Welcome to a new small business chat. Daniel Sodkiewicz from Royal Deer Design in New York contacted me to ask if he could be featured – I’m always happy to talk to businesses all over the world (I get equal traffic on this blog from the US and UK, so it definitely gets seen by his compatriots, and of course, like my business, web design companies are not restricted by the geographical area in which they physically operate. Just like our UK interviewees, Daniel started off doing something he knew, which is always an advantage, having worked in a similar industry, and, most importantly, he knew he was good at – and enjoyed – the ‘doing business’ side of things as well as the ‘doing the work’ side – something people tend to underestimate. So, let’s meet Daniel, whose company is one year older than Libro, and see what path he’s taken so far as his business has grown.
Hello, Daniel. First things first: What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
I started my company, Royal Deer Design, in 2008.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I was working as a full time employee at different web design companies, working on projects for T.Rowe Price, Canon and other big name brands. Part of my job was working directly with clients and I really enjoyed that part of the process. Meeting with prospects, writing proposals and even competing with other companies for business was an adrenaline rush – one which I could not fully experience working for someone else. I value my freedom and the flexibility of being an entrepreneur, and so I knew it was time to be my own boss.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I’ve been involved with computers since high school when I was running a large online discussion for computer gaming fans. This led to managing other websites and helping online startups. I enjoy working with business owners and startups who are passionate about their work. I like to see how they grow and to know that I am helping them succeed.
Had you run your own business before?
I’ve always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit which has helped me develop my management, marketing and sales skills. Before launching my current business, I was involved in freelance work, selling scripts and plugins I created. All of my experience has shaped me into the leader I am today.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
Leaving corporate America and launching my own Web Design Firm felt like a natural part of my evolution. I was working for companies and knew I could deliver better services to the clients than what they were doing, and I did not always agree with their vision or poor work ethics. I went through a smooth transition from full time developer at a corporate firm to freelance work to establishing a company with a business partner.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
One of the most important lessons is learning to say “No” to certain projects. When starting out, you are hungry for business and do not want to lose any potential deals, but there are some projects you need to walk away from. It is not worth winning a project at any cost, because you end up spending too much time and don’t make any money, or have clients you can never please. Being willing to walk away has provided me with the freedom to choose who I work with, and now when prospecting for clients, I want to see if the potential client is a fit for my company, as much as they are looking to see if I am a fit for them.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
1. Owning a business is more about running the business (sales, marketing) and less about the actual work (web design and development)
2. It’s a numbers game. For every X number of cold calls you will get Y number of prospects which will become Z number of clients.
3. Have fun, because in the end that’s all that really matters.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Started my business sooner.
What are you glad you did?
I took my time to find the right people to collaborate and work with. I do not rush into hiring because I want the best people who fit into our culture. When attending networking events, I am always on the lookout for quality people, which is how I met Michael Platania, writer extraordinaire! 🙂 Michael is a part of my team. We follow a rule at Royal Deer Design: hire slow and fire fast. Without a good team, even the best product or idea will fail.
What’s your top business tip?
Educate your clients. When they first come to you, they often do not know what they need or what is involved in making it happen and it is our responsibility to educate them so there are no surprises down the road.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
I have grown my business since starting and now have a team of people working for me. The success I have achieved has allowed me to branch out with a few side projects devoted to helping other entrepreneurs succeed, which I am very passionate about. I launched a website called Area301.com to help web designers find leads for business, and techstarsdigest.com, a listing of the best tech articles on the web. I am in the process of launching my new website: digest.nyc – an online hub connecting entrepreneurs and techies in NYC.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I will continue to run my web design firm and grow my team. Creatively, I plan to continue my side projects and be a resource for technologists and entrepreneurs. I want to continue working with clients, setting goals and milestones that we work together to achieve.
I find Daniel’s attitude to his entrepreneurship and skillset quite different from many of the interviews I’ve run with UK business owners. This reminded me of a research study I took part in a while ago, comparing the words that US and UK entrepreneurs used of themselves – here are the results, if you’re interested. US participants tended to come across as more self-confident and happy using the word ‘entrepreneur’, while Europeans tended to be more reticent in their descriptions. I’m business-minded and proud of it, and maybe there’s a lesson here to hold our heads up high and celebrate our skills and those of our colleagues and fellow-workers! Anyway, going back to Daniel, I’ll be interested to see how he grows and develops his business over the next year. This is often a time of consolidation in a ‘mature’ business, and sometimes it’s easy to sit back and not work on those side projects; I’m sure we’ll see some interesting developments here this time next year!
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.