I gave it some serious thought, that shift I was feeling was completely normal: it was part of my evolution as a designer.
I’d spent six years at design studios and ad agencies collaborating as part of larger teams and that was actually how I was most comfortable working. I liked bouncing ideas off of other people and I also liked being challenged design-wise by co-workers who were much better than I was. It forced me to grow and constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone. But with my freelance clients, which I worked with through Nubby Twiglet, I had to adjust back to managing everything myself.
My methods and work kept growing and then I saw the writing on the wall. That shift I’d been feeling but couldn’t quite articulate became more apparent after launching The Blogcademy last August and working as a team, even though it was virtual. Once Kat, Gala and I had decided to partner up for our new venture, we got so much done in incredibly short periods of time. Having assigned tasks for each of the three of us upped the productivity dramatically and I saw the benefit once again of working as a team. I wanted that for myself but it didn’t feel within reach at the time.
I loved design but seemed to spend most of my time answering emails and putting together proposals. I didn’t want to live my life filling up my free time with administrative tasks. I had another heart to heart talk with Star, this time late one night in our shared hotel room during Designer VACA, trying to sort out my feelings about my business. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with Nubby Twiglet, as I had for the past six years. But when we dug deeper, we were able to pinpoint my uneasiness: the twig had grown into a branch. To take things to the next level, I needed “branches” to get everything done. The business was bigger than I was. To move forward from there, I needed to admit that I couldn’t do it all myself and be okay with that. It sounds easy enough, but when you’re an overly organized control freak Virgo like I am, making that admission and letting go is incredibly difficult.
What I’ve since realized is that being brave enough to let go can lead to amazing things. That initial upheaval that comes with realizations about our businesses, relationships and ourselves has the potential to bring forth some of the best things into our lives. Now, everything feels right. My blog, Nubby Twiglet will keep on going as it always has. I’ve loved it since 2001 and I’m still excited to wake up every morning and publish new articles to share with all of you. The Blogcademy fulfilled my dreams of traveling and teaching. And now, Branch is the place where I’ll have the opportunity to collaborate on design projects with my favorite people.
Today is launch day and as a full-service creative studio, I’m ecstatic to have a business that’s finally bigger than myself. As a freelancer, I felt like it was my duty to answer every single email, fill out every single contract and manage all of the creative on my own. At Branch, I have the opportunity to design a whole lot more. And that is what I feel best doing. Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far for help to manage the day-to-day administrative tasks. My mom, Cathy will now step in as a project manager and with over 30 years of management experience, she’s a whole lot better at tackling spreadsheets, forms, receipts and emails than I am. Star, who coded my first ever blog back in the day and helped me make the idea of running a studio bigger than myself a reality, is joining me for web design duties. She also deserves some serious applause for pulling a week of nearly all-nighters to bring the site to life. Joey, my brother Carey and even Rocky will be involved (because every company needs a mascot). Needless to say, I love my branches.
If you have a project that you feel would be a good fit for us, we’d love to hear from you! Thanks for all your continued support. I am beyond excited for this new era of design, business and blogging.
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.
‘Tis the season for graduation! But beneath all the anticipation and excitement, I have been receiving a number of nervous emails from freshly minted design grads looking for ways to carve out their post-college careers. Most of us have been in that boat as well and I know how stressful it can be so I’ve compiled some tips to help make the transition smoother.
1. If full-time work is your goal but you don’t have a job lined up, try placement agencies.
I’ve worked with both Aquent and 24 Seven in the past and have had fantastic results with both. Placement agencies are great for a number of reasons. If you’ve never been to one, here’s what happens: first, you’re interviewed by an agent and they review your portfolio in-depth to determine your skill set. From there, it’s their goal to place you in jobs that they feel are the best possible fit. They have a good reason for wanting to keep both you and your employer happy: for each hour you work, they earn a commission.
Through placements, I was able to get into a number of boutique design studios and even Nike. The experience I gained was incredibly valuable and by moving around, from the tip of corporate America all the way down to 10 person studios, I learned a lot about how the design industry functions in a really short period of time. By trying on different hats, you become much more adaptable to varying management and design styles and I would argue, more valuable as a designer.
With placement agencies, since the work isn’t consistent (unless you get offered a contract), you tend to get paid substantially more than you would at a full-time position. I had times where I would get booked for two days but I can tell you that if you’re a good fit, they will find a way to make room for you. One particular short-term gig I had turned into an entire year! And if the company loves you, there’s a chance that they will offer you full-time employment.
Placement agencies are a great way to test the waters, especially if you’re still finding your way and settling into a niche. You’re able try out a variety of places and determine what works best for you (Agency or in-house? Digital or print? Design or production?) And if things don’t work out, that’s okay, too. Your agent can help you with parting ways gracefully and it’s a lot less painful than quitting a full-time job.
2. Before you reach out, whip that portfolio into shape!
When I graduated in 2008, print portfolios were absolutely mandatory. I know that since then, a lot of job seekers have switched over to digital portfolios exclusively to showcase their work. While I do use my iPad for supplementary work, I still have a print version. Maybe I’m old school but I know that a lot of the people I meet with are older than I am and appreciate the time and energy it takes to put together a print portfolio. I limit mine to 10 to 12 projects max and then share a larger variety on my iPad if they request more samples. If you’re curious, here’s a peek inside the last print portfolio I did.
While my print portfolio is very tightly edited, my digital portfolio is much more broad. I love Cargo for its ease of use and very reasonable fees. The pre-made templates are fantastic and with a little CSS magic, you can refine them further. I’m working on a full website to house my projects (more on that later!) but in the meantime, Cargo has treated me well over the last two years. Also, Squarespace has some beautiful template options, too.
3. Nail the interview basics.
We’ve all heard tips for nailing a great interview from friends, family and industry professionals enough times to feel like they’re one big cliché. Show up on time! Dress the part! Act enthusiastic! We know, we know! UGH!
But seriously, all of these small things combine to make an unforgettable impact. I’ve been on dozens of interviews and can vouch that most run incredibly smoothly — most creative staff were once in your position and remember that nervous, uncertain feeling well. As long as you move through your portfolio quickly, they are usually incredibly accommodating.
But, there’s always those curveballs when we least expect them and that’s where practicing these tips comes into play so you can remain graceful under fire! There was one interview that I’ll never forget: it was so intense that I felt like I’d been transported to the O.J. trial. I kept thinking, “I’m being interviewed for a job so why does it feel like an interrogation?!” Even so, I made it through, smiled, shook the interviewer’s hand and thanked him for his time. And then quickly left. Always keep your cool! My 11 tips for acing your next design interview can help you get started.
4. Knowledge Is Power.
I’m always reading books about my field in an effort to stay current with design trends, strategy and business. My top three picks for highly valuable insight on breaking into the industry are:
A. How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
I found this book to be hugely beneficial when I was first starting out — it’s simple, relatable and immediately applicable. And that’s exactly what I needed.
I love the smooth flow of this book, from beginning to end. It’s so rare that hugely successful designers open up and share the inner workings of their businesses along with detailed insights of their processes.
C. Design Student Handbook by Computer Arts
Looking for a guide that covers all the nitty gritty of prepping a killer portfolio and breaking into the design industry? The Design Student Handbook is for you. I wish there was something like this on the market back when I graduated!
5. Blog about your projects. Always.
When I was first starting out, I used my blog to share all of my new client work. The good, the bad and the ugly made its way up for the world to see and each project I shared brought in new prospects.
Getting comfortable with sharing my work was hugely beneficial in getting my foot in the door at a number of design jobs because I’d already developed my voice and style very publicly. It can be scary putting your work out there but it’s something you have to get accustomed to because you never know who’s reading it. A good example: In 2009, I was three days into a Nike contract when I got called into my department manager’s office. I thought I’d done something terribly wrong and was getting fired! Instead, he said he’d recognized me from my blog and wanted to know if I’d be interested in permanent positions.
If steady work doesn’t pop up right away post-graduation, your blog can be a great way to drum up freelance work. And who knows, you might be so successful at it that a full-time job becomes a fading memory. Oh, and don’t forget to share those in-progress snippets on dribble and your glowing final outcomes on Behance.
Graduates, I know it’s not easy but view each opportunity (no matter how small) as a learning experience and with time, your path will unfold. Good luck on your new, exciting journey!