Founded in 2004 with $14 and a dream, Imagine is an integrated marketing, branding and design firm that combines Northern Virginia’s flair for innovation with Chicago’s warm personality and West Coast creativity. We’re an industry-leading group of problem solvers that believe that marketing can’t truly be effective unless it’s integrated, and handled by dedicated experts in each field.
Creative folks are an interesting breed, and I know when we show up at meetings without a tie (or pants), it can raise some questions. I also know that asking about these things can seem as appropriate as handing out tequila shots at a funeral. So, I’ve created a little cheat sheet for when you’re left wondering why your designer insists on boring you with unintelligible font names. Go ahead and print it out, and keep a copy in your pocket. You’re welcome.
1. Ties are for weddings and court dates. Creative people need to be comfortable to be effective. It’s not an excuse – just because we work in an office doesn’t mean we adopted the dress code. Just know that the majority of us bathe regularly.
2. We have our own language. Finding two designers in the wild is a wonderful experience, as you’re able to witness these native communication techniques, complete with wildly gesticulating body language and words like “kerned” and “knocked out”. You’re always invited to ask for translations; it’ll make you a better marketer.
3. Money doesn’t get us out of bed in the morning. That doesn’t mean that we’ll work for free – we know what we’re worth. It does mean, however, that our passion is in the process, not its street value. The chance to create is what matters most; the money just allows us to live our dream.
4. We are our own worst critic. If left to our own devices, projects would go on forever, much like it does with anything that you put your soul into. Although we’re conditioned to detach ourselves from our work in times of client review and critique, we are never able to silence the perfectionists in our heads. We truly are our own worst critic and our own worst client.
5. If we’re not creating, we’re dying. The creative process is addictive, particularly when the result is lucrative enough to sustain us, so it often pours over into a ton of creative ventures outside of work. I myself play 6 instruments and am trying to learn homebrewing. Making something out of nothing is a high, and without it, we quickly lose ambition and purpose.
I know it’s a short list, so please hit me with your comments!
In a lot of professions, you can almost predict the level of enthusiasm that is taken towards one’s job. For instance, if you pull up to your local drive-thru window, and ask the individual with the headset if they felt born to have that job, you may get some colorful language. You may get an airborne milkshake. You probably won’t get an enthusiastic affirmation. The work is for pure necessity; not a lot of passion, if any at all. It pays the bills and they save their quest for fulfillment for their free time.
Something I have found fascinating about graphic design is that it carries a breed that is rarely found in any other industry. Please keep an eye out for these people, particularly if you’re looking to hire one. They are the designer that, in high school, had doodles on almost every flat surface they owned. They made decent grades in art class, but loved it far too much to care about the grade. Nowadays, they will annoy you to tears about the fonts they see in public, and will debate with seemingly unnecessary fervor on whether Paul Rand or Saul Bass made a greater contribution to the trade. Their favorite color is a number. They are the designers you want to have developing your image, because they will put everything they have into it. They will forego sleep, solid food and social interaction to ensure you are glad you chose them. The strangest part of it all is that it’s not work ethic; it’s passion for the art.
If you work with a designer like the one I have mentioned, you are strongly advised to keep them. They may not be incredibly business-savvy. They may run late to meetings. They may use designer-speak far too often, but I’m sure that they can’t help it sometimes. It just happens.
You get the point. If you have a relationship with one of those far-out, artsy-fartsy, backstock-of-midnight-oil gluttons for punishment, hold on to them. I highly recommend it.
Over the weekend, I saw a request for an interview for an upcoming book. Not being one who turns down an opportunity to run my mouth, I jumped at the opportunity. The interview, conducted by Daintry Springer of Black Sharp & Company, was a lot of fun and some great questions were asked. To that end, I decided to post it. Enjoy!
1. Did you quit your job or get fired and then start ImagineDesign?
It depends on who you ask. Although my wife insists that my quitting was unprovoked, it was really the result of an ultimatum. Admittedly, I was slacking off from my day job as the number of clients and subsequent workload grew, so part of me saw it coming. One morning, I made it into the office about 30 minutes late, only to find my supervisor at my desk waiting for me. She told me, under no uncertain terms, that if I chose to continue this venture of mine, I would have to consider that day my last.
I distinctly remember walking down H Street in NW DC that afternoon, with my possessions in hand and a smile on my face, wondering what the hell I had just done.
2. Why did you choose to start ImagineDesign?
I spent my life, up to that point, hoping that an opportunity would come my way. I kept my eyes open and my commitments few, in hopes that my destiny would come and sweep me away. After running out of patience, and reflecting on what a stupid idea that was, I decided to go and make my own opportunity. I started out with no money, no credit, no business experience, no partners, no clue how I was going to build this idea in my head. I think I had $14 in the bank on the day I left my full-time job. Seriously, it was not a bright idea. Whenever I’m asked what it takes to start a business, the first thing out of my mouth is “a patient spouse”.
3. What do you most need in terms of business support?
I run a graphic design firm. With that said, it should be painfully obvious that, being the creative type, I know nothing about how to manage finances. I had to do it myself for the first few years and screwed it up, no matter how precise or organized I tried to be. The first person I hired was an office administrator. She takes care of my schedule, books, legal obligations, etc. It was probably the biggest single leap this company made so far.
4. What motivates you every day to work for yourself?
I’m not sure. Stubbornness? An insatiable curiosity to see exactly how far I can go? Or an all-too-clear reality of what my options really are? It could be all of those things, but I know one thing for sure: whatever pushed me to work 70 hours a week for the past five years isn’t slowing down!
5. What is the best tip you could share with people starting their own businesses?
In addition to the aforementioned spousal requirement, I urge those starting out to prepare for entrepreneurship with the same sober importance as adopting a child. When you’re in it, you’re in it. Allow yourself no excuses, no exceptions, no vacations and no alternatives.
6. Did you write a business plan?
I read somewhere, as I’m sure we all do, that the first thing you should do when starting a business is to write a business plan. I took that advice very seriously, and started on my masterpiece: a 34-page document that clearly outlines that I had no idea what I was talking about. I still have it and read it on occasion when I feel like I’m taking myself too seriously.
Honestly, I see the need for one, but running a business by the seat of my pants was far more exciting than doing things the right way, so I went without one until I was convinced to develop a barebones plan two years ago.
7. Who are your business mentors?
Really, there are too many to mention, and they’re not just business associates. My wife has an uncanny business sense, my daughter has a way of seeing through complex, trapezoidal issues with her unique perspective – or naiveté – whichever you choose to call it. I think that every relative, friend, client and colleague I’ve had has left an indelible mark on my career, and I hope that, one day, I’ll be able to pay it forward.
8. Where do you work from?
ImagineDesign started out as a desk in a second bedroom. From there I added a table and a bookcase and kept it that way for a few years. When business got to be too much for me to handle and I needed to hire a design staff, I shared office space with a friend of mine for a year. Two months ago, I signed a lease for a much bigger space in an office building and plan to stay here. I have a lot more furniture than a desk, table and bookcase now, and will not move unless I absolutely have to.
Or unless I need a bigger space. Then I may be tempted.
Among the irresolute tasks that one undertakes to get their venture off the ground, one of the most uncertain is definitely your web site. With the time and expense that a well-designed site involves, most entrepreneurs often see it as an inevitable headache. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. With the following suggestions, along with a savvy designer, you can have a well-built, effective web site in no time.
Set up your own web domain and hosting. A good rule of thumb when starting out is to have control of your own hosting account. I have had countless experiences of clients asking for me to work on their site, but not have any of the account information because the last designer disappeared with it.
There is a mixed bag of hosting providers available, and as one would expect, they are all vying for your business. Nowadays, one should not pay more than $10 a month for a reliable service to host their small-to-medium business web site. At the time of setting up your hosting account, choose your domain name so that you have both on the same bill. A domain typically runs less than $5 a month and is billed annually.
Determine your site’s purpose. The first question you should ask is “what one thing do I want my visitors to do?” It sounds like a no-brainer, but it is dizzying how many web sites are built without a clear vision of the target response. Do you want clients to call you? Are you simply looking for investors? Are you looking to sell online? In determining the answer to the first question, you and your designer will lay out the site to accomplish just that. Come up with a statement that relays the intent of your website—what products or services you plan to sell, what demographic you plan to target, etc.
Content is king. You should spend a considerable amount of time on the content of your website before you bring your ideas to a web designer. It’s hard to frame a design around little or no substance, and a designer may be able to pull ideas from the content you provide.
When developing your verbiage, there are a couple good points to bear in mind. First, you must realize that clicking is becoming as automatic as blinking and almost as involuntary. Many reports have confirmed that if a home page does not draw the visitor in within three seconds, most visitors will simply click to another website. Second, an average visitor will only scan the first 2-3 sentences of a home page and 3-4 sentences of a secondary page for compelling content before moving on. That gives you a tiny window to engage your visitor, so be sure that every word counts.
Build your site for the user. Your web site can have the perfect content and design, but if people don’t know how to get to the content, or get lost, all of that hard work will be a waste of time. Consider the layout to be very similar to your favorite store, in that everything is laid out where you, the visitor, would expect it. Don’t compromise design and substance for a good user experience, but try to blend the two together to both attract and retain users.