Finding Your Career at 40

Whiteboard: Weekly Musings from inside the Design Department at Haneke Design.

Jamie Dennis, Associate Design Director at Haneke Design, made a transition from entrepreneur owning his own website design studio to joining a team again. Here’s how he got here.

So you have this great job working with cool people, designing packaging for the likes of Tropicana, Gatorade and Quaker Oats. You’re eight years in and thinking, “What are my next steps in my career path?” You’ve worked on an occasional website here or there and suddenly decide

“It would be a great idea to buy an existing web design agency, leave your steady paycheck, health insurance, paid vacation, 401k, collaborative and creative environment and an office with a beautiful view of the ocean only two miles from your house.”

With this great epiphany in-hand, you arrive home after another great day at work and tell your wife and two kids your idea. That’s where I was about seven years ago…

Luckily I have a wonderfully supportive wife who knew I was ready to venture out on my own to see what I could do with my newfound passion for web design and agreed to this crazy idea. And so, my version of True Green Studios was born. Off I went on my own to start building what I thought was going to be the first step into the rest of my future.

There was a lot of promise. This small agency only had one employee, the owner, and she would be leaving upon the purchase. So I would become the sole employee. I would start on day one with a great reputation of quality customer service and a nice list of clients that had been with the company for quite some time. I was also armed with a good background in various design disciplines, including illustration, graphic design, photography, web and package design.

With these great tools in hand I thought, “Wow, I’ve got everything I need. What’s that, you say? You know how to run a business, too?” Did I say I had everything I needed?

Sure, with a built-in client base there was some instant business, and with a good reputation we received a lot of business via word of mouth. It turns out (insert sarcasm font here) just being a good designer doesn’t equal instant success with a new business. That, and, for some reason, clients don’t just suddenly start knocking on the door. Go figure. In other words, we still needed more to keep the doors open.

With this realization, I began to understand I couldn’t just focus on design. But as a perfectionist, I couldn’t let go of the design either. That’s when I began to split my time between sales, marketing and design. That’s when I also quickly learned how much I did not enjoy accounting, sales, IT, setting up emails, hosting issues, marketing and any other task that was unrelated to design. Though like many new business owners, I did what I had to, often sacrificing time with my family.

While I had a great support system, you can imagine this would put a strain on any family. Eventually, I hired an accountant, project manager and a development team to help with the tasks that I was either not good at or did not enjoy.

Fast forward four years, things are going well, a little up and down but revenue was increasing slightly year after year. Some months were great; others not so much. It was hard to plan and budget for these waves of income. Operating costs were going up as well. “Gotta spend money to make money,” I would tell myself.

“After many sleepless nights, I was wondering what was wrong with me. I discovered that the ‘something’ was being part of something BIGGER…”

So I’m driving back from a meeting to my cushy, I-can-wear-whatever-I-want home office where TGS headquarters was, and I’m feeling like there is something missing. Sure I loved the challenge of getting more business and when I was able to sit down and design things were great. But I was still missing something.

I was really missing the days of being able to collaborate with other artists on various projects. I had my “staff,” but since the business wasn’t big enough, they all worked part time and remotely from their own cushy home offices. And I was growing tired of dealing with all of the other “all consuming” day-to-day tasks. Man, I just really wanted to design and be creative!

I started to test the waters, dusted off the ol’ resume, created an online portfolio and started to see what was out there for an aging artist. I FiguredFigured, hell I have years of experience working for Disney, Tropicana and the second largest roller coaster manufacturer in the World. The right opportunity should come rolling in right? **crickets chirping** I soon figured out finding the right opportunity was not as easy as I thought.

Enter Haneke Design. A friend of mine from college saw I was back “on the market” via a Facebook post. He mentioned that he had a buddy who graduated with us at Ringling College who has a design agency up in Tampa. Maybe I could reach out to talk? To be honest, Tampa was on the very edge of my driving distance — about an hour from home — so I wasn’t sure I was going to look into this opportunity. My wife and I had a discussion about it. There wasn’t even an immediate position open. But based on my friend’s referral and my research on the agency (I saw on its website that their work is impressive… and they have a “team”!), I decided it was worth looking into further.

Waking up one morning to the usual TGS tasks and emails, I received an email requesting an interview from the Creative Director at Haneke Design, Jason Rivers, who it turns out I also graduated with me at Ringling College in the Illustration department. I instantly felt like this could be a great opportunity. I loved the office, the culture, the technology, the vibe, and the chance to be a part of something bigger.

“I was offered a chance to join the team. They also wanted to purchase my business. I accepted and have never looked back.”

I’ve been with Haneke for a month now and can honestly say that I now enjoy and look forward to going to work each day. Being part of a team that does everything under one roof is pretty exciting, not to mention extremely productive. Whoever said you can’t find your career path at 40!