Save 37% off PRO during our Black Friday Sale! »

The Blunt Realities of Running a Design Agency

The Blunt Realities of Running a Design Agency

Most of us who start agencies start them because we're practitioners, craftspeople – not business owners. Here's what I learned, and what you can expect, about running an agency in the 9 years (and counting) I've been doing it.


Jeff Archibald

March 08, 2018


  1. The Blunt Realities of Running a Design Agency Jeff Archibald

    / @jeff_archibald
  2. 2009

  3. The first “office”

  4. None
  5. 2018

  6. None
  7. What I learned/what you can expect:

  8. The bigger you grow, the less design work you’ll do.

  9. 7/93

  10. You’ll always have frustrating feedback and difficult clients/projects.

  11. “If I knew it was going to cost that much,

    I would have just opened Microsoft Word and done it myself.”
  12. Keep getting better. Charge what you’re worth. Learn to identify

    red flags. Trust your gut. Laugh about it.
  13. Your costs scale as your business scales, so watch the

  14. Billable Hours: Past, Upcoming

  15. Real Shop Rate: Rev / Billable Hours

  16. You will be doing at least 3 people’s jobs at

    once, so love what you’re doing.
  17. None
  18. You are not charging enough.


  20. You will be predisposed to underprice – approach it logically,

    not emotionally.
  21. You’ll take on jobs for the money – ones that

    you definitely should not have.
  22. Don’t relent on the pipeline.

  23. There will be extreme highs and lows.

  24. + Biggest contract ever

  25. – Threatened with a lawsuit while on vacation

  26. + Seeing people interact with meaningful work

  27. None
  28. – Posting a $30k loss in a single month

  29. Expect the lows. That’s life. The highs can’t exist without

  30. You will hire good people; you will help them grow;

    they will eventually leave.
  31. Part of the “why” is doing valuable work – but

    another is helping your people grow & improve.
  32. You will have to chase down a deadbeat client.

  33. Have a real contract. Take deposits. Be compassionately ruthless.

  34. You’ll be constantly earning client trust, over and over, so

    get good at it.
  35. Talk less, listen more. Ditch the ego. Empathize. Be excited.

  36. You need to be an extremely good communicator.

  37. Read: 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations

  38. Be explicit. Leave no room for assumptions. Communicate expectations.

  39. Get good at writing good

  40. You’ll learn that you weren’t as good as you thought

    you were, over & over.
  41. Schedule time for reflection.

  42. Finally:

  43. I am fully, completely, 100% glad we started an agency.

  44. Thanks. @jeff_archibald