The mention of puppy paws & pet branding makes us think this is such an interesting business. Tell us more
Hey, Fur Friends! My name is Kaila Piepkow and I am Owner and Principal Designer at Dox Design and dog-mom to three spoiled dachshunds(or golden dox if I may call them). I’ve been a (mildly) crazy dog lady my whole life, so naturally, when I started my own design agency I decided to niche down and focuses on pet businesses and animal lovers.
At Dox Design we put the spotlight on exceptional pet businesses and products with drool-worthy branding, website and packaging design. Our bread and butter is branding and graphic design. We do everything from logos, to postcards, to tradeshows, to pinterest fonts and more.
Dox Design aims to ensure your aesthetic is in-line with the message you want to portray to your audience. By taking the time to build a relationship with our clients, we make the most strategic decisions to develop top-notch brands.
We strive to make great and a pleasant dog design accessible to everyone—even brands starting out with a low budget. That’s why we’re very excited about the upcoming release of our online store.
This is where brands will be able to go to purchase templated designs, ranging from business cards to stock photos, to upgrade their branding. Be on the lookout late summer for the launch here.
Since launching my design agency in 2016, we have grown from around $4K in monthly sales to roughly $12K a month. In our highest month, we had over 12 clients and did $22K in closed business.
What’s your own background. What does it take to create (in your words) – a drool worthy business like this?
Dox Design was kind of a happy accident. I had the fortunate experience of working in the agency world after I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in graphic design, getting into one of the top design agencies in the Midwest and working with some pretty cool national brands.
I was on the fast track to working in a big city like New York which I thought was always my dream but I quickly realized that the working environment wasn’t for me.
I hated leaving my dogs every day and working a lot of long nights to meet deadlines for projects that didn’t totally inspire me. So here I was, still a fresh post-grad and thinking my career path isn’t what I thought it was going to be.
To combat my lack of inspiration, I started freelancing here and there on the side doing “passion projects”. Naturally, being a dog mom (golden doxie mom) and engrained in Grand Rapids’ dog community, most of my first clients were dog-walkers and pet-sitters.
I quickly saw there was a gap of beautiful branding in the pet industry—every company used the color palette, the same iconography, and the same, premade logos! Woof (literally).
This sparked a passion in me to educate pet businesses on what we have coined “drool worthy design.” I didn’t just want to be another design agency— I wanted to be something special that really spoke to a group of people I understood. So, I saw a gap in the market and filled it with like I said – drool worthy pet elements.
Lucky for me, everyone in the pet industry knows each other, so I was quickly introduced to several Facebook groups and amazing “petprenuers,” which was the ah-ha moment that I could actually make a business out of this.
After about 6 months of freelancing under my own name, I filed for an LLC Dox Design (named after my doxies, of course) and before I knew it, the business took off! I was being invited to speak on branding to pet businesses and groups—a subject that wasn’t being tackled and really needed to be.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
When first starting out, I didn’t plan to open up a studio… I thought freelancing would be my thing. Like any person first starting their business, it was a side hustle.
So it was all trial and error in the beginning, from pricing to software usage, to billing—it was all very unknown to me.
Fortunately, working in the agency world provided some insight into how the business side of the design worked, so I was able to use that knowledge to fine-tune Dox Design upon launch.
My biggest struggle was figuring out my service offerings and how I wanted to present it to potential clients. There are SO many freelancers and design studios who all do things a bit differently, so at first, I was a bit overwhelmed deciding where I fit in.
Ultimately, I found my sweet spot by just getting out in the real world, directly asking what people wanted and what they were willing to pay for.
I quickly realized the four things I was consistently asked to design were:
- Branding and Print Design
- Website Design and Development
- Packaging Labels and Design
- Social Mediafeed Graphics and Support
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
I actually ended up launching my business the day after I got married (crazy, I know). I planned it for about 6 months leading up to make sure I had everything in place.
As a designer, I was able to easily create my company’s branding, website, and social media ads all on my own. Again, my start-up costs were little-to-none since I had already been freelancing, so all I needed was to get my business name out there with a few budget ads and outreach to my current pool of freelance clients.
I slowly started joining a bunch of Facebook groups that targeted pet business-owners and would post design tips on there at least once a week so that people would start to see my name.
Meanwhile, in the back-end, I was getting everything set up for my business: filing for an LLC, opening a bank account, building my website, photographing my portfolio, launching social media accounts, etc.—all while also planning a wedding, so it was a crazy time!
I ended up launching my business by creating a video that captured my story and business. The day I launched, I activated all my social media accounts and posted the video while sharing it to all these groups I had been a part of.
One thing led to another and people started sharing it, which in turn led to my website. That week I had signed on three clients for website redesigns.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my launch (except maybe the timing—moving into a new house, getting married, and launching a business were EXHAUSTING). But that is part of the entrepreneur lifestyle: work and life are mixed. 🙂
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
I have around nine clients that consider Dox Design their “Expert Design Partner.” This means anything design or creative related goes through us before being seen by the public.
We love bringing on new clients and doing new brands but when a business really thrives is when we make a lasting partnership with them. We get to know their brand inside and out (especially when it is us that created it) and the benefits of that is it takes us half the time to create any designs since we know our clients so well!
We do have some clients that just come to us for “one-off” projects but I would say 80% of the time a few more projects get tacked on once they realize all of Dox Design’s capabilities.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
Today I am making my old agency salary each quarter, so I would say we are doing fantastic! We are steadily growing but still have a long way to go. The biggest change we plan to make with Dox Design is passive income streams.
I currently serve as the main designer at Dox and have been able to build up a nice bank of independent contractors (ICs) to help on projects when needed. The only issue with being a service provider is you are the key to your own business growth.
So for the future, we are working on programs, downloads, and templates that can be produced once and resold. That way I am not dependent on one of the projects each month for income.
We tested the passive income route this year by launching our monthly social media program. Our monthly graphic pack program allows clients to choose from six style-pack base templates we have created for social media graphics.
There are some for Instagram, Instagram Stories, Facebook Cover Photos, Blog Graphics… pretty much everything digital. When someone signs up for our program, they send us all their brand information like colors, fonts, etc., and then they select a style pack that starts as the base.
Once the client chooses their style pack, we completely customize those base templates to match their brand. We change all the colors and fonts, find images that go with the brand’s standards, and plug in the appropriate messaging. The best part is the program is only $150 a month!
Offering this templated service at a lower price point has allowed us to create graphics at a faster rate and easily onboard more clients. Instead of me depending on designing custom graphics every day (which keeps me at my computer all day),
I can have an IC work on these and it allows me more freedom. We get around 5-7 people signing up for this program every month, which brings in an extra $1,000+ of guaranteed income monthly.
Implementing this program has significantly changed my income and freedom. We plan to launch more programs like this in the future.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
Honestly, I haven’t personally seen it makes difference one way or another. Luckily for me, my niche is the pet industry is pretty female-dominated which is amazing. There are so many pet stores, consultants, dog walkers, etc that are all women-owned businesses.
So on that level, it helps me connect with my clients better as we are both in the same boat. If anything being a woman founder has been “confidence uplifting” seeing that there are so many other successful women out there in my field makes me believe in myself more than I can achieve success in my businesses on my own as a strong independent woman 😉
8. What tools or services did you use?
- Email Marketing: MailChimp
- Customer Management: HoneyBooks
- Design Software: Adobe Creative Cloud
- Social Media Templates and Graphics: Canva
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
For me it is scaling I am constantly in an uphill battle between being too busy to handle all the work and inquiries on my own but not quite busy enough to hire someone full time.
I have been able to tackle this issue by finding some amazingly talented individuals who freelance to work as part of of our “expert partners” programs. Essentially I have a bank of independent contractors I pull from when times get to be too busy.
I have been able to work out who has what strength and be able to be a creative director of sorts and work with these IC’s to offload some of the work we have at Dox Design.
I hope to be able to continue to grow our team and get to the point where we do have a fulltime team managing our clients so I can focus on running and growing our agency!
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers
I live by Podcasts! There are so many great ones out there for startups and entrepreneurs. I love hearing other people’s stories and how they started their businesses. A few of my favorites are:
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
I have for sure been in situations where I am the only woman in the room and I feel like I have to fight twice as hard to be heard or be taken seriously as a “legit business owner.” I think this is especially true in the tech world, which unfortunately for me is part of what we do at Dox Design.
Whenever we get into development talk or UI/UX design the amount of woman that I am collaborating with tend to go WAY DOWN. In those situations, I don’t feel like tech is “only for men” I feel that tech only “listens to men more intently.”
In these situations I just make sure I know my stuff 100% before speaking up and treat the project and client like I would any other one, letting them know Dox Design is the expert in their field which is why you hired us! So it doesn’t matter if our developer is a man or a woman it only matters that they know their stuff and can get the job done.
- Business Website: https://dox.design/
- Personal Website: https://kailapiepkow.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dox.designstudio
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaila-piepkow-91476b68/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dox.design/
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/doxdesign/pins/
- Blog: https://dox.design/blog/
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Puppy paws Please? Learn How Kaila created a $144K Pet Branding Business
The mention of puppy paws & pet branding makes us think this is such an interesting business. Tell us more Hey, Fur Friends! My name is Kaila Piepkow a