3 considerations when starting an agency

I didn't aim to set out and create an agency last year. I got here through a mix of self discovery and the realisation that I didn't want to create a lifestyle business.

3 considerations when starting an agency
Photo by Cherrydeck / Unsplash

I didn't aim to set out and create an agency last year. I got here through a mix of self discovery and the realisation that I didn't want to create a lifestyle business. I wanted to create a real business. I also didn't want a job. I wanted to build a company (of people).

So how did I get started?

Just start

Easier said than done. Starting for me was about fighting procrastination, starting without a plan and starting by putting yourself out there. Admittedly, it's taken me a while to 'just start' and I made it a little harder by moving further into product design and development to grow.

The thing about growth, is that it's uncomfortable. When you grow, you're entering a place you haven't been before and you'll suck at it to start. Over time, you'll get better.

Most people would assume I would do design sprints for the rest of my life, but I felt that I had more to give and for that, I had to grow into new spaces.

Pick a contract (or two) to start

This isn't a widely shared method for starting an agency, but it worked well for me.

I think few agency founders go down the route of starting a 6 month contract as a way to get started. Maybe it's not cool enough or a distraction to their vision, but it makes incredible business sense. I actually started with two, just in case one dropped (which it actually did!).

Sure, you work approx. 16 hour days, but you're earning twice as much and you're building a runway that you'll need when times are quiet, or you need to invest. Dare I say, if you're a fast and experienced worker like I am, you start focussing on working smarter.

Taking on contract work for me was a short term solution to bring about longer term sustainability. I had very little in the way of savings when I started, so building reserves on the job was the most viable option to me, and dare I say, it has worked.

Do remind yourself to step back and work on your agency as well though, otherwise you'll end up being a contractor for life. Some do this and enjoy this, but that isn't the path of an entrepreneur.


There's a lot of other important considerations in starting an agency, but if you're from a designer background like I am, then you need to actively work towards profit. Revenue is vanity and profit is sanity, as they say, so pick a margin and stick to it. Traditionally this is around 11-20%, with 20-30% being 'really healthy' according to some.

When quoting for work, do use a formula to get to your pricing - not a nice round number which can be over or worryingly under the cost you've quoted. You're creating a business after-all and you won't be drawing all of the winnings. Cover yourself for the quieter times and you'll certainly need some savings for lead generation and marketing when it's time. Listen to advice, but learn what works. For example: Day rates have helped me both justify the time and price, and include subcontractors where I've needed it.

A final note: You have picked hard work, that is ultimately fulfilling, but there's no doubt: it is a grind. Persistence is key and so to is playing the long game. Don't finish before you've started and just getting through the first year should be reward enough.