Growth requires learning, even if the lessons don’t come easy. Just ask Eric Marshall, founder and president of Clique Creative Services, a commercial design firm in Marion, Indiana. Marshall has emerged from a decade of trial-and-error with the experience necessary to lead his company forward into its 11th year.
He became an entrepreneur out of tragic necessity. After graduating from Indiana University in 1987, the trained photojournalist turned down a newspaper job to be near his father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. Moving back home was hard, but he found a way to ease the transition.
“I realized I would only be happy if I had my own business,” acknowledges the 34-year-old. “However, everyone around me believed I wasn’t ready to handle the challenge.” Nonetheless, he won the support of friends and family and started Clique just months after receiving his degree.
With $5,000 in gifts from family members, he set up a 450-sq.-ft. portrait studio in a building his grandfather built in 1939. He worked alone and used old equipment to do jobs consisting mainly of commercial, wedding and high school shoots. His first-year efforts amounted to a respectable $30,000 in sales.
Before long, Marshall grew tired of snapping family photos. He scoured the industry for opportunities to fully exploit his talent and found a niche in commercial design. His eagerness, however, was overshadowed by inexperience. Although he quickly learned the ropes of design, he lost contracts due to lack of business savvy.
“I used to share my ideas with potential clients before signing a contract,” says the self-taught businessman. “They would either change their minds or steal my ideas. I soon realized that wasn’t how business is conducted.”
To avoid future mishaps of this sort, Marshall developed a personal portfolio and began charging clients up front for half of the job’s cost. Thus, he was free to create concrete examples without being an easy target for businesses with unscrupulous practices.
Slowly, Clique began to build a small, but loyal client list. It wasn’t until recently, however, that the company landed contracts that would dramatically add to the bottom line.
In 1994, Marshall revamped his workspace to include digital imaging equipment. The investment paid off and landed Clique a number of coveted accounts. “When I was just a photographer, someone else made quality decisions,” he says. “Now I can go to a printer and get what I want. I’m in total control of my work.”
Recently, Marshall’s team designed a 50-billboard ad campaign for WTLC, an Indianapolis-based black radio station. Clique has also teamed up with ABJ Creative Marketing Network. a Chicago-based marketing firm that has worked with Allstate Insurance, Motorola and Quaker Oats.
Clique now occupies the entire 5,000-sq.-ft. structure his grandfather built, and enjoys success as a design firm of regional importance. The company’s full-time staff of four brought in $220,000 in its 10th anniversary year, and Marshall is aiming for 1998 sales to clear $500,000.”Maintain high-quality standards and goals for your business,” says Marshall. “Only hire people who truly share that vision.”
For some, 10