The Designers' Advisor Asks: Robin Sprong

Robin Sprong

Robin Sprong is an award-winning South African designer and wallpaper manufacturer who represents over 70 international surface designers and photographers. Producing wallpaper and surface graphics in the UK, South Africa, Germany and Singapore, his customers include Casa Decor, Vice Magazine, John Jacob Interiors, Stephen Falcke, Design Agency Toronto and Hilton Double Tree. Robin’s digitally printed designs can be found on wallpapers, fabrics, hard surfaces, floors, blinds and wall tiles to name a few.

Is there a 'best time of year' to start a business?

Yes, definitely. Most industries have a ‘season' where everyone is getting their design projects ready for completion. For the interiors industry, it's usually before the summer holidays when people want to have completed projects they can enjoy while they're off work. You need to give yourself enough time to plan your business, launch it, get customers, and be ready for the season. Often, new business will only benefit from the second season because they have not prepared far enough in advance. Setting out your plans and developing your strategy based on that prime time of year is vitally important. Identify what shows are coming up and what platform you need to launch your business according to your budget and location. Trade shows can be very expensive, so in the beginning you might want to consider sharing the costs with someone who will compliment your products and do a joint show. 

How do I ensure I stay inspired, and don't burn out?

To stay motivated and inspired, it is very important to take time off: reflecting, meeting new inspiring people and exploring the opportunities that present themselves. This could involve simple things like having coffee at a different coffee shop, attending trade shows, or going away for a long weekend. We tend to get very stuck in our routine, which can lead to fatigue and boredom. Other activities that can help break up your usual routine and stay inspired are creating scrapbooks and mood boards of your new collections. You might also try to push yourself to do things out of the ordinary, like spending time with other professionals in your industry, exploring new suppliers and testing new materials. 

How do I get my first client?

When you start a new business, you may need to invest your own money into beginning your portfolio. This could mean offering your services for free, or at a very reduced cost, to prove yourself. Once you have something to show, you need to get it out there. The best way to do that now is through social media. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are wonderful tools, because your biggest fans – usually your friends and family – will help promote you to potential new customers. Your biggest challenge is then to keep your first customers as they will be your best spokespeople. Once the ball starts rolling, customers begin to come more easily.

Are there any particular pieces of technology I need before launching my design start-up? 

Depending on what you do, there are many different pieces of technology that can help, but one thing is for sure – they are all online platforms. Mostly they will be free and, often, the most obvious ones are the best. Facebook, Instagram, Behance Network or even some of your local design platforms can be the best way to get your work seen. The internet consumes content and you need good content to get noticed. Take great pictures and write short descriptions and great headlines. People are too busy to read long essays and want quick hits of visual dopamine. It's up to you to ensure your work is documented well. This might require you to hire a good photographer and to get people like bloggers and industry journalists to talk about your work, so you can design and present it to best effect. Remember, good work is not just about how many likes you can get, but also about the quality of the product, which usually speaks for itself. 

Is there a right and wrong way to source suppliers?

The best suppliers are the ones that give you free samples to test and work with – they are the most invested in you. Never skimp on quality; ensure that the quality of the product is what you believe your customers want. For every supplier you find, remember there is always someone else out there willing to give you a better product at a better rate. It takes time to weed them out. Good suppliers are also often willing to give you trade accounts. You can then create a mutually dependent relationship where they help you to fund your business until you get paid. Be careful how much you ask for, however, as your relationship as well as business can quickly deteriorate if you are unable to pay your dues. Good suppliers will also always ensure you have enough stock when you get big orders and will share the risk. 

Many thanks to Robin Sprong www.robinsprong.com

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