The 5 new business mistakes most ambitious design agencies make

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The 5 new business mistakes most ambitious design agencies make.


January resolutions don't begin and end at the (home) gym. But all too often agency ambitions for a shiny new year also fail to make it past the gatepost of February 1st.

Here are the five new business mistakes I see most ambitious but smaller agencies make, and how to turn them round to a success.

They go hell for leather in January, and then fade out.

Consistency is key, slow and steady wins the race, tortoise vs hare. All analogies apply here.

I've worked with so many agencies who get back to the 'studio' in the new year with the best of intentions to grow. Spend time on lead generation with no thought to strategy. Realise they're not making any progress, or just don't have the time to sustain this level of effort. And then, zilch.

Until the following January of course.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

The reality is that if you have the framework and templates in place, and you understand how your marketing activities relate to each other and the sale, then new business should be a year-long activity that doesn't cause burn out.

You'll have another advantage too: Consistency of effort will help you stand out to your prospective clients when your contemporaries have hung up their marketing hats for the remainder of the year.

They don't ask for referrals.

Which marketing or sales tactic do you think has the highest ROI? Email campaigns? Ads? Speaking opportunities?

In truth, the standout winner that can’t be touched by any other method is referrals. A referred new business requires almost no financial investment but brings in the most valuable leads because of the mutual trust factor.

  • 84% of B2B decision-makers start the buying process with a referral. (Source: CleverBridge)
  • Prospects referred by other clients of yours have a 16% higher lifetime value than non-referred ones. (Source: ReferralCandy)
  • 54% say that referral programs have a lower cost-per-lead than other channels. (Source: Forbes)

And when you take into account that 61% of clients would be willing to make one referral (Source: Score), you might be beginning to think about how you can build this into your end of project wash up work, asap.

They don't actively grow their existing clients.

I know it's not as sexy as the idea of winning new new business, but the reality is that growing your existing clients is a much smarter move than scouting cold targets. Five times smarter actually.

Take into account the following:

  • Acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer.
  • Increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits from 25-95%.
  • The success rate of selling to a customer you already have is 60-70% while selling to a new customer is 5-20%. (Source: Forbes)

There are many ways to grow your existing new business: exploring sister brands, the parent brand, following your clients when they move to new companies, making it your business to be informed of NPD, and complimentary quarterly client planning sessions.

These are just some of my preferred methods of making sure my clients grow their existing clients and get the maximum profit for their marketing efforts.

They spend too much time on Instagram

I don't have anything personal against Instagram, but frankly, a client will rarely approach you based on your performance on the platform.

Yes it's visual, and it seems to make the most sense to an agency that focuses on design, but the reality is that for most prospective clients, your profile is just a later-stage hygiene factor that they check, before signing you up as their agency.

They don't make the most out of LinkedIn.

It's a far better idea to focus your efforts on LinkedIn. And by that, I don't mean that you should spend inordinate amounts of time thinking up content, posting, commenting, liking and so on. It's such an incredible tool to, amongst many other things:

  • Understand your prospective clients’ structure, so you can better understand how to introduce yourself to them.
  • See who's moved businesses recently: congratulate (offline) ex-clients who've moved, introduce yourself to new starters at your ideal clients.
  • Spot any highly active (read: fast-moving) junior prospects who are likely to climb the ladder quickly, so that you can ingratiate and introduce yourself before they become too jaded with new business approaches.

And this doesn't even cover Sales Navigator, which I think is hands down one of the best new business investments any size of agency can make.

I hope that's shaken up your ideas on how to grow your agency. Below are some logical next steps that’ll give you the visibility and confidence to grow your business, on your terms.

To your success!

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