As we get settled into 2018, I had to take a moment to reflect on the past year. 2017 was an exciting year for 120 Design Studio. We had a lot of wins and also learned a lot of lessons.
First up: the Wins.
1. 120 DESIGN STUDIO WAS FORMED
I'd count that as a win. In March of 2017 I joined my company, Marshall Fox Design, with Eric Thomas and Associates (ETA) to form 120 Design Studio. Going into it I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I wanted to continue to serve my clients at a high level and in order to do that, I needed some help. I had been working about 80 hours a week for the past few months and was on the verge of burnout. I knew the underlying core values of ETA closely aligned with my own so after discussion with my wife and a lot of prayer, we made the decision to partner up. I connected with Jamal Smith who was already on the ETA roster and we got to work!
2. WE SPEARHEADED DESIGN OF IMPACTFUL ETA INITIATIVES
We were able help spearhead the design of many ETA initiatives including P7D Game Changers, Harbor, the Take Control Entrepreneurship Series, School Days, the 100 Day Challenge, the #Design4ET Contest and much more. Each one of those projects was challenging but fun. It got the team together and it was a great feeling seeing each one take root in the way in which we intended.
3. WE BUILT A SOLID FOUNDATION
The foundation for 120 Design Studio was built from my time as a freelancer. The foundation for the future of 120 Design Studio as a powerhouse design firm was built in 2017. We were able to serve over 100 clients in 9 months and at the time of this writing we’re grateful to have 70 5-Star reviews on Facebook. During this time we were able to create some really beautiful designs for our client family and add them to our portfolio.
4. WE WORKED WITH SOME AMAZING DESIGNERS
In 2017 we got the opportunity to partner with some other talented designers: Chardeé Scott, Nick Rick, Chaymeriyia Moncrief, Brannon Jaggers and Gordon Tolson. They did some amazing work for us. One of Chardeé’s designs was our most-liked Instagram post of 2017. In 2018, we’re looking forward to continuing to partner with them and other designers that can bring the ‘wow’ for our clients.
5. WE ESTABLISHED A PARTNERSHIP WITH THE BLACK SPEAKERS NETWORK
We’ve established an exciting new partnership with the Black Speakers Network. We are the sole graphic design partner for their growing network of over 2,000 members. We’re looking forward to being able to use our gifts and talents to serve who we serve the best. Stay tuned to our blog for more details.
6. WE 'GOT OUR REPS IN'
With all of the success that we had, we got to see what worked well and what needs to change. We put so much time in that we had no choice but to be confronted with some losses. I don’t really look at them as losses, I consider them gaps that need to be filled or lessons learned. It’s safe to say we’ve had some challenges and some flat out failures...which is a WIN!
AND NOW FOR THE LOSSES...
1. FREELANCER OR BUSINESS OWNER?
Over the course of 2017 I came to the realization that I was still operating as if I was a freelancer and not as a business owner. I was working in a bubble and I wasn’t asking for help as much as I should have. As I looked at 120 Design Studio as a whole, I knew that we weren’t operating as efficiently as we could have been. I saw the gaps, I took note, and started making adjustments. Proven Business Strategy Expert, Josh Hatch, says it best, “I can get myself going. If you want to have success, the next phase is, can you get other people going? Can you unify a group? Can you lead?” In my former life I managed a fraud investigations team and I didn't like it. When I started freelancing, I felt good about not having to manage anyone anymore; being on my own island. But I now realize that in order to grow 120 and serve those who need us, it’s something I have to embrace.
2. ONE-MAN BAND
In 2017 we’ve made tremendous strides with changing the perception of 120 Design Studio as a one-man show to a team of designers, but we still have a long way to go. That will improve over time as we get other designers and content creators involved with what we’re doing. We now have an admin who responds to inquiries and we’re putting a training system in place so that anyone we plug in can feel confident in their correspondence with our clients and run at the speed we’ve established.
3. LACK OF CLIENT COMMUNICATION
Because we were flooded with projects, a lot of times, we wouldn’t be able to start on a project immediately, leaving long gaps in communication with clients. Luckily, when we completed the project, the client was so satisfied with the product that they overlooked the lack of communication but I knew in my gut we had to do better. The client should never wait, worry, or wonder what’s going on with their project. In 2018, communication is something that we're striving to do better than anyone else. We've implemented client portals and send out production schedules on larger projects. More on that in an upcoming blog post: 120 Design Studio 2.0
4. NO FOLLOW UP
Hundreds of potential clients reached out to us to inquire about our services. We’d thank them for the consideration and send them our pricing, process and availability. If they responded, great, if they didn't, we never followed up! I mean not once. This was mainly due to lack of availability, but I know for a fact that there are people we could have served in some capacity if we followed up. Whether it is providing feedback, direction, scheduling a project or referring them to a partner, this year, you better believe we’re following up!
5. BAD TIME MANAGEMENT
In 2017 we did a horrible job of protecting our time from enemies foreign and domestic. We allowed people to throw things on our plate with little regard to the current workload. In doing that, we weren’t protecting the integrity of our project schedule. I can’t be mad because I allowed it. But I recognize the gap and have made adjustments. Going forward we will only be taking on a limited amount of projects at any given time and we’ve implemented a rush policy into our contract.
6. INCONSISTENT SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE
This was a big one. We did not post consistently on social media. It’s even more of a no-no because I’m connected to one of the greatest social media gurus of this generation, Nicky Saunders… and all social media gurus are in this generation ;). We also didn’t utilize LinkedIn AT ALL outside of a revamp and couple of initial posts by the LinkedIn Locksmith Rob “YB” Youngblood. I try to blame this one on lack of time but you make time for what’s important. In 2018, we have aggressive social media goals. I’ve made a plan of action and set it in motion with the addition of someone to handle our social media posts. In 2017 we used our social media as a portfolio rather than providing varying content and actually engaging with our following. That leads us to our next loss:
7. WE DIDN'T POUR INTO OUR TRIBE ENOUGH
In 2017 we didn’t do enough to pour into our tribe, which is critical in any business. We set up an email list with a freebie and just let it sit. In 2018 we’re going to be more of a resource in our space. We’ve gotten the reps in to be able to share a thing or two about what we’ve learned. We’re at a place where we can share some actionable tips with our audience on a consistent basis. From now on, we will be doing just that in the form of blog posts, articles, videos, podcasts and downloadable resources. I already have several in the works :)
8. WE DIDN'T MARKET
Being as though I’m a little over a year into this whole ‘graphic design’ thing, I’ve been running hard and fast in that lane and in that lane only. That’s my gift, that’s where I’m comfortable, that’s where I feel safe. That said, I realize that in order to better serve our client family, I have to be well-read on marketing strategies for us and our clients. Even if it’s just to understand what we and our clients need so I can’t get the appropriate parties on the job. I’d like to blame that one on lack of time, but in reality, it’s lack of knowledge.
9. THE BIG ONE!
I must leave with this one because it still hurts to this day. In preparation for the Stay Ready Conference in Washington, DC, I was tasked with designing a tablecloth cover for the conference. Events manger, Ashanté Tucker, told me that she could use who she used in the past but I told her I could handle it. These were fancy, special order, fitted tablecloths. Basically, the ‘leggings’ of table cloths. I designed the tablecloths, they were easy enough. It was just the Eric Thomas logo, social media handles and website. I looked over everything, re-read the social media handles several times to make sure they were spelled correctly and sent it off to the printer. I followed their process to a 'T' to make sure it was printed properly. I picked up the tablecloths on a Friday evening and handed them to Té at the spiritual development conference that night. The event that night was phenomenal; I saw a lot of new and old friends. I took my wife and kids and invited my sister and her young son. She even went up during the alter call. Things couldn’t have been more perfect. So I go to sleep excited for the Stay Ready conference the next day. When I wake up, this is the first thing I see:
Are you serious??? I spelled the WEBSITE wrong??? You don’t know how many times I’ve typed www.etinspires.com on graphics, designs, workbooks over the past few months and I’ve never spelled it wrong. I couldn't believe it. My heart sank into my stomach. I didn’t even want to show up to the conference that day. I felt terrible. The tablecloths were basically unusable at that point. I won’t say how much they were, but let’s just say they weren’t cheap. And they were rush processed for us to have in time for the conference. Té was more forgiving than she could have been. She even ordered me Chipotle, though I never got my burrito...
I’m getting sick just replaying that moment as I type this. That is burned into my memory. Whenever sending a print project off, I double, triple, ten-tuple check the spelling on everything.
There you have it our 2017 Wins and Losses.
As you can see, we’re not hanging our hats on our accomplishments. Constant self-assessment has uncovered lots of gaps we’re excited to fill in 2018. We’ve already begun and in our next post, we’ll be officially unveiling 120 Design Studio 2.0. Be sure to follow our journey on social media and join our email list to be notified every time we publish a new blog post.
What about you? Have any blunders as embarrassing as the one I shared above? Leave a reply and let me know!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Marshall is a graphic designer and brand consultant that helps authors, speakers, coaches and solopreneurs transform their brand identities and online presence. His keen sense of design and attention to detail helps his clients increase brand awareness, credibility and sales. When Marshall isn't sipping coffee and obsessing over color palettes, he's spending time with his wife and three children.