Heading a small design firm comes with its share of challenges. But Dean Gallagher, co-founder of Fresh Folio Design, a design firm in suburban Chicago, said technology has opened new doors for the company. Tech influences many elements of the business, including how designs are created and delivered.
How technology leads to new opportunities
We asked Gallagher how he uses technology at his business and how it has benefited his company.
What devices do you use daily?
Gallagher uses several devices every day as a part of his business, but each has a different purpose.
“The primary go-to devices would have to be our Mac Pro, iMac and iPhones,” Gallagher told us. “As far as actual design work we do, the computers are indispensable, but as far as timely communication, working without smartphones seems unthinkable.”
Using a popular messaging platform such as Slack can be a great way to stay in touch with your team and ensure that everybody is on the same page. You can access these apps on your desktop and mobile devices.
What technology do you use to get ahead of your competition?
Gallagher said that in the past, his firm would have to update its computers every few years to keep up with its design programs. Today, processing speeds have caught up, so improvements in design software don’t require new machines as often.
However, that makes it hard to use technology as a differentiator. “From a technology standpoint, there really isn’t much that a small graphic design company can do to get ahead,” he said, but technology can still enable better customer communication and service.
For instance, technology has made it easier to share work with clients. In the early days, file sharing required proximity to the client or delivery via UPS or the U.S. Postal Service, but that has changed thanks to tools such as Dropbox and file transfer protocol (FTP). “Fortunately, as connectivity speeds have increased, almost all of our file delivery has become digital,” Gallagher said.
One of the benefits of using cloud-based technology is that it keeps your data safer and you don’t have to worry about misplacing or losing critical information.
Is technology a significant enabler for your business?
“Oh, absolutely,” Gallagher said, noting that when his wife first started in the industry, computers were just beginning to be used as part of graphic design. “I can’t even fathom what it must have been like to concept and lay out any sizable pieces,” he said.
But it isn’t just the speed and ease with which the work can be done now. Technology has changed the industry itself. For instance, design for the web is a new branch, while digital, variable and high-quality printers are readily available for smaller firms.
In addition, online selling platforms have changed how customers buy from the business. “In the past year, we have started an Etsy store to sell our hand-lettered art, and we are currently putting together our own store,” Gallagher said. “Even 10 years ago, being able to create, print and easily shop those pieces would have been very different.”
Has social media influenced your business at all, from internal employee policies to the way you promote your company?
Social media has changed Fresh Folio’s promotion and reach. “When we started, most of our business came through word of mouth, and networking was more face-to-face,” Gallagher said. The internet has changed that, and the company is no longer restricted to local clients. “You can easily work with a company on the other side of the country or the other side of the world,” he said.
Gallagher acknowledged that keeping up with social media is challenging for a smaller design house and that fresh content is essential to the firm’s social media strategy. “One of the priorities that we’ve had was producing a weekly blog for each site and working on improving our social media outreach for both sites,” he said.
Social media scheduling apps can help you automate your social media strategy and save valuable time.
Have you had to adapt your business because of security concerns from the increased use of technology?
“Because of our [small] size, up to this point, there hasn’t been much of a need for concern,” Gallagher said, but that doesn’t mean the company leaves its security to chance. “We continue to keep updated on potential threats and have antivirus and malware protection to prevent being blindsided,” he said.
New technology trends
It’s a good idea for business owners to stay on top of trends that can benefit their company. Here are some of the biggest technology trends for businesses:
- Insight from consumers: Although you may think of technology as separate from people, insight from consumers is one of the most important trends right now. Companies can now use social media to get ideas from consumers, who offer an array of ideas based on their own experiences and circumstances, thus providing companies with well-thought-out ideas.
- Expansion of automation: Another new technology trend lies in the evolution of automation. Although many feared that increased automation would lead to fewer jobs for human employees, the expansion of automation is actually making it possible for us to get more done without wasting time on mundane tasks, such as bookkeeping and phone answering.
- Scientific management: Managers can use technology and data to make more-informed decisions. For instance, toll operators are starting to charge prices differently based on static and dynamic conditions.
- Separation of products from delivery: While business will never stop being competitive, the development of new technology has also allowed for meaningful collaborations. For instance, although Amazon offers a wide variety of products that it ships directly from its own warehouse, it also allows businesses and individual entrepreneurs to use its logistics and distribution centers. Additionally, various mobile companies can provide mobile services without investing in infrastructure. In other words, the development of these technologies has made it possible for many established companies to offer stepping stones for up-and-coming businesses.
- 5G: 5G is the fifth generation of cellular networking, and it has begun to replace the LTE network connection. We’ve been anticipating the 5G rollout for years, but the pandemic slowed it down significantly. 5G comes with significantly faster data transmission speeds and fewer data transfer delays, which will be a big benefit to businesses of all sizes.
- Increased focus on cybersecurity: Online fraud and cyber risks continue to evolve, and businesses are increasingly at risk of breaches. Cyberattacks can be devastating for small businesses, and many are forced to close shortly after experiencing one. In 2023, small businesses will continue to increase their focus on cybersecurity and boost their efforts to implement many of the strategies used by larger companies.
Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of the article.