Starting a UI/UX design agency is not the same as running one. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that many new design startups learn the hard way.
There are a lot of UI/UX design firms out there, and it's no secret that most of them don't make it very far. In fact, a good number of them fold within the first couple of years.
But that doesn't mean running a design firm successfully is impossible. What you want to avoid more than anything else as you set out to become a thriving UI/UX agency are the mistakes that can doom your venture in its infancy.
Whether you're planning on starting a design agency, or are already running one, here is a list of common mistakes to beware of if you want to stay afloat.
Mistake #1 Skipping the planning phase
The problem: When starting your own UI/UX design agency, you might be tempted to hurry through the all-important planning phase. But without a plan, it's easy to get off track and make decisions that aren't in the best interest of your business.
The fix: As anyone who has started their own business knows, there is a lot of planning that goes into getting things up and running — and this is especially true when it comes to starting a UI/UX agency. Without a clear plan outlined, you may have trouble hitting your target market, or worse; you may make design decisions that don't align with your business goals. So, make sure to give yourself a lot of time to plan out everything, from your target market and ideal clients to your budget and long-term goals. To guide you along your journey, we have compiled some helpful tips:
- Keep it simple. Don't make the already stressful process of starting up your business even harder by drafting a convoluted plan. Create a straightforward, bulleted plan that outlines your goals and strategies for achieving them.
- Get familiar with your rivals. Familiarize yourself with how your competitors are doing and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Next, explain in your business plan exactly how your agency intends to outdo them.
- Try to keep it realistic. Be realistic about your financial projections so that you can make sound financial decisions for your business.
- Revisit and revise as necessary. Your business plan is a living document that will grow with your business. Continually review and revise your plan as necessary, making sure it is still relevant to your agency's direction.
If you're finding it tough to get started on your business plan, simply begin by sketching it out. Remember what inspired you to start your design agency in the first place, and don't worry about perfecting your formal business plan just yet. You can always use that document as an outline and come back later to flesh it out in more detail.
Mistake #2 Insufficient financial preparation
The problem: It is common for startup entrepreneurs to neglect financial planning and lowball how much capital they'll need to get their business up and running. The result is often inadequate financing to achieve your goals or a cash crunch, just as the business is gaining traction.
The fix: Even if making money isn't your ultimate goal, it's important to make sure the numbers add up. Putting in the vital time and effort to guarantee that your finances are in order, and devising a financial strategy to help you develop your agency, can help you win as a self-made entrepreneur. Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your new venture starts off strong financially:
- Thoroughly research your potential start-up costs. You might already be aware of certain planned expenses for the operation of your agency; for example, a website, an office, or payroll if there will be employees. But there are many underlying expenses that newer business owners might not be prepared for, like city permits, insurance, or software licensing costs.
- Create a business emergency fund. Be sure to include a cushion for unplanned expenses and unexpected setbacks.
- Don't mix up your personal and business finances. Even if you're running your agency as a sole proprietorship, it's generally a good idea to separate your financial dealings from your personal affairs.
- Ask trusted professionals for advice. Investing in professional expertise now can prevent long-term financial destruction and help your business succeed in the long run.
- Track your income and expenses. Knowing where your money comes from and goes to can be important when you're trying to decide where to invest within your company and where to cut costs.
Mistake #3 Ignoring the need for a resource plan
The problem: In today's volatile business world, having a reliable and efficient process for planning and managing human resources is essential for success. Unfortunately, many young design agencies either ignore this critical aspect of their operation or do it insufficiently, leaving themselves vulnerable to increased prices when they require additional or specialized manpower.
The fix: Any business needs adequate resource planning and management, but this is especially true for design teams. UI/UX agencies often rely heavily on creative talent, so it's important to have a good system in place to manage resources efficiently. Here are a few tips on how to get started:
- Get to know your core team. In order to make informed decisions about resource allocation, you need to have a clear understanding of the skills and experience of your core team members.
- Conduct a resource audit for each project. Once you know what skills and experience your team brings to the table, you can start to identify any resource gaps.
- Make up for the gaps in resources needed for the project. When you've identified any resource gaps, it's time to start planning how to fill them. This may mean hiring new staff, outsourcing work to freelancers or contractors, or sending staff members for training.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your resources are being utilized to the fullest extent possible and that they are focused on the highest priority matters at all times.
Mistake #4 Undervaluing technology
The problem: If you're not giving designers the tools they need to do their job, you're setting them up for failure. Without the right tools, they'll have a hard time tracking progress and determining what's working and what isn't. This can lead to missed deadlines, unmet goals, and ultimately a drop in productivity.
The fix: Design agencies have a lot of different moving parts, and it's vital to have a tech stack that can help keep things in order. Having tools you can rely on for project management, client communication, and asset creation can make a big difference in how smoothly things run. Among the types of tools you will need are:
- Graphic and interface editors. Sketching out ideas for clients is a big part of what design agencies do. A good graphics editor tool can help you quickly create drafts of your ideas and make them look sharper and more polished.
- Wireframing tools. If you don't take the time to wireframe your site, you might end up with something that looks good but doesn't deliver the kind of experience your users deserve. That's why it's important to have a good wireframing tool like MockFlow in your toolkit.
- Photoshop and digital artwork illustrators. These powerful applications are ideal for a wide range of design tasks, including digital painting, animation designing, and photo editing, among other things.
- Collaboration and project management platforms. There's a lot that goes into designing a website, and it takes a team to get the job done right. Having a platform for design collaboration can help you keep track of who's doing what and make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Workflow automation apps. Automation tools can help you manage the workflow of your design agency more effectively. They can help to speed up the process of creating and approving designs and make it easier to track the progress of projects.
There are a lot of different software options out there, so it's important to do your research and find the products that will work best for your specific needs. With the right tools at your disposal, you'll be able to streamline your work, free up more time to focus on creativity, and provide the best possible service to your clients.
Mistake #5 Not keeping up with industry trends
The problem: One of the surest ways to kill your UI/UX design agency for good is by failing to keep pace with industry trends. If you're not continually improving your services, you'll soon find yourself behind the curve and out of business.
The fix: When it comes to UI/UX design, many newbie agency owners might feel like they’re constantly playing catch-up. New trends and techniques pop up so often that keeping up with them all can feel impossible. But when you’re running your own business, it’s even more important to stay on top of these things. The following are some ways you can accomplish this:
- Read design-related blogs and articles. By reading design-focused content, you’ll be exposed to new ideas, perspectives, and techniques. A few good places to start are Smashing Magazine, Designmodo, and UX Booth.
- Attend conferences and meetups. Connecting with other designers in person can be a great way to stay up-to-date on the latest trends. Attending conferences and meetups also gives you an opportunity to network and learn from your peers.
- Experiment with new tools and technologies. As a UI/UX designer, it’s important to have a strong grasp of the latest tools and technologies. By experimenting with new technologies, you will learn firsthand whether they can help your business.
Design trends change rapidly. If you choose to stay safe and stick to your old habits, you risk losing clients who want to work on the latest hot trend. By remaining current and offering the latest and greatest in UI/UX design, you'll keep your business alive and thriving for years to come.
Mistake #6 Failing to develop a proper client onboarding process
The problem: Many newbie agencies tend to cut corners with their client onboarding procedure. They work off of an ad hoc client onboarding process and scattered techniques to welcome new clients. This often leads to clients feeling uninformed and unsupported, which can strain the relationship between the agency and the client, and even lead to loss of business.
The fix: Your onboarding process is critical to impressing new clients and making a good first impression. Keep in mind that at this stage in the partnership, they may still be deciding whether or not to stay with you for the long haul. Creating a great onboarding experience can help solidify their decision to stick with your agency. To create a positive onboarding experience, follow these tips:
- Prepare an onboarding questionnaire. There are a lot of pieces of information you will need from a new client. In most agencies, this is done via onboarding emails, but emails are not very efficient for this and can cause you to miss critical information. This is where online onboarding questionnaire forms come in.
- Create a client onboarding checklist. There are a lot of things to consider when you're going through a client onboarding procedure. So it's sensible to make an onboarding checklist that literally checks off the boxes as you continue through the procedure.
- Set up a kick-off meeting. This is your opportunity to not just lay the course for a more personal connection but also discuss concerns that aren't so easy to cover in emails or text messages.
UI/UX design agencies are a dime a dozen. What separates the good from the great is passion, creativity, and the capacity to act with ingenuity. Hopefully, the tips mentioned above will help you avoid some common pitfalls and set you on the right path to success.