Agent Orange is a Johannesburg-based, black-empowered design, web, advertising and intelligence agency. A conversation with Brandon Barnard of Agent Orange was revealing.
What made you think of starting your own design business?
I always knew I had something to offer in terms of better design services. I saw a gap in the market and the company I worked for was not giving me room to grow. In 1996 I decided to leave and started my own company.
How was your business financed during start-up?
I financed the business from my own savings. I managed to save some money when I was still working. I was very strict with my budget when I started. Every cent I got went straight into the business. There were many times when I did not draw a salary. Things were really tough financially. Running your own company can be very stressful.
What are the basic needs to start a graphic design agency?
You need to be passionate about what you are doing. If you think working for a boss is hard, try using your skills to work for yourself. You have to work twice as hard for your business to succeed. You have to sacrifice your social and love life when you are starting up. You must work between 14 and 18 hours a day to cut it in this industry.
I have been in the design industry for 15 years now but I still work the hours. I lead by example in my design studio. If my designers see how passionate I am, they will be inspired to work hard and passionately as well.
How does one get clients in the graphic design business?
Word of mouth. If you do a good job for one client they will give you other business leads.
Educationally, what does one need to start a graphic design business?
Advertising and design is not a traditional business where you need many degrees behind your name to open doors. Your portfolio is what will get you jobs. This is a visual business and your design work is king. Degrees, awards, school marks don't count so much when it comes to impressing a potential client. It is all about your design portfolio.
Are there opportunities for small business or start-ups in the South African advertising and graphic design industry?
That is a tough question. At the moment there are too many design and advertising companies, all competing for a handful of clients. The budgets on the other hand are getting smaller and smaller. Design companies in general have the highest rate of failure, even more than restaurants. You must be good at what you do to make it.
What experience does one need to tap into this industry?
You must have a strong portfolio.
Who are your main clients and how is your business going?
My business is going at a steady rate. We offer a wide range of services to a selected client base. It is not our objective to be the biggest in the industry but rather to be the best in terms of quality and service.
My client base covers all small to medium-sized businesses. The biggest problem with the industry is that there is no consistency. Work comes in spurts, you either have too much work or too little work. There is never a happy medium. Because of our good reputation a lot of other design companies subcontract design work to us.
In terms of growth from start-up, how would you define your business?
I started from humble beginnings, putting in long hours. I still work between 14 and 18 a day. I am always the last one to leave the office; long after my designers have gone, but that is the price you pay for owning your own business.
What does Agent Orange do and what are your future plans?
Our core services are logo design, branding and corporate identity. Website design is also a core service, as well as above-the- line advertising. We also do television and radio commercials, corporate videos and photography. We have just finished the new advertising campaign for TheLion King. My future plans are to grow the company to about 10 people but still keep on creating good, creative, solid design.
What is your advice to the youth who want to tap into the graphic design industry?
Find a company you can grow within and get a design mentor who is willing to take you under his or her wing. Don't cower away from hard work. It is the only way to go forward.
My advice is that you must learn from a designer you respect. If you are going to start you own company make sure you have a solid foundation.
What does Agent Orange do to help in the fight against skills shortage in the country?
We offer internships to individuals who have a background in design and advertising. To qualify you must have a portfolio in PDF format that you can e-mail to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.