Four years ago, Jensen was ready for a change. He’d been working in housing and urban development for years and was feeling stifled. The dream scenario: a job that would not only push him creatively, but also allow him to live in his beloved Manistee, the Lake Michigan burg where he was born and raised.
But instead of pounding the pavement in a traditional job hunt, he decided to invent a job for himself—one that could be tailored to his own skills and interests, especially his background in design. And that’s how his company, a Right Side Design, was born.
Right Side Design is a boutique operation offering business strategies and branding, with a focus on the travel and tourism industry. In the four years since its inception, Right Side has evolved to become one of the go-to design outfits in the area, offering website design and development, publication design and publishing, graphics and digital art creation, and social media marketing for a range of businesses.
Of course, as with so many great ideas, it all started small—in Jensen’s dining room actually. Armed with the right skill set, innovative ideas, and a deep knowledge of the area, Jensen slowly grew Right Side and took on a couple of employees, eventually moving the operation out of his house and into an upstairs office in a century-old storefront on River Street in Manistee.
It’s fitting that Right Side would find a home in Manistee’s historic downtown, because the town itself has played an enormous role in the company’s development. This may seem counterintuitive to those who assume that up-and-coming tech-type companies need to be centered in a big city like New York or San Francisco, but Jensen credits Manistee with much of his company’s success.
“There’s no way I could have done this in an urban area, period,” Jensen says. “Getting involved in your community when you’re younger, being able to make connections and contacts—that’s how my business grew.” Early on, Jensen joined Manistee’s Chamber of Commerce and became a regular at Business After Hours events, where he met many of the local business owners who would become Right Side’s first clients.
In fact, the region as a whole has been an integral part of Right Side design. With travel and tourism as their niche, the people at Right Side pride themselves on walking the walk when it comes to knowing their content. “I’ve been hiking the trails and paddling the rivers of this region since I was a kid,” Jensen says. “That local knowledge base that I’ve built up over the years is a big part of what we do.”
In addition to the wealth of knowledge Jensen and his staff bring to the table, Right Side also has built a network of local writers, photographers, videographers and other creatives. Because so much of the creative development work that Right Side does is for tourism bureaus in nearby counties such as Wexford, Oceana, Ludington,
Nuego and Silver Lake, having this insider knowledge gives the company a unique edge. Of course, with the Internet making long-distance collaboration possible, Right Side is also able to work with out-of-state clients as well as up-and-coming producers when it comes to, say, subcontracting app development for a visitors guide. And Jensen regularly follows what similar companies across the country are doing in comparable markets, in order to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s happening at the intersection of design, marketing, branding and content.
But when asked to share his proudest accomplishment, Jensen’s answer comes back to his community. He says it’s been a particular honor to work with the Manistee County Visitors Bureau, for whom the company has created a dynamically linked series of guides to drive tourism and economic development.
“Hopefully, 10 years from now, people can look at these projects and say ‘You know, that really did make they make a difference,’” he says. “My grandparents lived here and my family all lived here, so I hear stories of how Manistee used to be all the time, so it’s cool to be a part of that young group of idea makers and thinkers and movers and shakers that are changing the image of Manistee.”