Insider Tip #13 – From freelance to agency

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This week in our Insider Tips interview, we spoke with Giles Adam Thomas, Technical Director of Whole Design Studios, a design and marketing agency with an office in the U.K. and Germany. This interview explores how to organically grow freelance businesses into a full service agency.

Can you introduce Whole Design Studios and what your role is?

Whole Design Studios is a holistic design agency, we specialize in ux design and conversion rate optimization. Building complex applications and websites that are focused on results and revenue.

My role is Technical Director, I focus on client handling, conversion rate optimization and project management. But I have worked in every part of the business and developed most of our processes. I am a polymath at heart.

Why did you decide to transition from freelance to an agency?

In late 2011 my freelance work started to grow organically into something bigger. I knew there was a large opportunity in the tech space, I wanted to build tech products and I learned the best way to do that was to fund them from a service business. VCs or Angels are simply like having another boss in my experience. An agency is the perfect place to service clients, generate profits and invest those profits in new ideas and internal innovation. You already have the tech chops in house where many funded start ups do not (I think it shows).

“My biggest takeaway is not to grow for the sake of growth”

What are some challenges you faced in scaling up?

The biggest challenge as always is finding the right people. Due to our early content marketing and SEO successes getting clients was never a struggle, serving them the quality work we pride ourselves on was tough at scale. My biggest takeaway is not to grow for the sake of growth. Finding the right clients, with budgets that allow you to push boundaries and discover new ground is key. Quality of work will take you further, quicker than volume or scale.

Has the type of clients you work with changed?

The client work of course changes as the company profile changes. The budgets, complexity and sophistication of the project are very different to two years ago. The day rate per person is not wildly different.

How have your major day-to-day tasks changed?

I of course have a lot more project management work and client handling. But I have been very careful in creating a lifestyle that I want, not one that the business dictates. Read this article by Dan Norris, think about product / founder fit as well as product / market fit.

“Make sure your model and pricing structure creates wealth not just wages”

And lastly, what recommendations do you have for freelancers who want to make the leap?

Make sure you model your business so moving forward you can step away from the trenches and strategically oversee the work. A lot of freelancers think because they make normalized wages they are profitable. Taking a wage from a small business and profits are two very different things. Make sure your model and pricing structure creates wealth not just wages.


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Insider Tips #11 – Be part of the community

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