Reflecting on 2018: Design Studio Year in Review
Whew! This year honestly flew by. Like most years it was a mix of highs and lows, but was overwhelmingly a wonderful year and I have so much to be grateful for looking back on the past 12 months. I am a forward-thinking person who loves dreaming about the future, so I went through a pretty rigorous goal setting process for 2018 and ended up accomplishing 9 of the 15 goals that I set for myself. I would say that a handful of them were in the “lofty” category so I am feeling pretty good about that number – much better than if I had mailed it in with safe goals and crossed off 15/15.
My business has evolved greatly in the past year and a half. In June of 2017 I stepped back into running my studio full time after working as the Creative Director for Love Your Melon. I came out of that role with a newfound sense of determination, armed with the knowledge and experience that I gained while living the startup life at LYM. I immediately began to take a much more strategic approach to my work and started to see some dramatic results. This year has been an extension of that strategy coupled with a bit of balance as I slowed down on several occasions to enjoy time with friends and family, away from work and social media.
It’s hard to talk about this year without talking about the loss of our friend Graham. In July my husband’s best friend was killed in a tragic accident and it shook both of us to the core. Our lives changed in an instant and we continue to grieve for our friend Liz and their three beautiful children. Graham was vibrant, fun, and generous – a family man whose priorities were spot on and whose energy and enthusiasm were contagious. To be frank, Graham’s passing completely reoriented my entire life. I have spent the past five months reevaluating who I am and contemplating what values I want to live by both personally and professionally.
I figured I’d do a little bit of a rundown of the year – what worked and what didn’t and a bit of everything else in between.
A Few 2018 Studio Stats
Received 193 inquiries
Worked with 43 different clients
Located in 14 states and 5 Countries (USA, Canada, England, Bali, Australia)
My 2018 Mantras Were
Dream Bigger, Dig Deeper
Take Action, Try Harder
Take 100% Responsibility For Your Life
One major change that happened this year was streamling the systems I use in my business. I eliminated Bonsai and Asana and now use Dubsado (client management), Google Drive (file delivery, computer backup), and Creative Cloud (Creative Suite), to run my studio. (I also use Run by ADP for payroll processing but it is not something that I am using on a daily basis, so I don’t really count that!)
Dubsado is an amazing client management system that definitely has a learning curve but has really streamlined my organization and how I manage my client process. It’s incredibly easy to categorize leads and projects, organize them by their status (ex: pricing sent, initial phone call completed, etc.). We utilize tasks boards and their calendars, and it also processes payments and functions as a (simple) accounting software. Plus, contracts AND it has a scheduler system as well. Honestly, I am probably using about 15% of the capacity of the system, but still feel like it is a gamechanger for the studio.
Hired a Studio Manager
The number one reason that I am able to use Dubsado successfully is because of my studio manager, Kiara, who is a Dubsado pro and is constantly following up with inquiries, sending contracts and invoices, scheduling calls, and keeping the entire system running smoothly. She is so talented and I am endlessly grateful for her! Outside of keeping the studio organized and on-task, she’s also encouraging and patient. It can be really isolating to run your own business, especially when you work from home, so I am grateful for the ability to bounce ideas off of her every day. She adds an incredible amount of value for clients, who feel taken care of and are able to get in touch with her quickly each day should they have questions about any step in our design process.
Turning down work is not easy. In fact, it’s so hard that for years (and years and years) designers will ignore red flags and gut feelings because we haven’t gained enough confidence to say no to a project even when we have a bad feeling right from the start. I booked my first freelance clients 10 years ago and I can honestly say that this is the first year I have felt confident enough to say a firm no to projects that are not a good fit for the studio. It has been simultaneously terrifying and liberating. Being a bit more selective has allowed me to be more creative, inventive, and emotionally engaged in my work.
This is a constant every year – we are human, after all, and mistakes and difficult moments are inevitable. We are in a line of work that involves people critiquing what we do, to our face, every single day. I am much more durable now than I was 10 years ago, but it still isn’t easy to navigate some of the tougher moments in this profession. As I get older these simple truths have gotten me through some dark days:
Be open minded
Make things right
It gets better, time heals all wounds
So, what’s next? 2019 is right around the corner (how did that happen!) and I am feeling over the moon about the coming year. Right now I am working on implementing a variety of different tracking measurements to gather data about my clients, process, profitability, and growth and sustainability for the future. This year we are launching a formal blog structure as well as an email structure for monthly studio emails that will give a bit of a behind the scenes look into the studio and will also have some fun freebies as well. I am also doing some significant strategic work with the help of my husband, whose spends his days directing data systems and performance improvement for several hospitals in the Twin Cities. He is incredibly data-oriented and experienced in strategy deployment and I am excited to have him on board.
My hope for this year is to keep growing and evolving and to do so with an open mind and wide open heart. I am so eager to serve our clients in bigger and better ways in 2019. Cheers to the new year!