Offthetopofmyhead does things differently. It was founded by award-winning creative director John Spencer. The agency invents names, designs logos, creates graphic and language identities, and conjures up campaigns. In this article, John talks about How to Run a “Virtual” Design Agency and, how he runs his business, and what he thinks makes a successful agency.
Work with the best
Offthetopofmyhead is a virtual design agency. We work together remotely using the latest technology, so we’re more flexible and responsive than conventional, studio-based agencies. I collaborate with some of the most talented and experienced people around and bring together the best team of specialists for each project. Always work with the best.
Keep things simple
Nothing designers do is very complicated. The way design agencies are run shouldn’t be complicated either. It’s easy to be on top of everything if you keep things simple. When I founded Offthetopofmyhead I decided to do as little of the “boring stuff” as I could get away with. Design is what I love so the more time I spend doing it the better. I keep project management as straightforward as I can, and I keep a keen eye on work-in-progress. I’m hot on invoicing too, because if you don’t have a cashflow you don’t have a business.
I work remotely with people all over the country, so having the latest technology is massively important. I’ve invested a lot in computer equipment over the years. I lease rather than buy my equipment so I can easily keep upgraded. Everything I do is constantly backed-up. Even my backup is backed-up. I’ve got an archive that goes back thirty years or more and I want to be sure it’s there if I need it. If you lose your work, you’ve lost your business.
Don’t chase work that doesn’t play to your strengths. It’s a waste of time and effort. Be Choosy. Be honest with yourself. Know where you’re at your best. Concentrate on the work you enjoy most and go after it with energy and enthusiasm.
Get out and meet people
I make a big effort to get out and meet people. I get most of our clients through referrals and personal contacts, so we rarely need to pitch for work. And I often speak at conferences and events – I love a captive audience.
It’s not enough to do good work, you’ve got to make sure everybody knows you’ve done it. I’m always out to get as much publicity as I can for Offthetopofmyhead’s work because it’s one of the ways potential clients get to hear about us. I keep in touch with editors and journalists, particularly in the design and marketing press. I write magazine and blog articles. And I make the most of Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. It’s really important to stay visible.
Hold onto your clients
Repeat business is a lot cheaper to get than new business, so hold onto your clients. Be a good listener, be helpful, and make time for them. I get on well with all my clients. I often meet up with them, sometimes just for a chat. It’s important to stay in touch with people so you’re top of their mind when they hand out the next project.
Steer clear of creative pitches
Creative pitches are a lazy way for clients choose an agency. Anyone who demands free work doesn’t understand design or respect designers. I steer clear of them because they’re nothing more than beauty parades. They’re time-consuming and expensive to do, and they don’t give you the chance to go through a process to really understand what makes an organisation tick before the design work begins. Even though Offthetopofmyhead is creatively led, all our work is underpinned by a sound strategic process so I can be confident before we design anything that it’ll be on the mark. Process is all, it’s the heartbeat of creativity.
Don’t do sixty-five ideas
It’s not a sign of creativity to answer a brief with sixty-five ideas. It’s just a waste of energy. Working through a problem, arriving at a clear point of view and putting forward a handful of your best ideas is enough. One good idea is all it takes.
Author and former creative director Dave Trott, says, “We can either use language to invite people into a conversation, or we can use language to keep people out. And that’s what jargon is designed to do, keep people out.” The design industry has more than enough jargoneers, bullshitters and blowhards. They damage its reputation. Don’t try to blind people with science, and don’t make claims you can’t live up to. It’s unfair and unprofessional.
Be nice to people
I want our clients to enjoy working with us and to get a buzz out of what we do together. Nobody should have to deal with an agency that’s full of its own importance. I think you dramatically improve your chance of surviving in the design industry if you’re nice to people, easy to get along with and genuine.