10 Things I have learned in 10 years of business
This post is somewhere between a thank you note, a love letter and a blog post from me, Darcey Lacy, Founder and Creative Director of Watermark Design. I have been blessed with the opportunity to start a passion project and to grow it into an award-winning design studio & business over the last 10 years. I was just going to say thank you, thank you SO much, but I thought it would be more valuable to you to share a few things I have learned along the way as well.
For our clients : From our first tiny logo project to the larger branding & packaging projects we work on now, I am grateful for each and every person who has entrusted Watermark with their brand and their business. Without each of these people, Watermark would not still be growing and evolving today. We can not exist without people who value what we do. To each of you, thank you.
For our talented team: Watermark is it’s team. The team influences who we are and how we grow. We grow and flex with the addition of each new personality and their related talents. We are only as good as the people who work here, and I am grateful for each of them, every day when they walk through the door. To Jena, Sean and Sarah, as well as all past designers, thank you. Thank you also to our team of partners, from printers to developers and everyone in between.
And, to our friends and families who support us.
Maybe it’s a Virgo thing, but I feel strongly that relationships and loyalty matter. Many of our first clients are still with Watermark, and I take great pride in that. In fact, very shortly we will be releasing a brand refresh for the first winery to entrust us with their branding, nearly a decade ago! We would rather grow and nurture a long-term relationship than engage in a lot of quickies. This is sounding less like business advice and more like dating, but it’s true. When you foster trust with a client, they are more likely to let go and give you creative freedom, and this is where the best work is born.
This isn’t only related to clients, our vendor partners are also an integral part of Watermark. The trust grown here allows for a better, faster working relationship, and in the rare case where something goes wrong, they will have your back. To all of our vendors, thank you!
Focus & Productivity.
God, it’s easy to get distracted these days. Email, Slack, calls, meetings… it’s nuts, and it is so incredibly easy to get sucked into. My personal struggle is the belief that everyone deserves an immediate reply. But, what I have learned only in recent years, is that doing that does not allow for focused, bigger thinking. Turning off email and slack (yes, it has a snooze function!), just for 20 minutes allows for so much more productivity. I want to be sure to still provide timely responses, but also allow time for focused work, which produces better results for our clients in the end. I also encourage our designers to do the same. Who wants to be interrupted when that creative inspiration hits you?
Headphones. Even in my early cubicle days, finding ways to focus, even without the phones and social networks of today, was tough. Watermark is an open studio, so there are even more distractions in your peripheral, but we believe in headphones. They turn off the outside noise and provide an imaginary wall. We try to respect the headphones. Headphones on = approach cautiously and be understanding if they are in the zone.
Stop and Think Before Reacting.
I used to react immediately to everything in the moment. Clear thinking and resolution is not possible in a panicked state. I have since learned to breathe in that moment. Accept the issue/emergency/whatever it is for what it is (no one is usually dying), walk away or put my headphones on and calmly think through a solution, instead of engaging in the panic. Usually, within a few minutes, I have formulated a plan for next steps and can calmly work through this issue. This also helps put the team at ease that we will get through this, that there is no need to panic. I also have a worry list. Any one person only has so much room in their head for problems, so I prioritize my problems and focus on the ones that need my attention first and don’t let the others stress me out. Stress management is huge when trying to juggle a successful business, employee happiness, and family life.
I believe there is no harder job. Some people are made for this, and others, like myself, need to work harder at it. I love everyone I work with, seriously. We have a great time together. But, that doesn’t mean that there are not times when conflict arises or disagreements ensue. Disagreements are necessary for growth, but they are not always fun. I am a person who wants everyone to be happy, and when they are not, I can feel it. Each person is unique and different in how they approach and handle situations, so there is not one way to manage. Management and creative direction should require a degree in people and personalities. How do they like to receive praise, how do they best react to constructive criticism? The best advice I have read is to begin and end with a positive, because you know what? Even if I am providing constructive criticism, I also know that I have hired the best of the best, so the foundation of that work is already great, so I am not lying by also shedding light on the good things. This is an area where I continue to read, listen, learn and continue to grow.
A design studio is a business.
Many designers, like myself coming out of college, see this as Mecca (yes, I was once a designer) especially in today’s entrepreneurial market. Choose your clients, design for yourself – and it is, at first, but eventually, you need to choose your path. You can either stay tiny and limit your growth, or if you want to grow, you can remain a designer and hire someone to run the business, or run the business and hire a great team of designers. If you want the business to grow and succeed, you must also excel at accounting, sales, marketing and also be the office assistant, which does not leave a lot of time for design and creativity. For me, my love for our clients led me down the business path, opening new opportunities for self-growth in new areas of concentration outside of design.
Do not start a project without one. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. 9 times out of 10 you will not need it, but you will need it one day, and you will be grateful that you took the extra step to get it signed. AIGA provides great starting templates.
Leave time for fun and getting to know each other.
My early career was founded within corporate marketing & design (in-house, in designer speak), so what I learned was don’t take lunch hour, never be late, silence in the office, don’t leave your desk etc. Some of the lessons I learned in that environment remain very important, like the relationship of sales to marketing and that your design actually affects the success of the business. That you need to be aware of the needs of the client and their market etc., not just design something pretty. What I have also learned though, is that having a laugh with the team, taking a moment to breathe outside the office, or grabbing a beer at happy hour with everyone creates a happier work environment and a place people can’t wait to return to, instead of dreading getting up in the morning.
This is what I have centered Watermark around. You can always trust that I will stand by what I promised. You can trust that we will do what we believe is right for your business. Integrity in business is everything to me.
Make room for life.
Life is give and take. It is possible to be a mother, wife and business owner, but you will have to give up a little to get what you want. You may not get to the gym as much as you’d like, or travel as much as you used to. You may not get to network as much in person (apparently I am known as the snow leopard because I am not seen out and about as much since having children, I have since adopted this as my avatar), but I am trying to make more time for lunches or coffee during the day to connect, and continue to connect online. I have found a happy medium coming in early so that I can leave on time to be a mother. And that will change as my life changes. Life is about being flexible and prioritizing. Ask for help where you need it, don’t carry the world on your shoulders. Work hard, but also find time to enjoy what you have created.