Design insights & tutorials.

Solo To Studio

What does it take to go from freelancing to building a design firm like Go Media?

Do You Really Want to be a Studio?

Before you embark on your journey to build a design studio, you should stop and ask yourself an important question: “Do I really want the responsibility of a full studio (firm) rather than staying a small 1-3 man shop?” In your mind you may be assuming that larger = better. But this is definitely not always the case.

For instance, you may assume that more employees will equal greater profitability. But what happens when you’re slow? Payroll doesn’t stop just because your work load slows down. Also, if you’re the boss – how do you think your daily job will change when you have 10-15 employees? Will you even have time to design anymore? Or will you spend most of your days in meetings, corresponding and managing?

And what happens when you have a bad employee (they’re not all roses.) Are you prepared to deal with, and possibly fire trouble employees? Talk to other small business owners about their day to day struggles. Make a budget – what’s the overhead of employing 10 people at a reasonable wage?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t grow your freelance shop into a studio, obviously, that’s what I did! But I also had a background in management and a real passion for business. And even feeling like I was WELL equipped to build a firm, it’s been a very long and difficult journey.

So before you go any further, just stop and take a moment to consider all the pros and cons of growing your solo operation into a studio.

The Positive

Ok, so assuming that you haven’t been scared off by all the negative stuff, why exactly would you want to hire a bunch of designers and build a studio? Go Media’s main impetus was that we wanted to share our daily lives with other artists that would inspire and push us. There is just something a lot more fun about a design collective than being a one-man-shop.

I was completely on my own for several years and found it completely depressing. Also, there is greater efficiency when you have job specialization. And, assuming you ARE very busy – there IS the opportunity to make more money. One really cool thing that I’ve discovered about Go Media is that crazy amazing things happen that I never would have ever dreamed of. Those life experiences are priceless. Without my staff to dream them up and execute on them, I never would have experienced them. I’m very appreciative of the different perspectives, ideas, and energies they bring to the company.

Money Money Money

What steps need to be taken once you’ve decided to grow your business into a studio? First and foremost you need the money. And I don’t suggest taking out loans or hiring with the anticipation of getting more work. Hiring new staff should only take place when you’re so slammed with work that you need them – desperately. That and you should be relatively sure that the work load isn’t going to drop off suddenly. How many new projects are lined up for the near future? If you’re unsure about your workload for the next few months, I suggest outsourcing your overflow until you’re sure you will have enough work for your new employees.

It’s Not All About Design

If you don’t already have a good lawyer, accountant, and payroll service, you’re going to want to find them and form good relationships with them. Your lawyer and accountant are extremely important advisors for your business. You should feel very comfortable and confident in your lawyer and accountant. They should feel like trusted family friends. Don’t just pick one from a list on Google. If you have friends or family with good contacts, meet them first. And then meet a few more for good measure. Basically, you are interviewing the people that will have a major impact on how you structure and run your growing company. I hired and fired several lawyers and accountants before I found the ones that I now trust.

“But Bill,” you ask “what if I can’t afford them yet? Lawyers and accountants are expensive!” Well, if you can’t afford them – you’re not ready to build a studio! I suggest going back to evaluate your pricing, business systems, how you find new work, etc. It’s called organic growth! You only grow when you can afford all the things that go along with growing.

Artificial growth is when you go take out loans and spend money before you’ve earned it. Basically, you’d be gambling on the fact that even though you cannot afford lawyers and accountants NOW, you’re going to get a loan, hire them anyway, and hopefully, before the loan is due you’ll figure out how to make more money. Hhmmm… sounds risky to me. I suggest focusing on making the money first, and growing second.

Suit & Tie Stuff

Once you have a lawyer and accountant that you trust, you should sit down with each of them and discuss your planned growth. They will advise you on how to structure your business, legally and financially. Typically your accountant will have a payroll service that he trusts and works with. Go Media is set up as an S-Corporation and we are on a cash basis accounting system since we don’t have any inventory. These are pretty typical for a design firm.

Along the way there will be a thousand little problems that will surely make you question whether or not you’ve made the right decision to grow your solo design operation into a full blown studio. At the end of the day, you just have to battle through them like anything else in life. One thing that was a major issue that I hadn’t really accounted for was the amount of time it takes to manage.

Design Time

The time I could spend designing was reduced to virtually nothing the first year that we expanded the staff to over 10 people. Even with a sales/project manager and a full time accountant/customer service rep – I was still inundated with questions, problems, and correspondence to deal with. As I was the primary sales person, I also had to spend significantly more time selling now that I had 8 people to supply with work instead of just 3.

Fortunately, the longer you keep a group of employees together the better they become. They learn the systems, improve at their jobs, get better at working together and require less and less management.

If I did it all over again there isn’t too much I would change. Whatever mistakes I made were good learning tools. If I had to give advice to others making that leap in growth, I think I would just suggest that you take it slow. Don’t be in a huge rush. Take it in steps a little smaller than what you want. You’ll benefit from holding yourself back – I promise!

The Next Step

So, what are the next steps for Go Media? Right now we’re feeling really comfortable as a 12 person firm. We still have some lessons to learn and some systems to refine before we’re ready for our next growth spurt. We’re working really hard to expand our circle of influence and dialing in our business model. There is a lot of growth ahead for Go Media, but right now it’s the internal growth that we’re focused on. We still need to get smarter and more efficient.

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.
Discover More by William Beachy


We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • chris

    This is a good post. Inspiring to read. The only part I am missing (wich is pretty important), is the part about organic growth. This is a point wich is very intresting to me.

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle

  • Matteo

    Really interesting post William, thank you. Have a nice day.

  • Seana

    I'm working solo and I have a lawyer, too! :-) It's definitely expensive, but without him, it could cost much more! ;-)

  • Simon H.

    Thanks for the insight!

  • EmptyWallet

    Very good points for the budding designer. We've all dreamed of owning/running a studio. Some (GoMedia, Lucasfilm) have succeeded, some others (American Zoetrope, me) needed these points early on. Thanks for the great advice!

  • shabnam

    thanks for posting

  • Richard Ball

    From a designers perspective working for once a small 4 man team of designers, to then a growth of nearly 30 designers, is a great transition for not just the directors but also to the small fish designer. Design rolls and responsibility change rapidly and lunches ever shorter! Money flow has to be the biggest consideration in this change from freelance to small business. Work out exactly what each person needs to make from month to month and even right down to an hourly bases, time is now your commodity not design.

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  • Make Your Mark

    Thanks for an interesting article. This is a topic I´ve been giving a lot attention. And it´s nice to hear an advice about not to rush. I think it also depends on how you are as a person. For me its important to be around nice people, not the more the merrier. And just being a one-man biz is quite a lot of administration. I´d like to spend more time design, and less time project managing. So I imagine the perfect size would be no more than a handfull of people. Well, again thanks for the post!

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  • Iphone Jailbreak

    well.. it is very hard to open studio art.. i already tried it… bankrupt :P lol

  • Image Masking

    what a nice post!
    thanks a lot for sharing..

  • SJL Web Design

    great post, really interesting ans d brings up some good points about growing a small business into a studio.



    Excellent article and great advice! Thanks for sharing a very productive and positive information!

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  • air max light

    The post of thread is very nice and informative, I often come this froum and really love it! Actually I love various kinds of food so much and this forum air max light I learn much things ,and this forum constantly hold many into321 activities that can make us meet many people .and I know visits-our-site some websites which provide many good products and they are in discount ,they are **** welcome you!

  • dizi izle

    thanks good

  • dizi izle

    good post

  • dizi izle

    oww thx

  • Andrea Edstrom

    bare bones site: facebook:

  • Andrea Edstrom

    Doing my first art show eva! Nervous as hell.. but excited. :D

  • dizi izle

    One dream is to establish such a studio. Listen to advice you gave. I hope that this matter be disappointed.

  • panax

    Very cool and interesting article..