How to transition your business

27 Jul

Does your company need a makeover? Compai creative genius Justina Blakeney gives advice on giving your business a facelift (not that it doesn’t look good already). 

By Amy Schroeder

If constant flux is the key to entrepreneurial success, the owners of Compai are sure to hit jackpot.

Sisters Justina and Faith Blakeney are smack-dab in the middle of expanding their small clothing line into a full-on creative consultancy. It’s a logical next step for the company that’s evolved fourfold since it started as a recycled-clothing boutique in Florence, Italy, in 2001.

In the last nine years, both Blakeneys have produced hordes of creative eye candy, from wearable art to magazine pages to a book series (including 99 Ways to Cut, Sew & Deck Out Your Denim), sometimes under the Compai moniker and sometimes under different business names or their own names. Justina formerly moonlighted as a graphic designer, and Faith worked on interiors and styling. The Compai brand overhaul is all about simplification—the Blakeneys now house their services under one Compai umbrella, with three divisions: consulting, craft, and style.

“Since we had already spent years building up the brand and clients, it made sense to put everything under one roof,” says Justina, who lives in Los Angeles. “I run the creative services division, my sister runs Compai Style, and we do Compai Craft together. We are working toward a common goal but are able to keep things autonomous.”

So what exactly does a creative consultancy do? In short, Compai helps people with their creative needs. For example, one day Justina might help a client brainstorm a new brand identity, and the next, she’ll art-direct a photo shoot. “I help clients make everything look cool—sometimes people just need to talk an idea out. Maybe they want to know what blogs to advertise on, how to put together a look-book, or how to get a coffee-table book published.”

Here, Justina Blakeney shares her jill-of-all-trades advice on how to transition a business.

TAKE CARE OF YOU

First things first, think about the money side of things. Sure, it’s fun to get wrapped up in the details of, say, rebranding, launching an online shop, or landing new clients, but what’s the point of making over your business if you don’t reap financial rewards?

Before pulling the transition trigger, figure out how much you need to spend and how much you need to earn in order to break even and/or break a profit. Then, compare your transition plan to your current plan, and mull it over.

For Compai, the biggest challenge was deciding how to bill clients in order to cover costs. With the “old” Compai, the Blakeney sisters focused on earning income for themselves, but the new Compai has additional overhead costs, such as an assistant, a studio space, and other bills.

“It’s been tough to know how to calculate our rates,” Blakeney says. “I ask a lot of questions and am kind of fearless about asking for help when I need to get through rough spots.”

Most importantly, don’t undersell yourself. “It’s easy to lower your rates and give discounts. It’s harder to raise rates,” she says.

KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS IN THE LOOP

Don’t pull any fast and funny moves. “Let your clients and viewers know all along the way what’s going on, so it doesn’t seem like a shock,” Justina says.

MAKE YOUR BRANDING COHESIVE

Think about some of the world’s most successful brands—say, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Target. The look and feel of their brands, logos, and colors are used consistently, whether they’re online, on TV, or in print.

“Make everything look alike online and in print to smooth out the transition,” Blakeney advises.

GET EXPERT ADVICE

Blakeney recommends talking to a business guru to make sure that all the bases are covered on the legal and tax ends of the spectrum. Compai worked with SCORE, a source of free small-business advice for entrepreneurs around the U.S.

ASK FOR HELP

The Blakeney sisters recruited interns to help with Compai’s transition. “There’s nothing like fresh blood to keep things running smoothly,” Blakeney says. (Note: The Independent Business Association blog will share advice on intern recruiting soon, pinky-swear.)

DON’T OVERTHINK IT

Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t fear change. So, why not start where you are?

Read the Compai blog at www.compaiblog.com.

WHAT SAY YOU?

What are your tips for transitioning a business? Post your comments below.

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