Larimer SBDC Success Story: DJM Design

Sally Ebeling | Larimer SBDC 

Daniël-James van den Berg and DJM Design have both come a long way over the years. Literally and figuratively. Born in South Africa, Daniël-James is a self-described Ginger, family man, Web Agency owner and newly naturalized U.S. Citizen with a double first name who enjoys doing freestyle breakdancing in his spare time.

We barely finished the tour of his Greeley office space when his wife, Joy, and their 16-month-old daughter, Zona, stopped by. “Joy keeps me grounded; her experience compliments my work style.” And Zona? “She’s taught me so much about leading, it’s crazy, she’ll be on the Board someday.”

DJM Design started out as Daniel James Media back in February of 2017 when Daniël-James was living in Fort Collins. His family had moved from South Africa to the U.S. in 2013, living in South Carolina and Chicago before calling Fort Collins home.

“I started my business out of my bedroom for $3,000, but in Fort Collins, I finally gained traction.”

He learned about the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) by attending a networking event. He signed up for consulting and has been reaping the benefits ever since. Daniël-James had first experienced the advantages of mentorship much earlier on. After graduating from Art School with a top senior grade in Mpumalanga, Nelspruit in South Africa, he connected with a Canadian-American Coaching Company for small businesses. He enrolled in the program and learned how to blend business acumen with his passion for art and design. “I wanted to create a space for other companies to utilize the things I thought were groundbreaking back then. South African and American fusion. I wanted to fuse my cultural experiences into a brand where people could leverage that and impact multiple communities.”

Daniël-James is the only full-time employee at his company. Joy works for the company, part-time, along with three other local part-timers and 7-15 contractors across the globe. The benefit of this model is the connection to specialists with outside expertise.

At its essence, DJM is Ubuntu, a South African word used to describe “community”. It’s a quality that includes the essential human virtues, compassion and humanity. DJM Design is unique in that the company is a multicultural, freelance, coworking army that specializes in web design with an emphasis on human psychology; the who, why, what, and how best they can serve someone in that very moment of their experience. They also give back in big ways. “We donate 11% of our gross profits to South African NPOs and USA communities that impact orphans, job creation and community development. I don’t think some of our clients even know that.” One that is particularly important to DJM Design is Homes of Hope Fiji which provides long-term care, support, and holistic restoration for girls, young women and children who are victims of, or vulnerable to, being trafficked.

DJM Design brings value to their clients in that they focus on The Tree vs. The Fruit type marketing. “A piece of fruit is one and done, but if you plant a fruit tree, it benefits you long term.” His biggest challenge as a business owner has been, “to follow the 80/20 rule in every aspect. Balancing how much to do internally for growth vs. clients and coworkers, giving them 80% of our valuable time. Also, Flywheel vs. Doomloop. Too many business owners try new ideas that take them away from their core business and by doing this too often you can crumble your foundation and success. Having kids as a business owner has taught me this more than anything. Time management & communication is crucial to a balanced happy marriage family and business.”

What was his COVID pivot? Like most small businesses, the pandemic was tough for Daniel James Media. “We were in debt, and I was engaging in unhealthy distractions, things that didn’t help. I said the thing you should never say to a client. I told him I needed the job, and I wasn’t mentally tough enough for rejection. He said he wasn’t going to hire me until I was in a better place. That was the kick in the pants I needed, it turned things around.” They reset the team. Before that they had their hands on too many projects, so they cut things out, simplified their model, applied for PPP and EIDL and paid off their business debt, they got aggressive with their customer service and also started partnering and talking more to other agencies. If everyone was in this together, why not get out together? At the end of all that, they rebranded in December of 2021. Daniel James Media became DJM Design, and they’ve been in a good place, since.

He’s looking forward to the future, growing a lean brand and for people to recognize his work and think, “Yeah, that’s a DJM Design.”

When asked how the SBDC has contributed to his success, Daniël-James credits SBA resources, SBA & SBDC webinars, networking, and, of course, the free 1:1 consulting. He stresses taking the time to find the right consultant and you’ll get out of it what you give. He found each session to be beneficial, but really connected with Jim Kelly, who has become his go to consultant. His advice to budding entrepreneurs? Read! Owning a business requires constant learning and growth. Some books he recommends are Good to Great, Profit First, Scale, Get Different, and Sell Like Crazy.

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