The Case for the Little (Small Design Firm) Guy

The design field is a particularly competitive one, filled with providers ranging from individual freelancers to huge multinational firms. I’m here to present the case for the “little guy,” the owners and employees of  small design firms.

I run a small design firm. We’re “little guys,” for sure. I’m the sole employee, and along with a creative partner, we’re supplemented by a couple of excellent, part-time contract designers. We routinely go up against the “big guys” for projects. These are design firms and advertising agencies with a huge amount of staff and almost unlimited resources. It can be daunting.

But, we’re fortunate to regularly work with some big names, on some important projects. People are sometimes surprised when I tell them the names of the companies we’ve collaborated with and, inevitably the question arises: “Why would a big name like so-and-so ever work with a small design firm like yours?”

More to the point, though, why wouldn’t your company consider working with a small design firm?

The small design firm wants your business more.

A small project for a large firm is a large project for a small firm. A small design firm never wants to say “no” to a project or a client, and is motivated to work creatively to make your vision a reality.

The small design firm is less expensive.

It all comes down to lower overhead. A small design firm likely doesn’t have the expense of a prestige address, probably isn’t paying to advertise and (hopefully!) isn’t subsidizing luxury lifestyles for its proprietors.

The small design firm is more responsive, meaning more face time with the people who are working on your project. 

Fewer projects in the mix mean fewer plates for a small design firm to spin. Each project has more riding on it. When you call, you’ll likely speak directly with the designer or owner. There’s likely no dealing with an account manager or receptionist. Nothing gets lost in translation.

The small design firm is personally invested.

Many small design firms literally have the owner’s name on the door. There is a level of pride that runs through the whole operation. A small design firm understands that a good reputation takes a long time to build and will work to protect that reputation fiercely.

The small design firm is scalable.

A small design firm runs efficiently day to day and has the flexibility to get more talent on board, typically in the form of freelance consultants, when needed.

The small design firm puts out quality work.

Small design firms are staffed with people who attended the same schools, have the same experience and approach their work with the same passion as those working for large design firms. And, more often than not, those at a small design firm have a sense of entrepreneurship not necessarily shared by those working for the big guys.

The small design firm relies on word of mouth to succeed.

A small design firm relies almost exclusively on word of mouth for business. It’s in the firm’s best interest to keep customers happy and willing to refer the firm to others.

Yes, I’m biased. But when it comes to motivated people who produce quality work quickly, efficiently and on time, the “little guys” are tough to beat.


ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.


Finding Balance in the Freelance Economy

It’s 10 p.m. and here I am, working my freelance job. I’m one of many workers that have recently joined the freelance economy. Why? This is the job that allows me to exercise my passion, helps contribute to the bills, allows my kids to partake in expensive extracurricular activities and gives me a different sense of purpose from my “day” job. Each day, I transition into freelancing after having been on the clock since 6 a.m. working in my day job, and then as a chauffeur, chef, peace-maker and drill sergeant to my three kids. At the end of this long day, I enjoy a nice glass of wine and then begin to focus on my freelance project. A deadline is looming, and I don’t have time to give in to the fatigue.

Why freelancing is worth it

Let’s face it, many of us are spread too thin. But, as a freelance writer, I find energy to keep going when the fumes are low because I love being able to work with clients on various projects to see abstract ideas morph into concrete outcomes. I learn a lot about different industries and can apply the skills I learn on my projects to other projects. And all this while I get to cultivate the passion I have for writing and strategic communication! But that doesn’t mean that sometimes, what with multiple projects, many deadlines and a family on top of it all, I don’t feel run down.

With the freelance economy rapidly growing (a recent article in the Huffington Post mentioned that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors) it is important to stay one step ahead. In the midst of that, an age-old question remains — how do we successfully juggle it all? Over the years I have discovered a few ideas that might help.

A few tips to handle the heat of being a freelancer

Create a plan. I find the most success when I work with clients and have a clear vision and plan for what I am going to do and when I am going to do it. Creating clear deadlines, and understanding exactly what I will be delivering allows me to maximize my time and energy. In addition, a schedule keeps me on task and allows me to create a balance in my life.
Take a break. Speaking of balance, it is also important to schedule in breaks while working. I have found myself knee-deep in a writing project and before I know it, four to five hours has passed. At times, I literally have to schedule in a break to eat a snack, get some fresh air or (let’s be real) fold a load of laundry. These activities can help clear your head with the hope of working more happily and efficiently.
Rekindle your passion. like any relationship, things can get old and stale. The passion and drive you had when you first embarked on the journey as a freelancer may not be the same as the long days go by and the reality of the grind sets in. It’s a good idea to reflect on why you’re doing what you do. Create a list of things you are grateful for in order to re-center your perspective. Seek out experts in the industry and follow them on social media, read their most current blog posts and/or articles to stay savvy. Reread your initial goals and philosophies from the beginning stages of your freelance journey. Many times this is just the encouragement you need to keep pushing through the challenges.

As the idea of the freelance economy becomes more common, there will be more amazing opportunities ahead for those who want to take the leap into freelancing. This is so exciting, but it also means that, like me, more people will keep seeking ways to extend the 24-hour day so that they can get the laundry done and meet deadlines.

Do you have more tips on how to hack it as a freelancer? Tweet us @Sparkingbrands and let us know!


ABOUT Arris Shabaglian

For more than a decade Arris has worked as a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She has also taught university level courses on the art of communication, public relations and journalism. Arris is a Pinterest addict who loves a good night’s sleep and a nice cup of coffee. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three kids (hence the need for a nice cup of coffee).


Wordsmithie: Drop by and Visit Us on Social Media

We’re copywriters, designers and strategists by trade. We love research, networking and reading good writing, just for good writing’s sake. Social media is a great way to do all three, plus get inspiration, find new clients, connect with new (and old) colleagues and watch the occasional cat meme.

You’ll find Wordsmithie on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, G+ and LinkedIn.

Don’t be a stranger- join our thriving virtual community!


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.


Four Ways Wordsmithie Is Green

Flexible working is built into the core of our mission here at Wordsmithie. We’ve found that offering our employees the ability to strike a work/life balance leads to creativity and productivity on the job. But an added benefit? We are an exceedingly green, environmentally friendly company.

We’re a distributed team, so we don’t utilize office space. Members of our team live in San Francisco, Singapore and all points in between. That means we don’t have one central office space where everyone converges every day. Not only does this mean we aren’t using energy to light and heat (or cool) a large office space, it keeps costs low so we can be more flexible in pricing our services.
None of our staff spends time commuting every day. We’ve all had jobs that keep us on the train or in the car for hours a day. We’ve cut out the commute time, giving our employees more time to explore their hobbies, spend time with family or burn the midnight oil (after a great home cooked dinner!) in the comfort of their own home. The result is that our team works hard and plays hard, too. Several members of our team have written and published books (see them here, here and here), a few have completed PhD and post-graduate work and yet others volunteer, teach, exercise and more. We’re saving loads of time, money (fuel and tolls) and above all, energy. (granted, some of our staff take occasional flights to summits, conferences and client meetings).
We keep in touch creatively through Slack, Whatsapp and Google Drive. Keeping lines of communication open is priority number one when your team works in numerous cities around the world, in various timezones. We keep in touch through a variety of virtual mediums that allow us to get and receive messages immediately. Bye-bye snail mail, email printouts and fax!
Resources are used at a minimum. Speaking of paper printouts, since every member of our team works from home, they are able to determine what kinds of office supplies they purchase and use. We don’t bulk order anything that will eventually go to waste. We can pass down that savings to our clients, but it also conserves resources such as paper.

At Wordsmithie, our working style also has multiple other benefits, including expanded opportunities for work/life balance and the ability for our ‘smithies to gain experience by working across multiple projects.

Our Chief Creative Officer Michael Gaylord says, “While the open-door policy I kept at my office could create off-the-cuff brainstorming magic as teammates and colleagues dropped by, my ability to live in Madrid — being immersed in another language and culture — helps me bring a whole new set of experiences and perspectives to my creative work at Wordsmithie. And if the way we work helps us be a greener organization, all the better.”

While this exact strategy may not work for every business, there are components of it that may be useful in every workplace (and save time and money).


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.


Beetles, the Importance of Brand Consistency and Why It All Matters

It all started with a beetle. No, not the beetle of the oft-cited ’50s and ’60s Volkswagen advertising campaign. Think smaller. I’d just discovered that the tiny (and dreaded) Ips beetle had decided to make the beautiful large spruce in our front yard its new home. The one beetle soon became many beetles, the tree became compromised, declined quickly and, regrettably, the only solution was to have the tree removed. Which is how I started my quest to hire a reputable tree service.

brand consistency

I quickly discovered that finding a tree company was easier said than done. Sorting through seemingly contradictory ratings and reviews was frustrating enough, but many of the tree companies used multiple logos, different messaging and varied colors across marketing channels. Simply put, it was difficult to know for sure which company was which, exactly what services they offered and just what their service areas were.

These were, for the most part, local companies, likely without brand stewards of any sort. Their gaffe of ignoring brand consistency across platforms is one that even international brands are guilty of on a shockingly regular basis.

The importance of brand consistency

It used to be that a company’s branding would stay consistent for years. Subtle tweaks aside, brands like IBM and Coca-Cola kept their basic look and messaging the same for decades.  Their branding was familiar, staid and, generally predictable. A time traveler from the Sixties who touched down today would certainly be perplexed by much of what they saw but they’d have no trouble recognizing an ad for IBM or identifying a Coca-Cola product.

brand consistency

Of course, things are a little more complicated now. Most brands are now works in progress, constantly evolving their look and adapting their messaging in an effort to reach as many potential customers as possible in an increasingly fragmented market.

Where branding avenues were once limited—think print, point-of-sale, radio and television—marketing channels nowadays are almost limitless. All of the old platforms still exist, of course, but now they’ve been joined by the web, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and experiential marketing, among so many others. Newer brands embrace this cross-platform approach from the start and are careful to ensure brand consistency from the start. Of course, now even old stalwarts like IBM and Coca-Cola have followed suit. Doing so is a must in an existential battle where brand inaction equals brand collapse.

Keeping brand consistency and integrity

Too often, though, what gets lost in this shuffle is brand integrity. Competing messages, inconsistent information, different logos and dissimilar color palettes across marketing platforms do nothing but dilute the brand.

Branding, after all, is the public face of a company, one that should by definition differentiate it from its competitors. Branding that isn’t consistent across platforms effectively creates competition within your own brand. Keeping your brand consistent is absolutely critical.

So, then, what are the best practices for brand consistency?

A solid brand book. A brand book should be more than just logo guidelines. It should communicate your brand’s voice, its personality and its mission. Click here for more on brand books.

A brand steward. With your brand out there in so many places simultaneously it’s critically important to have an individual or a team who can act as the brand authority. While not everyone may agree on a particular brand decision, there will at least be consistency.

A system of brand checks and balances. Before any piece of media is placed, printed or goes live, review it to confirm that brand standards are met. It doesn’t matter how big or how small the piece is—it can take only one small slip-up to bring down the brand you’ve worked so hard to build…

…or, one little beetle to bring the whole tree down.


ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.