It really seems like the holidays just ended, but guess what? We’re actually half-way through January already. How did that happen? 2014 is now in full swing, and we’re gearing up to make it our best year yet. As such, it always helps to take a look back at our accomplishments over the past year, as well as the things that we could have done better.
But first, a huge thank you to everyone who has been a part of our success over the last year. To our clients, who have been an absolute pleasure to work with; simply put, you’ve made what we do worth doing. We’ve had laughs as well as some rocky roads, but you’ve helped us grow and allowed us to deliver some of our best work to date. And to our friends and family, thank you for dealing with us when we had that ‘one last thing’ to do at 11:30pm, or had to listen to us for hours rambling excitedly about responsive frameworks, design systems, and other industry jargon we can’t help but obsess about. All of you have kept us sane, in check, and allowed us to be the best we can at what we do.
Last year was a huge year for us. How huge? For some perspective, let’s go back a few years. We officially formed our company a little over 2 and a half years ago. Chris and I had both been doing part-time design and development work in our spare time for about 5 years prior, on top of full time design jobs. As demand picked up, we realized we were onto something with real potential. We formed Solve Design LLC in the summer of 2011, and developed a plan to turn the part-time business into a full time venture.
We spent most of 2011 and 2012 just building cool projects, like the redesign of Nuance Mobile Life and the Dragon Mobile Apps microsite. We challenged ourselves to take on bigger projects, and dove into technologies we were unfamiliar with. We learned and grew in our expertise, but our business strategy amounted to little more than ‘do good work and more will come’. Luckily, we stayed busy, but to the point that it started to affect our personal lives a little more than we (and our families) would have liked. We were buried in work, and didn’t have a plan to get to the next logical step.
One of the traps of going out on your own is that when you don’t have a solid plan for growth, you end up going heads down on something only to come back up and realize you haven’t really gotten anywhere you wanted to go. To quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By the middle of 2012, we found that we had done some great work, but we weren’t really any closer to our goals. So we decided to put more effort into our business plan, and created a clear strategy to make our leap to a full time, full service company. I was working at Marvel full time, and took an opportunity to move into contracting work at a company called Equinox as an interim step towards running Solve Design full time. We took on more work, built a small financial cushion, and by the end of 2012, I was ready to take the plunge.
As 2013 started, so did our first year as a full time company. We had a lot to learn, and we started learning fast. A few of those quick lessons:
Days become much shorter
The first week running Solve full time, I put together a rough weekly schedule that included time for business development, blogging, and even set times that I would check emails every day. That quickly changed, as the amount of time required for almost everything was much more than I had anticipated. In a full time office job, days can drag on for what seems like…days. When you own a business, days seem to last only moments, which is because…
Running a business takes much more time than you think
Wow, is this ever true. From tracking time, invoicing, writing proposals, managing payroll and expenses, finding new business, writing emails, client communication, business strategy & development, managing contractors, and oh yeah, the actual design and development work, it’s easy to lose track of everything. In 2013, we learned that we need to make time for the business side in order to better manage our client work. In 2014, we’re honing our management skills, and developing workflows and processes to streamline the business, and avoid burnout. Which leads to…
Take a Break
When you take the plunge from getting a paycheck to finding that next paycheck yourself, it’s natural to want to spend every waking moment working. We learned this the hard way, by burning ourselves out time and again, working long hours and skipping lunch. This led to extra stress, sleepless nights, headaches, neck- and back-aches, you name it. After reading articles like ‘Be More Productive. Shorten the Workweek.’, by the excellent Jason Fried, it became clear that the secret to getting more done is actually forcing yourself to create downtime. In 2014, we’re making it a goal to create these breaks and make sure we stick to them. We’ll create better work, and we’ll be a bit more fun to be around. That is, if we get around to being around…
Beware of Isolation
We run a lean company, which means we don’t have a communal office. I work from my home office, which is amazing, but there are days when I don’t even leave the house. There are days when I barely even speak out loud. Watch out for these things. After a while you can start to feel detached from reality, and don’t get me started on the health concerns of your daily commute consisting of about 20 feet from your bed. Working from home has many benefits, but you need to take time to participate in the human race. In 2014, I’ll be making a stronger effort to get out and interact, exercise more, and enjoy the world outside my own.
You can’t do everything
This was the biggest lesson for us. We began the year with the goal of offering a full roster of digital services on top of our core design and development services, including marketing, copywriting, SEO, and social. So we took the initiative to start learning and researching so we could offer these services ourselves. What we quickly realized is that, like design or development, these areas are entire disciplines on their own. While we were able to provide these services, we were in over our heads in terms of workload, so we began looking for people we could collaborate with. Over this past year alone, we’ve made connections with some amazing people who bring with them years of experience and a depth of knowledge that goes beyond what we could offer ourselves. This let’s us focus on what we do best, and together, we’re now able to provide a stronger product and knowledge base that encompasses the entire spectrum of our digital strategy offerings. Bring it on.
Besides learning lessons, we also managed to do some great work with some great clients. Right off the bat we dove into a project with Computer Resources of America, redesigning their website and creating an ongoing marketing strategy.
We also began working with SelectCare, a home health services company with a passion for people. And one of our favorite end of year projects was for photographer Doug Kofsky who creates incredibly detailed panoramas of the Himalayan mountains.
We also revamped our brand, creating a brand new logo, as well as a long overdue mobile-friendly website, which launched mid-year, and has been huge for us in terms of getting new work.
In 2014, we have an enormous amount of new ideas to implement, and have set some great goals for growth. We’re planning to create more formal processes from client intake to project management and ongoing initiatives post-launch. We’ll also be carving out more time to build out our brand, including regular blogging, offering free design and development assets, focusing on client education, and being more active in the web community. We also plan to venture into app design, and further build upon our expertise by learning something new every day. In 2013, we began collaborating with professionals from other disciplines such as SEO and Marketing, and in 2014, we’ll be branching out even further in order to provide a seamless and robust offering to our clients. And finally, our main goal is to have fun doing what we love. Running a business is only truly rewarding when you’re able to enjoy what you do. Everything else will follow.
We are beyond excited about the potential that this year holds. We’ll be pushing ourselves forward with clear goals, and we’ll be learning new skills, polishing old ones, and increasing our service offerings. 2014 is going to be a big year. We can taste it.