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How Design Entrepreneurs Can Keep Growing During COVID-19

November 23, 2020

May you live in interesting times goes the ancient Chinese curse, and there’s no more fitting analogue than the past year or so. Nobody can deny that the year 2020 has been one of the most challenging times in human history—predominantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm. What people are now dubbing the new normal has affected businesses—from the smallest mom-and-pop stores to multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations.

Despite all these challenges, we’ve seen the persistence and determination of millions of people and organizations around the world, as a new normal has replaced old traditions—often fueled by grand leaps forward in technology and other innovations. Zoom concerts have replaced live-music festivals. Mental-health apps such as Calm have flourished, helping people to find their center during difficult times. Furthermore, entrepreneurs around the world have found new tactics and strategies to continue growing.

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Although, from the perspective of entrepreneurial growth, COVID-19 is certainly a fresh challenge, it’s hardly an insurmountable one. In fact, the pandemic has opened nearly as many possibilities as it has closed down. In this article, I’ll share a few tips and some key learnings for design entrepreneurs, which have kept me and my team going and growing during the pandemic.

Let’s look at a few time-tested tips for design entrepreneurs. These derive from my lived experience.

Increase Revenues for Both You and Your Clients

The primary objective for any design agency at this time is to generate revenues for your clients and, in turn, for your own firm. We must work hard to survive and thrive.

Recognize the Need for Digital Design

As of August 2020, there had already been 130 days this year with over $2 billion in online spending worldwide. This is in stark contrast to the mere two days on which we had attained this figure by August of the previous year. It’s no secret that online shopping is the future. Therefore, understanding and harnessing the power of ecommerce, both internally and externally, could be the key to major growth for you and your organization.

As a consequence, we should recognize the resulting global need for digital design at this moment. Everything from launching products to creating online marketing materials requires some degree of digital-design prowess, with the more traditional, physical media through which we’ve conducted these activities in the past quickly going extinct. Great digital design goes hand in hand with worldwide, omnichannel marketing scenarios, which most companies in the world are striving for today. Realizing and leveraging this need for digital design can facilitate large amounts of growth for any design studio.

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Be There for Your Clients

Communicate with your clients often—not just as much, but even more than before. Schedule regular, weekly meetings to review design directions, layouts, and workflows. Get your clients to review your design iterations as soon as possible and clarify even the smallest issues. Otherwise, at challenging times such as these, when face-to-face communications are impossible, missed opportunities to communicate with your clients could spiral into a cascade of miscommunications. Maintaining regular, thorough communications with your clients can make the design process far simpler and, more importantly, more enjoyable as well.

Plus, in your desperation to win new clients during the pandemic, don’t lose sight of your existing clients. Discuss the power of digital design with them, and pursue opportunities for additional business with them. Perhaps you could even reconstruct your design strategy or a marketing campaign to be more digital centric—instead of whatever it may have been before the pandemic. In every way, show your clients that you’re there for them, especially in this difficult time. Help them to work through the new design challenges that have presented themselves during the pandemic.

Focus Your Marketing on the Digital World

With the state of the world changing so rapidly, your marketing strategy must also adapt and evolve. First, take a look at your Web site and make whatever changes are necessary. Recognize that more people are likely to visit your site now than ever before, so it’s important to make visitors’ first impression a memorable one. Keep your site updated with case studies, design solutions, and testimonials so anyone who is even mildly interested in your design services is thoroughly impressed by what you can offer to them. Try to showcase your digital-design work in particular because there will be maximum demand for such solutions during the lockdown period.

Second, don’t hesitate to spend on social-media marketing. We’ve all rapidly and wisely transitioned to working online, so why shouldn’t our marketing efforts go online, too. Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Instagram has seen 5% growth in its user base. Anecdotal evidence shows that we’re spending far more time on social platforms just by virtue of our being stuck at home.

Third, email marketing is booming right now and, curiously, has thrived throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The popular email-marketing service MailChimp has reported that both open and click rates have grown astronomically since March of 2020. Plus, unsubscribe rates have shrunk equivalently. If there were any time to utilize this powerful facet of marketing, it’s now.

Focus on Your Team

Either by virtue of our being stuck at home for an indefinite period of time or as a general knock-on effect of the current world situation, there are very few people who would claim to be happy during the pandemic. People have become bored or even lost interest in the world in response to the various lockdowns. This could lead to designers’ producing boring, uninteresting designs. Keeping yourself and your designers inspired, motivated, and happy is now, more than ever, priority one. Since the lockdowns began, I’ve known that, if we could continue to maintain the same lofty standards we’ve always set for ourselves when it comes to the quality of our work, everything else would fall into place.

By encouraging your designers to explore and share points of inspiration, new designs, and cool discoveries about the applications they use in their work, you can help them to rediscover that creative spark they’ve lost in leaving the studio to work at home. Plus, your designers can develop an appreciation for the fine work that other designers are doing all over the world—despite the circumstances of COVID-19—which can provide inspiration for their work.

My team members have also decided to have frequent Zoom calls that are completely unrelated to their work, reinforcing the idea that we’re all in this together. This has generally kept the spirits of our team high.

Conclusion

Before you take any of the steps I’ve described in this article, you must first transform your mindset. If you view the COVID-19 pandemic as a period of potential growth, chasing after opportunities that let you achieve that growth would do you and your design studio nothing but good. From my experience, tailoring your strategy and taking an aggressive approach to growth during the pandemic can do wonders. By implementing the tips I’ve provided in this article, you can achieve significant personal and professional development and maturation during this difficult time. 

Co-founder and Design Director at Onething Design Studio

Gurugram, Haryana, India

Manik AroraManik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use.  Read More

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