Starting My Own Consultancy / Company???

Hi Guys,

Just wondered if anyone had any tips for starting a Design company? I’m in the UK and am currently working as a CAD operator using SW although I have a degree in PD. I want to be incontrol of the hours I work, the work I do, where I work etc. I really want to start working from home and enjoying a lot more creativity.

Although my degree was in Product Design, I’m also interested in learning how to design websites using Flash, Dreamweaver etc. and also graphic design and corporate ID along with visualisation etc.
Anyone got any suggestions or tips?

I know it’ll be hard, but I think it could be worth it, any / all opinions and ideas welcome.

Thanks in advance


oops - don’t know how that happened :blush: :laughing:

go back to school for business or hire someone who knows what they are doing?

Ask yourself:

Are you willing to work crazy amounts of hours?
Do you know what you are worth?
Can you market yourself correctly?
What skills are your business going to promote.?
Can you get teh work you need to live?
Are you going to have the money to advertise?
Do you have contacts for work already?
Do you have manufacturing connections?
Do you have a plan for the next 5 to 10 years?



After reading your other post. I would also suggest working for a design consultancy and learning more. I really feel like you are not ready.

The person who wrote in the other topic is also not ready. He is a FREELANCER starting your own business and freelance design work.

Thanks for your reply, but you suggest that I should work for a consultancy - that is a route I’ve been trying for the last 2.5years!! The consultancies in the UK seem to be a total nightmare to get into:

Firstly, I have no contacts whatsoever, so I don’t have anyone to help me get my foot in the door. Secondly, most of the consultancies I’ve approached haven’t even bothered to even reply to my application, now that may because I’m total cr*p, but I don’t know this because they don’t respond??? Thirdly, as fast as I learn a new software package, the companies want something different, first it was ProE, so I bought a home copy from PTC, started to learn that, then they wanted Solidworks, I tried to find where I could learn SW, then the few places around wanted Rhino… :cry: I’ve tried contacting agencies such as Adrem, where I received a very short emailed response saying there was no work for me. I then tried other agencies who sent me on interviews for Sales Support / Draughting / Admin positions…

I’m sorry to put in such a long reply, but people who nonchalantly tell you; “work for a consultancy” don’t seem to have a clue about the lack of jobs around here, I’m also 28 now, and my living costs make it impossible to take some underpaid junior position (not that there are any here anyway)…

Hi check out this article at my blog, it may help you.

Ok basically, I think if you start out on your own, you will have to do EVERYTHING including the stuff you have noted you hate in the other post.

So be prepared, and good luck.

Hi Stewie,

I ran a business for a while after leaving uni. It had a creative angle but fundamentally we made the bulk of our money through event management.

If you want to start any company you need customers. So do you have any? What I mean is there anyone who wants to commission you or pay you for design? If you don’t have any sources of revenue then what do you need to do to create any? Do you need to build your portfolio, increase your range of skills, advertise your business, start going to business events to meet potential customers etc. Put a list together of things you need to do. See which of those things you can work on straight away and which require money and time to put together.

Any self started business really depends on your ability to get customers. From your post its not clear but I am guessing that you haven’t actually done an independent project for a customer in any field. You need to do a few before being in a position to start an agency. If only for the experience and confidence. I think you need to put some work into proving to yourself and the market that you can deliver. This could take a few months or longer depending on how hard you work at it.

Things tend to snowball as well. Once you do a project for someone you have a reputation, reference, income and something for the portfolio. The next job often follows through recommendation.

Hope this helps


As it is everywhere. Lots of talent, well lots of degree holders with limited number of openings

Then you need to begin networking. Attend gatherings, meetings, open houses, design firms, get to know the movers in the industry. This is essential for placement, and should have been done during uni not 2.5 years later. You have to network…there is no other way to get your name out there. Your networking skills will need to be top notch if you were to start your own firm; as you will need a network of designers, engineering mangers, marketing managers, and CEOs much larger than what you would need to simply pick up some contract and possibly contract work.[/quote]

Usually means you they are too busy, and you will need to drop it off in person, or they feel that you are laking the fundamental skills really have no reply for you.

Again this is a common reply for when the firms feel you lack the foundation skills of creative problem solving, communication, social, and design skills. Most importantly in that order.

Hi. I’ve been running my own design consultancy for 3 years now (after 12 years as a employee)

My comments:

It can be difficult to start if you have no experience. Without the experience it can be hard to get clients. If they are paying for your expensive consultancy work they often want to be sure that you have had past successes and ant to see the evidence.

Do you have savings? You’ll need them. Despite my long experience and zillions of contacts we didn’t get any work until we were six months down the line. Set up costs weren’t cheap. We try to give a good impression and be professional. Nice laptops, good stationery, a website, an email address that isn’t hotmail, all go towards giving an impression of knowing what you are doing.

How rare /common are your skills? We started doing shoe design, web and graphics but now we do only shoes. There was too much competition in the other areas.

It is the most difficult thing we’ve ever done, but the most rewarding. If you are prepared for the hardwork and ca deal with the uncertainty, then it might just be for you too.

I also have a PD degree from the UK, but I moved to Canada about 5 years ago.
I fell into the POP industry out of University and have made a pretty good living from it, both here and in the UK. It’s not exactly what I really enjoy doing but it paid the bills and gave me a lot of practical experience.

So after finally realising I hated working for other people I started up a small studio with a friend of mine who was a graphic designer…we basically concentrated on what we know best - retail. We found a small niche in the industry and used our skills to build up a small clientele. That was just the beginning, now we have pretty regular work we are moving in a direction where we have enough contacts to start pursuing what we want to do…i.e. product design

It hasn’t taken us long and I will have to disagree with a previous post, it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive to set up. As long as you have a computer and software you can work from a home office for a while. Business cards and a basic website are cheap cheap cheap if you sort it all out yourself.

You have to be honest with yourself though…

Do you have enough contacts to bring in enough work ?
Can you handle the possibility of not getting work for a while ?
Can you offer a service that people can’t get anywhere else ?

You have to define yourself in a crowded market, use your experience to understand what people want and why they will pay for it.

I find working for myself has been the most rewarding job I have had…sure it means some late nights, some real stresses but I had that with other jobs, at least now I know the more effort I put in the more reward I get. I don’t think I could ever go back to working for someone else, it was never in my personality to be told what to do :slight_smile:

Good luck!

Thanks Loafer,

Exactly my thoughts! I’m going to give PD a serious go for the next 6 months, after that if it’s still a case of “nobody wants me”, then I guess I’ll give up and train as an electrician or something else that i can make a good living at. After all, if every time you opened a door, you got smacked in the face, it wouldn’t take you too long to realise you shouldn’t open the door any more…

Cheers buddy.

why dont you put your portfilo on coroflot for us to crit, you might find out why your nto getting called back and can imrpove your portolio.

I meant more from POV of needing money to live on while you are in set up stage. I know so many who were almost there, almost building a client base but gave up and had to take a job because they were broke and needed money to pay the bills. The op will need a source of income to live on while he is in the start up stages, be that savings or whatever.

Perhaps in certain buinesses it is cheaper, but I had to shell a lot of cash out on visiting trade shows (important to be seen and to network),when I had absolutely no money coming into the business.

“I want to be in control of the hours I work, the work I do, where I work etc. I really want to start working from home and enjoying a lot more creativity.”

And I see trouble ahead for you in this case. Freelancing is hardly a way to control your own hours, unless you live off your spouse or an inheritance. Consider solitary freelancing as being simultaneously but only temporarily employed by several firms (if you’re that lucky). Each project with its own deadlines and demands. How on earth does this give you more freedom over your time than your current job? Your clients control your work, remember?

The creativity bit may be truer but even there prepare to take on anything that comes along at the start to survive, and that includes a lot of ho-hum routine work of the type you may be doing now. Except your security is gone too.

Too many designers delude themselves with freelancing being the proverbial “greener grass on the other side” without having really done their research. Start moonlighting while still employed, make only a gradual transition and work hard on your marketing and personal brand name to differentiate your offer in a very, very crowded field. Make sure you understand who is both your immediate and less visible competition. If you then decide you wouldn’t buy from yourself, keep your job.

Listen, advice is easy for people who don’t do something in reality to give freely because if won’t F up their lives if they turn out to be full of BS.

I ACTUALLY started an indie design firm 3 years ago so all you no believers and people who work for others and talk like you know prepare to take notes.

  1. Get a business license, do this so you can start claiming write offs for taxes with almost every purchase you are going to have.

  2. Learn what you can write off and keep notes, buy online so you can have a running record in your email of purchase confirmations etc…

  3. Ask friends for their accountant’s names or go to the local national chain of accountants at tax time …you will pay the first couple years but you will learn a lot and be able to do this yourself after that time.

  4. KEEP OVERHEAD LOW, don’t rent a flash apartment or studio with hardwood floors, that is all bling your clients know they are helping pay for with the high prices of the consultancies you plan to compete against.
    *You will sell yourself on this point later

  5. Get one software and know it well, in my experience there is no ONE, but the closest thing is PRO E-Wildfire, it does A class surfaces like ALIAS (SW doesn’t) and it gives you true 3d spline placement (unlike SW)

You won’t have the advantage of the 4-window setup that makes Rhino easy for some folks, but the parametrics will save you a ton of time.
Next best get SW and Rhino together.

Honestly, I still bang out a quick shape in SW and then go in and touch it up on Sketchbook to pop out drawings like a horny rabbit on speed.

*Be sure your computer hardware can support the software you buy
Consider a Toshiba Tablet PC…best wacom LCD bang for the $$$
Tablet PC’s run Alias 11 but not 12 or 13, they will run image studio poorly and will run SW and Rhino well enough, I’m waiting for Wildfire 3 to confirm it minimally works but no news yet, just scraped enough together fro the license this last week

6) Portfolio SHMORTFOLIO…portfolios are for other designers to ogle, at this point all you should care about is impressing the client.
If they ask, have one to two sketches you have done of their own products or something similar, this will impress more directly than showing a floorwaxer manufacturer a picture of a nice credenza you designed, as far as they are concerned that just means you can draw…and I have news for you …so can their coworker’s high school age kids …set yourself apart.

Basic rule simple products sell but don’t always make great portfolio pieces, my portfolio is in the house wares industry on store shelves.
And no you don’t get a look-see, most of it is ugly except the final stuff, I deal more in mechanics than renderings these days.
Plus ** here’s a tip for the newbs, most big companies have design teams, who restyle your stuff no matter what, this makes patentable ideas more important but means you get less credit.

7) Go get 11 years of manufacturing experience… this is a bit of a joke since I worked a lot of blue collar assembly jobs and engineering technician jobs with my first Industrial Engineering job …it means I know about 1000 times more about manufacturability that some 10 year vets of the design industry because they have never had to put their own stuff together or work out the bugs of a 4 part water cooled, robotic pick, all electric injection mold.

I realize this is a tough one, but in my experience being a pretty picture drawer isn’t enough, you need to make real intellectual property in the form of patent or trade protectable invention.

It’s fine to sell art or a rendering in the mean tome to fill in the financial gaps but get ready for point #8

For the time being learn everything you can about injection molding, sheet metal fabrication, ceramics and forging, read everything you can on fasteners and different materials.

:sunglasses: Learn to patent …even if you never do, talk the language and know that a patent pending can still protect quite a bit even if the patent/and or/product gets dropped.
Try to avoid the patent cost yourself, unless the patent pending cost is easy to get for a year or two (See NOLO legal guides on this), most patents don’t make a profit after costs, but partial protections is better than none and shows companies you are not just a guy/gal who can draw. Essentially even companies who spend millions on patenting still get ripped off in China, so make your money quick and move on to the next 5 things.

  1. Make a web site, go to every event you can afford, tag your name on the side of busses, web blogs, t shirts, girl’s thongs, scooter stickers, whatever

Have business cards that are pro…NOT home made

10) Hit the bricks, when I promo’s punk acts I flyered from one end of a town to the next, stopped at high schools and gave special notice to cars with sweet stickers in their windows.

It’s the same idea here, plaster randomly on the Internet and places it’s cheap like word of mouth design focused events.use the direct contact with people you WANT to work for. Avoid inventors, they are one-hit-wonders.if that, they want you to do all the work and get none of the pay.
An inventor who already has product on the shelf or is working on a second or third invention is NOT an inventor anymore; they are an innovative business, DO work with these people.

CALL don’t just email, yeah it costs money but most OLD PEOPLE from before the days of computers, don’t quite get the warm fuzzies from email that us twenty somethings do…they will put you off and delays only really cost YOU money. The faster you dish them IP and bail out the better.

  1. Price LOW you are untested in their eyes, price the local cost of a CAD jockey then add %20-%50. Tell clients up front, you do the job of the CAD jockey the patent attorney, the engineer and the graphic/packaging artist.
    If they want to hassle hiring all those people for less, welcome them to try.

Stand firm, and if you must bid a set price up front with 0-%1 royalty so you can walk fast to the next job.

Never let a job last more that 3 months, always have 12jobs on going.
I’m no Karim Rashid owner, but I am a fan because he has a true work ethic, they guy single handedly works over a dozen jobs a month so aim for that, if you can pay the bills with less, don’t settle, remember there are lean times no matter how good you reputation is, work as hard as you can and put a way for a rainy day.

Don’t …go buy a new car

Don’t fly if you can avoid it.

Don’t splash out for the bling, unless it’s a wedding ring.

Remember The “indie” title carries with it the idea that you will tolerate some delayed gratification because you won’t tolerate working for any more dinosaurs.

One final goal, (maybe this is a twelve step program after all) try to have short and long term work ongoing at the same time, really this means scheduling and that is really the hardest thing to do out of all of this, everything I just told you I could teach a high schooler for less money than a college degree in less time. The thing that can’t be taught is when to say NO, and when to set weekly/monthly deadlines. I typically try to force companies into a 2month to 3 month cycle, but most companies are used to the OLD WAYS and take 18 months, YAWN, they are what I call “long term” or Dinosaur….the conversation you want should be, “Hi, I’m going to give you patentable IP in less than a year, possibly 1-2 months, and I’ll do it for less money and you can have 2-3 selling seasons a year instead of just one, which means more profit to you, would you like to hire me so I can make you more money?!”

When someone says no, or doesn’t cal you back, move on to their competitor, and their competitor and the next one. There is ALWAYS someone who will buy IP, even if you have to sell to China, make some money off it ….even if you have to start a web store.

Now would someone kindly answer my post about euro patents, so I can have a double reason to fly over and party with you cool cats.

Different law in UK for our OP, never heard of a business license. BUT over here you get 100% tax rebate on any computer equipment and software in your first year of business. Plus save every receipt you have for anything you spent on business as you will get a tax rebate.

Great advice though.

Also another poster mentioned moonlighting. Be VERY careful. I know two graphic designers who lost their well paid FT jobs because of this. Check your FT contract, see if it is allowed or not.

Also liked your advice on overheads. We scrimp in some areas (We always use both sides of the paper for sketches, don’t throw anything away that we can reuse, but we make sure our computer equipment is up to date (use Kelkoo and Pricerunner to get the best deals). You don’t need designer pen pots to do a good job, but you do need to make sure you have a decent desk and chair as you are going to be working long hours in that chair - make sure you dont get RSI because you scrimped on your workstation!

Some of us bothering to respond to the original poster started their businesses when you were still in diapers. Other than sounding arrogant, you seem to have tons of free time for someone running a business. You sound like a real joy to work with too.

What StudioModu wrote is gold.

What I’ll add is that if you want to start a design business then you should understand business. Cost, schedule, risk, legal, cash flow, etc…

In my company we stress our committment to project management as much as our Industrial Design, and give examples including published articles (i.e. a PM portfolio), and several times have ended up earning consulting fees on project managment in addition to ID. It’s not our intent to be PM experts, but to fundamentally communicate that we know our and their business.

Clients are usually more interested in cost, risk management and project management than design. If you truly understand as much about business as you do about design then go for it. Until then, don’t, go learn, or you will fail, be ripped off and will blame everybody but yourself.

Pier is spot on, without repeating or requoting, the IT is certainly better phrased as Project Management. That’s really the thing that comes with experience. Those years I spent in the manufacturing world, that was a lot of my day to day job. Procurement and scheduling and all the sort of continuous re-evaluation that goes on in those environments.

I apologize for bagging on Egg, but I don’t do it lightly. If you read ALL his posts you can see despite his claim to be designing since “I was in diapers” (which I doubt). He was a relative Johnny-come-lately to the scene, and though he started out with constructive posts, he/she basically beats down anything anyone has to say. Especially in terms of negative advice about startups. Maybe Egg is grumpy and doesn’t want the competition from us. I certainly won’t worry about it.

However, I welcome the competition of new blood…why? Not because I want to see us be a commodity like in China but because it’s purely the shotgun approach to statistics. The more of us are out here in the real world making people realize the alternatives to foreign or interstate design is right in their own backyards, the better!

Yes it’s hard, yes you need to have moxy to do it but I can guarantee you that the moxy and the unabashed belief that you always have more to learn …about accounting, or Web stuff, or software, or sketching is what gets you job wins and successes. Resting on Laurels is the path to extinction. (hunger is the greatest spice)

If you couldn’t draw an isometric box and you thought credit cards were manna from heaven, I’d fully expect a fresh consultancy to call it quits within months (without a lottery win or a trust fund to limp along on).

I’m assuming anyone entertaining the idea of a solo act or partnership, has already answered the important question of willingness to try. So I won’t treat you like petulant children who need to be shamed out of a rash decision.

What I simply wanted to offer was some all-killer-no-filler specifics (of what worked for me/us). And some balls out encouragement. You CAN start an indie firm and you can do it while you have a day job, while you wait tables, or go to school, or even if you quit everything to go all out for that dream.
Be wary of advice, even mine, obviously I didn’t know the tax code in the UK and each state in the US is different. Whatever you do take everything with a grain of salt and check out a second source on everything you hear about business and especially legal advice. I run into this all the time with patents, people with decades of experience but 5 years out of recent practice trying to tell me costly things to do that aren’t even necessary anymore. DIY and find a second source for any advice you get.
That’s all I was sayin.

Wherever you are, be legal, be cheaper, pinch pennies, pound the bricks to find business, and be inventive between the jobs where you are just styling to cover the bills.

Lastly, share what you know. (and thus reap what you sow)

I offer classes on software and manufacturability, and materials, and show design DVD’s and get speakers to sound off, ALL out of our little studio, through the IDSA. Sometimes we charge a little and sometimes we don’t.

Maybe I could have been a pessimistic hypocrite in mod clothing, grubbin for cash, talking people down, or maybe I’m just practicing what I preach.

You decide.

If anyone comes to Denver, let me know, we can talk about design or throw down, my crew VS yours, fresh V fresh.
I ACTUALLY am a nice guy to work with and talk shop, because I treat people like equals.

Now would sombody chime in about Euro Patents…I know someome has the skinny on my other post!


Read Egg and Modu’s posts and realize that they both make valid points…even if they seem to be commenting on this topic from opposite ends of the spectrum.

If you want to make it on your own, start a consultancy, drop out of the corporate ranks, freelance full-time…or whatever you want to call it, IT WILL INVOLVE SOME RISK. No one can tell you that you’re ready for it, you just have to make the jump and work your tail off to make something happen.

There’s no reason to bash the opinions of others on this topic, we all have our own experiences, and I’m happy to be able to learn from them…