atlanta's independent entrepreneur network
Linda Doherty, along with her husband Chris, owns Citizen Studio, a design and communications firm in Atlanta with a focus on sustainability.
LRBN: We’re in this (metaphorical) elevator together for 30 floors – Hi there, what do you do?
LD: I'm Linda Doherty, partner of a graphic design firm called Citizen Studio. We create identity and communication programs for small to mid-sized clients who want their branding to be smarter and more sustainable.
LRBN: How long have you been doing this, and how long did it take you to go from ideation to implementation way back when? Was there a “big leap” moment or was it a gradual process?
LD: We founded the company in 2004 after returning to Atlanta. We were in NYC for four years. ("We" meaning my husband Chris and me.) After freelancing much of my last year in New York, I felt that I could start up my own business when we moved to Atlanta. I had no idea how much I had to learn.
The "a-ha" moment came much later, actually. We had developed a personal passion for sustainability and always considered that in our work, but it wasn't part of our official "positioning.” It took us hiring someone to work with us on positioning to realize it was a no-brainer that people should know what makes us different.
LRBN: Yeah, I think that's a good reminder that people should focus on what sets them apart as an advantage and branding hook.
LD: Yes, we are cobbler's kids. We do it for our clients and forget our own.
LRBN: Let’s talk cash. How did you fund this thing of yours?
LD: We started small, working from our home with practically no overhead. We've grown slowly with some ups and downs, but lucky to have steady growth now. Not huge growth by any means, but we're okay with that. The move into our new office was designed to give us sanity as well as a kick in the pants to take the business to the next level.
LRBN: That was a recent move, right? How is it working out so far?
LD: Life changing. When I'm in the office, I can focus. It doesn't matter if my kitchen is a mess. When I'm home, I'm home. We're furnishing the office slowly, taking care to practice what we preach.
LRBN: Ahh, any tips on where to get some nice sustainable furniture?
LD: Our conference table was designed and built in Savannah by Structured Green. For desks and office furniture, we bit the bullet and bought Herman Miller and Izzy Design. Both companies are doing things right. Southern Dairies, our building complex, is a historical redevelopment, so in essence our office is recycled. (Also - Room & Board is great for furniture. Home or office. They tell you where each piece comes from so you're not having to do the research.)
LRBN: Any surprises to owning your own business (positive or otherwise)?
LD: Every day. We knew design, but we didn't know business. A lot of things we had to learn the hard way. Like not becoming a proposal-writing company. What I mean by that is that we meet prospective clients and talk with them. Make sure we're the right fit for them, and decide if we all want to work together. Another lesson: learn to turn down the jobs that aren't good for you, whether they're too small. Or too big. Know your strengths.
LRBN: What's the biggest mistake you’ve made along the way?
LD: Not being more clear about my role and Chris's role. We didn't have to work much at our personal relationship, so we figured we'd cruise along with the business. It's quite different. (Disclaimer: No X-acto knives were drawn.)
LRBN: How did you build up your client base?
LD: Most of our business has been by referral. Now we're beginning to get people approaching us because they found us through a source or site related to sustainability. The best thing we've done is to build a network of people who understand the value of what we do.
LRBN: Any advice for enterprising indiepreneurs, especially from a branding and communications position of expertise?
LD: Sure. This is in no particular order: Take a business class. Or find a way to learn. I'm a member of Vistage, which has been an incredible experience. Learn to talk about your business to those who don't know your business and the process involved in what you do. Always start with the client’s needs - why are they paying you? This will help. And ask peers for advice.
LRBN: What’s next for Citizen?
LD: Other than matching conference room chairs? The plan is to continue to grow, do some successful, challenging work, and hopefully some of this sustainability stuff will rub off on more people, even beyond their communications. We don't want to get big. Our goal is to grow enough to make a good living and do work we feel great about. We love working with business owners and clients who are passionate about their business.
LRBN: Any parting words? (Please feel free to shamelessly promote yourself here if you so desire…)
LD: We spend so much time at our work. We owe it to ourselves to do something we love. And we're always open to questions and discussion about our business, how we run it, etc. http://citizenstudio.com/