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Power in the partnership.

I had a couple core goals at the start of 2023 for TwoLips Creative. The first included the sentence “We help human-centric companies design their visual identity and communicate their story by developing a strategic playbook.”


Which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This came with a severe increase in our revenue goal which to be transparent, we came nowhere near achieving. The second goal I had was to build my network of creatives and agency owners. 


This goal I absolutely smashed. 



And I am confident that it is because of this goal that we were able to continue to grow in 2023, even without reaching our revenue targets. 


Stick with me as I rewind a bit. 


Pre-COVID when we were still a tech startup, I had the benefit of being a startup founder. This meant that I was almost immediately thrust into a community of individuals who were trying to do this same crazy thing as I was. Sure I was a fish out of water, but we all were. No one fully knew what they were doing but we were all trying to build something out of nothing, often with very little resources and a whole lot of ambition. Having this network at my fingertips meant that anytime I started wondering “Is it supposed to be this hard??” I had someone who was two steps (or sometimes 2,000 steps) ahead of me to say “what you’re going through is normal”. And this gift that may sound small, was everything. 


It meant that as I was building this thing that I myself didn’t know fully what it was going to be, I had people to bounce ideas off of. To learn from. To celebrate with. To complain to. It’s not to say it was perfect by any means, but at least I could quickly google “Startup Events” and find half a dozen to dive into. 


Flash forward to October 2020 and diving into a whole new industry where once again I was a fish out of water. 


We knew we wanted to create cool shit for people. But we didn’t know what that could mean or if people would pay or even how much we should charge. Until 2020, I don’t think we had ever uttered the word ‘deliverable’ or ‘creative brief’ let alone create a proposal or timeline. And looking back, it’s wild to think that it kind of actually worked. Partially I think this is because I had all of my professional training in startup-land where not knowing is just part of the territory while you’re looking for partners at every possible juncture. 


At first, I had no idea where to find people who were doing the same things we were. We had this deep understanding of branding and the power that it provided, but zero concept of what the “branding” industry really looked like. Coupling that with the deep insecurity that talking with people who were formally trained would only prove that we had no right claiming to be designers, meant that for the first several years we were free soloing it. 


By the end of 2022, I was itching for connections and ready for the answer to the question “Does this happen to everyone in this industry??”. And thus my goal of connecting with fellow creatives and agencies was born. 


Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you exactly how I started getting connected to other creatives. Part of it was asking my network to connect me with individuals who they had worked with. Part of it was cold out reaching to folks whose work inspired us. Part of it was pushing aside my insecurity that we were just making it up as we went. And part of it was simply putting it out into the universe that we were looking for agency friends. 


At first, this goal was purely out of the need to connect with others who were doing similar things. I was looking for friends I could ask the hard questions to. Questions like what is strategy, how much do you charge, how do you handle firing a client, how are things going for you, like really? 


But this goal also helped me to build my confidence as an agency owner. To better understand the gaps in the market and how we could best position ourselves as designers. I was better able to see what our niche could be because I had a better picture of the entire landscape. I knew what we did exceptionally, and where we could find folks for the other parts. 


And in 2024, where we’ve found our most growth? With our incredible partners. 


So while I still am often asking myself the question “Is this normal??,” today I have a network of folks who can say “Yup! Just keep going.” And that is no small thing.


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Interested in chatting about design, branding, or even just cool shit?


 

Profile picture of Olivia Wisden, author of this blog post as well as the CEO/Founder of UnderBelly Creative.

About The Author

Olivia Wisden is the Founder + CEO of TwoLips Creative. She has worked with dozens of brands over the years ranging from city initiatives to product launches and beyond. When she’s not fan-girling over the design team’s illustrations she can probably be found reading a novel or exploring her new home of Chicago.

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