Mark O'Brien's Expert Q+A

"Planning the Agency Website That Works" - October 18, 3:45am - 5:15am

General Business:

What is currently the biggest business challenge for creative services firms?

The biggest challenge for creative services firms is taking the time, energy, and focus to market themselves properly for the purpose of keeping a pipeline full of qualifies prospects at all times.


Please rank the three most important things that a potential lender would look for in your business plan.

A long record of healthy cash flow
A strong debt to savings ratio
Two months of savings on hand
Prompt payment of invoices from clients

Please share one tax tip for small business owners.

Setup a Safe Harbor 401k, make your spouse an employee, and sock away up to $90k/year in your combined 401k plans.

What’s the best source of capital for your design firm?

Your own money that you’ve earned from profitable client work and saved.

What are three keys to maximizing your firm’s profitability?

60% utilization
45% payroll as % of your AGI
Target at least 20% profitability


How critical is it to be a specialist vs. a generalist firm?

Paramount. Without specialization there is no marketing. If you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, you won’t have anything unique to offer, and you’ll be tied to your local market.

What’s the key to expanding into a new market?

Specialization--having a true area of expertise that you own.

What are three essential things that a design firm must do to market its services?

Have a
1.    great website, which is fueled by a
2.    content strategy which is
3.    search engine optimized and effectively promoted through social media.

Is the principal the firm’s best salesperson?  Why or why not?

The principal is the best closer, and may be the best salesperson, depending on the size of he firm and the personality profile of the principal.


What’s the best way to keep your best employees?

Pay them well, give them challenging work, make sure they have the time, energy, and resources to have a highly fulfilling life outside of work.

When do you take on a partner?


How do you determine your firm’s ideal size?

By figuring out what size you need to be to make the most money possible while being able to effect the most positive impact on your client’s business.