As a creative you’re pretty likely to gravitate towards specific markets. If you’re a cameraman who loves horror films it’s unlikely that you’ll be desperate to work on the CBBCchannel.
But gravitating aimlessly is one thing. Making a conscious, informed decision to focus on one sector is quite another; one that can help any creative get the jump on their competition.
I started my career in advertising and publishing, then later moved into the third sector because I wanted to do creative work with a tangible social objective. I always planned to run my own agency, and so when I set up small+co in 2012 it was a natural choice to focus on charities and social enterprises.
Caring about what your clients do has made dealing with them far more enjoyable, and it shows in the work. A great entrepreneur once warned me that just because there is a gap in the market, it doesn’t mean there is a market in the gap; but I knew mine well enough to see the genuine need.
When focusing on just one sector, business decisions become a lot more straightforward. For instance, we had to find a way to offer quality within the tight budgets of a charity client. So, rather than create a traditional agency set-up with the associated overheads, we decided to stay small and draw on a pool of creative freelancers.
By bringing together talented freelancers we can form bespoke teams for each job and be as large or as small as a client requires. This model wouldn’t work with all markets: some jobs are too complicated or require a more consistent team over long period of time. But for our market, it works.
Likewise, our branding wouldn’t necessarily appeal to a large accounting firm or cutting edge drinks brand. We’re not corporate or trendy, but we don’t have to be because these things are less important to our market than value-for-money. Having that existing understanding of the business structures, challenges and needs of our sector has been invaluable. Every sector has its own jargon, regulations, design aesthetic and budget restrictions; and positioning ourselves towards them gave us an enormous advantage over competitors from day one.
That said, I would advise against taking on clients with very similar brands or target markets. Seeking variety within our sector has helped reassure clients that sensitive information, such as marketing strategies, isn’t being shared (consciously or unconsciously) with their competitors. For example, we work with Breast Cancer Campaign and so wouldn’t take on another breast cancer charity client for fear of alienating them.
There are of course downsides to being niche, primarily the all-your-eggs-in-one-basket scenario. You are at particular risk of environmental factors that affect the whole sector – such as cuts to government funding for charities. But as a niche agency we’ve found it’s easier to stay focused on these changes and respond to sector specific challenges.
As a creative, or even as a business person, sometimes you can feel like you’re missing out on interesting or potentially lucrative work that is sitting just outside of your chosen sector. I mean whose mind doesn’t wander? Ultimately, however, the gains of knowing our market, adapting with it and building that strong brand name for future clients far outweigh these hypothetical worries. Establishing small+co as a niche design agency has helped us to focus on becoming the best at what we do – and that’s all we can really ask for.
small+co is small and collective. They bring together talented freelance creatives to form bespoke teams for every job.
Illustrated by Tom Holmes
- One Thing I Know