Swish Design has always had an office.
Right from the very beginning 11 years ago when the business was just ‘me’, I sub-let a little 3m x 3m room in the building of my former employer. It worked well for them to still have me around so they could access the IP in my head. It worked well for me to have an office to go to each day. I liked the separation between home and work, and I liked having a proper office for clients to come see me at.
That office was cheap and only 10 minutes from home. I spent two happy years there and, in that time, Swish Design grew from being ‘just me’ to me plus two employees. With no room for us to expand further, and with a baby in my belly, it was time to take a (very) deep breath and enter the world of commercial leases.
Our move to West Perth resulted in an eye-watering increase in monthly rent, but that was fine, the business was going well enough to cover it. Not long into that lease we became a team of four and it was awesome having a space big enough for us all to fit comfortably. When it came time to renew, however, we’d worked our way up to a level of clientele who weren’t all that keen to meet at a small round table in the middle of a large room while phones rang, and three people worked around them!
That’s when we upped sticks and moved to Leederville.
That was a great office. On a quiet street close to Sayers (mmm breakfast) and Duende (mmm tapas), the new office had more space, a separate room for introvert me to hide out in, plus a boardroom and its own toilet and kitchen. It was quite a step up!
As our team continued to grow, however, so too did our desire for a slightly bigger space (again!). We weren’t all that desperate to move (we really loved our three years in Leederville), so we set our agent an impossible task.
‘Find us something slightly bigger, just as nice, in this area, but for the same price. And you have two weeks to do it.’
He did it. He found us our current digs in Mt Hawthorn. Lots of room, surprisingly quiet despite being on Oxford St, easy parking, nice landlord, just down the road from Yelo.
A seed gets planted
In 2015 Anthony and I were at a conference. (At this point we’d just moved into the Mt Hawthorn office.) During a mastermind session at that conference one of the experts grilled us about how we were going about things in our business.
‘You have an office? Why do you need an office?’ he asked.
We stared at him blankly.
And then replied, ‘Um, well, we just do. We service clients who need to see where we work and be impressed.’
‘Really? How many clients do you have?’
‘Around 100-150 active clients at any one time.’
‘How many of those active clients are in Perth and have been to your office in this past year?’
Hmm. He was right. Of our active client list, more than half weren’t even Perth-based. And, of the one who were Perth-based, no one ever had a reason to come to our office other than the initial meeting for a website, and the training meeting we conducted when a website was finished.
Fast forward to January 2018. It’s time to exercise the option on our lease.
What had always been a no-brainer decision, (either renew or find another office that better meets our needs) now gave us pause.
Did we need to have an office?
- Most of our team already worked from home.
- I, personally, love how effective I am on the days I work from home.
- All of us in the office have kids. (If you’re someone who has to get your kids off to school and then rush to get to an office by 9/9.30am, and then rush off at 2.30pm to pick them up … you know how old that gets, and fast. Not to mention the bartering you do with your partner as to who’s busier when you get the call to come pick a sick kid up from school.)
- And when it came to client meetings, our clients’ preference has always been for us to go to them.
Then there’s our business model
For most of our 11-year existence we’ve enjoyed the ability to occupy the Goldilocks (just right) space in the graphic/web design and development market between:
- Freelancers (who don’t have the resources to do huge and complicated jobs) and
- Massive agencies (whose big overheads dictate the need to charge big for those huge and complicated jobs).
Unfortunately, as expenses rose in recent years (the joys of operating a business in Perth), this forced us to operate more towards the agency end of the continuum to run the business profitably.
This isn’t really where we want to be.
We’re great designers who create beautiful brands and build websites that don’t just look amazing, but also help the business owner achieve their stated goals. When you get pulled towards the big agency end of things, you have to start providing ancillary services that are not in your zone of genius and things can become unwieldy.
Our office lease coming up for renewal presented us with an opportunity to:
- Simplify and get back to what we are best at
- Be more agile with how we run the business
We took the opportunity.
We decided not to renew our lease
As soon as we made the decision, we knew it was the right one. We felt an excitement about the business we hadn’t felt in years.
We then had to consider logistics.
- Where would all our files be stored if not on the office server?
- Our job tracking system was also on that server – where would that system live?
- How would we communicate if we’re not in an office together?
- What if a client wanted to ring us?
Happily, we already had good systems in place for internal communications (thank you Slack).
Anthony moved mountains to get all our files into the cloud and set up a new system for job tracking. (One that talks directly to Xero! So good!) He then set up our phone system so that we could both receive calls to our normal number, and also transfer calls between all our respective home offices.
So, that was that!
A new model for work and life
While this seems like an extreme change to make, it’s not really.
- One of my writing clients (also a design agency) got rid of his fancy Melbourne office a while ago and he said it’s the best thing he ever did (from both a financial, flexibility and lifestyle point of view).
- Most of our clients have never seen our office and couldn’t care less if we have one. All they care about is their work being done at the standard they’ve come to expect.
- Removing the office commute from our days frees up at least an hour a day for each of us. Time we’ll now get to spend with our kids ????
So, as you can imagine, we’re really looking forward to it. Next week we’ll be in transition and after Easter we’ll be fully remote.
We look forward to seeing you on the other side as we embark on this next chapter of both our business and life.