Britton Lorentzen is the owner of Empac Design, a small business in Washington that provides branding and marketing solutions for other small businesses, including graphic design, web design, and asset creation and development. Lorentzen is passionate about telling the unique stories of the small businesses he works with, helping them to create a brand that thoroughly engages their intended audience.
From Race Car Driver to Entrepreneur
A long while back, I was part of a racing family. We started off in go-carts and then moved up to sprint cars and mini-sprints and, eventually, stock cars. Along the way, I had to develop my own marketing materials to try and pitch myself to companies for sponsorship because the programs were getting more expensive. Essentially, I was branding myself and figuring out how to put together the right materials and the right message to show companies that I was a valuable investment for their business.
Over time, I had to get a real job and quit racing. But, I saw a lot of opportunity with other racing teams and athletes needing help learning how to brand themselves to get sponsorships. That’s how Empac was born. We served this need in the community for racing teams and action sports athletes in the area who needed help branding themselves. I would help them put together websites and sponsor packages. Eventually, that adapted over to small businesses because there’s an equivalent need for them as well.
Managing Business Finances
I started the business when I was 18, so the first thing I did was go to Dad and ask for a little bit of money. He gave me $1,000. I always joke around that I started off with $1,000 and a pirated copy of Photoshop! I took the $1,000 and dumped it into Google AdWords to build awareness of the service. I also put a little bit into Facebook advertising to get the message across on social media. I had to take a job at Apple to raise a little bit of money on the side as well.
Aside from the $1,000, a lot of my advertising is paid on credit cards. I was fortunate to work with Bank of America on a very small line of credit to be able to get things going. It is in my name because there wasn’t enough credit in the name of the business with it being a sole proprietorship.
I use a spreadsheet to manage cash flow in the business. I’m currently going to school at the University of Washington where my major is marketing, so I have a lot of accounting behind me. I have a broad knowledge of raising capital and managing cash flow to be sure I’m not putting myself under. I forecast more in the short-term, about one to two quarters out, because things change so much. I primarily work with a lot of smaller clients, which is easy to forecast because there are a lot of referrals coming in. The reason I’m not able to forecast out longer is because I’ll sometimes get an offer from a bigger company for a project, which blows that forecast out of the water.
Business Challenges and Rewards
The most challenging thing about running the business is trying to find clients. Sometimes smaller businesses don’t really see a need for any kind of branding or marketing service. A lot of times they say that they work on “word of mouth,” which really doesn’t mean much. What they mean is they work on referrals. So, I’m always challenged with talking to a business and having them see the value of building a brand. Usually, they’re thinking very short-term, but I try to get them to see the long term – How they can take their business and make it something that means so much more to the community beyond the product or service that they offer.
The most rewarding thing is being able to chat with clients and learn about their story. Small businesses usually have an amazing story about how they started the business or what the business means to their family. Being able to talk to them about these amazing stories is what gets me out of bed every day. Encapsulating these stories within materials that are part of the overall brand and then engaging the audience to interact with them is very rewarding.
In the beginning, I had no idea how to price myself. There’s such a broad range of how to price a design service. Some people will do it hourly or as a flat fee. I definitely under-quoted myself in the beginning. I didn’t give myself a reasonable forecast of how long something would take. Over time, I’ve had to learn how long certain projects will take.
The smartest thing I did was going out and getting a job at Apple while I worked on growing my business. Eventually, one of Apple’s teams in California reached out to me and asked me to work on a project for them. At the time, it was difficult because there were a few projects I was working on for other clients, and I knew that if I went down to California, I would lose those clients. I went ahead and took the gamble and went down there. It ended up teaching me quite a lot about branding and typography. When I came back, I was much more confident in my capabilities and in pitching my service. I was able to give a lot more value to my clients and customers because of that experience.
Advice for New Entrepreneurs
The most important thing is learning how to build rapport with clients. A lot of times, businesses treat a customer as a transaction, like a means to an end. I would challenge that idea and encourage businesses to take any conversation or engagement as an opportunity to learn more about the customer and their story. In the long run, people don’t come to a business to buy something; they come to a business to talk with other people when they’re looking for solutions. The only way you get that solution is if you talk to a person who has a relationship with you to know what’s best.
What’s Next for Empac Design
I’ve been trying to dig deeper and share more information by building up my blog. I’ve been writing about different philosophies of design. I’m offering more information to clients so they can learn a little bit on their own and feel more empowered. Eventually, I want to start working with more freelancers. It would be nice to start working with a local photographer and possibly a developer so we can build up the team to get Empac growing a lot larger than a one-man shop.