While we technically filed our LLC paperwork with the State of California in 2021, 2022 was our first full year in business. Ripe with a year of knowledge, we’re excited to share our thoughts on 2022 and our hopes for the future!
Setting goals to maintain accountability
Last year was a bit of a rollercoaster year. This could be attributed, in part, to the fact that we were just starting out and didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into which is fair enough. In reflecting on the ups and downs of the year, we found that those pit-in-your-stomach, are-we-doing-this-right feelings can mostly be avoided by a) having the audacity to believe in yourself and your ability to achieve success however you define it, and, perhaps even more importantly, b) by spending the time to set concrete goals in the areas you’d like to see improvement.
For 2023, we’ve defined our goals as: doubling our revenue, communicating our value, becoming financially savvy, and building culture and community. We’ve broken each of those goals down into smaller, achievable actions and are working on these as best we can at a pace that feels sustainable to us11 Our studio goals taking pride of place in Notion . The specificity of these smaller actions frees us up to focus on ticking them off one at a time rather than feeling overwhelmed by broadness of our larger vision.
Clarity through values
In complement to setting goals for ourselves, defining our values has been a pivotal step in gaining clarity around how we want to operate as a studio. Our values emerged from a period of introspection in which we considered our experiences at other agencies, the learnings from our time spent freelancing, and our desire to build a sustainable studio practice. We discovered that joy, quality, integrity, and relationships are what we care about most.
With these values in hand, we are now able to run every aspect of the business through the filter of whether what we’re doing is in alignment with the values we hold dear. From determining whether a prospective client is a good fit to understanding how we want to speak about the studio to deciding on what marketing channels make the most sense for us, defining a values system has allowed us to rely on our core values, rather than the whims of our day-to-day feelings, to help us make the right decisions.
Reinvesting in ourselves
As individuals both Joyce and I dedicate a lot of our personal time trying different crafts, developing new hobbies, and generally learning from and exploring the world around us. We are both extremely curious and observant people aching to grow and evolve as we age. By extension, it feels very natural to us to approach growth in studio in the same way—pushing ourselves to fill in the gaps in places where we feel have something to learn. There are two areas of the business that we were feeling particularly in the dark about last year: marketing and finance.
When it comes to marketing, we were completely overwhelmed. “Where do we start?” “What are we supposed to be sharing?” “How do we effectively and authentically communicate what we want to say?” These were the thoughts swirling around in our heads for much of the year. Feeling like you have all your ducks in a row across all your content channels and to be posting consistently to each one can be daunting. We definitely needed help. Through a recommendation, we signed up for Holly Howard’s Beyond the Feed workshop—a week-long intensive look at marketing from the perspective of a creative entrepreneur. The workshop brought a key realization for us as a studio: marketing should be enjoyable. Anything that isn’t enjoyable simply won’t feel genuine or be sustainable for our business in the long-run. With that piece of intel in mind, we’ve been able to make progress in how we approach what we want to say and where we want to say it. If we don’t feel a sense of joy or interest in what we’re putting out into the world, it's probably not something we should be doing.
Finance was another place where we were needing expert guidance. After many phone calls with our accountants, a private bookkeeping session with the incredible Jasmine Thompson of Stellar Consulting, taking every Skillshare class with the word "bookkeeping" in it, and lots of other supplementary reading materials (including Accounting for Dummies ha!), we finally have a better grasp of what it means, financially, to run a studio day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and now, year-to-year22 The endless search for understanding. We’re still newbies, constantly having to re-ask questions we swore we knew the answers to or had understood previously, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made in taking a more hands-on approach to truly understanding and managing our business finances.
Investing the time and money into gaining additional insight into areas of the business that are vital, but that we don’t naturally gravitate towards or have a previous understanding about, has fundamentally changed these topics for us. They are no longer something to fear or ignore, but rather, something worth discovering and mastering.
Perhaps the best part of this past year has been the people we’ve been in conversation with. From new business inquiries, to clients, to workshop friends, to other studios and freelancers, the openness and kindness that we’ve experienced from the people we’ve interacted with has helped to affirm our choice in starting Present in the first place. Specifically, forming part of an incredible network of freelancers and small studios has been incredibly helpful to us. It’s been such a blessing to connect with familiar faces (here’s to you Char Gladden) and to meet new ones too (thank you Maude at Studio Paquette, Quintin at bggy, Patrick at Gone Fishing, Kat at Lovely Day, and Ritik at Studio Rodrigo). Coming into community with these folks and others has highlighted the fact that the proverbial tide can indeed rise us all. We are all working hard to produce great work and it's so nice to be able to be there for each other when we need help, have questions, or just want to compare notes. It can feel lonely being a studio just starting out, so we’re grateful and continue to look forward to making many more mates and sharing the resources and knowledge that we have with this community too.
Realizing growth takes time
We started Present with a naïveté and excitement characteristic of newly-minted entrepreneurs. We had (and continue to have) big hopes for what the future might hold, but perhaps the biggest takeaway from this first full year is that building the business we want is going to take time33 One of many many zoom calls of 2022. Love you Zooey <3. In a society conditioned to seek out the dopamine-rich hits of immediate gratification and to believe in the fallacy of overnight success, it’s been helpful for us to keep our progress in perspective and to celebrate the achievements we have made—even if we haven’t yet reached our final destination. We have a lot to learn and a lot of progress to make, but, thankfully, there is also much joy to be had in this journey.