A round of applause is in order because NAV Creative recently celebrated an incredible milestone! After 3 years on 99designs, this (now) full-service agency achieved a goal many creatives dream of: one million dollars paid out from their work on the platform. As soon as we noticed, we knew we had to reach out to Jo, NAV’s owner, and ask her what exactly goes into accomplishing such an impressive feat.
What it takes—among other things—is a lot of caffeine, collaboration and dog cuddles.
NAV in numbers👇
Years in the biz: 7
Dogs in the office: 4
Websites built and brands launched: 1000+
This close-knit team of creatives and project managers loves nature, customer service and communication, and believes strategic design is the best compliment to a solid brand. Their emphasis on relationships keeps things running smoothly.
Beyond that, a good work-life balance is precious, and Jo makes sure her team gets the right amount of support and structure. It’s the how they’ve been able to scale up to become the strategic partners to the businesses they service. Read on for the Q&A.
Hi Jo! Tell us your origin story.
I freelanced for many years while I was in school earning a Parks & Recreation degree, while my partner Brent was working as an automotive technician. We met in high school, and after 7 years together decided to take a year to travel and determine where we wanted to live.
For the trip, I rebranded my then freelance business to Brent & Jo Studio, with the intention of us working together. This was right about when Squarespace launched their Experts Marketplace with 99designs. It took about a day of Brent helping out with web design projects for us to realize two things: 1. He did not like working digitally, and 2. I was so busy with the number of leads I was getting from 99designs that I would need help fast, from someone who was already trained.
But the name was done, and I was too busy to change it, so it stuck through the last 3 years. At the end of 2022 we made decision to go full-service and open a new agency as well as launch our program called Compass. We’re excited to work on larger and more local projects, and bring our video, photo, social media, and brand strategy skills to the table!
How did you get into design?
I’m self-taught, and I’ve always been interested in computers and creative work since childhood. As a young adult, I had so many ideas for businesses and always would create the names, brands and websites—but I had a hard time seeing them through. I realized my passion was really in the process of building a brand, and so that’s where I focused. Through a variety of online jobs and freelance projects I found my way to Squarespace, where I really dug into gaining a skill set that would allow me to make money in a sustainable way.
When I got involved with Squarespace I became an Authorized Trainer, teaching others to use and customize their platform and learning from there.
What was your “we made it” moment?
In 2021 I hired our first full-time employees and rented our office space called “the yurt” which we still work in today. I now have a larger team of talented designers who have all become close friends.
Having our office is a continued “pinch me” moment. I love walking into our beautiful space in the morning, enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, and waiting for the team to come in so I can greet everyone (which my puppy Lucy also does with enthusiasm each day).
I think seeing the physical manifestation of a mostly virtual business makes it feel so much more “real.” I’m really proud of the creative environment we’ve built and that my team loves coming into the office each day because of the comfort of the space, and the love we all have for each other.
What would you say is your key differentiator as an agency?
Customer service! The most important thing is that clients feel heard and understood, and that is all it takes to build lasting relationships with them. As long as you are honest, clear and responsive—even if you don’t know everything or don’t have the skills to do some things they ask for—they’ll still feel well-served. This is why we have a dedicated sales person who just manages our incoming leads and relationships, and why we connect each client to one main designer so they can build a trusting relationship.
👉 NAV’s Tip: Differentiate yourself by providing excellent customer service. Even when chatting virtually, NAV will offer to cover a prospective clients’ cup of coffee. It’s a neat gesture that goes a long way in making a good first impression.
Paint us a picture: what does a day at the yurt look like?
As the owner of the agency my days vary a little more than everyone else, but they always start by opening the office. I love to get here early and enjoy my coffee while I check morning emails and wait for the team to arrive.
We start our formal workday at 10am, which is something I did very intentionally as I grew the business so that my team has protected mornings to do what they please, or sleep in and be at their best by the time we start work. Many team members arrive between 9am and 10am to have breakfast and hang out.
Once we begin, the team do sales calls, design brands and websites, and go about their normal client processes. I oversee their work, plan training activities, help with communications and bounce between marketing tasks. We have set schedules with most clients so each designer (Cat and Caely) works with one client per week, including Zoom check-ins each morning and design work throughout the day. Jay takes sales calls on the half hour with a lunch break midday, and Hayden oversees the design team and our retainer work. Emma and I also frequently head out of the office for photoshoots or marketing meetings offsite.
If it’s a full office day the dogs always go outside at 11am sharp. We have a little fenced grass area behind the office we call our dog park and we’ll check in informally and let all the dogs enjoy a long break. We tend to all congregate for lunch, chat and play with the dogs as well.
In the afternoon we’ll do any final check-in tasks, wrap up emails for the day, and head out to the real dog park, or enjoy a team happy hour in the yurt. We often lose track of time and though we end our workday at 4pm we’ll hang around longer to chat and enjoy each other’s company. On Tuesdays you can find some of our team at Bar Trivia together after work, and on Fridays we usually all hit the town to enjoy some of the local food, beer and wine we love!
Where do you go for inspiration?
We are all huge outdoorsy people in the office so we tend to find inspiration outside. Being in Eugene, Oregon means we’re close to mountains, beaches and plenty of rivers so we’re often found near waterfalls, on the river, or at the beach. We love Clear Lake and Sahalie Falls in the Willamette National Forest and the beaches in Florence.
We like to get out of the office for team activities like picnic days, beach trips, river rafting, etc. We took one infamous rafting trip on Cat’s first day at the studio where we nearly missed the takeout point and had to drag our rafts a hundred feet upstream! Talk about a memorable first day on the job. We have some of our best ideas when we’re out playing games, at team happy hours, or even sitting and chatting. You can also find us at the Eugene Farmers Market on our lunch hour ordering our favorite Neapolitan pizza from our client, Pizzeria DOP, or drinking Yerba Mate Kombucha from BNF (200mg of caffeine per serving, it keeps us focused for sure)!
What’s a web design trend you foresee taking off in the near future?
Video! It’s already big, but we work with a videographer and having brand story videos on websites is so impactful and we’re starting to see it more and more. But no autoplay or autoplay with sound especially, those need to stop! (Ha)
Do you have one piece of advice to pass on to fellow designers?
Never get too busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
We have a sign above our water cooler that says this in the office, and I love that our company culture is truly built around work-life balance. Our manager Grace was famous for her “go home” commandment every day at 4pm on the dot. It’s easy to become excited and too immersed in your work but it’ll lead to burnout if you do it for too long.
And hire a business coach. It’s impossible to make objective decisions alone.
Anything else I didn’t ask, but you wish I did?
How many dogs do we have in the office? We have 4 that come in every day! Lucy (Lucifer) and Skully (Skull Crusher) are our crazy corgi siblings (Jo and Cat are the owners), Emma has Duke the Border Collie, and Caely has Piper the Chihuahua. They all love each other and the rest of the team and they are as important to our culture as our designs. You can usually hear them causing mayhem in the background of most calls but we wouldn’t have it any other way.