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Sink or swim: Ibrahim Harun weathers recession, pandemic to build strategic design & marketing firm

Ibrahim Harun. Photo supplied.

The 2008 recession taught Ibrahim Harun many things, but learning how to navigate the difficulties in running his own business is something he is grateful for.

IH Concepts, a locally owned strategic graphic design and marketing company, was founded in 2008 after Harun left a corporate graphic design position. Harun wanted to be more client oriented and sought out to start his own graphic design company with that mission in mind.

“I kind of got thrown into it full time a lot sooner than I thought… because in 2008 the recession hit,” Harun said. “Looking back at it, I’m glad that I did. It taught me a lot about work ethic. I was almost thrown into the deep end, so and I had to kind of learn to sink or swim.”

 Quality instead of quantity is what Harun strives for with IH Concepts. The move away from a profit driven corporate job to his own design company meant that Harun needed to build himself as an entrepreneur.

 His passion in graphic design and a mutual understanding of the difficulties in running a small business is often on the forefront of his mind. With his clients, he wants them to know that he is not perfect but will do everything he can to help other small businesses out with IH Concept’s services.

 “I want people to know how to take care of them. If I make mistakes, you know I’m going to take care of them,” said Harun. “It’s sometimes a passion. Sometimes it’s whether they put food on the table, and I take that really seriously and I know if I don’t come through, I end up not taking care of that business.”

 In 2011 Harun decided that he could not do this on his own and moved to expanding his company. He currently has a team of nine, including himself, and offers an internship at IH Concepts. In 2014, Harun decided that he wanted to take IH Concepts to the next level.

Photo supplied.

 In pursuit of that and seeking to constantly improve, Harun developed five principles each in branding, web design and mobile for IH Concepts. IH5 are the grounding principles which the company uses as a full comprehensive approach to clients.

 In branding, IH5 aims to tell the customer’s story, keep the audience in mind, be memorable and recognizable, stay current and keep it consistent. For web design, the five principles are a clear call to action, custom format, optimized website load time, consistent design and branding and easy to find info. With mobile design, the principles include immediate access to info, priority on essential info, effectinve clickables, optimized load times and consistent design and branding.

With all principles, IH5’s core is in keeping clients informed on their image through consistent branding. Harun uses it to educate clients on how to optimally create and cultivate their image.

“We think about who your audience is. We think about who you’re trying to target, what you’re trying to and whether your goals are with that,” said Harun. “If your audience likes purple, we give them purple because I think at the end of the day, a lot of small business owners, is something we have to educate on.”

Growth in IH Concepts has not been a problem that Harun has seen with his business. While not profit driven, his goal to be a holistic design experience for local businesses has seen him become somewhat of an expert in graphic design in Madison. His seniority and longevity in being able to overcome problems in keeping a business afloat in the 2008 recession and through COVID has seen IH Concepts become an authority in the industry — something Harun has recently strived for.

Harun is still trying to take IH Concepts to its next level. He is currently in the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce’s Business Accelerator program. His hope is to use the program to find ways to double the company’s capacity for work and become the expert he sees IH Concepts as.

“I’d like to be kind of known a little bit more as the expert in our field. I want to be doing a lot more Dream Bank talks,” Harun said, referring to the American Family Insurance entrepreneurship space. “I want to, I think, really start to build up that credibility. One of the things we’re doing is we’re looking at our competitors. There was one that we used to be really concerned about… and I was like ‘Oh, she went out of business in December 2020.’”

 Despite the longevity, Harun reminds his team that getting to high points in their career is not something that they’re going to hit right out of the gate. Time and patience are where you have to be to reach the point when building a portfolio, there can be a struggle to find what to showcase.

“You’re not going to be the big fish. You’re not going to be king outside of the gate,” said Harun. “When I started, I barely had a portfolio. I barely had a portfolio and I had to scrounge everything together.”

 Almost two decades into his career now, Harun struggles with what to include and battles with what to take out.

 Despite the expertise in his field that he has built up over the years, Harun finds a lot of inspiration from his interns. Harun’s biggest inspiration and hero is a former intern of his from 2017.

The intern’s constant positive attitude and telling him that life is what you make out of it pushed him to be more positive in his life and work. Harun thinks that it can be hard for professionals to find positivity to keep going. What the intern said changed his outlook on life from there on.