Today, we’re excited to debut a new series titled Behind the Design Business. Every now and then, GDB will offer 15 minutes of fame to a growing design business. We ask a series of questions and the responses have been phenomenal.
We’ve already learned a lot about running a successful design business, and we know you will too!
If you would like to appear in the Behind the Design Business series, submit an application here.
Today’s featured designer and entrepreneur is Brad Fitzgerald from aptdesignonline.com.
Let’s jump right in!
A glimpse behind the business:
GDB: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as a person? (ie. Where you are from, how long you’ve been designing, some hobbies or other interests.)
Brad: I’m a graphic and web designer based out of Wenatchee – a great little town in Washington with plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities. I moved up here with my wife 6 years ago after graduating with a graphic design degree from Harding University in Arkansas.
I love running and have completed 2 marathons. Even more than that I love playing and reading with my little 1 year old daughter.
GDB: Tell us about your design business (ie. How many people work for/with you, how long you’ve been in business, what you specialize in, your web site, etc.)
Brad: I am a one-man shop and plan to always be. I think there’s a lot of complications and huge potential problems involved in hiring employees or adding a partner. I do use freelancers to contract work to when I get overloaded, as well as doing freelance work for other companies.
Apt Design has been around for 3+ years and has been self-sustaining from the beginning. While it started as mostly a graphic design business I’ve added web design to the mix and now that is about 80% of my work.
I do development work on some of my sites, but my specialty is web site design.
GDB: How do you market your design business and find good new design clients?
Brad: Although I’ve dipped my toes into advertising a little bit almost all of my work comes from word-of-mouth referrals. Recently I’ve also had people contacting me from just checking out the work on my website as well.
GDB: What is your daily routine like?
Brad: I start work pretty much at 8am sharp every morning.
If I have a big project I’m working on I like to devote 1-2 hours to being creative on it first thing, before checking email or anything.
If I don’t have one big task I’ll check email first and use a GTD-type workflow to clear my inbox out. After that it’s jumping on my 3-5 tasks todo list for the day. I try to work on the things that will take the most creative power first.
Since my daughter was born in October I just work 8am-12pm and then take care of her in the afternoons while my wife goes to work. It’s been a wonderful arrangement as it allows me to really focus hard on working when I’m working, and then get to spend quality time hanging out with my kiddo.
Occasionally if I have a lot to do I’ll work for an hour or two in the evenings. I rarely work on Saturdays and never do any kind of work or work-related activities on Sunday.
GDB: What are some of your most recent successes for your design business?
Brad: Apt Design has had a lot of recent success which I’m extremely grateful. Getting to work part-time is a huge blessing.
I’ve just finished the largest project I did through Apt Design – www.wenatchee.org
I’ve also been getting to work on some great, huge projects with Shane&Peter Inc., including being a lead designer on this project and another awesome project that will be launching soon!
Lastly I just completed a Client Survey of all my past and current clients and got some great feedback, including an overall rating of 9.5.
GDB: What are some of your favorite/preferred tools of the trade. This could include design programs/tools or also business management tools like invoicing software, time trackers, etc.
Brad: I use the Adobe Creative Suite of course.
For development I like Coda and love CSSEdit.
I made the switch for bookkeeping software to Clarity Accounting (now Kashoo) this year and have been really happy with what these guys offer.
For tracking all my projects I use Basecamp. I run everything through Basecamp, even if my clients aren’t even using it or even invited to the project. I time-track through BC and keep my overall/general to-dos in there. For my daily, more granular to-do lists I use Google Tasks.
Getting an iPhone a year ago has been a great way to stay in touch with work as well.
GDB: What books, websites, or other resources would you recommend for designers who hope to start their own business?
Brad: Books I would recommend include “How to be a Rockstar Freelancer” and “Rework”.
Some blogs I read often are Smashing Magazine, FreelanceSwitch and of course GraphicDesignBlender!
GDB: What tips, advice, or suggestions do you have for designers who hope to start their own design business?
Brad: I would tell them to be willing to work some long hours if necessary, but not to let it completely overwhelm their life. Remember to focus on what’s important and figure out why you are starting your own business (then refer back to that reason often!).
I’ve written a bunch of my tips and advice for people wanting to start their own business in a series called “Young Business.” It starts here.
GDB: Thanks so much for taking time to share your insights and tips with the GDB Community! To the readers: If you would like to appear in the Behind the Design Business series, submit an application here.