Growing a Business – Atom Creates story so far…

July 29, 2015

Tom McCrorie has been a graphic designer for almost 25 years, starting his career in an in-house reprographic department.  In 2007, Tom ventured out on his own and now Atom has clients as far afield as Australia and South Africa as well as a strong portfolio throughout the UK. After attending a recent Creative Clyde event, Alternative Finance for the Creative Industries, we asked Tom to share his story about starting his own design company and the challenges of running an independent business…

atom

I had an idea in 2007. I wanted to start my own design company.

I had 23 years’ experience working with some fantastic creative directors and designers within the industry and in March 2007, just before the birth of my daughter in October, I decided to go it alone. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.

Time to start my own design business I said, I have enough experience right? So I did.
With the luxury of having a retained client under my belt straight way, I was lucky enough to hit the ground running. Things were getting off to a good start.

I wanted to have the flexibility to run my freelance design company from home, without the stress of having the large overheads of running an office. The business rapidly grew with new clients coming on board and the luxury of being able to choose who I worked with was tremendous. Very quickly I was forced to move to a VAT registered company.

In late 2008, I employed my first member of staff and things could not have been better.
More new client wins, some lovely design work, happy customers and an employee – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, nothing really, apart from the fact I suddenly took my eye off the ball, the credit crunch hit and I had to downsize before I even had the chance to add another member of staff. This was possibly one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make in my career (and if you are reading this Bri, you will hopefully agree). With that massive decision out the way however, it was time to buckle down and work hard. I won’t lie to you, it was tough but it began to pay off again. Getting out there, networking and selling yourself doesn’t come naturally to most designers and I learned very quickly that I had to make myself different. Not only from a branding perspective, but my personal offering had to be unique. People will buy your services if they like you and what you have to offer – Afterall, people buy from people.

I worked at it and branded myself, focusing on the fact that my business ran from my garden office. I didn’t have massive overheads and lots of hungry staff to feed. No fancy cars or account managers to pay for.  Surely that was a point of difference? It was just me and my lovely garden office, some intelligent software, some good ideas and a fast Mac to bring it all to life. Game on. Again.

With the exception of a handful of great long term clients, I started to find that a small handful of people wanted a bargain. I was always reluctant to pitch myself at the lower level of the design food chain, but by the same token, I didn’t want to turn away any business. An Art Director that I used to work with advised me that if I ever started on my own, not to underestimate my skills and abilities and always strive to win the big clients and I have tried to make sure that I stick to that work ethic.

Eight years on, my original ethos of running my office from home (which did seem to be working) was in a weird way beginning to have the opposite effect. To be honest, it didn’t really bother me too much, as I had plenty of great clients and good paying work on an ongoing basis, including the UK Government and other large businesses in Scotland and the rest of the UK, but what did bother me was that some smaller bread and butter clients saw that the fact I was working from my home office as an excuse to ask for cheaper work. This confused me. Was it the economy? Was it me? Was it my branding? I had never really experienced this before. Even though the quality of my design and branding work spoke volumes for existing and other new clients, some people just want a bargain. That said, no one likes to turn away honest work.

Working from home was good but in order to grow the business, I felt it needed its own space. So earlier this year the opportunity came up to rent a very cost effective and awesome office space with enough room for eight desks and a breakout space for chilling and relaxing, the timing could not have been better. After all, my business was growing and I thought it was time to pitch it myself at a different level. Some clients like that fact that you have offices and they feel that they can show off to their peers that they use a design company with physical premises.

Who knows what the future holds but I am in the new design space and I am sub-leasing some desks to other like-minded business owners who have the same ethos as I do.

Here’s to the future and keep on swimming.

Atom is an independent design and branding company founded in March 2007 by Tom McCrorie. If you’re interested in finding out more about Atom, check out their website or follow them on Twitter @AtomCreate.