I co-founded Designhill in 2014 with my brother Rahul. I knew that a platform that focused exclusively on graphic design was needed both for freelance designers (like myself), and for people looking for quality, affordable design solutions.

This was the driving force behind our company, which became both a custom design marketplace and a creative platform for designers for learning and showcasing their creative work.

Rahul said, “We strongly feel that if you have an idea that you genuinely believe in, then you should go for it, without even wasting a single minute.”

With only a little financial support from my family, Rahul and I pursued our dream of launching a graphic design marketplace of our own. One thing that really helped us is that we never lost focus on the ideas we had in our mind from day one of our journey.

Today, businesses that need logo design, web design, T-shirt design, and so on can either run contests and choose from dozens of submissions from designers from all over the world, or hire a freelancer for the project, all on the same platform.

We started with only a small team of four, but today, Designhill is a leading crowdsourcing platform, a community of over 48,000 designers from all over the globe. And we enjoy a generous client base in many countries like the U.S., U.K, and Europe—we have surely come a long way. We’ve learned a few things that might be helpful to other businesses that are looking to scale, especially for those eying international markets.

Customer service; advice for startups concept

Building trust through excellent customer service

One of the biggest challenges we faced was attracting business from U.S. and European markets. As an Indian startup, it was an uphill climb for us to gain credibility in foreign markets. It took a lot of time and effort to build trust. Today, after successfully serving over 50,000 happy customers, we’ve managed to establish our name in this very competitive market.

One of the ways we did this was through excellent customer service. People will always remember whether your customer service was good or terrible. So, we made sure to set a high standard. We provide each client with around the clock 24/7 dedicated customer support for free, and this approach has helped us earn good word-of-mouth promotion.

At one point, we had a customer who was Chinese who had a hard time communicating with our designers. They told us they had tried another platform before us, but that they ended up terminating the design contest they were running through our competitor and claiming a refund. Their main issue was that they had a terrible experience with that company’s support team, who really did not try to understand their requirements or concerns.

So, our customer support team went to great lengths. We used online translators when we had trouble understanding what they were trying to convey to us. In the end, we had a happy customer who even sent us two more recommendations from China.

Hand on globe; advice for startups concept

Understanding the nuances of international marketing

Another hurdle we faced was navigating the huge difference in the way products are marketed in India versus countries such as the U.K. and U.S. When it came to international marketing, there was a steep learning curve for us.

However, we beat the odds, and at present we enjoy a powerful social media presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. In addition, we started focusing on interactive content, and one of our recent microsites about entrepreneurship was featured on more than 100 sites. The content turned out to be a huge hit with the audience and garnered over 10 thousand social shares, likes, and so on.

Another time when we were struggling to increase engagement on our Facebook page, we created a two-month long campaign where we tried changing how and when we interacted with our followers. Local timings play a great role in how many people read or interact with a social media post. Shifting our when we posted helped us in drive better engagement.

Stack of money; advice for startups concept

Managing money efficiently

As a startup, we needed to be extra careful when it came to cash management. You need to have a budget in place; without that, you’re flying blind. Don’t do that! Proper budgeting helps you sail smoothly when you face hard times.

No matter how many people you eventually have on your finance team, you need to closely involve yourself in the fund allocation, tracking expenditures, revenues, and most importantly keeping a check on your savings.

One thing that helped me and my brother stay on top of money management was creating a cash reserve. As a startup, there is a good possibility that you won’t be making any money initially or maybe for an extended period of time. That is why it is important to set some funds aside for emergency so you have some extra breathing room during rough patches. Thankfully, we didn’t need to use our emergency fund, but having one surely helped us manage our finances better.

Working late; advice for startups concept

Believing in the product

Translating your fledgling idea into a business requires belief in your product and services. If you truly believe in what you are selling, then half the battle is won. When you know that the product or service that you are trying to sell is the best decision a buyer can make, sales will follow automatically.

When we started, we kept hearing that the design crowdsourcing space was overcrowded and we wouldn’t be able to survive. But our biggest breakthrough was our unique product design and business model—it helped us get a grip in the marketplace. We wanted to pass maximum benefit to customers by offering lower prices, and at the same time, we always managed to give a larger share of the pie to our designers in the form of higher percentage of commissions, compared to our competitors. Today, we are one of the biggest players in the design crowdsourcing marketplace.

Growing plant; advice for startups concept

Thinking it through and continuing to scale

It’s important to deeply understand and think through your own business and its value before you can try to sell it to others or develop a marketing or sales strategy. When you’ve figured out your company’s strengths and had some marketing and sales success, it’s time to think about scaling and growth.

At Designhill, we’re always thinking about what comes next. Crowdsourcing is booming globally, so now that we have had some success in foreign markets, we are planning a major expansion of our design services in the U.S. We are customizing a few products and adding some specific features to serve our American clients better. Moreover, we are introducing a new monthly design subscription option that will allow customers to pick a dedicated designer for all their design needs, rather than going through the headache of picking a new designer for each project.

To sustain growth once your business is established, it will be important to keep testing new ideas. Usually, when an entrepreneur starts, they have a lot of fire in their belly that pushes them to innovate. But as they start tasting first success, this fire gradually dies and the venture can fail to move to the next level. Dedicate some time and energy on a regular basis to researching market opportunities and planning for the future to keep your startup healthy and nimble.

Varun Aggarwal is the founder of Designhill, one of the fastest growing graphic design platforms. He has built his career around his passion for helping startups and small businesses grow an online presence, source affordable graphic design solutions for branding, and thrive in the ever-so-competitive digital world. Follow him on Twitter @varun3.

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