Designing woman: Connie Snyder of CRSR Design Inc.
Photograph by Michael Polito
More than 25 years ago, when Connie Snyder launched CRSR Design — her graphic design studio and advertising agency — she worked not out of a traditional office, but from her bedroom.
Today, Snyder boasts a client list ranging from regional businesses to national nonprofits, and her company’s work has been hailed by the likes of the national League of American Communication Professionals and the Northeastern Economic Developers Association.
Snyder grew up in the Kingston area, and went to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she studied communication design. She recalls the laborious process of laying out pages, known as mechanicals, by hand in the pre-computer era. “We would use a drafting board, doing paste-up, setting the type. You had a waxer and an X-Acto knife and ruler to cut and lay out the type. It was a whole different world back then.”
During the summer of her senior year at RIT, Snyder returned to the Valley, where she freelanced for a small design studio. “And it turned out they had a full-time, entry-level position available when I got out of school. So I started there, doing mechanicals and tiny design jobs.” After a stint at the studio, she decided to strike out on her own.
“I was living at home at the time, and started to freelance, with my ‘office’ in my bedroom,” Snyder remembers. “My very first job was designing a logo for the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. They ended up using the logo for the better part of 15-20 years,” she says.
As her contacts in the business world grew, Snyder’s company began to expand. “Marketing directors would leave a company and go to other places and, fortunately, they liked what I did. They would remember me and call me in to do other things. That’s how I grew my business from essentially one client.” Still, she stresses, any small business needs to keep actively seeking clients, too.
Snyder, 51, recalls her agency’s first big technology investment. “We got tired of buying type from another vendor, so we put in a typesetting system. It was a monster — an 800-pound machine with flywheels and fonts. That kept us alive in those days of doing mechanicals.”
Then Macintosh computers hit the market. “They basically made typesetting obsolete. Eventually I did buy my first Mac, and I laugh when I think that its memory was just 80 megabytes. In those days, people weren’t dealing yet in electronic files, so we still had to output projects for clients.”
As the digital revolution continued, “we got one Mac, then another, and another. We stopped hiring typesetters and began hiring production managers. When the Web first became such a marketing tool for everyone, our focus — which had been 100 percent on print in the beginning — shifted, little by little.
“In recent years, it’s shifted hugely,” Snyder adds. “We still do print work for some clients who produce annual reports and brochures. But so much now is Web-driven — whether it’s Web sites or marketing or e-blasts and social media. It’s a whole new approach.”
To keep pace with the changing times, Snyder says, the company has shifted in other ways, too. “We’ve stepped into functioning as a fully integrated service. We’re not just a design company anymore; we work from a strategic level with a majority of clients.” She explains that this can include everything from re-branding to redesigning a Web site and creating a new marketing plan.
At one point, Snyder said, her agency had up to five employees. “Now, we function in more of a virtual model. I’m the main employee and have long-term associates who are mostly independent contractors to partner with on projects; we can scale up and scale down accordingly.”
Her bricks-and-mortar office is in uptown Kingston, and the agency has worked with clients ranging from the National Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C. to the Greene County Economic Development and Tourism department to the Watershed Agricultural Council.
Snyder, who lives in Esopus with her husband and seven-year-old son, says that being a woman in the design business hasn’t presented any major hurdles. “Except for certain ‘political’ realms — like, since I don’t play golf, I can’t schmooze with clients that way,” she laughs. And she points out one of the positive aspects of being a female business owner: “Over the years, the federal government has put certain Women-Owned Small Business programs in place to help make it more competitive on the playing field.”
Her advice for women starting a small business: “If you can find a mentor, that’s valuable, because it will keep you from spinning your wheels. And early on, I went to the Ulster County Small Business Development Center for a consultation — there’s a SBDC in most every county. They are a very good resource of professionals that really understand business and can give you valuable tools to work with. The more you can learn from other people, the better off you are.”
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