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CEO at co-founder at Clay Joined almost 5 years ago
It's something we'll cover in our next article. This one is to highlight the deliverables that are more or less standardized... Our strategy & concept results are never the same and that applies to how we deliver it too.
Validation with users and stakeholders is a continuous process and all deliverables go through several iterations based on the different feedback we receive.
It is a new agency. There is some overlap now with the SFCD work, but we'll be replacing that soon. The current site is just a placeholder and we're working on our branding and a new website. More soon!
John, we're restructuring our business a little bit. Clay is purely focused on the Bay Area startups providing them with on-demand design resources. The company is going to invest in some startups too.
The decision was made to diversify our business and we also wanted to have a more nimble team who would only do startup work.
SFCD is still around working with bigger clients and other agencies on full-stack design and development projects.
I would say that we're trying to understand our client's challenges, goals, and come up with a potential plan of attack early on.
It helps us to vet new clients and see if they are a good fit for us. It works the same way for clients – they see if we're a good fit or not, risk free.
Usually we don't go beyond 2-3 meetings + calls/email conversations. Once we have a good understanding of the project, we send them our proposal and ask to begin a formal discovery/strategy process. We don't do any user research or any other tangible work before we have a contract in place
Usually, this initial pre-sale discovery process is something that I do with the help from our CTO, Creative and UX directors. Again, clients will get to know the people who will work on their projects and get some feedback from our top resources. We don't charge for that.
We don't go through this process with every potential client weeding out unpromising leads and weak ideas.
Yes, you need to prioritize sales and marketing over everything else. This is so simple. No clients –> no need to design anything.
There is no common scenario on how to improve sales and I'm still figuring stuff out. You always need to find new ways and strategies, be alert and reply to all emails the same day you receive them. Clients is everything for you so treat them well.
Some things you may want to try: – create a professional portfolio showing your process, not just final result – read a lot, but write more and write about things you know well enough – network with fellow designers and firms – do good work and clients will start recommending you eventually – treat returning clients exceptionally well, they are everything!
We usually start by defining how many breakpoints we want, then we create designs for each one of them. We just deliver PSD files and our front-end team takes care of the rest. Once the HTML/CSS is done, our designers start testing the implemented version across all breakpoints making fixes right in the code.
I've also read a lot of articles and thoughts that the agency model is dying and running an agency is not sustainable in the long run. It is right and it is wrong at the same time.
Days are gone when you could sell anything to a client and they would pay what you ask. And it's not that it's something wrong with agencies, it is the clients that have become more educated and therefore they've also become more picky when it comes to selecting a design partner. Many companies are building their own design departments too, but it doesn't' mean there will be no work left for agencies. It's only a San Francisco fad.
Agencies will have to adapt to this new grim reality by being more nimble, more proactive, and by constantly improving their service and quality of work. It is the perfect time for small, niche agencies (like product design etc.) to dominate the market. Let me explain why.
Basically, smaller firms can do the same type of work as bigger guys, but they are less expensive, they don't have to worry about bringing too many projects to keep all their employees busy, and they are more agile. Therefore, they are much more appealing to clients, especially those who are looking to extend their team temporarily.
I believe that worrying about their workload/meeting payroll was one of the main reasons for Teehan+Lax's acquisition...they couldn't compete with smaller firms hungry for projects.
Running an agency is stressful and things are unpredictable, but if you've decided to take this path, go for it and start small. Don't hire people unless you're 100% sure you have enough projects/clients. Build relationships and retain existing clients – it's 100 times easier than finding new ones.
We didn't form a new company, so our legal name remained the same. But you can do a DBA – you can consult a corporate lawyer for that.
Obviously, we had to come up with a new name, design a new logo, website, write copy etc. But that's the easiest part.
The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was migrating to a new domain name. Even if you set up all redirects properly via Google Webmaster tools, the grim reality is your website will lose all your SEO power and will rank low in Google's SERP.
This means less visitors to your website and less leads. It will take anywhere between 3-8 months to regain your positions if you do a good job of promoting your new site.
That being said, think twice before you rebrand, especially if most of your leads are coming from Google.
I've been always wearing many hats. Started as the only designer combining it with sales, operations, and project management.
Then I switched completely to sales, because I felt this way I could bring the most value to the company. Sales is the most important part for any agency, because no matter how good you are, if you have no clients knocking at your door, you'll go out of business sooner rather than later.
Right now, the sales process for a digital agency have changed drastically. Clients are more educated and they no longer want to talk to a sales person with no design/dev experience. They want to talk to people who will work on their project.
That's why I'm now heavily involved in product strategy and design – it all starts with sales and my approach is simple. I talk to potential clients to understand what their needs are and how best we can help. We brainstorm, ideate, and strategize even before they've become a client. It helps to build trust and to show that you know what you do well.
Once they're a client, I stay around and oversee their project from the product strategy perspective. It's not easy, but helps a lot to create quality designs and products.
It wasn't a problem for me to convince others to believe in the value of design, because there were no other people besides my other technical co-founder. It was basically a two person operation taking small design and dev assignments.
Not having other designers which whom I could discuss and seek feedback from was the main problem. At times, it felt to me that the design decisions I was making weren't right or something could be done better, but I had no one to consult with. I tried to compensate for the lack of company by talking to designers from other companies and my designer friends, but that wasn't enough.
And now I think that being the only designer for such a long time affected negatively the company growth and quality of work. Because in addition to design duties, I had to deal with clients, contracts, sales etc. which left little to no time for focused design work.
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