Where and how do you start a design business?
The cut to the chase answer to the question of where and how do you start a design business depends on your goals.
But first, this needs to be tied into last week’s entry What kind of designer are you? because the intention of this series is to make suggestions for self learning to help you get to wherever it is you want to be. To do that, you need to articulate where you want to be because as the old proverb says, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.
About goals -this being an entrepreneurship blog- let’s assume you intend to generate a profit. Within that spectrum, there is a wide range of possibilities. Obviously there is overlap but I break this down into four main categories:
- The dilettante: one who aspires to a bit of pin money,
- the income replacer: one who needs income equivalent to a job -or maybe even a bit extra,
- the merchant: those who need to support their family and their employees families with the business,
- corporate: one who aspires to scale; growing their business to whatever limits there are.
There are more traditional size classifications such as local, regional, national and international but those largely don’t apply in this business anymore. For example, I’m a 2 (income replacer) aspiring to be a 3 (merchant) but my reach is international and has been since I was a 1 (the latter due more to circumstances than intent).
Now, within each category, there are greater competencies and responsibilities if one intends to ascend to whichever strata. At the same time, one has less freedom to do what they want artistically but rather than seeing that as a limitation, it is actually liberating because it creates boundaries that will help you define the focus of your efforts. More simply stated, if you know what you want, you can create a plan. Yay plans! People often perceive limitations to be negative -in fact limiting- but being more pragmatic by limiting the gamut of options will make you more profitable. Do you want the freedom to design whatever dress meets your fancy or do you want to pay off your house? Or pay off a second home? Or whatever. Only you know the answer to that question. A friend’s email signature reads “Money doesn’t buy happiness but it sure make misery a lot nicer”.
Being more focused on profitability doesn’t mean you sell out and make crap. There are few comparisons that annoy me more.
But I digress. You need to know what your goals are. Pick 1-4 and pair that with your selection from What kind of designer are you? to gain insight as to what you need to know. Here are a sampling of scenarios I’ll throw out there:
For example, if you’re a #1, how you classify yourself (artist, tradesman etc) doesn’t matter because you can suit yourself as you don’t really need the money. You can earn whatever you want because it interests you. You needn’t be constrained with continuity from one season to the next, worrying about color trends or hiring pattern makers or sewing contractors so you can have quite a bit of fun with your artistic vision.
If you’re a #2, you need to be a bit more disciplined and business minded so you can exact revenue over expenses to maintain your contribution to the family budget (your income may be the family budget wholly). Your planning and execution will have to follow accepted norms if only in sourcing (continuity) so you have materials on schedule. Depending on your skill set (TBD), if you’re using contractors for small production, you’ll have to have better patterns and commensurate competencies. For example, you may not need pattern services often but you should develop a relationship with providers who have more resources than you do and can help guide in your development. Our forum is a great resource if this describes you.
If you’re a #3, being a designer and manager can only be your full time job if you have help; hopefully another family member or formal business partner. If a family member, you can tell them that it’s only until you get your legs under you (ha ha). But seriously, developing industrial competencies should be a major priority -which will mean occasionally having to hire it out. It is not easy to say what you should learn because the focus of most businesses (remember, not quite scaling at this stage) may be mostly outsourced and you’re doing well enough to manage that. Other 3′s will want to do their own production (also 2′s) so they will need to make learning an ongoing priority. If this describes you, in addition to the forum, I suggest creating an educational budget for yourself and every member of your team even if that only means buying a new book every month or bringing in a trainer over a long weekend once a year.
If you’re a #4, you need a lot of money, awesome connections and a lot of experience (TBD). You’ll also need access to solid industry competencies albeit at another level. In a perfect world (okay, my perfect world) you would grow from a 2 to a 4 and build relationships and skills along the way. However, being that some people are generally quarrelsome and fail to adhere to my every whim, I know that some people prefer to start at this stage and leave the groundwork to people they bring in. However it is that you do it, buy it or roll your own, you need skills.
For next time, we can sort out what self taught designers need to learn dependent upon their category (artist, craftsman etc) as commensurate to their goals (1-4) in greater detail.
By all means, don’t be shy about suggesting amendments. Thanks in advance for kicking the tires on this.