an online conversation
about design management

Selling design value

Design business model canvas

This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design business model canvas.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

This thinking is innovative and creative. We especially value Greg’s understanding of the design industry in Australia.
Maryann Howley - Tangelo



The Designing demand five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to build a strategy from their strengths

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg’s workshop offered insights into my business that led to greater strategic focus and a better understanding of client needs.

Andy Homan - Process Creative

Identify your strengths and weaknesses


This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design value proposition to sell design value.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg has a terrific understanding of running a design business and has developed a process which allows an agency to target and evolve it’s business to better meet client needs.

Mark McNamara - Echo design

Three ways to start a design business.

Just returned from another great DIA Dialogue breakfast titled Start up to stand out. So interesting and such good value - $20 for a DIA member including a breakfast. Understandably it was a sellout.

There were three key speakers: Dominic Russo (DIADEM), Greg Branson (Design Business Council) and Jo Macdermott (Next Marketing Agency). Each showed a different recipe to start a business but interestingly the conclusions were similar – it was the time taken to get there that differed.

Dominic is in the fifth chapter of his career. The recession of 1991 forced him to become a ‘sole practitioner’, and it wasn’t long before the reality of his new career hit:

  • his 9am-5pm business day turned into 7am-11pm as he struggled with the many non-design tasks needed to run a business
  • sole-practitioner = solitude as he was no longer surrounded by colleagues
  • a new small business = small clients and that wasn’t what he was accustomed to, and
  • being a good designer didn't necessarily equate to being a good businessperson.

Later, when he founded Diadem with two partners, the experience was gold because they started the business with the end in mind.

He categorises his journey with 3 P’s:

Perspective: having prior work experience gave him the perspective to look objectively at the type of business he wanted to build. Now he gets perspective by getting out and talking to others.

Partners: Dominic carefully chose two partners who had complimentary skills: one was experienced in sales, the other in project management.

Persistence: every day can be a battle but the wins are so sweet it’s worth the pain. The more you put in, the more you get back.

Greg walked the audience through the Design Business Model Canvas – a method that he honed building Mackay Branson design and now uses with other designers in workshops and mentoring.

The canvas is a method to document a brain-dump of your company – where your company is now, where you want to be and how you are going to get there. It can be incredibly detailed – here’s what each of the 10 segments includes:

Client segments: the first step to examine your business is to examine your clients and clump them into industry segments.

Competitors: you need to know who your competitors are to understand your competitive advantage – what do you do better than they do?

Design value proposition: the crux of the canvas.

Three sentences about your studio and what you do.
Sentence 1: about the industry you want to work in and proof you understand it.
Sentence 2: what you can offer that will help that industry / your client
Sentence 3: proof you can do it – an example.

It’s not quick and it’s not easy but get this bit right and it forms the basis of every submission and becomes the basis of your elevator pitch.

Client relationships: on the basis that successful design businesses don’t do transactional ‘jobs’ based on an hourly rate, this section addresses three activities needed to help you form client relationships. What you need to do to gain business? What you do to retain business, and what you do to grow your business?

Communication channels: list the ways to get to your client.

Key activities: the ‘to do’ list based on the activities in client relationships.

Key resources: what resources are you going to need to do the activities?

Key partners: it’s probable that you won’t have enough resources or specialist skills to get everything done – which partners could help?

Cost structures: put a $ figure to the activities to build a budget needed to get this new business

Revenue stream: how are you going to get the extra money you need?

The final step in Greg’s Design Business Model Canvas is to take your Design value proposition out of the building and test it on a few clients. It’s only by practising your ‘pitch’ that any gaps are identified.

Feedback from the client will refine your thinking. Once you have that right, you can rewrite the key activities as strategies – adding tactics (steps) needed and a measurement (KPI). (On the basis that if you don't know what you are aiming for, you won’t know when you get there.)

The result of a Design Business Model Canvas should be an action plan complete with a timeline including scheduled hours. Done well it forms the blueprint for a year’s work.

This is so not Jo Macdermott’s journey.

Jo left her job as a national marketing manager on a Monday afternoon and started a new career as CEO of Next Marketing  on the Tuesday morning. She had no office and no computer and knew she faced a very steep learning curve.

Jo categorised her business as three journeys: Start up, teething pains and growth.

Start up – the first 18 months

The takeaway point of this part of Jo’s journey is that everything took way longer than she thought. Everything.

In hindsight she wished she had spent more time getting the basic structure of her business right – like contracts for clients and staff.

What she did get right is the marketing basics. She worked hard at setting up a model where clients could find her, rather than relying on her needing to find clients.

Teething pains – 2-3 years out

Two to three years out, after your adrenalin decreases, but the expectations of others increases; running a business can become just hard slog. Jo said she found this part of the journey the most difficult and it’s no surprise that many small businesses fail around this time.

Next Marketing’s savior is an e-book Jo wrote and published to her site around this time. It proved successful and drove clients to the website – exactly what she was aiming for. Jo also worked hard to become the  #1 google search for the most commonly used marketing search terms.

Both these actions meant clients started to find her rather than her needing to find them.


Jo said this is where the business started to get serious. She relied on the solid foundation she’d worked so hard to build:

  • her legally-checked paperwork formed the basis of contracts for staff and clients
  • the ‘why Next Marketing existed’ (that Jo had developed by watching the TED talk by Simon Sinek) meant that she could communicate exactly what she wanted and meant that her team doesn’t pull in different directions.
  • the marketing channels she set up to bring clients to her is still working while she’s busy with existing clients.

Jo’s e-book changed her business but it was the tactics that she had in place that led to her sustainability.

The takeaway.

Three design managers with completely different journeys but a common objective: start the business with the end result in mind.

Dominic got there via one false start that honed his thinking.

Greg helps others get there by modeling/testing and refining opportunities.

Next Marketing, as the youngest business of the three, is getting there by building on solid foundations.

So, very different journeys to get to a similar place – it's the route (and therefore the time taken) that differs.


Carol Mackay

Carol is co-founder of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 30 years in business.

Her expertise is in the use of design to package complex content into bite-sized chunks of information that is easy to understand and digest. She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not for profit sectors. More at