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Blog Post

5 Things That Help Grow Your Design Business

5 minutes

Let’s just start here…running a business can be hard. For those running a business, especially a creative one, there is no shortage of nuances that uniquely challenge us, not to mention the usual things to stay on top of, plan for, and promote. With today’s disruptive environment, you need to pay attention to the pillars of your business as well as the need to be shifting at some level every three to four years.

Over the last sixteen years, I have identified several key areas to pay attention to when you’re running and growing your business.

Make sure you know the best you (aka what you are great at)

As creatives, we get the power of story and how it makes clients stand out in the marketplace. But when was the last time you looked at the building blocks of YOUR story to see whether it still rings true or is becoming a work of fiction? This is key to growing your business. Being authentic about who you are and what you do best is your truth. Truth builds trust, and trust is a vital ingredient of having a great team and getting and keeping clients. Make sure you understand what you are the best and most profitable at.

Process, Process, Process

Often we ignore certain processes and templates because we think it makes us “uncreative” when that is the furthest from the truth. In fact, when you have processes, systems, and templates in place, it increases your productivity, profitability, happiness in the workplace, and even the clarity of your brand!

Take some time to think through where your biggest areas of wasted time are. It could be something as “simple” as finding assets to projects to larger communication issues such as client follow-up. Think this through. You can start by looking at your client list, asking your team, and reflecting on the last year’s biggest headaches.

For example, we have a frequently updated library of new business communications that we customize for each proposal, presentation, and follow up. This saves us hundreds of hours a year, and as we all know, time is money.

Tending to your culture

We are students of culture, and I have written a lot about it here, here, and here. We can get inspired; we can learn how to upgrade our skills — but if we are not in the right culture, or helping to create the right culture, we are missing out on our best work opportunities. Culture is an important component of any company; in fact, I would argue that it may be the most important component.

Basically, if your culture is off, if you are not hiring specifically for culture fit, or if you’re not actively curating the different dimensions of your culture, your growth potential is limited. This includes your ability to create your best design!

Promoting and Networking

Promoting and networking smartly is something that needs to be very purposeful and constant. We have found the old adage of working your hardest on new business when you are the busiest to be true, time and time again. The best and most obvious place to start promoting and networking should be with those you love working with the most and vice versa. You might resist this because you don’t want to make the relationship weird or put someone on the spot. But 90 percent of the time, I have found those contacts to be very open and often excited to help. So make a short list of those clients you need to take out for coffee or lunch and pop the question. And no matter what, make sure you say thank you!

Create an Advisement Team

At times, no matter how hard you try, you can make some really bad decisions. Wouldn’t it be great to have a group of people that know you, have different experiences than you’ve had, and are available to discuss various scenarios with you? The best part is that you can. You can create one for your company, or for yourself personally. One of my favorite Abe Lincoln quotes is: “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” We can all discover people who collectively make us smarter.

Now, an advisory board like this only works if you take it seriously and develop some parameters. Here are some things to think about:

• Take it seriously: A board is only as successful as you make it. Be open and accepting of both good and bad feedback.

• Set guidelines: Make a clear list of what you are looking for and what you expect from your advisors. Having all the parameters up front helps everyone make this a successful venture.

• Be ready to be transparent: Only take this step if you are truly going to be open, honest, and ready for good and challenging feedback.

For more in-depth exploration of these areas, check out my Lynda course. I share several tips, stories, and best practices to help build some actionable consistency and process to sustain and ultimately grow your business. Whether you are a sole proprietor, business leader, or a maker at any type of agency, there is some goodness in there for you.