The secret to agency new business? Do what you love…

Image for Jay Neale By Jay Neale

Agencies are frequently told they need new business to survive. But where exactly does this new business come from? For me the answer lies not in the traditional lead generating/pipe stuffing/new business director path. But rather in focusing on building a great agency where people want to work and who clients want to work with. If you have a remarkable company, with talented people who do their job well and enjoy being there, clients will get a top-notch service. Then they want to work with you again and they recommend you.

Business growth is a rather mystical concept in the agency world. It seems to be a common notion that as agencies get bigger they need more business. But the reality is, bringing in new clients is neither easy or quick. In fact, it’s usually a two-year process as you move from first contact into loyal, profitable partners.

Plus, as with most industries, new clients tend to come to you because of word of mouth. They want to discover you. They don’t want to be sold to. No one does. In fact, 61% of clients prefer not to deal with a ‘business development manager’ or a ‘new business director’. But in spite of this, when agencies want new business they so often decide these are roles they need to take on.

“Modern business development is about drawing clients to you, not endlessly knocking on doors with repeat messages. It’s about being smart, agile and thought provoking.” Up to the Light

*Up to the light – 2021 What Clients Think report

So, you need to play the game. Instead of chasing after work, you need to be discovered. Discovery is that word of mouth, or that piece of work you see on LinkedIn or in a trade mag. It’s that feeling of ‘I found this gem here. I really want to talk to them.’

And once you’ve been discovered, you can harness your clients into becoming your ambassadors. Existing clients are the key to unlocking new business.

But the real secret lies in where you place your focus.

Shifting focus

Putting a laser focus on ‘bringing in new business’ is, in my opinion, a waste of time and money. Instead, I believe you should be focusing on the core fundamentals of your agency. Creating a great environment and culture, laser focused on enabling your team to do what they love… and what they are great at.

Forget the mediocre and mundane, make every piece of work, every meeting, every interaction, superlative and you’re onto a business winner.

Ok so, how do you build a remarkable agency?

Clear processes, the best tools and respecting one another is not a patent-pending lead-generating silver bullet. It takes vision, time and effort. However, the rewards will reach far beyond ‘new business’, moulding your agency into the gold nugget of excellence clients aspire to work with and your team never want to leave. Get this right and the new business will find you.

For me, it’s about looking after your people, creating an environment where they can flourish and grow. Where they know what’s required of them, they have the right amount of time, they’ve got the right processes in place and the right systems around them.

Yes that’s right. Systems and processes. They don’t sound very ‘peoply’ but the whole point of them is to give people the space and freedom to do their jobs effectively. They remove worry and uncertainty, so everyone knows what’s expected of them.

In turn, this makes it easy to keep the client in the loop, giving them accurate estimates, jobs turned in on time, invoices correct and so on.

So to create a remarkable agency you need the tools and the environment and the structure. They might sound fairly unremarkable, but they really are the foundations of a memorable agency. Because they’re what keep the people happy. Which brings me onto…

Keeping people happy

Happy people are productive, motivated people. So you need to show respect to your teams, making sure they’re given enough time to produce high standards of work. Timesheets are a good example here. Everyone hates them, they see them as a stick. But they’re not. So explain to your teams, we can see how much time you’re putting in, I don’t mind you doing a five-hour day occasionally because you’ll do a nine-hour day another time. But we just need to know. We need to spread the load evenly and fairly. It’s a cultural thing of respecting people’s abilities, but also their time.

And how do you get the creative team to deliver the best and keep delivering better?

This is all about culture, culture, culture. By getting this right, you’ll be recruiting the right people, top talent who can take your agency to the next level.

Here, I’m talking about passion, leadership, transparency, collaboration, flexibility, communication and trust. Offering the right mentorship and training, so your people can progress. Making sure there’s time for play as well as work.

But you do also need the processes and the systems. They might seem boring, not part of the ethos of a creative agency. But this structural stuff is the bones of your agency, holding everything together. Get that right and you’ll get the right people to join and, crucially, to stay. Get the right people and the clients will come flocking. Forget new business. It’s time to go back to basics.

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