Small Business Success Q&A #2: Al Canali

This week in my second Small Business Q&A, we hear from Al Canali of Canali Designs. Al has 15 years of experience as the head of this small design firm that is dedicated to making a marketing dollar stretch a long way through good design and experienced project management. Although the firm has just two employees, Al draws on a group of experienced associates to find solutions for projects of varying size. Companies and nonprofits from throughout the Pioneer Valley and beyond have benefited from Canali Designs’ work.

If you’ve been in business for at least five years and would  like to have your small business featured here, write to me at to receive a list of questions.

Name: Al Canali

Company name: Canali Designs

Location: Heath, MA


Year founded: 1995

No. of employees: 2

Business description: Design, production, management and maintenance of marketing materials. Print, websites, catalogs.

What have been the keys to your business success? Mostly we just comport ourselves as grownups. Meet deadlines, provide quality products at a fair price, listen and, after consultation, creative input and solid recommendations, we give the client what they want. Consistent follow-up is also a big key. We also work by the hour with an estimate. When our hours approach the estimate, we are meticulous in our contact with the client. No surprises.

Best business advice you’ve ever been given? Keep it simple.

Worst business advice you’ve ever been given? I can’t say I’ve gotten much bad advice 🙂 But the general thought that a small shop like ours can compete for “cattle call” requests for proposals took us a while to recognize as generally a waste of time. Spending 15 to 20 hours building mock websites, logos and trying to interpret purposely vague requests is not profitable for jobs that rarely total more than $5,000. Often, organizations have a company in mind already, have inside preferences, or are just looking for that free idea. We just don’t compete for these jobs any more mostly because we do not know the rules and cannot get them. We do quality work with a solid portfolio and have clients who use us for all their marketing materials. These organizations can ask our clients on their own time. If they want to hire us, we’ll do an estimate, shake hands and get to work.

What was the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner? Refusing future work from clients for lack of payment.

What advice would you give to someone just starting a business? Keep estimates and services provided transparent and in writing.

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