Category: Pieces of the Plan


For the first few years I worked for myself – when Hanscom Park Studio was just me, a notepad and a laptop – I was content and successful relying on word-of-mouth referrals almost exclusively. I landed my first big clients when friends and former colleagues recommended me to business owners with design needs. As I’ve expanded and tried to grow, through, I knew I needed to become more active in marketing the business. Since we’re still small, and I historically focus most of my time on the design work on my plate instead of administrative work, I needed my marketing scheme to be as creatively fulfilling for me as it was effective in driving new work and clients.

Six months ago, I started working on an idea. My favorite projects have always been tactile ones, with contrasting materials and finishes — coarse and smooth, soft and ridged, shiny and dull. I also love sending and receiving unexpected, unique mail and have periodically sent grungy, hand-printed linocut cards to clients, friends and family. I wanted to scale that concept into something bigger and more arresting. I wanted to screen print something. I wanted something vaguely vintage, while trendy and classic all at the same time.

The studio turned five years old in 2017, so the anniversary seemed like a good peg. I initially considered designing a classic t-shirt mail my contact list. That seemed in the right vein, but not unique enough and impossible to predict correct sizes of people I was mailing them to. However, a classic pennant, like you’d see as a set prop in a boy’s bedroom of a 1950s sitcom, had the right feel. So I drew up some custom, chunky lettering spelling out “Hanscom Park” (by omitting “Studio,” the letters had more impact and it had more of a feel of a souvenir from the Omaha park than a billboard for a business), ordered up some pennants and hired Omaha Screen Co.

When I ran the idea by Ben, he took the ball and ran with it. I’d initially imagined sending a nice box with a pennant and a friendly card inside to clients, potential clients and friends of the studio. Ben saw that as a missed opportunity. He thought back to promotional boxes and bags he used to get as a kid at car shows, and how they were filled full of stickers and trinkets. We needed to stuff it to its gills.

Playing off the concept of the pennant being a souvenir from the company’s namesake park, we designed and developed all the other elements around the same idea. We used the historic Hanscom Park Pavilion as the anchor image on all of the collateral. It burned in the 1920s, but as the streetcar suburbs of Omaha grew in the early 1900s, it was a destination worth bragging about. It was the perfect visual focal point.

We designed the shipping box to look like the pavilion and screen printed it in navy for a tactile feel and to match the color scheme of the contents. We designed the stickers to look like ones showing steamer trunk destinations (with some custom lettering I’m particularly proud of). We designed the chipboard notebooks with historic blueprints of the building for the cover. We ordered classic pencils to pair with the books. We thought about how to organize the materials so they unfolded and unrolled in layers as recipients opened the box, and we designed the card holding the pennant to reveal messages as the felt flag was removed and be reminiscent of travel documents. And all of that was, in truth, just a delivery vehicle for a six-panel accordion-fold portfolio that showed off our work from the past couple of years. We designed that to look a bit like a vintage road map or travel brochure.

Over the course of the fall, we worked with vendors to print the pieces, and tried to keep as much of the work local as we could – thanks to Ink Tank, Omaha Screen Co. and Printco. Working with long-time partners helped keep our costs down, too, as some of the vendors cut us a deal.

As 2017 wound down, we needed to wrap the packages up and get them shipped since they were pegged to the anniversary the company celebrated in October. We wanted to get them in the mail before the Christmas rush, so we spent a couple of very long nights in early December packing and addressing the boxes before shipping them about a month ago. Two hundred of our clients, potential clients and friends received a surprise early holiday gift from us.

The initial impact has been better than I could have hoped. We’ve seen a response rate of almost 60 percent (by comparison, a direct-mail campaign garnering a response rate of a few percent is considered successful). Within the first week or two, it landed us enough new work to more than pay for itself. What I’m really curious about, though, is what the long-tail impact may be. We carefully designed each element hoping the boxes would sit on office desks for a while, the pennants could hang in cubicles, the notepads could be used and seen in the world. It will be difficult to gauge the lingering value, but I suspect it may be higher than the initial response.

Time will tell.

I previously wrote that our (admittedly ambitious) financial goal for 2018 is to increase revenue by 40 percent over last year (which was record-setting itself). Let me explain why I think we can do it, how I think we can do it, and why I think we need to do it.

Why I don’t think I’m crazy to suggest 40-percent growth is feasible
We’ve done it before. Twice in the company’s five years, we’ve grown 25+ percent, and last year we grew by more than 70 percent. I want to be as open and transparent as possible, but with keeping our clients’ (and own) privacy in mind. So, I’ll write generally, without talking hard numbers. Going forward, I’ll talk about specific monetary amounts in fabricated Hanscom Park currency; the almighty Token. As a baseline, in the studio’s first year (2013), we’ll say we earned a thousand tokens, or Ŧ1,000. Each year after can be gauged against that starting point.

Revenue increased by 71.8 percent between 2016 and 2017, which gives me faith that the trajectory, if not as steep, can continue into 2018. Given, 2016 was a down year (and 2017 was a banner year), but 2017 saw more than 36 percent higher revenue than the average of the first four years. We’re a very small and very nimble company, so the precedent for double-digit growth is there.

Over the first years, I minimally marketed Hanscom Park Studio. Most of the design work that came my way was via word-of-mouth, and it kept me busy and content for the first three years. Then, 2016 was a slow one for me, and going into 2017, I started making a more concerted effort to seek new work and grow the business side to shoot for a few long-term goals (more on that later). That marketing effort culminated in December when we sent out 200 promotional boxes to clients, potential clients and friends of the studio. I’ll write in more detail about that box and its response in a future post, but it’s opened a lot of doors for 2018 that I’m excited about.

I was also able to market some new and more efficient skills. The single largest contributing factor to our growth last year was increased capacity. I brought on the inimitable Ben Vankat to lend a hand. His skill set compliments mine (which is to say he’s better than me at just about everything). As former app-builder and editor of Omaha.com, he has web skills above and beyond mine, which has allowed us to expand the scope of services we offer. His man-hours have let us take on more projects and work more efficiently. His creative thinking and design talent has made our work better. You can see the increase in monthly revenues since I hired him in the last seven months of 2017.

How I think we can grow by 40 percent in 2018
The short answer here is hard work. It won’t be easy, but things are headed in a good direction. The promotional push we made in December is already paying dividends. The first couple weeks of 2018 have been spent in a half dozen meetings on new jobs. If we can lock up some of them, we’ll be on our way to a solid spring.

Why I think it’s important to grow, and this year
When I left my 9-5 and benefits behind more than five years ago, I had a particular vision in mind: I wanted to start a little studio with about a half dozen creative people selectively choosing the jobs we want to work on. I can’t express how liberating the feeling of working for myself, out of my house, after a career in a cubicle was. I wanted to build a strong foundation, with good clients and gain plenty of experience navigating the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. I wanted to know what I was doing before I expanded. And I wanted to be very selective with the first person I brought on. It was also important to me that I bootstrap this business. I wanted to live thrifty and stay out of debt. It took a while to build the capital and client base to feel comfortable trying to expand. Now’s that moment. With Ben on board, it’s time to aim for bigger goals for the near future — hiring more creative people, buying a studio space — and it’s hard to hit those goals without first hitting some lofty financial ones.

What does 40 percent look like?
Four us, 40 percent is the equivalent of six of our biggest jobs of 2017, or almost 20 of our smaller ones. That’s no small task. However, we’re not aiming for sheer bulk. We’re trying to position ourselves to land some bigger projects and develop some long-term relationships with new clients. That’s the key to real growth, and creative fulfillment.

So, 40 percent it is.

The blog portion of our website has been largely dormant over the past few years as better mediums (like Instagram) have broadened the audience I can reach when showing off new work. I’ve hated watching it wither, though.

The studio’s tagline of “Constantly Creative” is more than a clever alliteration, it’s really our mindset and the compass guiding our work. Even when Ben and I clock out of Hanscom Park Studio, our minds drift to new creative projects or endeavors. We’ve schemed to improve the home-showing experience for both realtor and potential buyer, have dreamt up ways to streamline home history research and outlined how a regional graphic design news site could work. We call this late-night Slack spitballing our weekly “get rich quick” schemes. Despite our efforts, we’re neither rich nor are we quick in executing these hare-brained ideas. Truth be told, they’re not really weekly, either.

That attitude, coupled with my love for new years and the seeming fresh start they afford me, prompted me to steer this space in a new direction. For the next 12 months, I’m going to try to pull the curtain back and show a little more of what Hanscom Park Studio does as a company as well as showing off our creative process.

Twenty-seventeen was a great year for the studio. In addition to celebrating its fifth anniversary, last year was easily the best year we’ve had creatively and financially. As I try to continue all of those trajectories in 2018 (while still considering creative growth the most important indicator of success), I’m going to focus this blog on the nuts and bolts of trying to grow the business. I’ll attempt to frankly write on the successes, failures and challenges of landing new clients and projects. I’ll post about the rationale behind new products and services we add as we expand. I’ll focus on some of the operational systems, like file structuring and job track, that I’ve built over the past 18 months and explain how they’ve led to some of our successes (and held us back when they’ve failed).

I think it’s important to restate that improving the work we put out in the world, the creativity of our ideas and the successfulness of the solutions we present our clients are the benchmarks I’m most interested in as the owner of a pint-size design shop. But there are many other platforms to show off those elements of our work. For the next year, I’m going to focus on the business side of the operation here.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll open up the business’ books (with a polite blur filter applied to obfuscate details) and show where Hanscom Park Studio has been. I’ll write about the promotional push we launched a month ago and its response, along with our marketing strategy for where we’re going. And I’ll outline the company’s monetary goals for 2018. Through the year, I’ll check in with how we’re achieving them and where our shortcomings are.

In the meantime, I’ll lay down the gauntlet and say Hanscom Park Studio’s main financial goal of 2018 is to increase revenue by 40 percent. Next week, I’ll explain why (I hope) that isn’t as crazy as it sounds.


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