AMA about running a design business on the side of a full time job. My name is Darian and I run the Compass of Design Community and my design agency So Magnetic.

Darian Rosebrook
Mar 12, 2018

For the last year, I've been building two businesses on the side of my day job, preparing them to go full-time. I decided to start a business that hits both sides of the same coin: Custom design for business, and teaching business & design to designers. 

So Magnetic is a design agency servicing businesses with branding and logo design. What I do there allows me to take what I've learned by practicing and teach that to other designers.

Compass of Design is a community and resource platform for designers. From here I teach those in our design community, over our newsletter, the publication, and YouTube. I take what experience I get here and use it in my freelance business, hire freelancers from the community to work with me on projects, and give/get feedback on current work.

The goal is that before the end of the year to have both businesses running enough revenue to replace what I am doing with my day job. I'm getting close to halfway there and am making the big push this year. 

Shoot me any questions that you all on AMAfeed have about running your own things on the side and I'll give the best answers I can. Thanks, everyone!

Comments are locked

Conversation (75)

In three easy steps and under a minute you could be hosting your own AMA. Join our passionate community of AMA hosts and schedule your own AMA today.

Let's get started!

What would you do if a client asks you to design something without any context?
Mar 13, 9:23AM EDT0

I would ask for more context.

In order for my work to be effective, and delivering the value back for what I'm charging, I need to be actively in the know of what we're doing and why.

So Magnetic is not just hands to be moved to make a thing, we partner with the client to help bring them closer to their success.

So in order to work with my company, you gotta give a lot more than context. lol

Mar 13, 1:13PM EDT0
Describe your creative process. What are the major steps?
Mar 13, 9:23AM EDT0

All major steps can be seen here, somagnetic.com/process/

But the most important part of this process is aligning the client's expectations with your understanding of the project, and aligning their goals with the direction of the project.

You have to up your communication game and that's probably the only step you need to know.

Get to know what they are trying to do, design something that meets or exceeds their goals and expectations.

Mar 13, 1:15PM EDT0
How have you successfully cultivated brand identity for past clients?
Mar 13, 7:30AM EDT0

All of the case studies that I have on the So Magnetic website have examples of this.

But what I do as the owner of my brand agency is taking what goal they are trying to do and effectively research and design for it.

In the end, most of what I've worked on are projects where clients are trying to position themselves as the premium choice for their customers, making sure that the quality of their design fits the market they are trying to reach.

The way we design is for product-market fit, and I feel that's become a lost art nowadays.

Mar 13, 1:18PM EDT0

What has been your experience working remotely and what do you feel is important in order to ensure your freelance work is efficiently completed?

Mar 13, 1:40AM EDT0

Keep control of your time.

I find myself getting into trouble if I don't have a task list to do or a timer going.

If I am doing work from home, I usually set a timer on tomato-timer.com

This timer gives me 25 minutes to focus and when that goes off, I take either a 5 or 10 minute break to go do something and relax a tiny bit. Then when that break is over, I chain these timers work-break-work-break until I get my work done.

The way my brain works is that it's easily distracted. If I'm not constantly reminding myself that I have things to work on, I may end up 20 posts deep in some reddit thread or on a youtube binge.

I don't think this is an area that I have mastered, but one that I at least take steps to manage.

Mar 13, 7:17AM EDT0
What brands do you most admire and how do they influence your work?
Mar 12, 2:16PM EDT0

I have a few that I find inspiring, but they are more obscure brands.

I have less interest in companies doing huge things that I can't wrap my own head around right now.  But there are some that seem to stick out.

Brands however are my specialty as a designer. So some of the ones that I feel are doing good work are Shopify with their UX design team.

Another would be the seanwes brand. I'm in the same space of business that they are and things that they are able to do help shape what I know is possible for my brand.

Another is with the MegaMaker brand that is one of the biggest, small busisinesses that I know is making headway personally.

Mar 12, 6:10PM EDT0

What ways do you market both your businesses, and which avenue has provided the biggest ROI so far?

Mar 12, 11:22AM EDT0

I thought about this for a long time on how I could work at marketing both. Marketing is such an in-depth and labor intensive thing that It can be entirely overwhelming to do both.

So I got clever.

At the bottom of compassofdesign.com is a link to So Magnetic. Which is one of the highest drivers of traffic to my agency website.

I close just about as many leads from that as I do from referrals to my business.

Most people who hire me to do design work has also had a conversations somewhere with me across the internet space.

So here's what I do to market both.

Compass of Design: I have a few channels that someone gets introduced to the Compass brand through...

  • Youtube — For designers who use video format to learn(https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTin1d0uPVufY4xwitzkyFQ)
  • Medium — For those looking for articles (and it's easy to go viral there)
  • Twitter — I curate design resources and interact with designers through that channel, showcasing their work.
  • Instagram — I share things that relate to running that business or newsletter on there

Those are the ones that I have the most control over. Then some things that I utilize is my personal relationships with people. It's really cool that in showing and investing time in others, they start to invest in you. So I get shout outs from friends all the time that help spread awareness to what we're doing.

The biggest return that I get is through my newsletter funnel. Someone reads or sees something, then they get on my newsletter, and then through that I usually see a purchase. Never do I really see anyone purchase something that hasn't been a part of that chain.

So Magnetic:  So Magnetic is kind of a weird beast because the site it'self gets the most traffic over everything else that I'm trying to do.

I do have acquisition channels like above, but most people seem to go direct and I haven't quite been able to track how they're finding me yet.

  • Dribbble (a designer platform that is essentially like a designer instagram)
  • Instagram — Sharing work done with clients
  • Twitter — Interacting with my target demographic through social
  • Quora — Answering in depth questions about how to work with or find designers to hire.
  • Being active in small business, design, or other online communities.

The biggest return so far though has been through referrals or interacting with other business owners online.

Again, the personal touch gets more people in my door than cold SEO.

Mar 12, 12:23PM EDT0
You mentioned YouTube. How do you use YouTube in Compass of Design? Do you have a channel where you upload videos? If yes, what is the name of your YouTube Channel?
Mar 12, 9:08AM EDT0

Hi Ivana, I do use youtube.Youtube is part of the content that I'm working on driving for more design education.I have several formats that I make content for. The community is the start of the content, then I put those topics out to people on the Compass of Design newsletter, then that goes into article format some months later. Video is just another digestible format of that content.

You can check it out the youtube page for Compass.

Mar 12, 10:01AM EDT0
Since the two businesses mirror each other, would you want to merge them some day?
Mar 12, 7:38AM EDT0

So Magnetic owns Compass of Design.

One is a child of the other.

In a way, they already are merged, but since the model of how income is generated by both differ so greatly, I decided to split the two up and track the effort and revenue separately for each project. 

Last edited @ Mar 12, 10:12AM EDT.
Mar 12, 8:13AM EDT0
What is the Compass of Design newsletter all about? Why should one suscribe to it?
Mar 12, 7:17AM EDT0

I started the newsletter first as a differently titled list for teaching others to design with confidence. It was sporadic, and it was haphazardly put together.

When I realized how many people actually wanted to get a newsletter about designing with confidence, I started asking questions to the subscribers on what they needed to learn.

Once I had enough info about what people needed, everything got rebranded and Compass of Design was born.

Currently, the Compass of Design newsletter is geared towards equipping designers with skills they need to start designing with confidence and defeat impostor syndrome.

Though that may be a bold claim, each week I focus on delivering a lot of content around: 

  • design principles
  • marketing your skills as a designer
  • managing client work
  • how to handle design programs
  • design thinking

So literally everything I learn, I'm turning around and teaching that right back to the nearly 500 people that are subscribed right now...

My mission is to help designers become more confident in the work they do. This is just a small step towards that. (:

Mar 12, 10:07AM EDT2
You mentioned that you are making the big push this year. Are you doing something differently this year than the years before?
Mar 12, 6:53AM EDT0

One, I'm running out of patience for having all my free time split between family, day job, and my business.

Two, I have spent the last two years improving and fine-tuning my skills personally with business, seo, design, marketing, and I bring all of that into what I do.

Combining those, I now feel like I have the capability to command and support higher level of work from running my design agency through quality design and outstanding client management.

I also have a strong enough community going with Compass that I'm expanding the functionality behind the community site. What will be available to members, new and old, is going to change the way we give design feedback. I plan on this making a big shift in the design space.

Mar 12, 8:19AM EDT0
How do you find freelancers from the community to hire? Do you use online hiring platforms like Upwork?
Mar 12, 5:06AM EDT0

Specifically from the Compass of Design Community.

I don't contribute to sites that undervalue the creative efforts of others. Within the design community that I run, I have a good sense on what everyone's strengths are so when I need to have a specific type of designer, I know these people and their skill sets and should they be available, I'll bring them on for the work.

It's the nature of So Magnetic's team model. Scalable, and agile.

Last edited @ Mar 12, 8:11AM EDT.
Mar 12, 8:11AM EDT2
What was your first job coming out of school?
Mar 11, 5:22PM EDT0

I was a front end host for a restaurant. That's just a fancy way of saying I took people from the waiting area to their tables and occasionally cleaned up the place.

However, I didn't let that job lower my work ethic.

There were many ways to be useful that didn't just pertain to my duties.

Left and right other hosts would come and go, but I made myself very hard to replace to my managers... Which in the end bit me in the butt because they didn't want to lose me by promoting me either.

Mar 11, 7:05PM EDT0
What are five different things, people, or groups that get you going in your career?
Mar 11, 1:47PM EDT0
  1. The Compass of Design Community: These people in the community who show up are actively working on their skills and building their businesses. If I have a question or topic that I want to talk about, there's plenty of other people who chime in. It is good to know I'm not the only one dealing with things sometimes and good to see how others get past it.
  2. The fact that I don't have a lot of free time means that I got to hustle hard to make sure that I'm effective with what little amount I do have. You become pretty creative and efficient with what you do if you have a way to put constructive constraints on it.
  3. I have a daily writing habit that helps me get ideas out of my brain and able to focus on other things. Thankfully, a lot of writing can be turned into valuable content that helps other people too. So this helps my career out showing what I've learned, and then by sharing that, I get my name out and start getting better at writing, getting better at learning, and getting better with communication.
  4. I know that I want to be able to leave my day job and get cracking on getting control over my own time again. That goal drives me through a lot of the tough decisions I make during each week.
  5. My family: the biggest motivation I have is making sure my little family of four is provided for and has the best future ahead of them.
Last edited @ Mar 12, 10:12AM EDT.
Mar 11, 7:22PM EDT1
What would your next step? What would you like to see yourself doing creatively in next 5-10 years?
Mar 11, 12:41PM EDT0

Creatively, I want to be running these businesses together for the next 10 - 20. 

I just have to make it past these first 5 before I get too far.

However, I know that I want to expand my team for both projects, and I want to be taking on massive game changing projects that change the ways we think about design and the value that is added towards business through it.

Mar 12, 10:08AM EDT0
While growing up, were you into physical arts or the computers?
Mar 11, 9:57AM EDT0

I was into the computers more than the physical arts.

I did practice drawing but I was never good at it, nor good at sculptures. I could do it, but I never had the drive to pursue art as much as I did with music. 

Sadly though, it's harder to make money in music than it is in art, or even more so than with design.

I have a good skill with computers though, which has helped when I got into learning code for design. 

Mar 11, 7:02PM EDT0
Were your parents and family members supportive of your choice to go into the design rather than other career options?
Mar 11, 6:48AM EDT0

I thankfully have had very supportive family.

I have a nack for focusing on things that I'm doing. It's not like some people with shiny object syndrome that poke and prod at something... I actually put in hard work when I do something, and I think I've been able to convince them so far that it's working anyways.

It can be hard when your family doesn't support something you do though.  

It goes to show how badly you want something, whether or not you allow the opinions of others to dictate what you do. Learn to understand and evaluate where they are coming from and why they have concerns that they do.

If you have the ability to work through and work past other people's objections to what you do, you'll find that you have the drive that it takes to actually be successful as long as you keep that mindset up.

Mar 11, 6:59PM EDT0
The funding for your startups, did you save up yourself or you are running it with partners?
Mar 10, 11:17AM EST0

I have been running these two companies by myself, and both bring in the money to sustain themselves.

The beauty of client work is that it has a very low barrier to entry. You just need to have a good enough computer to do the work and email or a phone to communicate with the client.

Mar 11, 6:54PM EDT0
Why haven't you left your current job to give more attention to your startups?
Mar 10, 8:11AM EST0

My spouse and I are catching up on debt that we have acquired together and we're working towards having 6 months of expenses saved up before letting me walk away from the job. Once I have that taken care of I will be able to focus on this full time. It's a hard thing to do when there are so many things that weigh you down. 

Last edited @ Mar 12, 10:14AM EDT.
Mar 10, 8:51AM EST1
Would you say the world of freelancing has more aesthetic appeal?
Mar 9, 11:03AM EST0

It definitely has an appeal.

There's a romantic idea of what freelancing is like. You get to be your own boss, you can pick and chose who you work for, you have the ability to charge what you want and make your own salary.

This, however, is the romantic optimist in me. The realist in me, on the other hand, realizes that though that is true, it's hard work to make it sustainable. If it's going to be it's up to me.

So for aesthetic appeal, yeah it has a great appearance, but don't think that it's not going to require some leg work to keep it running. hah.

I still prefer freelance work because I get to make the calls, but depending on what your goals are or your risk aversion, it may or may not be appealing to you.

Last edited @ Mar 12, 10:14AM EDT.
Mar 9, 12:15PM EST0
If you were an employer of labour, would you employ you? Why?
Mar 9, 6:36AM EST0

I'm definitely a hard worker, but I probably wouldn't hire myself as an employee.

I've had an entrepreneurial bug that doesn't mix well with employed work. What is appealing to hiring someone like me is the hard work ethic, a knack for getting things done even if it wasn't how it was intended to be finished, and thinking of new ways to do things.

Probably though, that's because of where my mindset is, and it's what my bosses have always said they admire about me.

I just feel caged as an employee from flexing my full creative and intuitive ability and I don't feel like that would be a good person to hire in that sense as an employee. It can come across that I am distracted where I'm thinking of solving problems ouside of my work's capacity.

I would hire people who compliment areas where me as a business owner lack the skills for. Areas where I'm not as polished, like:

  • Great with price negotiation
  • Business accounting / finance
  • Web Development
  • Print design
  • etc.

(I technically have the ability to employ people so this is something I've considered, and truly, I just wouldn't want an employee that was like me.)

Mar 9, 12:21PM EST0
About #FreelanceAMA

Welcome to #FreelanceAMA, an AMA channel for the Freelancing community!.

The #FreelanceAMA channel (http://www.FreelanceAMA.com) is owned and operated by AMAfeed, LLC.