How to stop building your business in a vacuum and become a part of the community


Zane Fischer


Here at Anagram—a Santa Fe-based design- and development studio—we’re still a new kid on the business block. We opened our doors on April Fool’s Day in 2011. But our three partners have about 50 years of combined time in Santa Fe, and our respective, personal community roots run deep.


We knew there would be challenges to operating a contemporary design firm in New Mexico, especially one with an emphasis on the kind of web development and technology that hasn’t yet filtered into the consciousness of potential clients in our laid-back region. We also knew there was nowhere else we’d rather be.


One of our core beliefs is in the massive potential for smart, sustainable, economic growth and innovation in Santa Fe. We may not have the urban density or the university population that gives some cities a built-in edge, but the talent pool is here and it’s growing every year. Here’s our take on how to be a proactive part of NM’s quiet economic revolution.


Get over the competition

Stop thinking there’s a limited client pool for your specific service or product and start working with your “competition” to educate people about what you do. Are there a lot of clients in Santa Fe clamoring to pay fair prices for good, thoughtful design and expert, cutting-edge websites? No. Are there a lot of clients in Santa Fe who would benefit from paying fair prices for this? Yes. The local pool of potential clients for us undervalues the kind of work we do. But that’s not their fault—the onus is on us to demonstrate that value. And the best way to do that is to grow and make visible everyone in the trade. We want our competitors to survive and thrive. We want our interns and contract workers to open their own businesses. We can all fight over a slice or we can bake whole pies together.



Pay a fair wage

If you want to make a fair wage, you should be willing to pay a fair wage. Financial success that comes on the backs of others isn’t sustainable and, in our view, isn’t success. Santa Fe’s controversial Living Wage ordinance has been in the news again lately because some franchise businesses say they won’t operate here due to prohibitive costs. But the Living Wage, progressive though it may be, is still only survival-level pay. It isn’t an amount that enables daycare or private school or vacations or retirement savings. If you can’t afford to pay a fair wage—the kind of wage that actually allows your employees and contractors to get ahead in the world—then your business plan doesn’t work in a healthy economy. It’s that simple. By the way, it’s time to get off the free intern bus. Interns should at least be paid an honorarium.


Charge a fair rate

In order to pay fair wages, you’ve got to charge fair rates. Quit contributing to the undervaluing of your work and ask for what you’re worth. We’re culturally accustomed to paying too little in this country because the real costs of stuff like energy, gasoline and food are hidden from us. But that has to change to have a sustainable economy and it has to start locally. Say “no” next time you’re tempted to compromise on your worth. And if you’re contracting services or buying products in your community, remember how important it is to understand the value of what you’re purchasing and budget accordingly.


Professional peers don’t just happen

In order to improve your product and emphasize your value, you’ve got to have a good peer group. It’s important to connect with people who understand the challenges you’re facing and are excited about innovating in similar directions. But you’ve got to be proactive about developing that community. Find an effective professional association and join it. Or take advantage of local networking activities. Anagram works closely with MIX Santa Fe ( I’m one of the organizers of the monthly events—and the relationships that have blossomed there are tremendously rewarding.


Get involved

Last year Anagram did both paid contract work and pro-bono work on the RE:MIKE project to consider the future of St. Michael’s Drive. Working with dozens of businesses, organizations, artists and hundreds of community members in an exercise geared toward a better future for Santa Feans really helped to put passion and purpose at the forefront of our work. It was a reminder that when passion and purpose are pushed to side in the name of chasing a buck, quality and morale suffer. If we’re charging fair rates, we can afford to donate a bit of time and attention back to the community now and then. Find a way to make a difference for a good cause; it doesn’t take much to engage.



Zane Fischer, professional culture reporter and social critic, is project manager for Anagram, an evolving entrepreneurial enterprise dedicated to effective design, disruptive thinking, creative iteration and unorthodox solutions.




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