| Here's a quandary that's, unfortunately,
not too unusual. You graduate from art/design school with a
killer book, high grades and a load of ambition. You also have
no job ... no internship ... no nothin.' The market's down and
there've been mass layoffs at the design firms and ad agencies.
You've mailed out hundreds of resumes and it's still no soap.
What's a newbie to do?
Often, when faced with this scenario, many will decide to hang
out their shingle and go it alone. That's pretty much what I
did back in the dark ages. In that incarnation, I was a photographer.
I was at the top of my class, but when I got out, I ended up
working at a K-Mart photo department. But, that's where I met
my former wife (who was also a model) so, I guess it wasn't
so bad. While the soon-to-be Mrs. T and I honed our portfolios
none of the studios were hiring. So, I was forced into freelancing.
In retrospect, it was one of the best times in my life. Alas,
youth is wasted on the young. Or so the saying goes.
In my quest to pay the rent and occasionally eat, I managed
to get a few clients. One was a cosmetics company. They contracted
with me to shoot their product line for everything from point-of-sale
displays, to billboards, to their annual report. All this while
keeping the future Mrs. T, along with many of women in my family,
in cosmetics for several years. One of the perks of being in
the biz. That client eventually lead me into becoming a graphic
designer (my minor at school). But, that's another article.
So, how does one go about starting a practice when you've
got a degree, but no formal experience? Tenacity helps.
So does determination, not taking "no" for an answer, along
with believing in yourself and your abilities. Print this
out and stick it on your computer monitor:
"Believe in yourself,
You are your greatest asset.
There is nothing you can't do."
So much for the inspirational message. The one key ingredient
to being successful is planning. When I started,
I was pretty naive. I didn't have a clue, much less a plan.
I did have a telephone and I'd call anybody and everybody.
But there's really more to it than calling everybody you've
ever met in your life and many folks you've never met.
Create a plan
There's a saying, "Plan your work and work your plan." Wise
words. Grab a pencil and legal pad. Here's what you'll want
to put on that nice clean piece of paper your business
plan. Okay ... several pieces of paper.
What's in a business plan? First, it's more than just marketing.
It's everything about how you plan to operate your budding new
creative empire. A business plan is actually several plans rolled
into one master document:
Odds are you'll want to pull together your four best friends
for some help your attorney, accountant, banker and
insurance agent. Seek out the best ones you can find and afford.
Ask around. They can be worth their weight in gold over the
long haul. It's a good idea to find ones that have other clients
in creative world. They'll already be somewhat educated in
the nuances of our industry.
- The Administrative Plan
- The Financial Plan
- The Marketing Plan
- The Sales Plan
The Administrative Plan
This part of the plan deals with your business's legal structure,
your mission, vision, plans for growth and other administrative
topics. This part of the plan provides the map of how your
business will operate from a functional standpoint. Your attorney
can help you set things up so you don't run into trouble down
The idea here is to write down your goals and then assign
action plans to each. In other words, "This is what I want
to do and why and this is how I'm going to get there." You'll
also include your business forms system, methodologies, contracts
and what types of insurances you'll need.
The Financial Plan
Here's where you're going to pick the brains of those wild
and wacky, engaging gurus of the greenbacks (or currency du
jour) your accountant and banker. What type of accounting
structure will you be using? Are you planning to use cash
accounting or accrual? Why? How will taxes be handled? What
type of retirement planning will be done? What are your saving
and investment goals? How will you achieve them? What about
credit? Will you offer it? What about your business's credit?
How will startup capital be handled? Out of your own pocket?
Friends and family? Investors?
In this section you'll also address your rates and how you
arrived at them. How will you handle rate increases down the
road? This is also the place for setting up your invoicing
system and methods, along with how collecting the dough will
The Marketing Plan
Marketing isn't just a logo, some stationary, a couple of postcards
or brochures and maybe a web site. Marketing sets things up
for the future. It's is often referred to as the 4 Ps:
First, though, you'll want to do some research to find out
what kind of market you're in. You need facts and the only
way you're going to get them is to do your homework. There's
no room for guesses with this stuff. Are there folks buying
what you have to sell? How many? Where are they and who are
they? What about the competition? Is there a dearth of designers
around town? A plethora of photographers? This is also where
you'll determine your market area. Will you work locally?
Regionally? Nationally? Internationally?
- Product (and/or services)
- Place (distribution)
How about the type of work you do? Does it make sense for
you to be a specialist? Or, perhaps being a generalist would
be better. Specialization can take many forms, such as industry,
geography or type of work (identity design, annual reports,
Once you've got a handle on your marketing arena and the type
of work you'll be doing you can begin to see how you can set
yourself apart from your competition. Differentiation is a
crucial element in branding your small business.
Next, you'll want to scope out your objectives, action plans
and performance metrics. "Metrics." Like that one? I just
had to throw a marketing buzzword in here. "Performance metrics"
are the methods you use to measure your success. Pretty simple,
It's also a good idea to do a SWOT analysis:
After you've got that nailed, it's time to start working
out your marketing strategies and your marketing "mix"
the tools you'll be using to get the word out and start forging
those relationships. This includes your branding arsenal,
web site, collateral materials, public relations, trade shows
- Strengths - what you're good at
- Weaknesses - what you stink at
- Opportunities - new markets for example
- Threats - Things that may bring you down
Marketing tools aren't just your promotional items, as I mentioned
earlier. Promotion is just one element. There's also price
to look at. Do you want to charge a high fee to position yourself?
High prices are often perceived as high quality. But, maybe
you like to eat at the local burger shack so you'll go for
the low-ball angle.
Are there ways "place," or distribution can help? Does it
make sense to have a fancy office? Should you set up shop
near the local industrial park, or maybe that glass office
tower downtown is better. Do you plan to go to the clients
or will they sometimes come to you? What will serve your clients
Case in point. I mentioned earlier that I was pretty naive.
I was also pretty full of my self and cocky. Shortly after
I started Tortorella Design, I felt we needed to have classy
office. So I rented one and filled it with custom made furniture
(of my own design), parked several people in the office
- designers, project managers and such - and I looked over
what I had created, rested and thought, "It is good."
It was not good. It was dumb. I was shelling out a bunch
of dough in overhead and barely one or two clients ever
came by. Our clients liked the fact that we came to them,
not the other way around. The lessons learned were:
1. Understand your clients and what's important to them
2. Keep an eye on the overhead
3. Check your ego at the door every morning
The Sales Plan
The sales plan is the first cousin to the marketing plan.
If marketing is about the future, sales are about now. First
you'll need to establish a goal. If you don't have a sales
goal, you'll never know how the heck you're doing.
The easy way to figure a goal is by determining how much
moolah you want to make (and can realistically make). Read
my article, "How
Do You Rate? Figuring Your Real Hourly Rate," for
starters. In there I show how to use your rate computation
to create a sales goal.
Once you've got a goal, go for it. How? Begin with a list.
You'll like want 300-400 names of qualified prospects.
A qualified prospect is one that you've identified as buying
what you sell and having the money to pay for it.
A list of 300 qualified prospects is a boat load better
than 2000 unqualified ones. Your list can be purchased/rented
from a place like The
List, or Creative
Access at 1.800.4access, or it be built from the sweat
of your brow. The latter is probably better, since you'll
likely know the company better by doing the research.
These are folks with whom you want to establish a relationship.
That can be accomplished through sales letters, phone calls,
networking, email, a e-newsletter among other things. The
idea here is that, although they may not yet be a client,
they know who you are.
When they finally do call, how will you handle presentations,
estimates and proposals? You'll want to have a consistent
methodology for each. Sure, you'll tweak it over time, but
you've got to start somewhere.
With your nifty 3-ring binder bound business plan in hand,
you're ready to to start implementing the fruit of you labors.
If you go through this exercise, you'll more than likely
be ahead of the competition that haven't done the work.
That doesn't just mean others like you, who are just starting
out. It also means creatives who've been in the biz for
years. It's the fly in the soup of creative business. We
tend to be very good at designing, writing, illustrating
or photographing, but lousy at being business people.
A business plan a good one will gain you respect
from people like bankers, investors, your accountant and
your lawyer. But, more importantly, you. Yo can be proud
that you're controlling your business and not the other
way around. You'll be proactive and not reactive. Plan your
work and work your plan. Wise words.
©2004, Neil Tortorella