03 Apr Going Boldly
WE’RE GOING BOLDLY INTO YEAR THIRTEEN…
Funktional turns 13 this month! In spite of age-old myths and superstitions, the number 13 means ‘assured growth’ or ‘definitely vibrant’ in Chinese—and is actually considered very lucky. So, we’re going to forget any preconceived notions about #13 and go boldly into this year!
Join Stacey Funk, Founder & Creative Director of Funktional for a little walk down memory lane. We’re sharing how it all started, some lessons learned, and our journey throughout the years…
Est. 2010 – The First Year
I founded my business with a background in marketing, branding and design. Prior, I worked as a marketing director for a real estate company for a little over a decade but had always dreamed of leaning more into my creative side and starting my own studio. I took the leap and hit the ground running with two very large projects that together created full-time work for the entire year. Smaller projects came up as well which helped to fill in any gaps. I set up shop in a lovely light-filled and spacious flex space on the second floor of the two-storey loft where I lived in Toronto. It was the perfect creative atmosphere with floor to ceiling windows and a view of Lake Ontario. This first year as it turns out, was the inspiration for my current business model… but more on that later…
Even the most successful people in the world rely on mentors. They know the value of continuous improvement, which is why they always look for new sources of knowledge.
First Year Lessons
Find a Mentor…
If you’re going to grade your first year in business, I had a very successful one. But I was a nervous new business owner. While I was confident in my own abilities and skills, I knew I had so much to learn about running a business. What I found out quickly is that it entailed a lot more than doing all the things I love to do. There are of course various aspects of business that don’t feed the creative beast in me and where I wasn’t as experienced. It was important to find a few mentors who could provide some guidance. I found that support from all kinds of sources: someone I admired who was already in the place I wanted to be, and others who could advise me on the legalities and necessities of business such as contracts and accounting –which were not my strong suit. A friendly word of caution: you can soak up as much as possible from successful mentors, but it doesn’t guarantee you success in all parts of your business or while good advice, simply won’t work for you. It’s going to take your own experiences, the good and bad, to discover and finesse the best practices and model for your business. After all, it’s the first 3-5 years in business where you get your sea legs.
To “have one’s sea legs” is to be able to walk calmly and steadily on a tossing ship, or to become accustomed to a new or strange situation.
Years 2011 – 2015 – Growing Pains
Admittedly, I floundered a little in these years. Looking back, I took on projects and clients that didn’t align with my target client just to fill up every working hour of each day because… well, I was now writing my own paychecks and paying the bills. I was under the common impression about business that growth meant striving to be bigger– and I felt that I needed to take it all on with staff; an account manager, junior and senior designers and aspire to a brick-and-mortar studio. I hired people and contracted out parts of the projects we couldn’t handle. I needed to compete and show up with the large agencies, didn’t I? What happened was I couldn’t focus on the areas of my work that I was most passionate about because I was constantly pulled in different directions. In retrospect, I could have done things differently so that I’d be at the forefront as the Brand Strategist and Creative Director, but something just didn’t feel right. I struggled finding the right people to get on the bus. And while I had a decent number of projects, I felt the least creative, and the initial spark of excitement was extinguishing little by little. There were days I wanted to give up, and I can’t tell you how many times I brushed up my resume. I also battled with things that, while my responsibility, were the bane of my existence. My policies were not as tight as they needed to be, and we fell behind collecting money on a flagship account. It was a lot of money for a small business. This went on for months and to cut the story short, after a year of notices and phone calls, the client eventually declared bankruptcy and I lost the money. I was devastated and felt like a failure. The silver-lining is that it was the start of building something–not bigger–but so much better.
The connective tissue between your failures and your successes is the lessons you learn along the way. It is only by going through your early attempts (usually failures in some form) that you accumulate the insights, skills, and understanding required for success. Everything is a lesson. Learn enough lessons and the failures become useful.
First Five-Year Lessons
Find and fine-tune your model…
I learned that becoming the biggest isn’t what makes a business successful. It also didn’t look at all like the dream I had for a small but mighty brand studio.
I felt like I had lost control over the experience, and ultimately the value I wanted to provide to each and every client. One of the best compliments I would get was when a client would say it feels as though you’re an extension of our team. Yes! That is what I wanted… to be their partner… their creative partner. I knew what was best for me, my clients and my happiness was getting back to something closer to that first-year experience. If you relate, I highly recommend a book by Paul Jarvis, Company of One: Why staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business. Paul, who has run a 7-figure tech company of one for over a decade shares his experiences and how scaling up doesn’t always add up to a more fulfilling career. He delves into how to become a successful and sustainable company of one and cutting out the traditional growth-oriented business that constantly demands more. Game-changer!
The cons to my business model, if you want to call it that: I can’t take on everything a large agency can crank out. I just don’t have the capacity. But instead of employees and contracting out pieces of the project, I looked for a pool of collaborators. Even the word, collaborators, gave me a more comforting feeling: allies who would be just as invested as I am, each with our own set of skills, talents, and a united commitment to the vision for each project. I delved into fine-tuning my policies, practices, and processes. Our clients love our unique and intentional process, the dedication we give to each project, and the support we provide to them. It is one of the many reasons we view our services as a premium experience.
A company of one is not a model for everyone or every business, but for me–it is what I truly believe yields those exceptional results I want to deliver which brings me a lot of fulfillment.
Above images –
1)Off for a meeting but first, a selfie! I’d just received my first business cards (the original brand). 2) The start of a library of books on design, branding and business. 3/4) The (second) old studio set up in Toronto. 5) The book that helped me define my business model. 6) The rebrand. It all started with this moodboard. 7-12) The 2021 rebrand & the 2022 redesigned Funktional website.
Years 2016 – 2020 – The Right Fit
With a new fire in me I made the necessary adjustments to my business – small but mighty – how I envisioned Funktional from the beginning. I will draw from my pool of talented collaborators or source the team for specific projects as required. But I’m the client’s main point of contact – and their creative partner. My focus is on being better–not bigger. And growth is measured by each and every client and project.
By going leaner I was also able to cut some of the fat when it came to taking on projects. I’m able to quickly assess if a project is the right fit, and one I just can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work on. Because I’m not a large agency, I’m selective about the clients and projects we take on so that I can nurture and grow relationships and take care of my clients for the experience I want to offer.
I know I’ve built a great relationship when I feel like I’m having withdrawals after communicating with a client every day over sometimes many months. It’s not uncommon to get a short email from them occasionally telling me they miss me too. I could go on, but I might get too emotional… I’ll just say, it’s simply the best feeling!
In saying no to anything that doesn't fit, you leave room to say yes to those opportunities that do fit--opportunities that align with the values and ideas of your business.
First Ten-Year Lessons
Focus on building relationships… And then nurture, nurture, nurture those relationships! If you build it– they will come back! My business is probably 75% return clients. That’s a large percentage, and a testament to what building and nurturing the right relationships can do. I also foster the relationships with my collaborators. We are a team–not all under the same roof, but a team nonetheless. As a result, I’ve been able to align with a great group of like-minded individuals which only reflects on the work we’re able to produce, the problems we solve together and the experience we provide for our clients.
Years 2021 – 2023 – From lockdowns to getting back to life
To backtrack a bit, in February of 2020 I moved myself, and my business about a 45-minute drive west of Toronto to Hamilton–just in time for a global pandemic to shut down the world. I had two larger projects in Hamilton and I just fell in love with the city. It has an amazing creative community that I was looking forward to exploring, and being situated along the Niagara escarpment, a stunning network of landscape, beaches, trails and nature I couldn’t wait to get lost in. In spite of rolling lockdowns, the move felt like the fresh new start I’d been craving for some time. While I don’t have the view of the lake like that first loft in Toronto, I’m just a 2-minute walk from it—perfect for taking a break and recharging during a workday.
I was so grateful that I continued to be blessed with work, however some of my clients were not so fortunate and had to pause or cancel their projects. Ultimately, I found myself with my share of downtime at the beginning.
While I have always been an advocate of lifelong learning, I used any free time to take courses, read, try new things, and also found time for a few passion projects. It sparked the desire to take myself on my own brand discovery course again and rebranded Funktional complete with a new website. My business had evolved and been through many changes after a decade and it was time to reflect that in the brand and collateral.
Even though all but one client came back to start their projects and my schedule filled up, I’d developed a new habit (and passion) to consistently slot in time to learn and discover.
The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice.
Lessons from the past 3 years
Always be Learning…
I have almost twenty-five years of experience in my field but continuing to learn and develop your skills on an on-going basis is so important for growth and keeping up with changes or advancements in your industry. It’s easy to let it slide when you have a booked schedule or get comfortable and rest on the laurels of your experience—but the past few years served as a reminder for how much I need to make time for it. I encourage everyone to make room for seeking new knowledge and perfecting their craft as part of their work. Schedule it in. Set learning goals. I have to feel like I’m innovating, trying new processes, or shaking things up so that I don’t feel stagnant and will see things in a new light. The rewards are two-fold as it makes me feel accomplished, and fresh, new insights reflect in my work and ultimately benefit my clients.
Read information in your field for at least one hour per day. This habit will eventually make you one of the most knowledgeable people in your business. – Brian Tracy
Heading into year 13 feels like an incredible accomplishment and I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful to my team, amazing clients, friends, families, and the opportunity to collaborate with brands I respect and admire. Over the years I’ve worked with individuals and companies from UK, Italy, Spain, Japan, and all over North America which is why I say I might be situated in Hamilton, Canada but I’m available worldwide! What comes next? There is some exciting exploring going on, but it shall remain under wraps for now. I invite you to keep following our journey on Instagram or sign up for our newsletter below to join our fold.