Davies Allen Accounting Firm Interviews Andy Marsh of Alienfrogg
Davies + Allen, P.C. sat down with Andy Marsh, owner, photographer, and creative director of AlienFrogg to hear more about his business, his processes, and his advice for business owners.
D+A: How did you get your start?
AM: I went to school for graphic design at Cal State Fullerton for my Bachelors in Fine Arts. When I graduated, my dream was to be an art director. That was the graphic design dream: Be an art director. When I graduated in school, I got a job a few weeks out at an agency. I ended up working at that agency for almost 6 years. I did everything from shooting to retouching, design, layout, cross checks, proofs, traveling, and art directing.
I started wearing the art direction hat more and more, and then I transitioned out of the agency. I worked for myself for about a year, and then one of our old clients, Fox Racing said “Hey, do you want to come in-house and be an art director over eye wear, footwear, and active wear?” I jumped at it, because I had already worked with that brand for about 6 years at the agency. They hired me on as one of the art directors. I was there for two years full-time, running three different categories.
After two years, I’d sort of hit a ceiling, and I was ready to move on. That’s when I started this place. I basically quit over a weekend. I gave them a month’s notice and started this thing, but I had freelance gigs that came up out of nowhere. I said if I’m going to do it, I have to do it now. At that point, the scale was about to tip, and I could stay at Fox and keep my career there, or could go off on my own and see what that was like. I was more interested in going on my own to see what would happen. And I had always been the Photoshop guy. I was always retouching, I was always fixing things, I was always the guy coming up with the concepts, and trying to do the visual that went with that. So for me, shooting, retouching, and post and all of that was something that I really enjoyed, and it was something that I had consistently done for my career for maybe 8 years.
D+A: What’s your process [for art direction]?
AM: So- we start off with a concept, pitch that to the creative director, get it approved, and then start producing. [We] work with athletes, products, the people who designed it, the athletes that we shoot it on, the photographer who shoots it, and then we execute it. When I get back to the office, it’s retouching, layout, and design. It’s basically that cycle, repeated over and over.
D+A: How have you found the business side? Where do you find the majority of your work?
AM: It’s all word of mouth. Being in the industry that I was in in Southern California, in the action-sports world, you have so many people and so many contacts. You’ll go to these events, premiers, launches, and things, and you connect with all of these people. So when I left Fox, I basically already had a business. These people didn’t know me as a photographer specifically, they knew me as an art director and retoucher, and once I started educating people that I could use a camera and create a really nice end-result, I started building the actual business.
I had a client who came to me and I started shooting for them, and that started to snowball for me. I’ve never advertised, my website is really just a portfolio [laughs]. It’s not even optimized or on google maps. I like to keep a low profile for sure. I’m comfortable in settings with people that I know. I’m not the sales guy talking on the floor. It’s not my thing. I just want to make great imagery. People keep coming back and referring me to other brands.
D+A: What would you say has been the biggest struggle as a business owner?
AM: Honestly, just being confident. The work comes, and that proves to me that I’m in the right space. If the work wasn’t coming in, and I had to push, and that door wouldn’t open, I think I would have to recognize that and move on. For me, it’s being confident in your communication and being confident in your skills, and really just owning that. Doing this on my own for the past 4 years, and with other companies for the past 8-12 years, it’s just being confident about it and just believing in yourself. That’s the hardest part. I’ve had friends that say they want to go out on their own, but that isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t mean that it’s better than working in-house for someone.
D+A: How have you managed to fine tune your communication with clients?
AM: Just being really open. Knowing that I can just be myself. If people want to work with me, they’ll work with me, and if they don’t that’s okay. I’m okay with that. When it comes down to it, business to me is straightforward. If a brand comes to me and says “Hey, can you do this?” It’s either yes or no, or “I’ve never done it before, but I know I can.” I think growing those authentic relationships is what’s most important. I’d rather work with people who want to work with me. If someone comes to me and asks me if I know how to do something and I don’t, then I tell them I don’t. I won’t work it unless it can benefit everyone.
I heard a quote yesterday that you either win or you learn. I’ve had miscommunications. I’ve had friends that have gotten me gigs when I was still pretty fresh in my career on my own, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. You get through these speed bumps, and take the next one as it comes. It’s just part of running a business. It doesn’t always run perfectly. Sometimes working with people that you’re connected with, it’s better to stay on the outside business part of it. I’ve learned a few lessons, and one of those it to be very intentional about where I’m working and who I’m working with. It’s all about relationships.
D+A: How do you separate [business and personal relationships]?
AM: It’s pretty cut and dry for me when it comes to business. It’s either totally free or full-price. There’s no in-between. If there is, then no one’s going to be stoked [laughs]. I’m up late working on something for someone for half price, and then someone is wanting something the next morning you’re not really being paid for. I stopped that a long time ago. Most of my clientele are agencies and brands, so they’re not just people.
D+A: How have you worked out your pricing structure?
AM: When I first started out, I had a certain pricing structure, and then after a year, it seemed like there were some things that I could refine, so I refined it again. Now I think I’m in a pretty good spot as far as my value, my time and my worth. Photography can really range from X, Y, to Z. I know my worth with all the knowledge and experience that I have. The amount of integrity that I’m going to put in, it’s a lot of time and effort. I’m not interested in doing anything that’s not going to let me be create something amazing.
D+A: Where do you find you struggle the most in your business?
AM: What I’m really good at is creating visuals. I think creatives tend to lean on that side of it because we are creatives. We can excel at the creative side and the shooting, retouching, and vision, and all of that. Things that aren’t my strengths are going and finding that work, which is why I work so hard so that [the work] can speak for itself. I do get on Linked In, send emails, and connect a little bit, but there’s not a huge marketing effort behind what I do. It just keeps growing organically, and I think that’s the best way. Just making sure all those steps are there.
D+A: What advice do you have to other people who are interested in starting their own business?
AM: I think if you’re honest with yourself about what you want, just go for it. It sounds a little corny, but there isn’t really anything that can stop you. Have integrity in business and don’t worry about how much money you make, worry about how you make it, and build relationships. That’s huge. I think relationships and community are everything. That’s what’s going to keep you afloat.
I think that if you’re going to make a jump to work on your own, you just have to do it. Make an educated guess and set yourself up for success. On the financial side, you don’t always have to have the best gear to get started. Save money where you can and make it work where you can. Being disciplined in what you do professionally is important, and to always progress that way is more important than having nice gear. Just sticking with it, too. I don’t think your passion should always be your full time job.
D+A: Could you tell me how having an accounting firm like Davies Allen has helped your business?
AM: I’ve had a few different accounting firms before, and running a small business, finances are super important. Every dollar counts. That’s my weakness right there. Quickbooks is not my thing, I have no interest or desire to to learn about it, and I will always hire someone to do that for me. Davies Allen enables me to focus on doing what I do best and not worry about the things that I don’t know yet on the financial side. I don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, I want to be a master of one thing. [Davies Allen] communicates like no one else I’ve been in business with. The first time I met with [Davies Allen], by the time I got back to my studio, I had four emails. [Davies Allen] are rock stars.
More more information on Andy, check out his website at http://alienfrogg.com/.