2022 Recap | Lessons I Learned as a Studio Founder
Despite the successes we had at Crafted this year, there were a lot of challenges and tough decisions to be made.
What’s good Designers and Creators,
It’s been months I know, I took a much needed pause to experience life, make business changes, and reflect on what I really want my future to look like. I learned a lot last year, primarily about what doesn’t work. Despite the successes we had at Crafted this year, there were a lot of challenges and tough decisions to be made.
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Lost Some Profit Last Year
Back as Lead Designer
First decision I had to make was taking a step back to make sure I was benefiting from my agency. We lost some profit last year from some missteps in my hirings. Some were putting more hours on the clock than actually worked or they just didn’t treat client projects with respect. Either way, I made the decision to be lead designer again and take full accountability for those losses.
Aye it’s all good it’s a part of being a Founder. You can’t point fingers or for everyone to just get it, it’s up to you to continue to find and remove blockers and I love that part.
Speaking of team building, I messaged @aakruti_desai from Twitter about it offering to be a resource after she tweeted this:
She asked about team building when first starting your Studio, so I’ll leave you with my answer on how I go about hiring and when did I decide it was time to build a team:
I decided to look for a team when I wanted to transition to an operator of my business instead of working inside of it, also when the work was starting to overwhelm me with opportunities and I couldn’t handle them all. I now circled back to being the design lead, but in between then and now I learned that smaller and more nimble is better.
I never wanted to grow a large agency, but I do think I took a step too fast. I didn’t consider what I wanted out of my agency and ultimately I love helping clients succeed and want to leverage my knowledge to land a career in UX in the future. So taking a complete backseat wasn’t helping me do what I wanted to do for my future skillset wise. I needed to secure a future regardless of what I decide to do.
I think all agency owners should consider how they want to exit before hiring a team. What role will you play? Are you selling? The answer to that alone removes headaches and constraints in your operations.
When it came to hiring my team I looked for a well rounded creative and passionate group of people. Experience with starting and finishing projects is a must, as obvious as that sounds it’s actually hard to find. References, read only links, and attitude are 3 key pieces I look at. Especially attitude, company culture is a real thing and can make or break your studio.
When hiring it’s a must that you get a reliable developer. It’s the most important role imo, a good dev can also help you pick apart your own systems, other designers work, and how you’ll deliver clean work across client experiences.
I’m excited to be back inside my business working. It got me hype to improve my skills and bring some experimental projects and my creativity into the mix to our portfolio. I've been seeing a few founders talking about working back in their studios and what I take from it is that your vision, passion, and strategy changes when you're looking at your studio from a birds eye view. When you get back in, you see new opportunities for growth, new channels, improvements to be made, and sometimes you just find that energy to go all in again.
Check out the comments on my tweet and much love to @LateciaRising, @Utaegbulam and @jordanshotwell. I’m appreciative of my supportive group of Studio Founders and glad I got to connect with all of them last year.
Tools, Tools, Tools.
I mean damn! So many SaaS products on the market and none of them did what I needed them to do to manage projects and making onboarding easier. So I overspent on tools this year by a lot, and I found myself paying for tools that I was no longer using — it was wild.
Thanks to our Lead Dev Chris, we were able to get back in good shape by finding simple tools to manage payments. The problem was that different companies required different systems so I was paying for multiple platforms to make invoices and even my own onboarding as a vendor account for partnerships. I know to now build a boundary where if you want to work with us, you must follow what we use.
Some Highlights of 2022
Some more positives: Good news is, our revenue increased from last year. We also won a few awards including:
Agency of the Month from Design Rush
Honorable Mention from Awwwards
Webflow Professional Partner of the Year 2022
Here’s a link to my reflecting on the Webflow Award on Instagram, my energy was different that day. Y’all don’t know the half of the work that goes into all of this for me. What a run it’s been, life has changed so fast.
A post shared by Dexter Jr (@dexterwjr)
I was also featured in some dope articles:
We’ve worked with some good people last year, but not too many new faces. As a matter of fact, most of our clients were repeat partners from last year with a few exceptions. We’ve had the honor of working with:
Mom’s Meals (enterprise food distribution company)
Ghost Locomotive (if you’ve driven a car with self driving or driving assistance technology, it’s probably from them)
Small businesses, and plenty of them last year. It was honestly a breath of fresh air to work with founders directly.
What I'm Most Proud of, Personal Growth
This year though, the focus for me was personal growth. I put so much time into building this business and keeping myself busy with other peoples needs that in many ways I neglected my own. The end result of this is peace. I have a life that feels much more peaceful nowadays, money has something to do with it sure — but overall I’ve developed a healthy relationship with the internet, money, and how comfortable I am with my own accomplishments.
For example, in early 2022 I would get caught up in doing better than the previous year in terms of revenue. It’s all I would think about, and it kept me up at night. Over time, I learned to let the natural cycles of how I work take over.
There’s a period to get aggressive with your goals
There’s a period you’ll feel lost
There’s a period where you’ll experience a string of losses
There’s a period where you’ll piece together wins
There’s a period to learn more, or unlearn
There’s a period to rest
I built a cushion & leaned into this idea of seasons. My life is much more free now, and I realized how much time was spend on nothing productive at all. I don’t want money to be the driver of my happiness but looked at as 1 tool in my toolkit. Of course I love to work hard, want to build a sustainable business, and continue to have this level of security.
Outside of business I’ve been in therapy, found my love for photos as a hobby again, and took my first flight ever to go to Chicago to visit my girlfriend. That was a milestone because I hate heights and the idea of being stuck on a plane for hours lmao. I pushed through it though and want to start traveling more with slow exposure.
To sum up my mindset about all of this: I gotta do what it takes to operate in my greatness, whatever I need to remove, add, or change. I will do it.
That’s what I’ve been up to these days, I hope you’re having a good start to 2023. You can expect a couple different topics in the next newsletter.
Pressure of sustaining your own success
More things that caused profit loss in my studio
Steps I took to ensure profitability w/Chris Loggins
Content I have planned for The Designers Desk 2023
Talk to you next week, feels good to be back. Take care,
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Your whole story is so inspiring, Dexter. I'm glad you overcame so many things, and that's the true way to grow. Congratulations on all of the well-deserved awards and honorable mentions!
I can see where you're coming from since I freelanced with agency owners last year, and wasn't capable of fulfilling their business goals or honoring deadlines, mostly because of my disorganized mindset at the time. Trust is earned, and I found the importance of it.
I'm happy for you and what your future brings!