Reflections on 20 years. Part 3: Five pieces of advice for my younger self

8 August 2016

Mytton Williams is celebrating twenty years of business in 2016. It has been quite a journey. So, to capture and reflect on our story, and mark this important year for us, we’ve collected together twenty thoughts on our twenty years. This is the third of four articles (you can read part one and part two here). This time I’m sharing five pieces of advice, that with the benefit of hindsight, I would give to my younger self all those years ago. Given that isn’t possible, these thoughts are perhaps now of most use to any designers out there that are thinking about starting their own studio…

Find your voice

Responding to client briefs is the backbone of any studio. Without happy clients there is no business. Nurturing good client relationships is essential and rewarding. But don’t get lost in thinking only about what the client wants. To reveal your real potential, and your real value, you have to explore your own creativity and your own passions. These are often found outside of work, so don’t be afraid to take time away from the day job to develop your interests.

When running a business there are many times when you get pulled in different directions. Very often the pull is toward money, and when you employ people this pull becomes even stronger. But be true to who you are and do what you believe in. Don’t be afraid to work out what you love doing and take the time to do it well – you will surprise yourself as to what you can achieve. This will then attract clients and colleagues that will share your values and you will do better work because of that.

Seize those opportunities

Business, and life, is full of uncertainties. It is good to do the homework, seek advice and take time to reflect, but don’t wait too long to make decisions. It is not about being right every time. Some decisions work out and some don’t, but don’t miss the moment to seize an opportunity. Take on people before you need them, not when you are too busy. Turn projects down that don’t fit with your values rather than regretting that automatic ‘yes’. Put your ideas forward, even if they are outside the brief or the budget.

You don’t get anywhere without taking risks and moving beyond the fears that might otherwise hold you back. That doesn’t mean leaping blindly into the unknown or being pushed into directions you don’t want to take. Take calculated risks that are in line with the studio you want to create, and make them swiftly. Go for it rather than hesitate.

Go and ask

There will be times when the phone doesn’t ring. The ebb and flow of work happens, don’t worry. Get yourself out there, keep talking and don’t be afraid to ask, especially with people you already know. Do you have any more work…? Would you like to do this…? Have you considered this…? Do you know other people we could talk with…? Don’t just sit there waiting for someone to ask you, or feel you should hide the fact that you have space for new projects. Be proactive and ask them. Your existing clients and colleagues can be a rich source for new business. Don’t put all the emphasis on finding new contacts.

Good relationships are so important. Keep on keeping in touch. Let people know who you are and what you are doing. Get out of the studio and invite someone to lunch. Be out and about – it doesn’t matter where. Business conversations happen in all sorts of places and sometimes when you least expect them. It’s not just about going to network meetings or business events. It’s about being out there.

Trust yourself

As well as developing your own creative voice, learn to listen to your instincts. Sometimes there is a comment to yourself that flashes across your mind – take notice of those, they are usually right and they become more insightful as your experience grows. Other times it might be a feeling or a hunch. You will be in situations that you aren’t sure about, even when everything seems ok on the surface. Pause to work out why that is before you decide the next steps. It’s not about always taking a safe route or avoiding tough situations, but don’t ignore your concerns and listen to others if they raise them.

Trusting yourself to let go allows you to delegate. This is a challenge when you have been used to doing everything. As teams grow, be explicit about your expectations and encourage people to ask questions and bring their own ideas. Don’t just expect your colleagues to remember conversations or raise issues as they come up. Write things down and book specific time to discuss the plans, aspirations or concerns so everyone is clear. It sets a good framework for daily standards as well as building a strong studio culture.

Keep good company

One of the things I didn’t need to be told twenty years ago was about having a good partner and good peers. My experience with Pentagram and other great agencies formed my expectations on quality and professionalism. I automatically took this knowledge into my own business. Seeing good practice in design quality as well as studio house-keeping was invaluable. In terms of my business partner, my wife Sophie dealt with all the aspects of the business that weren’t my strengths. She handled the legal and contractual issues. She came with great project management experience and had already worked in design agencies so understood the way they worked.

Because I had the benefit of that, I would advise any designers to partner with people that have the complimentary skills you need. Don’t automatically team-up with other designers – someone’s got to do the paperwork and take care of business if you want to be successful. And because Sophie did that side of things, I was free to focus on the design. The boundaries and the expectations for our roles were clear, and that is important for any team that wants to last.

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