Inside the mind of a creative agency owner
Thinking of starting an agency? Or maybe you already run one and are wondering about other agency-owner experiences. This article is a small window into agency ownership, and if you’ve got a story to share – we’d love to hear it.
First, some background
Moving to Melbourne in 2013, Jenna co-founded a digital design agency (still going strong today), which has gone on to win multiple awards. Fast forward to 2022 and she leaves her home girt by sea, with her eyes on the Emerald Isle. Jenna’s clearly decided that when you move countries you start a company, because now she’s chasing the startup dream in the Irish countryside with Scopey.
So, Jenna, what are your words of wisdom to people who own, or are thinking of starting an agency like you have done?
It’s really hard, but rewarding work. My design company was the first business I owned, so there was a big learning curve. But if you’re a creative person with an entrepreneurial streak like me then it can be very fulfilling. Here are some of the things that drive me as a design agency owner, in no particular order:
1. You get to work on a wide variety of projects.
One of the best things about running a creative agency is that you get to work on a wide range of projects. You’re never bored (you don’t have time to be) and you'll always have the opportunity to learn and grow. Whether you're working on a branding project, a website redesign, or software UI/UX, you have to dig deep to come up with unique solutions to your clients' problems. To me, creativity feels like a muscle, the more that is demanded of me the more I can deliver. I love getting a new brief and not knowing what I’ll deliver, but trusting the process and knowing that those ideas will come.
2. You get to work with a talented team.
I started the design agency with a guy that I went to design school with (hi Ben!), and it’s great using the skills you built together in the real world. We kept our agency pretty small, but with larger projects we’d bring on additional talent. Finding those people who share your passion and who align with your values can be tricky, but when you find the right person it’s chemistry. They can breathe new life into a project and it re-energises everyone, not to mention having the support of each other when things get stressful!
3. You get to be your own boss.
I’m a terrible boss to myself to be honest, or I was at the start. I moved to Melbourne when I didn’t have too many family commitments, so I threw everything into the agency – in the early days as we were building up our client base if we didn’t have revenue, we just wouldn’t pay ourselves. It was pretty inconsistent at the start, and getting disciplined in paying ourselves was one of the first big milestones of the business. Once we got the fundamentals down, being your own boss was a lot more rewarding. Choosing projects that excite you creates better outcomes for everyone. I think you can tell if a project has been designed by people that are passionate about it.
4. You get to make a difference.
Sometimes making a difference is when you get to work on a project that has a positive impact on the world. We’ve had a few of those and I care deeply about them. But on a daily basis, our design work has an impact on our clients – they trust us with the problems that they need to solve, and it’s often really public-facing solutions. Often clients don’t know exactly what they need, so you’ve got to build trust to work through those problems so they can get behind your recommended solution.
There’s a lot of stressors too when you’re behind the wheel. Finding new business was challenging, especially in the early days. Chasing invoices etc. And of course there were the struggles that led me to Scopey – keeping on top of client requests, nailing down how to create a project scope that would set the project up for success, managing expectations with clients. A high degree of organisation and proficiency with numbers didn’t come naturally to me, I need a system that is easy to use, collaborative, and visual. I tried so many different products that ultimately weren’t the right fit (that’s another story). So, I decided to solve the problem myself – in a way that makes sense for consultants or small business owners like me.
That’s the challenge that keeps me awake at night at the moment. How can I solve these problems for people who are walking the same path that I was. Because it’s a lot, for a small business. There’s a lot of balls in the air, and I think Scopey can help other businesses catch more of them.