What it Takes to Open Your Own Agency

"Risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker." Joven Orozco, founder of Jovenville, talks about what it takes to open your own agency.

There will come a time in your advertising or marketing career when you will think one of the following:

“I am sick and tired of working these long hours.”
“I am sick and tired of working for a total moron.”
“I am sick and tired of working these long hours just to make the total moron I work for rich.”

Whether it’s a craving to be in control of your life, your career, your finances, or your creative output, many of us daydream about striking out on our own and opening an agency. Yet very few of us know what it takes, and many more of us doubt we could make a go of it.

Joven Orozco thought he could, and so he did. His agency, Jovenville, has been around in one incarnation or another for more than 20 years. Today, his 10-person agency (give or take) counts blue-chip companies such as Mattel, the City of Santa Monica, and Disney as clients. Joven took the rare route of almost never working for someone else; instead, he knew, right out of college, that he wanted to have his own company.

(In full disclosure, I’ve freelanced for Joven for almost 10 years and I consider him a friend as well as a boss and a kick-butt creative director.)

I interviewed Joven about his experiences. Besides being food for thought for anyone who’s ever considered leaving the nest, he also reveals insights that can help freelancers get better at managing their own businesses.

Why did you decide to open your own agency so early in your career?
I figured, “If I fail, I can always get a job.” In 1995, the design industry was booming, and I had five separate job offers. I was planning on working in entertainment and living the Hollywood lifestyle, but instead, I came across an opportunity in Newport Beach that set me up as an independent contractor inside a design consultancy. The deal was: I would pay rent for a cubicle and they’d feed me work when they were over capacity or needed creative help. I was also able to bring in my own clients and utilize the space as I pleased. It truly was a beauty salon business model!

The design consultancy also offered me guidance on how to set up my firm, how to run it and deal with clients. The guys who ran it were about 10-15 years older than me, had many years of agency experience and decided to create an agency that was different. Not only did I learn more than I would have working many years in an agency, I learned anything is possible.

Were you ever scared that you might not make it?
Yes. There have been times when I’ve missed several mortgage payments. I can lose it all any day … even today. Fear is a good thing.

How did you go after new clients?
I’ve always done a lot of promotional campaigns for the agency. We’ve become more sophisticated with a fully integrated marketing effort to go after specific niche clients.

Positioning is everything. If you’re an expert in a space, there are people willing to work with you, even if you’re not in their region. Most generalist design firms become commodities and are priced out to the lowest bid.

Since you own your own agency, you aren’t just involved with the creative. What other “hats” do you wear to keep the doors open?
Vision hat: Determine the strategic direction of the business
Sales hat: Close new business
Strategy hat: Strategy for client brands
Leader hat: Encourage staff to grow and be better

What are the five most essential characteristics for anyone wanting to try something like this?
Risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker, risk-taker.
It takes a certain kind of entrepreneur who can take on certain levels of risks … I say risk-taker five times:

    1. 1. Sometimes you have to walk away from unprofitable projects. That’s hard to handle.
    1. 2. Sometimes you have to disagree with the client and convince them to go another direction from the approved scope of work.
    1. 3. Sometimes you have to ask for more money at the risk of losing the client.
    1. 4. Sometimes you have to reposition your firm because of a decline in your specialized industry.
  1.           5. Sometimes you have to change the design direction the night before the client presentation.

What’s the best part of your job?
Freedom. I’ve been able to design a life/company that allows us to go home at 6 and not work weekends. We bring our experiences back into our work: It’s really tough to create when stressed out, so we, as a family, always help each other out. There’s plenty of good, profitable work out there, and if a client doesn’t appreciate what good design can do for their business, we just don’t work with them again. So basically … freedom to do whatever I want to do.

Are you up for the challenge?
If you want to open your own agency or business, it may require you to flex beyond your current skill set, but think of the payoff: being able to choose your own clients, make your own schedule (most of the time, anyway), and be in control of your life while doing the work you believe in.

To learn more about Jovenville and the type of work you can do when you open your own agency and call the shots, visit Jovenville.com.

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.