The most common eureka moment for entrepreneurs happens at work. It goes: I could do this myself. But many follow this with: the name, the USP, the business plan, funding, location, furnishings, plants, pens, working hours. It’s exciting but then comes the launch and the harsh realisation that, even though the business is polished and perfect, at this point there are only a few, sometimes even no, clients. Cash flow is a problem and marketing has just begun. From now on it’s an uphill struggle.
In the UK, recent figures show 20% of new businesses fail in their first year, and 50% fail by their third. So why don’t businesses start at the top of the hill? Make having clients a priority before an office; build the business around its fundamentals; only spend when money has come in.
Us Versus (UsVs) have done exactly that. They demonstrate how you can build a client-base and establish a reputation before you even have a company. Do it their way and hit the ground running.
Us VS them
Before George Barker-Wyatt and Steve Matthews started their graphic and interactive design studio in January 2014, clients were already queuing round the block. Many good design studios start like this, and there’s a lesson to be learnt across industries.
George and Steve worked together for an independent agency, establishing big global brands like EE. But after long days at work, work continued. Friends needed designers for new ventures, and George and Steve fit these projects into every remaining moment.
Goodbye work/life balance
By ditching their work/life balance, and bringing high standards to projects with understandably small budgets, George and Steve began to build their reputation, grow their customer base, and create an impressive independent portfolio.
Many try this approach but cut corners on projects for which they feel underpaid, so don’t build a good reputation, or gain clients by word of mouth. Some hope to poach a big-name client from their current employer, but this is difficult and can be problematic. You may think this won’t work in your industry, but how many Saturday pop-ups turn into restaurants; eBay listings into fully-fledged shops; blogs into books? Try-before-you-sell is easier than ever.
The elusive USP
Communications has seen a mushrooming of graphic design companies specialising in web design. It’s rare to bring something entirely new to market, and usually the first hurdle is making yourself visible. This is a hard task, and the reason so many focus on identifying that USP. UsVs has shown us a new way.
UsVs has done no marketing. When asked what made them stand out, George said the company was ‘not so different’; that design was always about the ‘relation between function and aesthetics… about creating an enjoyable experience’. They compete on quality, and by launching with a healthy list of clients, they are allowing themselves to find their voice, to discover a USP, organically, rather than imposing a rigid framework with a pre-fabricated blurb.
George and Steve want to grow, but they’re waiting to see exactly how. They and their clients value the big-agency strategic process matched with small studio passion and intimacy. The way they work, using a network of trusted freelancers, makes them quick and nimble.
The UsVs approach might seem informal and relaxed, but in fact traditional methods have just been allowed to grow into place, and their success is down to confidence, serious talent and hard graft.