Success Secrets from David Schimmel:
- Figure out what your vision is, what your interests are and where you want to focus — and then spend the time when you’re not designing pursuing clients in that area.
- People work with people they want to work with, not necessarily those who are best for the job. And it’s not always fair. Instead of fighting, try to embrace it, and then you can succeed.
- Take advantage of coaching and consulting resources and surround yourself with smart people who you can learn from.
- Business development is the last of the blood sports, and it’s vital. You’ve got to make time for it.
So I’m 16, my job at the mall just fell through and I need something to do for the summer. I had taken a course in commercial art that year and had always been artistic, so it seemed time for something more. Off I went door to door at that same mall to drum up business for what I now considered my new summer job: freelance graphic designer.
This being Miami, my first stop was a Brazilian swim shop. It turned out the guy behind the counter owned the line of bathing suits and was looking for someone to design a catalog. I talked a good game, and they gave me a shot. I called a photographer I knew, a couple of friends to help with props, and turned this job into a networking game of finding anybody who could make me look like I knew what I was doing.
So there I am, 16, and on a South Beach photo shoot with four bikini models, catering, a stylist, the works. And I’m thinking: last week, I could have been folding sweaters.
Entering the Profession:
Basically I’ve always been entrepreneurial. When I was younger it was baseball cards. Then, well, the bikini models. And on and on.
I ended up in New York and met a slew of designers while trying to size up the market and find my place. Like everybody else, I was looking for the typical junior design job at a traditional firm. Then I walked into Young & Rubicam Advertising, just to meet somebody in their creative studio. He sent me up to a group creative director and two hours and two beers later, the CD offered me a job to start a brand-new design group at the ad agency. Design was on the brink of being more than a value-added service and they wanted to integrate this capability into their ad offerings.
So there I was at 22 with a totally huge opportunity. Believe it or not, I said I’d think about it. I was young and thought I was selling my soul to the devil by going into advertising. At that time, there was a big divide between graphic design and advertising and once you crossed to the dark side, that was it.
Or, so I thought. I ended up going back the next week and accepted the offer. It was the best move I ever made — although I had no idea why at the time.
Deciding Factors about Starting His Business
I believe that you have to have luck. I mean at the end of the day you can have all the talent in the world, but then you’ve got to have luck and you’ve got to put yourself out there. Woody Allen always says, “90% of success in life is just showing up.” And it’s really true.
At Y&R, I created the branding for an organization that brought together some of the most powerful women in business, real heavy hitters. And we designed all the environmental graphics for their conference in Palm Beach. I was sent out to oversee it all, and in between straightening signs and checking banners I met one of the keynote speakers, who happened to be the founder of a $5 billion real estate company here in NYC. She somehow had gotten word that I designed the event and wanted me to do work for her. I jotted down my number and shortly thereafter she called. I couldn’t believe it.
We met a few days later and two weeks later I was in business. My own business! The rest is history. It’s been a rollercoaster and June 2009 will be our tenth anniversary which is nuts.
Building His Business:
The two hardest parts of building a business are going after business and building a strong team. And it’s especially difficult doing both at the same time. I was 23 when I started out with, thankfully, a very plum piece of business. My family, friends, and everybody I knew tried to give me business to help get me started.
But after about a year, it got hard because those friendly relationships reached that exhaustion point. Everybody has what they need and by then you’re either a viable business or not.
Well, I was young and didn’t come from New York City, so I had to establish my whole network and do that all while I was also doing the work.
It was really hard. And there’s no right way to do it — no guidebook or road map. And Partners was largely built on intuition and instinct.
Of course, PR played a big part including a lot of mailings. This was before the Internet was as big as it is today. Every time we won an award or got into a magazine, we’d photocopy the cover and the page(s) where we were featured, put it inside a big bright red envelope and mail it to everybody on our list; designers, the press, prospects, you name it. And everybody would get these red envelopes about every 6 weeks. This became a multi-pronged approach to help us stay present. Our thinking was that when the time came that a company started looking, we’d make sure they had already heard of us. And that really was how we grew. It was slow and a lot of seeds got planted and sometimes it took years for them to blossom. But it worked. In fact, the head of marketing at a Fortune 500 hired us simply from one of our red envelopes.
New Business Development Today:
Business development is the last of the blood sports, and it’s vital. You’ve got to make time for it. Our Director of Business Development is my #2 person here and that’s her focus. We do it together and we do it quite well. We have a couple of areas of business that we’re proactively going after. With that, we take the stuff that comes our way and decide whether it’s the right fit.
Thoughts on Business Referrals:
We also have wonderful relationships with established principals of award winning firms that refer business on occasion. They are great projects that are overflow for them or not the right fit or a conflict. It’s not an everyday occurrence, but a referral from peers is a choice–and much appreciated–source of business.
In fact, I think it’s always good to keep people (loosely) in the loop on what you’re working on, because anybody, from clients to the press, can send you work. I believe design is a people business more than anything.
David’s Favorite Accomplishments:
Just having done what I’ve done is quite gratifying. I don’t realize as I’m working everyday, but there’s a permanence to much of the work we produce and it’s really an amazing feeling. For example, we do our share of real estate marketing and when I walk by a building that has our logo engraved on the signage outside, well, it just feels great! Similarly, when I read about a corporate client in the business press and I know we had a part in shaping their corporate image, it feels personal and I’m proud of that.
Similarly, when we walk into an awards show or a conference, and learn that people have seen our work and know our firm, it’s exciting to think that we built something that didn’t exist 10 years ago. To me that’s probably the most gratifying.
David’s Thoughts on The Keys to Success:
It’s all about work ethic, tenacity and obsession for design. For me, there’s a passion and love for this business and for what we do. It’s a part of our lives, not just what we do Monday through Friday.
And then it’s the people. More than anything it’s always been about people. It’s not necessarily the best designers who have all of the opportunities. Sometimes it’s about personality and temperament. People work with who they want to work with — not always who is best for a particular job. And it’s not always fair. But work on those relationships and you will win, more than enough. That’s the catch and that’s the crazy thing. It’s wonderful because it fosters a level of loyalty from clients and makes it rewarding because when they appreciate what you do they come back to you again and again.
On Doing Things Differently:
There are times when I wonder how things might be if I had made different choices along the way. The short answer is probably, “No, I wouldn’t change a thing,” because it could never happen the same way twice. But there’s a part of me that wonders where I’d be had I worked for someone else for five or so years before I went off on my own. “Would it be easier? Would I be more successful?” I know I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way and it’s been difficult because of the way I began.
When I was in my 20’s I was naïve and thought, I can do this, I know more than the 30-something guy does. But there’s something intangible that experience brings, and there’s a reason why people in their early 20’s don’t typically start businesses. I now understand that if I had worked five years at an already established firm it probably would have made a big difference as to how And Partners grew.
Punc’t is a limited edition series of 24 posters created by 26 New York-based designers. The series was conceived/art directed by And Partners, Client: Neenah Paper. Shown Above: Em/en dash: Todd St. John. Below: Question mark: Steff Geissbuhler.
David’s Thoughts on Business Seminars, Workshops, Business Consultants and Coaches:
They’re invaluable. Everybody needs a coach. When you’ve exhausted your friends and family and the first round of clients, a coach or business consultant can be like a compass.
I hired a consultant who worked with me for about a year on general business strategy. What type of work should we be going after? What’s most lucrative? What type of clients are right for us? And what type of clients should we shy away from? He was a former president of one of the large branding firms and he was invaluable to me at the time.
We’ve hired other consultants since then, specifically for new business and strategy. I also hired a coach to help me improve my skills at public speaking. I can’t count how many designers I’ve listened to who bored me to tears and I sure as hell don’t want to be the guy who makes everybody fall asleep.
Tips on Building and Sustaining a Career:
You have to have vision and know what you like and don’t like.
Figure out your vision, your focus, and your interests and then spend time (when you’re not designing) pursuing clients in those areas. This is probably the best move for figuring out who you want to work with.
And, you have to be willing to struggle through the period of time it takes to ramp up. In other words, if you’re going to go off on your own, don’t do it unless you have a client who is sizeable enough to carry the business for a while. Then you’ve got to ask yourself “Now that I have this great opportunity, what do I really want to do when I grow up? And what do I want to focus on?”
Also, when you can, aim for clients that give you a good vibe. There’s nothing worse than dreading your own client.
Thoughts on Specializing:
I suggest specializing in an industry, a service, or a particular market that you love.
For me it was upscale consumer marketing and real estate. I have a personal interest in both areas and so we started pursuing both markets. It took about 4 years to build the practice before we started to get some traction. Knock wood that we’ll be able to continue to sustain and grow this business.
When I first started out I looked at companies that I admired and thought, they do great stuff. They work on non-profit, for profit, banking, fashion, food, restaurants, candy, you name it, they do it.
I thought that’s what I wanted.
So we sought out projects in publishing, hospitality, real estate, corporate communications and annual reports and it was all very eclectic. I didn’t understand why we were struggling even though I had been doing it for 4 or 5 years. I didn’t understand why it was so hard and why we were pitching for business, but one thing wasn’t leading to another. It wasn’t until we started to focus on just a couple of areas that we started to see that happen.
I work out. I love to run. I’m an avid golfer and an skier. I love to travel and eat and cook.
We have summer Fridays – everyone can pick one Friday each month to do whatever they choose. It helps keep people fresh and gives them time off to relax and recharge their batteries when things are slower.
I always encourage travel. Travel is one of the great influences for me with my own work because it gives me perspective and a fresh way of looking at the world.
David’s Toughest Challenge:
Without a doubt, the toughest challenges are making the hard decisions in the office and building a strong team that has a short hand in working together.
Additional Thoughts for Someone Just Starting Out:
The world around us, especially with the pace of ever-changing technology, is going to impact your business or career. It is hugely important to never stop learning, reading, educating and staying on top of trends.
Far too often designers get into a rut. They figure something out and they start doing that over and over. They become known for it and stop experimenting. Those who are the most successful for a sustained period of time are like chameleons. They possess an ability to continually learn and assimilate knowledge in different areas and apply their creativity to different applications. That’s something I will always encourage and strive for personally and professionally.
Considered one of the top emerging designers in the U.S., David began as a design director at Young & Rubicam, then launched his own firm at the age of 23. He has collaborated with many of the world’s most sophisticated clients, earning multiple awards for his work.
David graduated in 1998 from Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in art and business and was immediately hired by Y&R Advertising as design director. In this role, he extended brand imagery from advertising to diverse target-directed media for top Y&R clients such as AT&T, Sony, DuPont and Citibank.
Acting on his desire to create the core brand itself, David founded And Partners in 1999 to provide branding, graphic identity, literature, and collateral for up-market consumer and professional-service companies. The firm has enjoyed steady growth and recognition while expanding into multi-media and environments.
David serves on the advisory board of Portfolio Center in Atlanta and teaches at The School of Visual Arts in New York City. A standing member of the New York City Board of Education’s Advisory Committee in the area of occupational education since 1999, David was honored for his dedication to the Virtual Enterprise program.
David has been featured in Communication Arts, Dynamic Graphics, Graphic Design USA, Graphis, HOW, I.D., PRINT and STEP Inside Design and was named among Graphic Design USA’s “People to Watch” in 2003. In 2005, he was awarded a pencil from British Design and Art Direction, a Gold Pencil at the One Show and numerous Gold ARC Awards.
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