By the time Regan Baker launched her own business in 2007—after years of interning and cycling through jobs at other firms—she knew she could do it all on her own. And for several years, that’s exactly what she did. Then, she started hiring. Eventually, the San Francisco–based designer reached a turning point: She hired a former client, who offered insights into opportunities for efficiency, candid feedback about the client experience and a road map for growth that offered a new future for Baker’s firm. Today, that journey has led Baker to a team of 24 people—including two more former clients, who each brought invaluable insights from other industries that turbocharged the business.
On this episode of Trade Tales, Baker shares the trade-offs that come with the pursuit of a bigger firm—and how, sometimes, letting go is the only way to grow.
Crucial insight: When Baker’s team was smaller, the firm had more flexibility: Employees could fill roles as needed on a day-to-day basis, and Baker could still have a hand in everything—from early-stage sketches to client updates. As she continued hiring and taking on more projects, it became clear that something had to give. “If you’re a designer, you’re an artist, and you want to be a part of the process. But what was great about [my employee] Ali is that she literally said, ‘You need to let go or this is not going to happen. You’re basically a bottleneck for everybody,’” says Baker. “Then I really understood that when I let go, I’m also giving opportunities to other people who want to be in my position in the future. It really helps with their growth and their ownership of the project, and makes it more of a collaborative process.”
Key quote: “Functionality has always been a huge component. It’s easy to do the pretty stuff—it’s a lot harder to stop and think, ‘How do people live? And how do people want to live?’ When you have a successful business and you want repeat clients, that’s what they remember.”
Homepage image: Regan Baker | Courtesy of the designer