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    Lured by Loudoun schools, businessman buys marketing firm

    Employees of Communicate by Design hold bobbleheads of themselves, which were used instead of photos on the company’s website. - Times-Mirror/Ben Hancock
    Asim Shaikh knew he would be moving from Pakistan to America more than a year ago, before his son went to high school.

    He knew he wanted his son to attend Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn.

    "I just liked the school. It had great rankings," said Shaikh.

    So the serial entrepreneur began looking for businesses he might be interested in buying near Ashburn.

    He found Communicate by Design, a decades-old design firm in Sterling, which the owners were hoping to sell.

    He used money he had made from a successful text alert system he operated in India and Pakistan to buy the firm.

    Even though he had no design experience, he had plenty of business experience.

    After a stint at Bowling Green State University, Shaikh moved back to Pakistan and worked for a Compac dealership. He did well in that role, and became a regional manager at age 23.

    At 25, he started his own company, which he says didn't do well. Eventually Shaikh landed at AIG, and later as the head of marketing for Allianz in Pakistan.

    So when he started on a restructuring of his design firm, Shaikh immediately knew he wanted to turn the company into a full-service marketing firm.

    "You have to offer more services in order to compete," said Shaikh.

    He emphasized it would be important to add services in order to compete with at-home designers who have lower overhead and can beat him on price.

    A shrewd decision, it seems, after the company won two Davey Awards and 10 American Graphic Design Awards.

    He began the transition by taking stock of what assets the business already had.

    "I inherited two senior people," said Shaikh. They were Jennifer Ferraro, now the company's COO and Elaina Evans, creative director.

    Evans and Ferraro take care of a lot of the day-to-day side of the business. He also had a staff he liked and wanted to keep on board.

    The company is international, which Shaikh says makes for a collaborative approach.

    He knew the company would need to hire people if it hoped to move into marketing and add services.

    Shaikh says he looks for people with the right attitude. "Skills you can develop." The first position the company added was a creative writer.

    Evans and Ferraro rave about the decision to move into full-service marketing.

    "It's almost like getting a new job," said Ferraro.

    The positions may often feel like new jobs because Shaikh requires each employee to go through training courses once a year.

    "If you don't upgrade your skill set you become outdated," said Shaikh.

    Ferraro explains that the move has been a natural growth.

    "Where we used to be a reactionary organization, instead companies come to us and say 'what should I do,'" said Evans.

    The company has been able to retain customers and employees and in some cases has grown as its clients businesses have grown.

    For example, Communicate by Design was originally contracted with one company to design a template for some of its presentation materials. It ended up doing a complete brand redesign and helped consolidate multiple branches of the company into a streamlined portfolio.

    Since the design and marketing processes are fluid so to is the company's pricing model.

    Communicate by Design still has customers who were there at the beginning of the company.

    "We know about marketing, but they know about their business," said Shaikh.

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    Loudoun Business Journal - Summer 2014

    Loudoun Business Journal - Spring 2014