In the past we have spoken about design, this industry we love, what inspires us towards creativity and reaching our end product. I decided to write my blog about the business itself and the things I have learnt along the way. This has the risk of sounding a bit self indulgent (even for a blog) as we have barely started down our path but who knows, there may be some guys at the start of their journey?
I set the company up over 10 years ago; 2 years later the turnover was £14k working from the spare room in my Mum and Dad’s house. 2 years later I had my own office and one employee, in 2015 there are 14 of us, we are based in MediaCityUK and turnover just above £700,000…like I said, we’ve not broken any records and there’s a long way to go, but still the business is moving in the right direction.
Many agencies are spawned from working for large agencies, getting a few loyal clients then pinching these clients and leaving to set up your new agency with a ready made set of accounts…this blog may not be for you. I set up Fuzzy Duck in 2004 without any clients or work with any brand names in my book, and not a lot of work that I was particularly proud of…and I had just turned 30!
Okay, I digress – I’ll save ‘my story’ for another blog. The business of design, here’s what I know:
Hire people who are, or have the potential to be better than you
Alex Ferguson knew he wouldn’t get far only hiring players he was better than and neither should you. If the teacher is any good, the apprentice surpasses the teacher
When interviewing people you need to be sure you get the right person, but equally they need to be sure that they get the right crew. Allow any potential new recruits to wander around, shadow the team and ask any questions to anyone while they’re here. Work life is a massive commitment, you need to be sure that you want to turn up and put a shift in every day.
Everyone gets a say
If you are successful working for yourself, you may decide to employ people. We are now up to a team of fourteen though I never wanted to dictate, man-manage or constantly oversee work…not only is this not a lot of fun but can stifle creativity. You do need to have the confidence in your own ideas to be able to direct others and say “I don’t like that because…” Always have a reason why something doesn’t work for you. But allow the guys who have joined the company to add value to the company by doing what it is they do.
I decided to break the group up into work teams and have team leaders manage their own group, deadlines and clients. All departments work together and meet often. Part of my job is to coach the managers and help them to get the best from their crew and how to communicate with clients.
Everyone knows how much we (need to) make.
I would much rather work for a company where we all know if we are doing well and we all know if we aren’t. In Fuzzy Duck, everyone knows how much the company needs to make each month to stay in business and (hopefully) how much profit we make every month. This way employees can see if and how much profit we make, if they should ask for a bonus, if the business is doing well and in short, take ownership of the commercial side of the business. The problem many companies have is staff retention, but then they don’t place any faith in their team. The team have no ownership of the company. This socialist kind of idea makes total sense to me as I always wanted to have a company where everyone can see clearly their achievement and feel as though they are part of something.
Respect for clients
I have worked in agencies where they constantly complain about the people who are paying their wages. Managing clients is a two way street, you both want what is best for each job. Usually if they aren’t giving you the relevant feedback it is because the problem hasn’t been properly explained to the client. Speak in terms of hours with clients so they are aware that the time spent on a job costs money, if you have budgeted a job clearly then any add ons should be flagged up immediately so you can amend the quote to get the correct PO or there are no shocks once the invoice is sent. Listen to the client, they know their industry.
You’re the expert
Clients have chosen you because you’re the expert. When you begin amending your design so much that you are following instruction of the client, you aren’t doing your job…they are. So you better have a good reason for producing a design the way you want it, because you will need to communicate this to the client when they start to change it beyond recognition.
Each job should either look good in your book or make you money
If it doesn’t do either, don’t do it.
Sounds obvious, but many of my contemporaries struggled with this concept. Because they enjoy the work they almost feel like they’re being rude asking for the money. Agree a price, finish the job, post your invoice.
Sounds a bit naff this, but I never wanted to be JR*, the ruthless business man who would burn people to get ahead. Opportunities to screw people over, do present themselves from time-to-time but I always try to see if there is a way to mediate and build on a relationship rather than a quick win at someone else’s detriment. Usually these things tend to depend on which way you are viewing a problem and if you can switch your perspective, a better resolution or collaboration can usually be sort…however, if you go up against us in a pitch, you’d better be on your game.
Have a laugh
In meetings, the name of the company is often questioned, but (without going into detail) I really just wanted to work somewhere that would be fun. I figured that if I called it Fuzzy Duck, we couldn’t take ourselves too seriously and I could help to build the kind of company where I would really like to work. Besides this is art, creativity, we tell stories and make cartoons…it’s the coolest job in the world.
Are we there yet? Of course not, but I suppose that’s the problem with ambition. I have long held the view that if you are successful you will be happy, I’m now trying to adopt slightly different perspective that if you are happy, you will be successful…my final point is to try and enjoy the ride.
* – cultural reference kids, to Dallas, hit TV show from the olden days