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Books We Recommend: Alpha Dogs

Informative and inspirational Advice on how to open your own studio.


Alpha Dogs by Donna Fenn.

The thought (or maybe fantasy) of opening your own studio has probably crossed your mind a time or two. Maybe you’ve even bitten the bullet like my friends and I actually followed through on that fantasy. If so then you’ve probably experienced what I call “artists’ brain freeze” when you try to wrap your head around some of those business advice books. This book, however, has the benefit of being both informative and inspirational. It doesn’t scrimp on the fact based bullet points about what it takes to dominate in your field as a small business. But through honest case studies it shows that even though it’s hard work to elevate your practice above the rest, it’s very possible.

So even though it doesn’t specifically cover any design-related businesses in it’s case studies, the fact that I was actually able to read it , digest it and leave it feeling smarter than I did when I first cracked it open says volumes for Mrs. Fenn’s writing skills.

Why a Designer should read it:

1. Obviously this book has more relevance to Designers who own/run their own firms or freelancers. However, I believe that any strategy for business success is a vital addition to the arsenal of value-added services any good designer can offer their clients.

As design increases in importance in the business-sector, so does the demand for designers who can skillfully navigate both terrains. If what we offer our clients goes beyond just creating visuals to achieving quantifiable success, we’ve become invaluable partners rather than just another service provider.

2. The Chapter on Dancing Deer should be of particular interest to you branding specialists out there. The story covers the necessity of internal as well as external communication being consistent with the personality of your brand. This is even true (I dare say especially so) of smaller locally-owned businesses.

A few of the other points made were:

  • Respond to Customer Demographic Changes
  • Sell Your Brand to Employees
  • Brand Your Values
  • Outbrand Your Competition
  • Be a Contrarian Brand

3. The Build a Village Chapter has valuable insight on how individuals can leverage the power of numbers to their favor. The focus was on a group of PR consultants (ironically called PRConsultants Group) who used the more flexible network structure rather than the typical corporate structure to form an alliance that has allowed them to secure larger clients than either member could have on their own.

It’s an interesting concept that I think more freelance designers, photographers, illustrators etc could make use of even if only on a local level. In fact we, at Paragon, attribute a large part of our growth thus far on such strategic alliances. The book’s honest about the challenges that come with managing a network of professionals, especially those with overlapping skill sets. Ethical guidelines and conflict resolution are just some of the factors that have to be covered by any formal agreement among members.

But the benefits, to me, are worth it.

  • Growing the reach and resources of your practice without increasing overheads
  • Having access to a larger pool of experience and advice
  • Feeling like your not alone even if you’re the only one in your office
  • Wider range of opportunities
  • Leveraged combined purchasing power

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.


One thought on “Books We Recommend: Alpha Dogs

  1. MiniMUM says:

    Yeah, yeah – I’m meme-ing ya. I know those other two ne’er-do-wells have gone and left you all alone, and the Eight Secrets is typically seen on personal blogs, but share some design/workflow/photoshop secrets. Or share their secrets for leaving you all alone…

    So share 8 and pass along to 6… If you can find a moment…

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