Scaling Up a Service Business: From Idea to $400k in Monthly Recurring Revenue (in Under 3 Years)

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Three years ago Design Pickle didn’t exist. It wasn’t even an idea in founder Russ Perry’s head yet.

That’s why it seems crazy to me that today the unlimited graphic design service is doing $400k in monthly recurring revenue!

Back in 2014, Russ was running a creative agency, but he started to hate everything about it. “I felt like I was in a prison of my own creation,” he said.

By January 2015, he’d shut down his agency and started working as a freelancer. Not wanting to build a similar prison again, he sought out a different business model — one with a simpler service offering that was designed to scale.

From taking on a friend as his first client to now completing more than 800 design jobs a day, it’s been an incredibly quick ascension and a great example of how to scale a service business.

Tune in to hear how Russ grew his business from zero to $410k+ in monthly recurring revenue in less than 3 years.

We cover his marketing strategies, his hiring best practices, and what Design Pickle does to keep customers coming back month after month.

Related: Interested in graphic design but don’t want to go down this path? Check out these top spots to score remote graphic design jobs.

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Where the Idea for Design Pickle Came From

Russ previously had a creative agency but started to hate where his business was going. He said it looked good on paper, and from the outside, but personally, he was falling apart.

“I felt like I was in a prison of my own creation,” Russ said. He was depressed, hated the clients, the work, and knew he had to close it down for the sake of his own wellbeing.

He started working as a freelancer, and by late 2014, his number of clients was increasing. He found himself in a similar position, needing help and considering taking on staff to help.

Russ created some systems and automated processes to help manage his workload, of which formed the foundations for Design Pickle. It was in November 2014 when he read The 7 Day Startup by Dan Norris that he realized, “This is my business. He has the same thing!”

The 7 Day Startup Book by Dan Norris
The 7 Day Startup

Dan Norris had a similar background, going from an agency he wasn’t enjoying to starting WP Curve, a WordPress support company that offered monthly plans to maintain WordPress sites.

In January 2015, with a couple of freelancers handling the actual design tasks, Russ launched Design Pickle. “I kinda sucked at design,” he said.

Within six months, he was able to unload all his freelance clients and go all-in with Design Pickle.

Landing the First Customers and Marketing Strategies

Design Picke Website

Russ had some interesting and successful marketing strategies. He spoke at random local events and even stood dressed in a pickle costume handing out pickles at an Infusionsoft conference in 2015.

From a branding and marketing standpoint, Russ said this was “massively successful; it was a mad rush for the pickles.”

His first customer was a friend with a physical therapy clinic. They were using their receptionist for their promotions and design work. Russ was able to offer them a dedicated, professional designer at a fraction of the cost of employing one.

He went on to secure 15 more clients in the first month. He said these mostly came from guest blogging and “spamming” emails to every marketing contact he could find.

“The price point was so instrumental to our success,” Russ said. Charging a rate much higher than a typical SAAS product gave him revenue to work with as soon as he had a few clients. He started investing in Facebook ads and sponsorships to attract more clients.

As of now, Russ said that about 60% of new clients are organic, 30% are from paid ads, mostly Facebook, and the rest are from trade events and conferences.

Pricing Plans

Design Pickle Pricing Plans

Design Pickle currently offers four types of pricing plans — Graphics, Pro, Premium, and Power plans.

Graphics – For $649/month, you get access to graphic designs and custom illustrations.

Pro – For $1249/month, you get access to graphic designs, custom illustrations, and presentation designs.

Premium – For $1949/month, you get access to graphic designs, custom illustrations, presentation designs, and motion graphics.

Power – Pricing can vary depending on your specific needs.

For a detailed breakdown of each plan and their specific features, visit the Design Pickle pricing page.

Hiring Best Practices and Management Layers

Russ has recruited a full-time team in the Philippines to handle the graphic design work. Technically, they are contractors, but he calls them part of the family and communicates daily with them over Slack.

It’s something he is very passionate about. “We want to be the best employer in the Philippines for graphic design, so we actually pay three times the average salary,” Russ said. The company also covers healthcare reimbursements and other perks.

He recruits mostly via word-of-mouth and holds a big event once a year in Manila.

The reason Russ gave for having such a commitment to his team is because having a happy team means happy clients, and happy clients mean they stay with Design Pickle for longer, and the longer the stay, the more recurring revenue the company makes.

There are three core principles Russ operates by: Mission, Vision, and Values. By this, he means:

  • Mission – To be the most helpful, creative company in the world.
  • Vision – To change lives through creativity.
  • Values – Friendly, smart working, service, and truth.

He has a team of around 100 in the Philippines now, with roughly 80 designers and 20 managers.

There is also a team of four support staff based in the US. This helps cover different time zones and gives a clear line of communication to clients based in the US.

Building Systems as Demand Grows

Design Pickle is now handling between 800-900 graphic design jobs a day. They have built their own custom software to help automate some of the processes and handle the order load.

And in true Hustler’s Path (freelance to agency to product) fashion, Russ is spinning off a new company to sell this software to other creative companies. You can find it at

Reducing Churn and Increasing Lifetime Client Value

I asked Russ if he’d found anything particularly effective at reducing customer churn or improving his customer lifetime values.

“It’s finding the right clients on the front end in the first place,” Russ said. Graphic design is a subjective business, some clients will be really happy with a particular design or designer, while another client may hate it.

Every cancellation triggers an email that Russ reads himself. He replies and sees if there is something he can do to resolve any issues the client may have had and keep them on.

The Sober Entrepreneur Book by Russ Perry
The Sober Entrepreneur: Change Your Family Tree

If you’re interested in learning more about Russ and his business practices, check out his book, The Sober Entrepreneur.

Russ’ #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation:

“Pricing: If you’re not charging enough you won’t succeed. Double or triple your pricing; cash flow is the elixir of life.”

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

7 thoughts on “Scaling Up a Service Business: From Idea to $400k in Monthly Recurring Revenue (in Under 3 Years)”

  1. This was really cool!

    Will check out the Copywriter Today podcast episode to see if it’s possible for me to productize my freelance writing biz.

    Looking forward to reading the book!


  2. Hello – I am in the same general industry as Russ – not the creative side though – and loved this episode. I would love to connect with Russ and ask a few questions!

  3. Heard about Design Pickle before but awesome to hear about JAR as well. Just signed up for their relaunch, excited for it! I think it would help a lot given my current freelance client setup lol


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