Interview with Greg Grigoriou of Van Paul Studio
Greg Grigoriou is an example of the flexibility of owning one’s own graphic design studio – this year he packed up his family and moved across the country. In the midst of juggling his own business, Van Paul, a family and a major relocation, Greg took some time to dole out advice to future designers, discuss outsourcing and explain why a fly swatter is essential in his office.
What drew you to a career in graphic design?
That’s kind of a pun, because it was actually drawing that drew me to graphic design. I used to work as a full-time illustrator for print magazines, newspapers and books, but I gradually found that I was better at illustrative logo design. From there I branched out into graphic design. I still consider myself an illustrator who just happens to be more than decent at graphic design.
What led you to start your own design studio?
I wanted to eat and buy things. Illustration is great, but it is a very hard-fought, competitive arena to make a living in. Plain and simple, I made more money designing, and it almost always came quicker to me.
As soon as I found that I could design several things – like websites, identities, business cards and signage – I knew I had to put it all together into one design studio. Having an illustration background really helps me design in a unique way every time.
What are your favorite aspects of working for yourself?
The freedom – it’s cliché, but that’s why I love it. Freedom to just get up from my chair whenever I want – go outside and blow bubbles with my 2-year-old son at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.
What is your most dreaded task as a business owner?
Acquiring something that vaguely resembles adequate health care – sometimes I still can’t believe I left Canada. Tax time can be a drag, but I keep things pretty simple so it’s not so bad.
Do you outsource any work, from the creative or business side?
I outsource coding, of course, from time to time, and I won’t hesitate to buy art and photography if I think it’s more appropriate or makes more sense than creating it myself from scratch.
I ‘d like to bring on another artist/designer, but I am having a heck of a time trusting someone other than myself to handle the actual creation of the design from concept to execution. When I’m too busy, though, I do have three or four designers and firms that I love to point people to, so be nice to me!
You recently moved across the country – did that affect your business in any way?
Moving to Connecticut from California has been a major change of pace. The actual work-client relationship has been pretty seamless because most of my relationships can be executed virtually, but the actual change of lifestyle has been dramatic. Everything is different – the weather, the smells, the view. For example, my office used to be in downtown San Diego, with the planes and ambulances and clubs. Now I’m in the woods in a small Connecticut town. I’ve killed at least 20 different kinds of bugs in my office this month alone.
The clients are very different in the Northeast. A lot of my work is geared to tech and web, and that’s more of a California thing.
We’ll see how it plays out here. So far I love it.
Do you have any advice for young designers hungry for jobs?
I feel for the designer entering the marketplace right now. It has to be the most competitive it’s ever been. There seems to be a real race to the bottom in terms of speed and price right now, and that’s been going on for the last decade solid.
A hungry designer has to be doing very good work, very efficiently, so that they can offer reasonable prices. You don’t have to sell yourself out, but keep in mind the realities of the marketplace. That means really honing your craft, keeping your expenses low and then establishing a core of three or four really good client relationships. Once you do that, then it’s time to connect to the social media machine. I’m a big believer in social media as a tool to get the word out when funds are limited and even when your funds aren’t.
I always tell people that it takes at least five years to be a truly independent, full-time graphic designer/artist. Prepare for that reality! Of course, there are always exceptions and overnight superstars, but those people don’t really need my advice.
As your own boss, how do you keep yourself disciplined, making sure you find clients and keep deadlines?
I just have to open my mailbox. There’s usually a bill or two in there with my name on it. Then I go back to work. I try and set targets too – weekly, even daily.
How do you find new clients?
At this point I am fairly well connected both in terms of past client word of mouth and via social media. I embrace Twitter and industry websites that help to make it easy for new clients to find me.
I consider myself fortunate right now in that I have established a handful of really incredible clients who use me exclusively and mention me often to their colleagues and friends.
If I had to pay for advertising right now, I’d steer clear of trade books. They burned me in the past, and they cost a fortune. My money is on SEO and word of mouth.
What’s your favorite form of design – i.e., brand identity, print, web design?
Definitely brand identity is my favorite thing to do. It is an amazing feeling to know that something I am creating today will be used over and over again for a decade or more.
Do you keep a regular schedule?
Yes, I work Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What are five items your business cannot do without?
An iMac, Adobe Illustrator, a window, a very good chair and a fly swatter.
What’s your office tech setup?
Well, I guess I kind of ruined the surprise by the answer in the previous. But yeah, iMac all the way!
I like to keep my technology fairly up to date. It’s worth every penny when you get to the point where the technology works so well it just fades into the background.
Looking back on your education, is there anything you would have done different?
My wife is probably sick of hearing me say that I should have went to law school. I think I would have made a really great attorney! But then again, I probably would not be able to blow bubbles with my son at 10 a.m., so I think I like my education as it stands.
Shout-out to Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario – they did a pretty good job with me!