Design Business Council
Developing a strategy for your studio

When we started out I believed that building a design business was all about knocking on doors and selling our services. You just set up a sales plan and headed out in every direction until you found some work.

That did work for a while. In the mid 80’s businesses thought that they needed a designer to make their brochures look good and to handle the technicalities of getting things printed.

That has changed dramatically. Clients now send word files to print (and some printers actually take that work on), or they can download templates that their secretary puts together with a copy of InDesign. Printers take the files, fix them up and print them.

All this means that a studio now needs a marketing strategy rather than a sales approach.

When we made the move from sales to marketing strategy there were a number of basic things I asked about our business.

I call these questions the strategic five:

  1. What business are you in and is it the business you want to be in?
  2. How do you add value to your business?
  3. Who are the target clients for your business?
  4. What are your design value propositions to those target clients?
  5. What tools and processes are essential for adding value to your business and differentiating your design value propositions?

What business are you in? What business do you want to be in?

Many studios grow organically. That means they have taken work from many different industry sectors. They develop expertise in all these sectors but usually have a strength in one or two.

​ASIDEBranding is not the business you are in. It is a task or set of tasks that you do in the studio. Finance is a business sector, or property development or automotive.

In answering this first question studio owners ask themselves where is my passion? If the answer to this coincides with a sector where they have a strength, then this is the business they should pursue. This is the business they should be in; offering design as a business solution in the automotive or finance sector. To comprehensively answer this question you prepare a design business model canvas.

How do you add value to your business?

This is all about examining the market place and where it is going. You look at the decline in fees for basic design services and acknowledges that the move is to areas such as strategic use of design, service design, co-design and design thinking. These are consultancy services that ultimately lead to basic artwork but they are now the realm of value-add for a studio. You develop these skills inhouse as part of adding value to the business. The studio strengths and weaknesses tool helps you answer this question.

Who are the target clients for your business?

You have identified the industry sector that you excel in and now you answer this question by listing out your existing clients and then your potential clients. You prepare a client profile chart to show the basic demographics of the clients or potential clients. This helps you work out the value that these clients may be able to contribute to your revenue. It also helps you work out where these clients fit in a design buy-sell hierarchy.

What are your design value propositions to those target customers?

You can develop a design value proposition for each of the clients or potential clients. This proposition has three sentences about your studio and what you do.

Sentence 1: about the industry you want to work in and proof you understand it.

Sentence 2: what you can offer that will help that industry / your client

Sentence 3: proof you can do it – an example.

The Selling design value workshop helps you develop a strategy to get more value-add business.

What tools and processes are essential for adding value to your business and differentiating your design value propositions.

You have identified your target market, set your design value proposition and now you need to define the activities and resources you will need to implement your strategy. The activities list will become your strategies to which you will add tactics and KPIs. The resources list shows all the things you will need to make the strategy happen. These may be internal resources that you can apply to this strategy or they may be external resources that you will be able to buy in.

The design business model canvas is the tool you would use to answer this question.

Planning for a full year strategy should not take any more than one day of your time. By the end of that day you should have a strategic plan with goals, strategies, tactics and KPIs.

That’s the easy bit. The hard part is implementing it and sticking with it.

Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.