Starting a New Business

 In Blog, Branding, business start-up, customer service, Design

Or why pricing strategy and good customer service were the keys to starting a Wharfedale based graphic design start-up.


Many business blogs are client help pages: quick tips or product explanations. That has never seemed right for us. Instead, our blogs are an expression of our interests: design, our locality, coffee!

This one, though is different. It is our short reflection on our (nearly) first year of trading. These are personal insights, for every business start-up is unique, but we hope you’ll find the story interesting and helpful.

We knew the theory: successful businesses are often so because they enter expanding markets or develop new markets through innovation – providing something people didn’t previously have, or at a price they couldn’t previously afford. Entering existing, static markets is harder; you must provide something better than other suppliers and persuade potential clients of that. We were conscious that a design-led communications firm like The Yorkshire Wordwright probably sits in the latter category.

Within the local area, there are many good design businesses, with excellent graphic designers. We know some of them. There were also great copywriters. We know some of them. We knew we were good too, but better? When we were just starting out? How could we honestly persuade a business to use us? Part of the answer was price and part of the answer was empathy.

Pricing Strategy

Pricing is tricky. You must cover your costs, but, as a start-up, that is not the immediate consideration. More urgent is finding a price that reflects the expectations of the target market. A typical response we have from small businesses is ‘But we can produce that ourselves and save money.’ These potential clients are price sensitive and price elasticity of demand is high. A low price might persuade them to take the plunge. Others, with a different perspective, will look at that same price and assume it means you are desperate for business and therefore not very good. But when you are starting out it is brave to segment the market.

The answer for us became clear. Set a price at the low end of the expected range – probably the lowest risk option – but then offer our first few clients the opportunity to work with us for free on a restricted number of projects. It worked. We avoided the problems of overly low pricing, but still gained experience and a portfolio of client work to show our next potential customers. A textbook description of this might be ultimate penetration pricing. Three months in, we were able to move to our ‘first year only’ prices. Now, there are no more free offers.  We have also moved to a slightly higher standard price, although still at the lower end of the price range. We think we’ve earned the right, as we are now much more experienced.

Armed with the free offer, I knocked on doors – both of some contacts from my previous working life, but also cold calling of cafés. Cafés were chosen, because we are great café goers ourselves, because the proprietor and decision maker is usually available, but also because they need menus. And menus are a low risk graphic design commission. We have been rewarded with work, with coffee and with chat.

Good customer service

Those chats over coffee built empathy. We were determined to learn our clients’ business, even when the value of the work was small. The ability to understand, intelligently sympathise and interpret is crucial. It is also noticed. And it can set you apart. It is obvious that the product is not just the quality of the graphic design or copy, but also customer service. Time has to be put in. You need to be patient, attentive and understanding. You also need to be realistic. If you can’t do the job to an excellent standard within the times

We set ourselves a number of targets for the year; one was to achieve repeat business from all our café clients; one was to achieve referral business. This week, we achieved the second, to follow the first. We are trusted by our clients and they are recommending us. That gives us confidence that in our second year, we can continue to grow.

What have we learnt? Realistic expectations are crucial, as they inform your marketing, but also help to ensure you are sufficiently patient. Finance is also important in allowing the time to grow the business. We had the finance in place for the two years we believed we would need to establish the business. We have been able to take time to build relationships and to build confidence in our product. Nearing the half way stage of our two-year timeline, we are pleased with our strategy so far. Now, of course, it will need to change, but that is for another blog.

Thank you to all those who have trusted us so far. Most of those clients, and the work we have done, are featured on our previous work page.

Further reading: Really simple, free textbook explanation. Good, fairly recent, blog, with a limited sell. Explains the marketing mix and the basic theory behind pricing, including price elasticity of demand. US site, with unashamed marketing within the blog, but, we think, helpful, punchy and easy to read. They get the need for patience right and put it top!



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