7 min read
A very honest blog post about why I closed my agency and went solo
January 11th, 2023
You may know me, you may not. I’m Angela. I’m a designer, animator, creative director and recovering agency owner.
I ran an agency called Design By Day for just over 12 years. In Autumn 2021, I made the decision to close the studio doors for the last time and go solo.
For those who are interested, here’s my very real story of WHY!
It’s getting real.
Rewind to the start of 2021. Design By Day had got through the early stages of the pandemic and was doing okay. We had a decent amount of projects on the go and the new business pipeline was looking healthy.
A perfect storm of events.
One of the initial factors contributing to what would become a ‘perfect storm of events’ was a business decision, that in hindsight, was a mistake.
The previous year, we decided to expand our services to include building web applications, specifically React web applications. We believed that this would give us an advantage as we could not only build web applications, but also use our expertise in brand identity to create user-friendly, on-brand web applications for companies that recognised the value of this combination.
This expansion stretched our team too thin. We were now offering too many services, including WordPress websites, React applications, brand identity, design, animation, and website maintenance, all with just a team of 8. Let’s call this mistake number 1.
Moving onto mistake number 2: We attempted to cover the role of a key team member who went on maternity leave – without hiring someone to fill her position. This resulted in the already stretched team having to take on additional responsibilities. This person was also an integral part of the team and had been with the company almost since ‘day dot’. It’s no overstatement to say that she was like the glue that held us all together, and her absence was felt by all. She was my right hand woman.
Oh yeah, the pandemic.
Let’s not forget the pandemic in all of this!
The studio was not just a place of work, but also a place where we formed close relationships and supported each other through both good and challenging times. We shared ideas and laughter, and often went out for drinks after work.
The transition to working from home affected team morale and the dynamic we had nurtured over the years. While some team members were accustomed to WFH, others, especially those living alone, found it difficult. We lost much of that all important team vibe, which was the core of what made working at Design By Day so special.
WTF is Furlough?
Remember the early days of the pandemic before we knew what ‘Furlough’ was?
In early 2020, before that word became a part of the national discourse, we accepted a couple of projects, despite red flags, that could now be described as “panic projects” – again adding pressure to the team and some financial burden. Mistake number 3.
Despite the difficulties described above, by 2021, it had been business as usual for a long while. But by May/June, we experienced two episodes of simultaneous illness within the team, one of which was long-term. This added to the already existing challenges and began to take a toll on the agency. We had to push back a few projects, which regretfully disappointed some of our valued clients. We also had to hire freelancers to cover some work, which added to our financial burden.
By August 2021, our financial situation had become somewhat constrained, and I made the decision to give up the studio. If we had taken the same approach as many other businesses and let go of the office in the early days of the pandemic, we could have saved a significant amount of money.
Holding on to the studio was Mistake number 4 – and whilst letting it go certainly wasn’t because of a ‘go bust’ moment, it was a sad moment for the team. Our space was important to us, and we didn’t want to let it go.
Work/life balance and the last straw.
I had always aimed to find ways and time to work “on” the business, rather than just “in” it, but I was never able to fully realise this goal. Myself and some team members were feeling frustrated with internal processes and desired changes within the business, Unfortunately, due to the demands and time constraints of my 2021 role, fuelled by the impact of earlier mistakes, I was unable to address these issues.
By the end of August, I was feeling extremely burnt out. While I had always struggled with work-life balance, 2021 had reached a new level of imbalance. I realised that something had to give. I decided to let go of Design By Day.
Not a nice thing to do to people you give a s**t about.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is tell a team of talented people, whom I consider to be my friends, that I was going to close the agency and let them go.
And yes I made a person on maternity leave redundant. I know that’s not cool. That person, however, is one of my good friends and we had a heart-to-heart about my decision before it was made official. She’s an amazing human who encouraged me to prioritise my own mental health over running an agency, and assured me that the talented team would all easily find new roles. She was right of course, they’ve all gone on to do bigger and better things – and we all remain firm friends!
What about the clients?
It was incredibly moving how the vast majority of our clients were so very understanding. I made sure they knew they were not being abandoned. For me it was incredibly important that Design By Day’s clients would be smoothly transitioned to trusted agencies.
The majority of our website client base was introduced to 2 agencies; Pixel Kicks in Manchester and Co-operative Web in Birmingham – where one of Design By Day’s developers now works. Many of our clients wanted to continue working with him at the new agency he joined, which speaks to his credit as a professional.
What now? / Personal goals.
I have made both good and bad decisions throughout my career, but I am certain that closing Design By Day was the right decision. The work-life balance I was trying to maintain was unhealthy and unsustainable, and I had completely fallen out of love with creating websites.
After experiencing such tough times, it was a nice ego boost to be approached by 4 separate agencies/organisations about potential UX and leadership roles. However, as mentioned, websites and UX are no longer for me and I am focusing on other opportunities.
At the start of 2022 I started out on my new solo journey as Love & Logic – creating brand identities, design & animated content for brands & organisations with purpose, and I’m still working with a number of Design By Day’s non-website clients.
In my new venture, I have the opportunity to work closely with my client-base and make a meaningful impact, both in terms of consultation and design.
2022 got off to an outstanding start, and for the past 12 months I’ve been helping brands and organisations spread across mental health, non-profits, academia, local authority and tech sectors including the McPin Foundation, Pharmacist Support, University of Oxford, GMCA, Attensi and Manchester Psychedelic Community.
I’ve now gone full circle, going back to the reason I got in to the creative industry in the first place. Being creative and helping organisations with purpose.
Edit: Great news! I’ve also been listed in Master Manchester’s top 5 graphic designers list.