Breaking Free: 7 Tips for Opening Your Own Agency

breaking free image_istockAs you welcome the bold embrace of the New Year, you may be contemplating change; not just in the months to come, but well into the future. Are you currently working in-house and thinking about opening an agency of your own? Before you quit your job, wait! You should have a solid strategy in mind and some security (i.e. moolah) in place too. —Shannon Stull Carrus


Former in-house creative turned agency owner and In-HOWse Designer Blog guest Shannon Stull Carrus provides seven insightful tips for you to consider before breaking free. Enjoy!

1. Decide Who You’ll Be as an Agency
What will your agency culture be like? How many people do you ultimately want to have working for you? What are your points of differentiation? Knowing your strengths, weaknesses and desires will help guide your agency months from now and for years (hopefully) to come.

2. Choose Your Partner(s) Carefully
Having one or more business partners can be a great thing. If you want a partnership, be sure to choose people with different strengths so you can minimize competition and maximize the breadth and depth of your agency’s offerings.

That being said, having a business partner is like gaining a spouse. In fact, you’ll probably spend more time with your business partner at work than with your real spouse at home, however, unlike your sweetie, your business partner may not always have your best interests in mind.

I’ve seen more than one business fail due to petty personality conflicts and to differing ideals on basic goals and operations. So if you go this route, you better make damn sure you choose someone who is worthy of your time and trust.

3. Have a Savings Account
Owning your own business can be empowering and scary all at once. While there’s no limit to the salary you could earn, there are no guaranteed paychecks either. If you’re contemplating starting your own agency, it’s wise to have at least six months to a year of your current salary saved in the bank. Saving that much money will take time. It will also take stress off you and your family during those lean months operating your business without clients, work, and a steady income.

4. Have an Established Client Base
Time to start pooling together contacts from past jobs you’ve had over the years. Have your partners do the same. Hopefully you’ve been freelancing on the side for a few years and already have some clients who know and trust your work. Start attending networking events months before your agency officially opens. And, don’t burn bridges when you leave your current in-house job; your employer may consider outsourcing work to you and become a potentially valuable client if you part ways amicably.

5. Choose a Location That You Can Grow Out Of
If you’re starting small and don’t have a lot of (or any) investors, it may be wise to start with a modest space that meets your immediate needs until you have the number of employees and funds to necessitate an upgrade. If you can, try to sign a one-year lease to see how it goes. When I was looking for a space with my partner, we learned (the hard way) that many commercial real estate contracts require at least a three-year lease. We also learned that there were steep penalties if that lease was broken.

It would be wise to establish some cash flow and get a more accurate picture of your projections year-over-year before you rent the studio of your dreams. Additionally, be aware of additional fees that may not be apparent in the upfront rental fees. For example, we looked at a place downtown and each parking spot cost $165 a month in addition to the lease. If you’re thinking about leasing space in a share building, some have strict hours in operating air and heating. If you’re an early riser or pull frequent late nights in the winter, you could get stuck with a cold building and spend extra money on electric bills trying to heat your space.

6. Get A Mentor
You may know a lot about marketing, design or copywriting, but do you know what it takes to run a successful business? Getting a mentor to help you navigate some of the unglamorous things like business licenses and financial projections will help rein you in and force you to think about your business differently. There are many organizations nationwide that provide free and low-cost consultation for start-ups. In Orlando, we connected with the National Entrepreneur Center. You may also want to partner up with principals from other local agencies and pick their brains—if they’re willing to let you! is also a great way to meet possible mentors and make new connections through networking.

7. Create A Kick-Ass Identity Worthy of You
This is your chance to show off your creativity and design skills with no strict brand standards to follow and no one to report to but yourself. Take advantage of it! Plus, launching before your agency is fully up and running will give you more time to build up your SEO and start tickling prospective clients.

There are a lot of factors to consider when starting your own creative agency. It can be an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience. Just be sure to connect with the right people, financial support and creative materials to set your business up for success. Good luck!


About In-HOWse Guest Shannon Stull Carrus
Shannon Stull Carrus is a principal and Creative Director at WHOISCARRUS, a full-service Orlando advertising agency. She has experience on both agency and in-house teams in various roles including: copywriting, art direction, and creative direction. In her spare time, she is working on a new time-tracking software for the staffing industry called ClikClok.


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