What's a designer to do when they just want to work on cool projects? Start a freelance company of course. And thats exactly what I did in the summer of 2014 and we've worked on some amazing projects over the years.
Midwestern Originals may be my current freelance company, but it isn't my first. In art school, I wanted a to explore a brand as something larger than just a class project. I started Long Road Home Productions, at the time meant to house my photography and design ambitions, which became a vehicle through which I could work on building a brand from nothing. That company carried on for several years, as the face of my photography services I ran on the side to make some money for school, as the company my first freelance design clients worked with, and as the designer for a musician I was friends with in school. It gave me a sort of legitimacy that I didn't have as just another art school kid.
Long Road Home Productions eventually fell by the wayside. I began working at startups as a designer and threw all my focus into that. But after about a year I started working on the side again, this time to break up the day to day of working on the same thing. This time, though, I wanted to bring on other people, people with skills different than my own and who could own this thing with me. I didn't want it to be another solo venture. I began working on a project with a dev friend of mine, and we ended up forming Midwestern Originals. And so the work of building a brand began again. We went through many early iterations and it has evolved throughout the years to reflect our personality.
At first we just worked on odd development jobs. Then we got some bigger development jobs, which turned into design jobs. As we took on more work, we looked at diversifying ourselves. For a time, we even worked on hacking Squarespace to work as our custom cms for design projects we were working on. Around this time, we morphed into what I like to call a creative co-op. The basic structure around it was that we all worked on projects together to bring in money which would then be used to fund projects we wanted to work on internally. Everyone pitched an idea they had and those who had skills to help accomplish that idea would give their time to that project.
The first main idea we worked on was exploring apparel. The local scene of custom t-shirts and apparel hadn't yet hit the midwest fully, but we saw it on the coasts and in big cities. We saw it as a way to bring in passive income and it was just something really cool to work on. We sold a bunch of shirts during the 2015 World Series which our home team won and set up tents at local events to sell our wares, but our commitment waned with one of our team members stepping away and our focus shifting to other work. In the end, we didn't dedicate the resources needed to really make a run at it, but we learned invaluable lessons about promotion and marketing, which helped us in our next big push.
With apparel, we were actually making real money for the first time. With the benefit of some of that promotional awareness we got from the apparel time, we started getting some big projects. One of the projects we got at this time would allow us to upgrade a lot of our gear, which was years old at this point, and expand outside of just web design into identity design, photography, marketing, and videography. Simultaneously, we got a large dev project which luckily sustained my dev partner, Blake, who had become our CTO. With this flurry of activity coming in, we decided to shift models.
It was really just Blake and I at this point, and we wanted to reward ourselves for all the time we had spent. We shifted the model and began a pay structure that reflected the time we spent on projects, while still setting aside cash to support the business and support future ventures. KC Cocktail Club also started around this time, and that also started bringing in extra cash that we could spend to grow. During the large projects we took on, we began exploring Webflow, which turned out to be a big win. We became well versed in it and ended up being the first Webflow Experts in Kansas City. This in turn brought on even more work. That steady stream of work and funds has allowed us to return to one of our core missions: building things we love.
In the spring of 2017, we left for a trip to produce some promotional material for Midwestern Originals. I have documented the outcome of this trip in the JumpCut case study, but short story is we came out with an idea for a new product. We have spent part of the last year designing and building our first product, and we hope to have a beta out later this year. Throughout the course of this business, I've learned countless lessons in business, friendships, design and development. But the one thing that's gotten me through all of it is this: if you don't like something, make your own solution.