I Left My Job And Started A Six-Figure Design Firm With $100

Published: September 28th, 2022
Dexter Washington
Founder, Crafted Studios
Crafted Studios
from Los Angeles, CA, USA
started March 2021
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My name is Dexter Washington Jr and I’m Founder and Creative Director at 2x award-winning design studio, Crafted Studios. We’re design, development, and marketing experts. The company is based in Los Angeles, CA but we work remotely from around the world all the way up to the United Kingdom.

We specialize in Webflow websites for design-centric companies. There’s a plethora of other tools we work with as well to build the digital platforms of tomorrow for our clients, we’re passionate about doing everything correctly - hence the name “Crafted” it’s truly a team of experts coming together to collaborate and get the best results possible.

We’ve been able to 1x our revenue after the first year, which was 2021 and we keep growing and building upon that working with some of the largest tech enterprises and startups in recent years. There’s a lot to be proud of, especially since we’re just getting started.

Crafted Studios website 2022

Client website, Sustainability Champions 2022

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I came up with the idea of sitting in my living room while working from home at an agency where I was a Facebook Ad Manager. It was a solid job and I got some more marketing experience under my belt which is nice, but the environment was unbearable. That goes for that place and many other marketing-related jobs I had.

The same story kept replaying over and over, it was decent pay and I got some good experience but the management or leadership team were difficult to work with and it created a bad environment for everyone.

I’ve seen coworkers have venting sessions with co-founders and management complaining about CEOs over Zoom calls far too often. Enough was enough, I knew I had to bet on myself so I quit with around $3,000 left in my account.

I learned that more isn’t always better, so with this business everything is simple – because honestly, I like to live a simple life, so I approach business how I approach life and that just does what we do best and clock out for the day.

On the upside, I learned how to run an agency from these spaces and took what I learned to make the environment better and produce results actually worth the clients' money. This is the root of Crafted Studios, doing things better because we care. I don’t come from money nor was any startup money given to me to start this business, so I’m not going to play with people’s hard-earned cash. I started all of this with $100 from the $3,000 I quit with and now we’re a multiple six-figure design firm trusted by dozens of reputable brands.

Business owners spend money on agencies every day and get little to nothing from it, and most times nothing. I’m dedicated to good results and a good environment so we lead with that – so far team members and clients have had plenty of good things to say. I think people underestimate the power of a good reputation, the design industry seems large but it’s really not.

This business idea was much different from others I had in the past. I’ve tried to build an auto detailing business, a full-service agency including photography, social media management, and design just to name a few services and it was just too much to grasp at once. I learned that more isn’t always better, so with this business everything is simple – because honestly, I like to live a simple life, so I approach business how I approach life and that just does what we do best and clock out for the day.

This mindset allowed me to keep my team nimble, grow fast, and make decisions quickly. I always had a team around me even since auto-detailing so to my team and culture building came second nature.

My ideas were validated through our first few successful clients. We realized that there’s a space for creative studios like our leveraging no-code tools to thrive and develop business. Although we still use code and leverage it as well, most of our clients come to us for no-code solutions. I was new to the world of this at the same time I was building so I didn’t get to look from a birds-ey view but looking back there's a ton of potential still for more studios to start establishing their brands.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

In the early stages, I wanted to establish how we’re different from the rest and what can we offer or how can we produce results greater than the rest. From the beginning, I knew that most agencies struggled with time management and retention, so our whole foundation was built on the method of creating partnerships instead of approaching every project from scratch with a new client.

The early days of Crafted Studios were figuring out our client experience versus designing creative interfaces – which is still the number one priority to this day, of course, our team is super talented, creative, and award-winning – but so are a lot of other design firms. What is going to make us different is delivering a truly great experience.

Partnerships worked out great since they not only gave us steady work to get off the ground but also allowed us to get different experiences with a vast range of clients and industries.

Putting together our first offer was tough because design alone was a hard sell, not because of the design itself but I couldn't articulate what good design can do for companies, even today it can be tough but it’s easier now since we have a vast amount of experience and work to walk them through with numbers to prove everything. Also, another key point to note is that we’ve included SEO and website vitals in the process, giving the client numbers to reach and a roadmap for what success can look like for them by trusting our process of expertise.

Another challenge we had early on is not having any “bigger clients” under our roster, making it more difficult for larger clients to trust us. We trusted the process though, and with time we got there. The design industry is vast and there’s a ton of great talent out here, I quickly learned that you cannot compete on talent alone, there’s always someone doing something next level. Stick to finding ways to produce great business results on a deeper level, showcase it, market it, and the work will find you through that.

As I mentioned earlier, startup costs were initially $100 and that was mainly for creating the agency website and paying for hosting. The rest of that was buying other software needed to manage invoices and sending client videos. I’ll break down my early tech stack for those reading:

  • Loom
  • Freshbooks
  • Bill.com (for vendor payments)
  • Webflow
  • Slack

That’s it, just communication, creativity, and payment management. Things are still just as simple now honestly, with project management platforms and team management platforms as an investment as well.

Dexter Washington & Chris Loggins, Oct 2021, coworking at 1 AM

Describe the process of launching the business.

When Crafted Studios first launched, it launched with a ton of partners. I think at the time we had 6-7 partnerships with various agencies and software companies. They were our first “clients” serving their clients, this helped us skip the “I can’t find any work” phase that freelancers and agencies tend to go through, which is okay but I know the pain of being in that position before so I wanted to try something different. We used this work to build a reputation, prove we can do great work, and have a strong portfolio.

Partnerships worked out great since they not only gave us steady work to get off the ground but also allowed us to get different experiences with a vast range of clients and industries – picking out what we like and don’t like. We’ve met a lot of great people through this also that are still with us till this day, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

I started with my own money, and today I continue to reinvest the profits to build. It would be nice to win a grant or grab some funding but we’re okay without it as well. There were a ton of challenges doing it this way, most of it was in the mind.

For example, letting go and delegating work was a challenge because I didn’t want to let money go at first; I always debated getting extra help for tasks I thought I could do but it hindered the business since it took me away from my valuable tasks such as business development. I slowly learned that with the mindset of abundance and marketing ahead of our completed work, things will come back since we’re already doing the hard work upfront.

1st variation of Crafted Studios website

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Since launch, we’ve used partnerships and referral programs to retain customers. We offer a referral program to our clients after working with us, it doesn’t need to be much if you’re thinking about doing this – but we offer 5% to everyone that sends us to work that we get a signed contract on.

To attract new customers, it’s been interesting to test out different methods. I’ve used Twitter as a lead generator for some time now, and it’s landed us a ton of clients. The same thing can be said with LinkedIn, although LinkedIn isn’t as casual which is my style of content writing I can still connect with others and keep Crafted on their radar.

Other than this, I don’t do much else for marketing. A lot of work comes through social media, our website from finding us through Google or another platform, and partnerships. I use everything to market and get the word out there, It's not just one golden platform, being diverse has worked best for us.

There are still plenty of ways to not pay for ads and get great quality work, although that’s the next step for us to take next year (2023) when everything is dialed in from a fulfillment perspective.

Another thing, we’ve gotten some great press thanks to doing great work and referrals from a good partner of ours at Mashman Ventures. I have to thank the people at Voyage also, it’s like once you get in their ecosystem they’ll start to reach back out to you for more opportunities available, it’s been pretty cool and very much appreciated.

Some press here:

All in all, omnipresence has worked really well for us.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, Crafted Studios has 1x revenue from last year (2021) and our landing page has been converting visitors into conversations really well, at a rate of 85-90% and that’s the best it’s been thus far. Crafted has come a long way in a short period of time and there’s still a lot of room for improvement. We've been working more than building so now that our team is all the way built out I can focus on continuing to build the brand, or not. Honestly what we’re doing now is fine also – I don’t think people understand the mental effort and money it takes to grow a business, and I mean actually “grow it”.

I’ve spent 2021 doing that and it was great, but I’m more interested in being consistent and mastering the level I’m currently at to make sure I and the team are mentally healthy. This industry isn’t one to care for mental health and room to breathe so I’ll continue to put that as a top priority as I build out the company.

We have plans to expand in a way that has different subdivisions that serve different purposes and clientele bases. I can’t say too much about it, but it’ll allow us to serve smaller businesses that don’t have access to funding. It forces them to do a lot of things on their own and although they’re brilliant and capable, they still need that team of experts to take care of the design, website strategy, SEO, and development while they continue to focus on being the face of their brands.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Don’t get me wrong, through starting the business some mistakes were made. Early on I faced a lot of challenges with hiring people and vetting them and one mistake cost me $10k from trusting others without a contract. The one time too, that’s the ironic part. I wasn’t naive to contracts or anything, but I trusted another team to help us out with the overflow of work and during the onboarding process we forgot to get a contract in place. A lot was going on, so it slipped my mind and it backfired.

I’ve gotten into the habit of following a process of onboarding new team members, contractors, and even clients so now these mistakes don’t happen anymore. That’s another good habit to pick up, just constantly document what went right, and what went wrong. In the long run, you have documentation of growth and proof of what works in case you want to sell your knowledge later on – the main reason this is helpful too is for team members to implement the result of what went right.

Another good habit is starting my week on Sunday and taking Mondays off for delegation. On Sunday, everything gets set up for the team and on Monday the plans are ready to go for another week of work. It’s a small thing but makes a big difference in productivity. I take Mondays off since Sunday is a planning day, but Monday is still productive for doing things like writing in my newsletter, creating content for my personal brand, or writing articles (like this one). I take breaks often so don’t get me wrong I am not the one to work all the time I need breaks frequently to recharge and reset.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My favorite tools for business are tools that make communication easier, and as of right now Scribe is a good tool to use if you’re building a team or teaching your clients how to do anything that requires you to break it down step by step.

Another favorite tool is ClickUp since it’s versatile and we can manage everything in there from projects to client requests, to a CRM, our Team Wiki, and much more. It’s easy to use and can replace a good amount of tools you most likely already use, just all in one place.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I don’t listen to content much or read very much either. I always liked creating my own terms and philosophies to create my business and lifestyle. I do like reading “The Creative Brink” by LaTecia Johnson, it’s a good read for creative CEOs and visionaries. I pull inspiration from a lot of people and things, but lately, people talk about balance, good ethics, and creating harmony in business.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

My advice for the creative entrepreneur just starting out is to build up your marketing channels and network early on and continue to learn how to evolve those relationships by taking care of others and incentivizing them. Relationships with the right people can take you far. I’ll also say to diversify your marketing channels to where you’re not relying on one avenue (example: social media) and stay ahead of the ups and downs in entrepreneurship because it’s going to happen.

Another piece of advice is to just let your business ebb and flow – it’s the nature of business and when you’re trying so hard to push back on that by doing everything you can to hit monthly numbers it might have an adverse effect and not work out for you at all. I know agency owners try to sell you on “predictability” but anytime other people are involved, nothing is predictable – because people aren’t, especially when their hard-earned money has to leave their possession.

Instead, create your offer, create your content, build trust, and show people you care – people will make their decisions, no need to force it.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

As of right now, we’re not hiring but you can always send over a portfolio or resume to [email protected] – positions we’d be interested in hearing from right now are marketers & SEO specialists.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you’d like to work with us as a client or potential partner, feel free to reach out through our website. I’ll also leave my newsletter for the creatives here + my Twitter since I’m active on there also. Thank you for reading!

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!