Talking Shop is an interview series where we talk to freelancers about freelancing. In this interview, we talk to Jamie Emerson & Andy Stone, a digital agency in Boulder, Colorado.
Tell me a bit about who you are and what you do.
Andy: We’re the co-founders of Emerson Stone. Jamie and I have been running it for about a year and a half and just brought on our third partner, Brett.
Most of the time, when we work with a company, we become their in-house design and development team — we just don’t technically have the same address. We started working with a lot of our clients back when we were individual freelancers and, as we’ve grown, they’ve grown with us.
What does your workflow look like?
Andy: Right now, our team is five full-time and three part-time. We use Cushion, of course, which helps us forecast how much we need to make every month. We can see when we go over that — or under that — and what that means for the business.
As a smaller agency, it's nice to pick and choose the things that we need on an as-needed basis. Whether it's time tracking or expense and profit tracking, we can focus on those instead of some monolithic app or product that tries to do it all. We use Basecamp, Slack, Quickbooks, and just started using Salesforce. We have a love-hate relationship with time-trackers.
Where do you guys hope to be in the next year?
Andy: We’re hoping to have a few more people on the team by the end of this year. We'd love just to be around probably 7 or 8 full time and a few more part-time on top of that. Beyond traditional growth, though, our big change will be going after particular clients, projects we really want to do as a company.
Jamie: We want to refine the projects we do and who we do them with. When we started the company, we were the one-stop shop for everything for a lot of our clients. We did design, development, research, copywriting — even illustration.
"After a while, your fortés start to emerge and you go after more projects that align with those."
What makes a good project for you?
Jamie: We’ve absolutely adored everything we've done in the outdoor industry, especially skiing. These clients keep coming back and they're always gracious, they're always doing super cool stuff, and it's a blast to work with them. That's something we want to focus on, especially living in Boulder, which is so focused on the outdoors. We want to go after clients and brands that embody that.
Andy: We also want to work on projects that are an absolute blast. There were a couple projects we turned down last year that were uninspired stuff that we'd seen before, and the founders didn't really have their hearts in it. We won’t do that. Quick turn-arounds where they just want us to copy something that’s already been done becomes a hard-stop for us.
Jamie: I think what's really been a success for us is that we've found clients that we can build a great rapport with. We vibe with them. We'll invite them to our end-of-the-year holiday dinner or Star Wars party. There's a professional relationship there, but it goes deeper than that.
What was the biggest challenge in running your own studio?
Andy: There was a time when we weren't as structured. We didn’t have weekends or nights where we didn’t work. That was our own fault for the way we scheduled things and timed different projects, but I think that was the most difficult time for both of us.
Jamie: Part of that is the nature of starting a business — the first year or two, you're hustling. You make it happen by doing 80 to 100 hour weeks. Friday night your friends are going out to the mountains and skiing all weekend, but you can’t go because you’re working. A lot of my relationships definitely suffered during that first year.
Andy: Jamie is wrapping up the biggest project we've taken up to date as a studio. It's called the National Bike Challenge and it’s through a non-profit whose mission is to get more people out and riding bikes.
Jamie: I think it's something that hits close to home for both of us. I've worked in the pro-bike industry for decades, so it's something that we're both pretty passionate about. It's definitely a project where we're just wholly proud of every piece of it. Even though the project hasn’t launched yet, we're already talking with the client about what we can do next. That's the thing we want more of because that's what's really fun for us—having a client that's a company we can grow with. We want to be with them for a while.
You can visit Jamie Emerson & Andy Stone’s website at emersonstone.com/.