Peter de Wreede – founder of Let’s Talk Design – tells us how he turned his employers into clients when moving from in-house designer to sole trader, and how he’s managed to retain them for years after.
After graduating and then moving around design agencies, I found myself working in-house for a large sports club. It was fun, comfortable work with plenty of perks and I quickly got used to the safety of picking up a monthly pay cheque.
But despite all these positives, it had always been my plan to gain some experience and then build my own agency. I was starting to feel that if I didn’t leave in-house work soon then I might never. Like the sofa on a cold Sunday, the comfort would be too hard to resist! I was at the right age, I had just got married and I was ready to challenge myself.
I’m not going to lie though; it wasn’t a stress-free transition. There were a lot of nerves and sleepless nights, and the whole process felt like jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft with no parachute. But what did make the move a bit easier was hanging on to the sports club work, and turning them from an employer to a client.
A lot of people have asked how on earth I managed to do that, but really it was just a case of working hard while I was there and then leaving on good terms. Thankfully, the friends I’d established there were very supportive of what I wanted to do.
So really I just kept in touch with them, said yes to all the pub trips and then, when ready, approached them with a professional offer. It’s not actually the hardest sell when you think about it. They got to retain the style of work they were already happy with, without having to pay my national insurance. It’s a win-win!
It can’t be understated how important starting with that one large client was for my new company. It gave me a bit of breathing space and some financial security to get the business up and running; funding things like branding, website and equipment.
At first I was slightly concerned about starting with just one client – like putting all your eggs in one basket – but over time it led to all sorts of further contacts. It may sound a bit corny or overly simple, but I’ve always tried to stay in touch with former colleagues. This has led to a large network of professional people who I’d consider friends, and fortunately when they’re in need of design work – they’ve recommended me.
But that one big client is still my one big client, and retaining them has been very important. Again, people ask how you do that, but really it’s as simple as being available and doing a good job.
From my experience of working in-house, I found the one thing that bugs clients more than anything is people not returning their emails or calls. So I try to be available at all times, and turn work around as quickly as I can. Not so quick that the quality of work is compromised of course, but I listen to the client and that means I don’t spend days creating a masterpiece when all the client wanted was a quickly turned around design.
I wish there was some golden trick that I could impart about maintaining clients, but it’s just a simple case of good communication and fulfilling briefs. So long as you can do that, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re in-house, freelance, starting a company or anything in between.
Let’s Talk Design is your friendly neighbourhood design agency. Specialising in quality, responsive design, the team numbers Glamorgan County Cricket Club, Cardiff City FC and Coca-Cola among their portfolio.
Illustrated by Jennifer Dionisio
- One Thing I Know