Talking Shop is an interview series where we talk to freelancers about freelancing. In this interview, we talk to James Blair, founding partner and CEO of LionsMouth Digital, a design and development firm in Dallas, Texas.
Who are you and what do you do?
James: First and foremost, I’m an entrepreneur. I fell into web design and development because enough of my projects needed it and I wanted to be able to do it myself. After finishing a few projects, I took a step back to think about everything.
I realized that the thing I enjoyed the most was talking to other people and helping bring their message or products to life. So, I started doing that — working less on my own projects and instead doing that for others. That evolved and pivoted and turned around and upside until it became what it is today: LionsMouth, a digital strategy, creative, and development agency.
What made you decide to move from an independent freelance practice to a team?
I was doing a little bit of everything as a freelancer. I was the front-end developer, the designer, and the strategist all rolled into one. I realized that it was in the best interest of my projects — and the company as a whole — if I replaced myself in each of those roles with someone more skilled than myself who could focus on those tasks entirely. Now we’re a small team where everyone operates like their own department.
So a bit of the unintentional studio founder, eh?
I’ve always been one to do things a little less traditionally, much to the chagrin of my parents. They’re both lawyers and my sister is an accountant, so being someone who did a little bit of lots of things — usually resulting in a website or digital strategy or what-have-you — never made much sense to them.
Now as LionsMouth, I’m able to work with a team and focus more on strategy specifically, while still working on a wide range of projects. We can tackle larger and a wider range of projects. It’s my dream job. Slowly, but surely, my parents have come around, too.
Do you ever miss being generalist?
It was tough pill to swallow, but on projects where I’d find myself working on the coding side of things I found that I was more of a bottleneck than anything else. I can help out with QA and managing various aspects of the project, but I see my strength as focusing on strategy.
“Having a deep knowledge of other aspects of the project means that I am also thinking about what form the solution might take.”
How is this going to get made? What’s the most efficient way to do that? I can sell the service because I’ve had to deliver on it before, too.
Beyond that, my job is to serve everyone else on the team and make sure they have the tools, resources, and information they need to be successful. They’re on the team for a reason, mostly because they’re better at whatever they do than me — and infinitely so.
What are your biggest challenges?
In the service business, cash flow is always your biggest growth inhibitor, particularly when payment cycles aren’t necessarily in your control. We always try to schedule projects to keep a steady flow, but...
“...the reality is that one client is going to accelerate your timeline and another client is going to delay your timeline, then all the sudden everything is happening all at once or not at all.”
As a small team, it’s pretty easy to corral everyone and talk about what direction we want to go. As we grow, we’ll need to rethink our structure and workflow. Just because it’s working right now doesn’t mean that it’ll work in the future. We need to be open to how we could be evolving in response to industry shifts, new clients, and so on.
There’s always an opportunity to streamline our process to make us more efficient and effective, to deliver even better experience for our clients, so anything that we can either tighten up or optimize to stay nimble is something we can be working on.
You can visit James Blair’s website at lionsmouth.digital.