Please introduce yourself.

I am the Creative Director of Tola Alabi Design LLC – an Abuja-based design company that specializes in brand identity design.  I have 12 years work experience as a graphic designer.


Why or how did you choose the creative profession?


Well, I consider myself a very blessed person. One of the reasons being I was able to answer one of life’s biggest questions very early on in life – the question of where my passion lies and what I love doing.
I have always loved drawing; I was happiest drawing and I could do it for hours on end. Art was who I was. So for me there was little or no choice; I knew I was born to be in the creative arts.


How did you prepare yourself for the profession?


Preparing myself for a creative profession was more complicated. I grew up in the 80’s. Back then, there were only few professions a Nigerian kid could aspire to be: a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a policeman or a teacher. Options were very slim, and there was literally no career in the creative arts. So I spent a lot of my childhood years feeling rather out of place and seeing my natural talent as something of little value.

School was extremely boring; it was pretty hard concentrating without drifting away into my playful imagination or drawing on any blank space I could find. It wasn’t until I was done with university that I even realized such a career as Graphic Design existed. It was incredible to find out that the world had a place for people with my talent and passion. I then set out to acquaint myself with softwares necessary for Graphic Design. I started out with Corel Draw, then went on to Photoshop, literally learning from anyone with any experience who cared to teach me. I later realized that if I was going to make a career of this I needed some form of formal education, so I enrolled for a Post-Graduate Program in Computer Interactive Multimedia at Niagara College, Canada.


What do you do to remain relevant and conversant with moving trends in the profession?


I can’t really say I care much about trend. There are so many things trending these days. If one avidly tried to keep up with trend, little or nothing would get done. A lot of what passes as trend is mostly in my opinion “over-sabi” or “under-sabi”.

I do, however, read a lot of design books, especially those that review the works of older generation designers like Paul Rand, Saul Bass, and Chermayeff & Geismar, mostly because their work had a lot of originality, depth and restrain which came from not having everything at the click of a mouse.


Did you start your business while still working somewhere or were you on your own when you took the decision to start up? What guided your choice?


I wasn’t in any employment when I started my business. I had a few stints as a web designer (which I really didn’t enjoy much) and also went into a couple of business partnerships which eventually didn’t work out. I knew deep down inside that I worked better on my own, but I guess there was always the fear of going the road alone, which delayed the decision to start Tola Alabi Design. Once I overcame that insecurity and made the decision, it’s been an exciting ride.


How did you differentiate yourself as a proper business and not just another artisan?


One rule of thumb I follow: Never differentiate yourself with skill, because there are a lot of incredibly skillful people with terrible business ethics. Never differentiate yourself with cost, because you would always find people who would think you are too cheap or too expensive. The best way to differentiate yourself is through your attitude, because everyone likes to be treated well.

Basically, the way I differentiate my brand from just being an artisan is by having a professional attitude – communicating with clients well, delivering work on time, picking calls, giving professional advice and dressing well.


What process do you follow from initial request to job completion so your clients see professionalism and then trust your service delivery?


My design process is anchored on open communication. I personally don’t take up any project without a meeting or a couple of meetings with the client. I try to maintain an open line of communication throughout the duration of the project. I think most clients want to be carried along especially when it comes to brand identity and branding. They want to feel like they have an input in the outcome of the design process. There is always a temptation to dive into design and do what you as a designer think is best, but good design solutions are always collaborative. That makes the journey exciting for both you and the client.


In this digital age where everything is wanted fast, how do you meet multiple deadlines without selling out on the quality and style of your art?


I try hard not to succumb to “microwaving” my designs.

The mentality of getting jobs out the door as fast as possible, then on to the next one, greatly affects attention to detail and professionalism. I don’t see someone about to undergo surgery telling the doctor, “Please can we hurry this up? I have an appointment by 4”. The doctor’s professionalism just doesn’t allow him oblige the patient’s lack of patience. The same type of professionalism must be adopted by designers. Good ideas take time to birth. I try as much as possible to buy myself as much time as I need, this greatly reduces stress and keeps me loving what I do.


It is difficult to have fixed prices in the creative profession. What formula do you use for charging fees appropriately?


The issue of pricing creativity would always be contentious simply because creativity is intangible, a means to an end. It is a thought that leads to a product or a service. I guess that is why design prices vary worldwide. I took out time to fix a price tag on my creativity, based on what I see as the earning power of my target audience, and also based on my time and the physical resources used.

It is imperative that as a design company, you come up with a pricing formula that best suits your company. This formula should be pretty much independent of what other companies are doing. Your pricing should be bespoke.


What are the basic things needed to launch a full-time business e.g documents, fixed assets, staff, etcetera? How or
where would you advice as the best way or place to get them?


One basic step to take in launching a full-time business is to get registered with CAC. You aren’t officially a business till you are registered.

Another important step is getting a company account opened. Asking clients to pay into a personal account is a no-no!

When it comes to hiring staff or getting an office space, it’s important to know from the onset the business model by which the company is structured. I structured my company as an individual doing business as an LLC, so hiring staff isn’t paramount. I am not looking to gather a team of designers or establish branch offices. So if the business structure is decided from the onset, unnecessary expenditure and huge overhead costs can be easily avoided.


Which client/business deal would you refer to as your first big hit and how did you land them?


I have been privileged to work with a lot of great clients over the years, but it was an exceptionally great honour to work on the branding for an orphanage home which is run by the daughter of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – Muhammau Buhari. It was really humbling because I had never met or spoken with her, but she got a strong referral from one of my clients, and that was enough. This is validation of the fact that no matter where you are, or how small you may be, if you consistently set out to do good work and stay positive, good clients will locate you.


What marketing activities do you carry out to ensure quality clients keep coming through the door so your business stays alive?


A good percentage of my marketing is done online and via social media.

That said, the best way to ensure quality clients keep coming through the door is to keep doing quality jobs for every client that comes through the door.

Referral to me is still the strongest form of marketing. I remember printing about 5000 promotional flyers when I first started out, distributing them at high-traffic locations and not getting a single call. Print, television, online and social media marketing are good for building brand visibility, but do not necessarily translate into good client patronage. On the other hand, a good word from a satisfied client most often translates into another client.


25 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Yox,
    Words can not quantify how challenged I am, having gone through this writeup. Sincerely I really wish to be different.

    I look forward to read more, however, I have a question:
    1) what is LLC? Does it mean limited liability company? If yes, for a starter, is “enterprise” a welcome idea?

    Hope to read from you soon.

    Thank you sir,

    Always yours

    Sodiya Abisodun

    1. Glad you have been challenged Sodiya. That is why we are here.

      Yes, LLC means Limited Liability Company.

      I’m no Corporate Affairs Expert nor a lawyer but I can categorically tell you that if enterprise (or business name) registration is what you can afford now, go ahead. That’s how I started. You can register with Federal Inland Revenue (FIRS), open a corporate bank account and do your basic business with it. The downside I know of is that you cannot apply for government and a good number of multinationals’ projects with it. You will need an LLC for that.

      Don’t worry, if the need for an LLC arises on short notice, feel free to contact me. I’ve got efficient contacts at CAC headquarters in Abuja.

  2. This is indeed a great read Yox. Also the interviewee, Tola Alabi really gave a practical approach to some challenges we see happening currently.

    Thanks for this Yox and Tola Alabi as I look forward to more conversations on this channel.

  3. Thanks for this insightful piece. It has motivates and gives me the ideas I need to immediately and positively change my design perspective and how to achieve maximum perspective. Many thanks #DareAyinde

  4. Thanks Yox for putting this together. Great insight from Tola Alabi. This piece is timely.

  5. Wow, This is so onpoint, Thanks for putting this together. Yox like Fox. Much love sir.

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