HomeNewsBuilding a 7-Figure Design Agency: The Resources I Used. The books, blogs, podcasts, courses, people…

Building a 7-Figure Design Agency: The Resources I Used. The books, blogs, podcasts, courses, people…

medium bookmark / Raindrop.io |

Co-Founder of AJ&Smart, a Digital Product Design agency. Nerdy-looking Irish guy.

Jun 28

1*QA7bSgjgY7e2uGIejI6s6g.png

This looks like one of those super cheesy email marketing courses or something…. NAILED IT.

I didn’t want to start writing about building a successful company until I actually had one. This isn’t one of those hypothetical lists of things that could make you successful because working hard, being consistent and being patient is what might get you to that point. I would be lying though, if I said I didn’t get a HUGE amount of help from a few certain resources. One day i’ll write the specifics of exactly how I went from freelancer to running a 7-figure design company, until then, here are my favourite resources (no, none of these are “paid links”, way too lazy to make that happen):

noah kagan’s Youtube Channel

1*LwNtbKlo_wqM9IjQ3ezMZw.png

I’ve been following Noah for about 5 years, reading his blog and using a few of the tools he created for growing businesses. His advice is blunt, free of inspirational BS and very actionable. He’s also very open about money-talk which many entrepreneurs are secretive about. Recently, he started a Youtube channel that compresses his years of practical business building knowledge into snackable chunks — it’s pretty excellent.

Noah Kagan is one of those guys that a lot of people immediately say “WHOA this guy is arrogant AF”. The same has been said for some of the resources I’ve mentioned further down. My response to that is: if you’re serious about building a business and you won’t take advice from someone who’s much better than you at it… you’re not going to get very far.

If you don’t use Youtube daily (like me), just subscribe to his channel and you’ll get weekly emails.

Built To Sell by John Warrillow

1*Bj-MRZVsJzjUiJTkrLg_Dg.jpeg

I don’t want to sell AJ&Smart and I don’t even remember how I came across this book but it’s an absolute must read for any agency owner. It’s literally about how to grow, stabilise and sell a design business! Extremely practical tips on sales, team building and scaling an agency.

He has a nice podcast too where he speaks with a lot of agency owners.

Tim Ferriss interview with Derek Sivers

I’m assuming if you’re running a business -or even thinking of starting one, then you know about Tim Ferriss. Because of that I’ve decided to pick out a specific episode that I got a LOT of value from. Derek has amazing advice on growing a company, pricing and deciding on what really matters.

Also from Tim, one of the best books of “Life and business” advice I’ve ever read is Tools of Titans.

Again, people love to roll their eyes when I mention Tim Ferriss — but this man is a goldmine of practical advice.

The Book Keeping Master’s Cashflow Forecast Tutorial

Seriously guys, not understanding the concept of “Cashflow” nearly bankrupted me. Watch this and make yourself a cashflow doc that someone maintains regularly. Remember: Even if you have 500k in bookings, doesn’t mean you have that in cash.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s Podcast

1*XMZknp5Jz9fgfxKcPBT8Ow.jpeg

Right now there’s nobody out there giving more practical advice on brand building on social media. From the nitty gritty details on how to find clients on Instagram (which i’ve been copying word for word) to the long-term strategies for making sure a service business doesn’t become a commodity… If you haven’t started listening to, or watching Gary Vee yet, I’m jealous of you!

Start with the podcast or his instagram channel, then dive as deep as you like.

Copywriting Course by Neville Medhora

1*mcYMHJUNKpQVExQt5zgI9A.png

Copywriting is a key skill for selling services or products, and the crazy thing is that most people suck at it. I know I sure did.

I took this course about 4 years ago and it completely changed how I tackled sales emails and proposals. His whole website looks a bit scammy, but this is extremely valuable stuff.

I also keep his book next to my desk.

State of the Digital Nation Article by Jules Ehrhardt

1*nOoBct3DxuPSkpn8CdgLqQ.png

My friends, there’s a LOT of BS being spouted from digital agencies around the world that you absolutely should ignore. But this masterpiece by one of the guys running Ustwo is an insanely important read if you want to understand the lay of the digital land. It’s a mind-blower and a game changer.

Rework by Jason Fried and DHH

1*aXzDtZAKG4D_hcB69anbKQ.jpeg

This is the best book I’ve ever read on running a business and building products. It’s the modern small-business bible. The advice on scaling, culture and company vision was so insanely valuable to me when growing AJS that I can’t imagine what my company would have been like had I not read it. Please, please read this.

Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro

1*yyvCLMRlFFU6gdCmnOVTLw.png

Now, just to be up-front, I’m not a huge fan of the whole “Fuck you pay me” opinion that Mike is famous for in the design community. I’m more of a “ok, you don’t want to pay, must mean we did something stupid” kind of person.

However, Design is a Job has excellent advice for the day-to-day of running a digital studio or agency. I took a lot from his advice on making contracts that protect both agency and client. A worthwhile read, especially if you’re in client services.

99u Conference New York

1*8yEC_uhAuhOxck7nGXxa_w.png

99U is a nice mixture of good location, great people and a nice talk or two. Seeing Jason Fried at 99U in 2016 definitely had a huge impact on how I run AJ&Smart today. To be honest, most conferences i’ve been to are 99% filler and not a lot of actually useful content (I think a lot of people go just to show that they go to conferences). 99U is a rare “gem” that I’ve enjoyed year over year…. But…. but, it’s gotten progressively worse since it started. Hoping it picks back up again soon.

Everything by Seth Godin

Seth Godin… this guy’s just too smart. I’ve read all of his books and listened to every podcast he’s ever been on. One of Seth’s main topics is “how to stand out”. Especially if you’re doing similar services to other companies.

Above I selected a nice episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast to get a taster.


What else do you want to know?

These are just the things that stood out for me over the last 5 years or so of building my company, let me know if you found this article useful (and give me a dirty little ❤️ if you did), and do please ask me anything you like about starting, growing, whatevering a design company.

The End.


1*Msq-ggvNM_drDLkuPEk32g.png

That’s me… I added an arrow to make sure you don’t get mixed up.

Jonathan Courtney is the Founding Partner and Product Design Director of AJ&Smart Berlin. He gives cheeky, energetic product design workshops and talks around the world. Follow, or get in touch with him on twitter: @jicecream.


I’m trying to start a Youtube thing!

Interviews with famous designers, common questions honestly answered and strange goings on…. Check it out here!

1*wvqJ7VW9XUdp1NibgxwNhw.png

And if you have time, check out our daily Instagram videos on running a design business

Follow us on Instagram for our daily story updates and feel free to ask us anything!

Featured articles on Prototypr: