This discussion follows from my interest in the fields of design thinking / service design and the perception that my country lacks such services. My immediate reaction was: "why not starting such a business?"
However, some worries (in no particular order) came to my mind.
1. Are there any recipes?
2. Is reading about design thinking / service design enough?
3. How to get support from similar companies (e.g. collaboration)?
4. How to test methodologies (i.e. experience before implementing)?
5. Being an emerging field, how do we get potential clients involved?
6. Is there anyone else with the same doubts?
Anyone with simmilar worries, potential advices or any other useful notions do please feel free to comment.
@ Ricardo. Me too! I'm looking into starting a Service Design business and, like you,feel that it's a largely vacant niche in my country. I'm in the planning and networking phase and am finding that I need to be very precise, and remove design speak, when talking to potential clients. A strategy that is starting to work for me, I think, is to talk about the value I create first ie. how I can improve a client's bottom line and then move on to the how/means for doing that ie. service design. I found this write up on the head of design for Coca Cola quite useful in this regard.
Just a quick intro post for now: very keen to continue the conversation...
It's always exciting to think about starting your own firm. I started a user experience firm in 2003, we're now at 15 people and have had some great opportunities to work with fantastic clients. A significant portion of our work overlaps with service design practices.
The big questions in launching your own firm are things like:
1) Do you really want to build a company, or do you just want to do service design and starting your own gig is the easiest way to get into the practice? I freelanced for a couple years, then worked at Fujitsu, then started my firm with the very conscious intent to build a company with staff. Solo freelance work is pretty different, since your main clients are often larger consulting firms that subcontract you to do work, rather than winning big accounts on your own.
1a) Are you capable and interested in running a business (any business)? How comfortable are you with finances, marketing, sales, staff, project management, legal, etc.? Running a small firm doesn't just mean you do service design all day, much of your work goes into the business side of things.
1b) Are you positioned to take on an entrepreneurial lifestyle? Do you have a cushion of savings & credit for when you don't find work or don't get paid on time? If you're married/have kids how will you manage your time between the firm and your family? Is your spouse comfortable with the uncertainty that comes with running your own business? How open are you to travel?
2) Are you a capable consultant? Do you have any experience doing other kinds of consulting work, particularly in adjacent areas like interaction design / design research / user experience / management consulting? How much do you understand about client management? Are you confident enough in your skills and yourself that you can be quiet and deeply, truly listen instead of prattling on about blueprints or journeys? (listen first, then discussion to clarify your understanding. Then translate your understanding into business value. then methods, if at all). Do you understand business fundamentals so you can relate your skills & tools to drivers for business value?
2a) Do other people know you're a capable consultant? Do you have a blog / portfolio? Are you on twitter & posting regular valuable content? Are there other social networks in your country that you should participate in? Do you have a LinkedIn profile (or Xing, or whatever).
3) Are you a capable sales person (this is part of #1, but important enough to call out again). Are you comfortable prospecting for new leads, do you understand qualifying a lead, and can you close a deal? Do you have a good network in the local design community? Who would you subcontract work *to* if you landed a big job? Are there people who can give you work tomorrow that you know? How well do you know your local or national market? If you're in a smaller regional centre, will you have enough work? Who are your competitors? (if you say there aren't any, then you are probably saying there is no market either. Your competitors probably aren't calling themselves service designers. Services obviously exist in your country, and often *someone* designed them).
4) If you're successful and want to grow the business, who would you hire? This has been a limiting factor on our growth, since we're not in a major hub for user experience designers, and is one big reason we recently opened an office in Toronto.
5) In your current job, are you able to take some consulting work on the side to build up your practice before going full time?
If you are confident with these fundamentals, then the other questions you asked are relevant. If you're not, then you might consider working for someone else, or finding a business partner who can fill in the gaps in your skillset.
Consider working on an elevator pitch and sketching a business plan & business model (google elevator pitch, business plan, and visit www.businessmodelgeneration.com and find the sample PDF for a business model canvas)
Books to read:
The E-myth Revisited (about business basics for small business),
Managing the Professional Service Firm, David Maister - about managing consulting practices. Invaluable.
S.P.I.N. Selling, for a sales approach that most designers are comfortable with.
Also see Dave Gray's "Selling to the VP of NO"
The Trusted Advisor, David Maister (being a good consultant)
All the best, and I hope you let us know how things go!
Hi Jess. Thank you for such sound advice. One of my challenges when thinking of setting up a business is actually the financial part. Although this is yet just an idea, some of the questions you pose made a lot of sense and I had already confront myself with some of them. Specially, the need to put other people on board. I really believe that it is important to have someone else with us when there is the need to add value to areas where we are not experts, so to say.
Also, one other area relates to the fact of the local / regional market. Today, business world is bigger than we think, and probably we need to think outside our known territory / comfort zone. Maybe our clients are not outside our doorstep.
Finally, thank you a lot for the references.
I believe you have the educational background and training required looking from your web site
You say that you will probably be a pioneer in your country for such services
You are interested in pursuing a business
Go pursue your dream, you cannot fail
There is a lot of resources available and you can learn as you go
I believe a lot of business is common sense, dedication, perseverance and goodwill
@ Jess McMullin - those are all very relevant considerations you've posted and I think often it is hard for the person considering starting up to know the answers to some of them. This kind of ambiguity is something I think designers are well equipped to cut through with our prototyping mentality. I'm viewing my own attempts to start a service design consultancy as a prototype - I'm doing my research and clarifying my intentions and goals etc, but I think I'll discover the most about the viability of my idea, and my ability to pull it off, by prototyping the business and learning by doing.
Thank you for the book references - they sound like essential reads.
@ Duncan McKean - if you were agreeable, I'd love to have a chat with you about key messages for clients etc...maybe that might be an interesting public discussion thread in itself??
Heh. All of my too long post is to say that starting a service design business is first and foremost about starting a business, and then about consulting, and then only after that is it about service design.
You're absolutely right about just getting things going and looking at it as a prototype...I think we're still prototyping the future of the firm with my shop six years in.