Pick a lane and don’t try to be a ‘generalist’ - Adam Ross, founder AR Design
This is a new initiative where we aim to have seasoned agency owners share their valuable experiences, learnings, secrets, and setbacks gained after years of being in the game.
Hi there! Please introduce yourself and your company!
My name is Adam Ross and I am the founder and creative director at AR Design, a branding and marketing agency in West Palm Beach, Florida. We specialize in the Food and Beverage industry, creating exciting brands and designs for those who want to leverage the full force of great design to help their business.
When did you get started? What was your situation then?
I started in 2003 right out of college and have been evolving the business since then. We started primarily focused on website design and development and grew into more branding and packaging through the years. Our focus these days is on working with medium-sized businesses to become their out-of-house design team, working closely with them for a longer period of time, and becoming a direct extension of their business.
Why did you choose what you chose? How did you niche down?
We have grown more and more into the craft beer, food, and coffee space for a few reasons. The boom in craft beer gave us a prime opportunity for our style of design which was bold and fun. We liked the social nature of the brewery space and the ability to have our designs hit than hands of the consumer so quickly. Our ability to work on everything a brewery needs, from branding to packaging to the website and social media made us a good fit for a lot of local breweries. We also learned more about the ins and outs of how to leverage tight budgets and small runs and still deliver premium results.
Our insights and connections have allowed us to take client ideas and really expand on them through unique packaging and print solutions.
Walk us through some of the struggles early on in the business. How did you overcome them?
We have always faced challenges around maintaining a good flow of work. At times it can be very heavy and then slow drastically. When we are busy, we struggle to take the time to market ourselves, which consequently leads to an inevitable slowdown after we complete projects. We have been working hard to maintain time in our schedules to be working on ‘us’, just as much as we would a client.
Another struggle is around keeping talent. It has helped to have remote work become more present in the business, but early on, many of our team members would move out of town and subsequently leave the business which creates a lot of stress on a business. We have learned to be more nimble and use more freelance creatives to fill in gaps when needed.
How did you get your first client? How did you get the next couple ones?
We started taking small website projects, which paid well at the time but required a lot of technical expertise. I had a lot of background in not only the design of websites, but domains, hosting, and debugging, all of which was unique at the time. As we built up that portfolio of work, we also saw a need to help businesses brand themselves better. So often times, we would start a project doing a website and end it doing a whole lot more.
If you had to start the same business again - what would you do differently?
I would try to pick a niche from the start and sell myself as an expert in the area. This brings so much more value to a client and makes you someone they need to work with rather than want to. Being an expert in an industry not only makes you better attuned to the needs of your clients, but it also allows you to find relationships with vendors who become valuable to executing on your clients needs.
What’s one growth tactic you’re reluctant to share?
I am always an open book. I have no secrets when it comes to business, but one thing that has been a help to me has been always providing pricing tiers for projects. This creates a conversation with a client around less expensive vs. more expensive ways of accomplishing a project. More importantly, it keeps the door open to clients who have not worked with you before and want to start small and build up. They can see in simple terms the way a project scope alters a budget, and when they inevitably ask for additional things to be included they will understand that there will be a cost associated with that request.
What’s the #1 way you win new business today?
Get out there in the real world. Go to conferences, share your story, and pitch ideas to people who don’t know who you are. Don’t wait for people to come to you.
Advice to 21-year-old self.
Pick a lane and don’t try to be a ‘generalist’. Although it may seem to offer more opportunity, it only makes it harder for people to find you.
Where can people find you if they want to learn more? Are you active on Twitter or Linkedin?
People can find us and DM me on Instagram @ardesigners or LinkedIn