The Art of New Business

Hi everyone,

Sorry its been so long since I posted anything, we have been working hard over the summer months for our Acquire clients, and also working very hard on The Art of New Business. Our blog over on TAONB site has tons of tips and advice for how to win more new business, interviews with really successful agencies, and insights from clients about what really works to get on their radar. So, head over to www.theartofnewbusiness.com where we will be updating our content a lot more frequently than on here.

Finally, if you are here because you are looking for ideas to re-invigorate your new business strategy, or you aren’t sure where to begin, get in touch and ask about our inspiration workshop.

imagesIf you’ve recently started an agency or you are thinking about your next stage of growth, chances are you’ve won most of your business so far through word of mouth, existing relationships and recommendations. At some point however, if you want to continue growing your agency, you’ll need to implement some sort of dedicated business development programme, but there are so many varying opinions and mixed messages out there at the moment that it can be difficult to know where to start.

You might have heard the on-going debate about the pros and cons of cold calling (for the record, although we do use the phone, we think there’s nothing worse than an unsolicited sales call and our research shows that client side marketers feel the same way). You’ve probably heard people talking about attraction marketing and might be wondering about the best way to apply its principles to your own business. You almost certainly use social media but might not know the best way to tailor your output to build relationships and attract potential clients.

To help give you a head start in developing an effective and sustainable business development programme, here are some useful tips:

Know what your vision is for your business: What is your “why”?

Your “why” drives the passion and purpose in your heart and in your business – as the renowned speaker and author Simon Sinek says, start with “Why” before moving on to “How” and “What”. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. If you haven’t addressed this question you’ll come across as lacking passion, and who wants to work with someone who doesn’t have passion for what they do?

What differentiates you?

If you won a new piece of business from a client who was completely undifferentiated from their competition, chances are, the first thing you would do is help them to develop a strong brand that enabled them to stand out and occupy a niche in the marketplace. In that case, why do so many agencies fail to do this for themselves? There are more than 17,000 agencies in the UK, many of whom are saying exactly the same thing: being “results focused” “Integrated” “a new breed of creative” is not being differentiated, and in this situation, how can we expect clients to know what sets one agency apart from the rest?

It’s not always easy to turn the mirror on your own business – getting a fresh set of eyes to take an impartial look at your business at this stage can give you a new found perspective.

What kind of work do you need to be doing to support your vision?

You might be tempted to pursue every single opportunity you come across, but if you want to drive your business forward you’ll have to work out what sort of work you need to be doing to achieve your vision and stick to it. Be focused on your goal and don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities that aren’t right for you. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did. Trying to please everyone is a formula for failure.

This question leads on to…

What clients do you need to work with to do the work you need to do?

You might have ideas of specific clients that you want to work with, or more general thoughts in terms of sector or challenges you can solve. As mentioned in the previous point, be focused and don’t take on work that doesn’t take you to where you want to be going to.

Once you have an idea of who you want to be working with you should think about what their challenges and problems might be. Do your homework, speak to people and find recent articles that will give you insights into their business, try to see things from their perspective and understand what’s important to them.

When you are armed with this knowledge, you can focus on tactics that will get you on their radar. To do this you’ll need to think about why they would want to work with you and come to them with a relevant opinion on their business– in other words, make it all about them, not all about you. Clients really, really hate the chest beating, look-at-how-great-we-are approach.

It’s all about the relationship

As David Tovey said at a recent Art of New Business event, clients are like icebergs -there’s maybe about 10% that you can find out fairly easily; the successful agencies are those that understand the 90% that’s under the surface. This knowledge doesn’t come about overnight however and relationship building should start a long, long time before you expect to win any work. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – you might be in the right place at the right time and some opportunities do convert quickly, but for god sake, don’t turn into a hardnosed salesman the moment you get the whiff of a potential opportunity – nothing will ruin a potentially fruitful relationship more quickly. And don’t throw the toys out of the pram if it’s a ‘no’ this time. Just because it’s a ‘no’ now doesn’t mean it will be a no in 6 months or in 2 years’ time – don’t waste the time you’ve already invested, keep on building genuine relationships and they’ll pay off in the end.

Focus on new business when times are good

As we’ve said in the previous point, successful and sustainable new business is all about building strong relationships, and relationship building takes time, so don’t wait until you’ve lost clients before you think about winning new ones. Leaving things too late can result in your business developer being put under immense pressure, corners being cut and potential clients being alienated. Besides which, clients can smell desperation a mile off and will steer well clear.

Be committed and make time for new business

If you didn’t already know, you’ve probably realised by now that an effective new business programme takes an awful lot of time and effort. If you don’t have the time yourself then make sure that you appoint someone to help, otherwise you’ll end up struggling to do everything – especially when times are good and you are busy with client work. Be aware though, that even if you do get help with your new business programme, you’ll still need to put some time aside to manage things effectively and create content – we are aware of instances where promising new business opportunities have been lost because agencies haven’t found time to create a document or develop a tailored piece of collateral.

Business development can be a complex and time consuming undertaking requiring patience, dedication and hard work, but if you use these pointers to guide you, you’ll be well on the way to making a success of new business. If you are still struggling to work it all out then we run a half day workshop that helps to answer some of these questions and gives you the building blocks for a robust and effective new business programme.

And we are always available on the other end of the phone for a chat, or even better, a sit down over tea and cake (we much prefer face to face).

Good luck with your new business efforts in 2013!

Happy Valentines Day!

Just a little message for all our readers, followers, friends, clients, competitors, enemies, lovers..

You Rock

You Rock!

Thanks to http://blog.honest.com/diy-valentines-day-you-rock-cards/#.URwnS2f92So for the picture

For all those on our good list

For all those on our good list

Merry Xmas!

We wanted to give you all something lovely in the post this year.. but we have made so many friends this year that we simply cannot afford to.. So.. we decided to put some of your on our good list, and some of you naughty ones who haven’t been quite as friendly on our bad list.. For everyone that makes it onto our good list by 1 minute to midnight tonight, we will be picking some of you at random to receive something really rather bloody good in the post on Monday. So, comment on this thread, tweet #evilsprouts or like our facebook page to get on our good list today!

The perceived wisdom says that the nice guys always finish last and if you watch TV programmes like the apprentice, you’d think that being in business is all about testosterone filled posturing and looking out for number one with no room for kindness, but here at Acquire we think that’s total rubbish.

One of the benefits of running your own business is the ability to choose the people you work with- we have made a conscious decision to only work with nice people which makes being in business a far more enjoyable experience. And besides making everybody’s lives more pleasant, being nice also has very real advantages when it comes to winning new business.

We believe so strongly in the nice principle that we’ve set up a LinkedIn group for others who share our ethos – The Nice Manifesto

A few things happened to us recently that brought the subject into sharp focus:

As you might know, Sarah, MD of Acquire and myself got married this summer, and after a fantastic three week honeymoon exploring Italy, we arrived back in the UK and threw ourselves back into our work with vigour (yeah right!)

After we’d been back for a few days, we went to see our friends Studio North to talk about an event we are running with them.  When we arrived, we were very pleasantly surprised to find this set up outside the door:


Things got nicer still when we sat down in their board room to chat and on the screen was projected a photograph of coffee mugs with our company logo printed on them.

These nice, thoughtful, memorable little touches made us feel very welcome and immediately at ease, and made us think about the agency in a totally different way. The overall upshot is that if we are asked to recommend a good brand comms agency, we’d recommend Studio North like a shot, as would anyone else who has experienced their particular brand of hospitality.

It seems that we have been on a run of meeting with nice people recently. Just a few months ago, we started working with a very interesting company called Feedback, a digital ethnography research agency based in the US and in London (they delve deep into the chatter on social media channels to reveal what an audience thinks of industries, brands and their competitors, who and where the audience are and the best way of communicating with them –going places that social media dashboard tools simply cannot reach. For an enlightening article on the subject, click here).

Anyway, we’d only been working with Feedback for a week or two when the head of the London office, Danny – told us that he was lucky enough to have got a pair of tickets to the BT London Live Hyde Park gig on the final day of the Olympics. Sarah and I were both in our late teens – early twenties in the Britpop era, and never having seen them play live, we both really would have liked to have seen Blur before they called it a day.

We happened to mentioned this to Danny, and we were amazed when a few days later he got back to us to say that as he’d already seen them before, he was going to share the love and send us to the gig instead – an incredibly kind thing to do, and something that helped to cement a close and effective working relationship between ourselves and Feedback.

We were recently asked by a small digital agency that we know if we could recommend a hosting provider, and with no hesitation we sent them in the direction of Melbourne Hosting, because not only do they provide a great level of service, they are also a group of genuinely nice people who care about their customers and contacts. A couple of weeks later we received a case of 6 bottles of great quality wine courtesy of Melbourne as a lovely thank you gesture for referring business to them, and we’d certainly recommend them again!

It’s taken for granted that companies are nice to their clients and prospects, but if doesn’t take much effort to extend this attitude to your suppliers and everyone else that you come into contact with. If you are nice to everyone you encounter, you’ll create a positive aura around your company, and before very long you’ll have a legion of advocates who, without you having to ask them, will happily recommend you, and as we all know, referrals are the very best way of winning new business.

Recently I was delighted to be invited to sit on the expert panel for the Guardian Small Business Network. They were hosting a live Q&A about “how to win new business” and found me on twitter I believe. To say I was chuffed would be an understatement, but also it just goes to show that when I preach to clients about the power of being an authority and making sure this is reflected in your social media content, I speak from experience!

There were a few common themes that emerged during the course of the Q&A so I thought it would be useful to write them down so that any of you with similar challenges can take comfort from the fact that you are not alone!

For those of you that missed it,  it proved to be a very interesting three hours session, full details of which can be seen at http://www.guardian.co.uk/small-business-network/2012/aug/10/how-to-win-new-business

If you don’t have time to trawl through all the comments, here are some of the highlights:


Effective use of social media to win business

Several participants had questions for the panel around the most effective way to use of social media to win new business.

The panellists highlighted the importance of developing a robust social media strategy as a part of the wider networking and marketing efforts, the logic behind a well thought out and engaging content strategy and how to turn Facebook ‘likes’ into strong brand ambassadors.

Be where your customers are

Still on the subject of social media, it was pointed out by the panel that a crucial and sometimes overlooked step when building business through social media is do your research and find out where your audience congregate, which social media they use, which groups and forums they are members of and make sure that you are active in those spaces. However, remember that social media is a two way street, and being active doesn’t mean broadcasting sales messages, it means engaging with interesting a relevant content and building relationships.

Happy staff win more business

Another interesting topic that came up for discussion was how strategies that focus on staff happiness and wellbeing can help win new business, with one panellist referencing a company employing a nutritionist to ensure that employees were eating healthily, another that encouraged staff to spend half an hour listening to 80’s music to help them switch off. And, of course, we only need to look at the example of Innocent Smoothies to see how innovative office culture and a fresh approach to employee engagement can increase profits, productivity and customer satisfaction!


Be nice to people

One point raised during the discussions was the value of being nice to people in order to win new business. Counterintuitive as it may seem, by not chasing the money and instead focusing on helping people you make doing business fun and enjoyable rather than cut throat and aggressive – meaning that you are far more likely to build effective relationships and win business through referrals.

To this end, I recently launched ‘The Nice Manifesto’ – which is a network for people that share my views that doing business with each other should be a fun experience and we don’t need to be cut throat, agressive or pushy to win new business. Please join our linkedin group by clicking the link above if you agree with me.

What’s your USP?

One of the participants was becoming thoroughly demoralised due to their failure to win new business, even though their product was eye catching and award winning. Their issue was that they were operating in a crowded market place with a relatively low barrier to entry, and what’s more, they had no real understanding of what made them different from any of their competitors. It’s crucial that you know what your USP is, because if you don’t know, neither will your prospective clients, and you can’t develop an effective sales and marketing strategy without identifying what makes you different.

To nail down your USP it can be good to talk to your existing clients about why they use you, or speak to a friend about what you do and get them to ask “What does that mean for me?” It will help you to articulate your point of difference in terms of what it means for your customers and often your USP will suddenly become clear.

Sell through your network, rather than to your network

An interesting question was submitted regarding a lack of confidence and sense of intimidation when it came to networking, and the best way to overcome it.

The panel pointed out that networking is all about relationship building rather than selling – and once that mindset is taken on board, networking becomes a whole lot easier. It’s all about finding like-minded people with whom you have rapport, and as the name of the exercise suggests, building a network of people who you trust and who trust you. When the time is right you can ask for their help and they’ll happily refer you.

Stay Focused!

Some of the questions posed regarded the difficulties that small business owners face in wearing so many hats – MD, finance director, business developers – and how best to juggle all these responsibilities.

It’s all too easy to be distracted by the day to day, and whilst it’s important to keep existing customers happy, effective new business activity needs focus and a consistent amount of time dedicating to it. The key is to set realistic goals and be tenacious – and if you really don’t have the time, admit to yourself that you need help and get it before your new business drive loses its hard won momentum!

Good luck with your new business efforts, and if you have any questions, email sarah@acquirenewbusiness.co.uk. I will be running a regular feature on this blog where I pick the most interesting or common question I encounter and answer in in an article on this blog.

We recently got back off our honeymoon, three weeks touring Italy, after our wedding in June at the beautiful Pimhill farm in rural Shropshire.

Whilst we were in Italy, it struck us that a little of the Italian character would go a long way towards more effective business development activity (sure, there are some Italian character traits that perhaps aren’t conducive to good business development practice, but on the whole, they could teach us a thing or two!)

The country that brought us the likes of Ferrari, Opera, Gucci, The Passeggiata, Espresso and Italian Cuisine can teach us a thing or two about passion. And passion is an essential ingredient of effective business development – your customers are much more likely to buy into your product or service if you are excited and passionate about it – just as it was very difficult for Sarah to resist when a waiter in an Italian restaurant passionately extolled the virtues of linguine alla vongole!

Ok, so the Italian mans reputation for persistence in the pursuit of women isn’t always a welcome one, but in business development, persistence pays off. You need to develop a ‘Testa Dura’ or a hard-headedness, and let nothing shake your confidence. No doubt you will experience knock backs, and your approach won’t always be well received, but by being persistent and focused and by seeking to building relationships with your prospective customers, you stand a much better chance of success down the line when they are in a position to use your services.
‘No’ might mean ‘Not at the moment’, but if you give up at the first hurdle, you’ll never find out.

Be Relaxed
Nothing will drive customers away like obvious desperation, they can smell it a mile off. So even if you are really, really desperate to win that piece of business, just relax and think like an Italian – don’t let the situation ruffle your feathers. That doesn’t mean to say that you should be distant and act like you aren’t bothered at all – just don’t lose your cool.

Don’t take yourself too seriously!
You should take business seriously – but not yourself. If you take yourself too seriously then you won’t appear open or likeable. At the end of the day, people buy from people, so if you don’t come across as a likeable, approachable person then you’ll be hampering your ability to win new business.

If you apply a little of the Italian spirit to your new business programme then you won’t go too far wrong. If, however, winning new business has been on your ‘to-do’ list for a while, get in touch.
We can work with you to uncover what really sets your business apart from your competitors, develop a comprehensive and effective new business strategy and help you to find and win new business opportunities.

This post is written by our guest blogger Elizabeth Chapman…


Connecting with prospects and winning new business is hard work. And with competition at an all-time high, agencies simply can’t afford to make costly mistakes, especially ones that can be avoided. Below is a little insight into the Top 5 agency prospecting gaffes, as inflicted on the client side marketing professional:


1. Cold Calling as a First Approach

Probably the oldest method of engaging with a new business prospect, so what’s the problem? Put simply, very few client side marketing professionals actually appreciate this approach; it’s about as welcome as the proverbial ‘fart in a spacesuit’.

Prospects can be wily creatures when it comes to avoiding unsolicited phone calls. Even the most good-natured Marketing Director will suddenly turn into Mr Elusive at the slightest whiff of an ‘exciting opportunity’ call from an unfamiliar source. That’s if you even make it past the receptionist, – chances are he / she will have an arsenal of rebuttal lines, ready to deploy at the first opportunity.

Some would argue that ‘cold calling’ is integral to the acquisition of new clients, but for the majority of targets it remains an unpopular and unwelcome approach. Research into prospecting practice carried out by Acquire reveals that of the seventy client side marketing professionals interviewed, 70% were sceptical of cold telephone approaches, with a further 21% expressing a positively hostile attitude.

It is without doubt that an agency needs to be able to communicate in an effective and convincing manner over the telephone, but this should come once a relationship has already been established, not as a quick hard-sell that demands immediate commitment on the part of the receiver.

Alternative channels of approach such as direct mail and email are often favoured by marketing professionals as the most effective way for agencies to make initial contact. Indeed, the recent study by Acquire highlights direct mail as one of the more successful introductory methods, especially pieces that are quirky and eye-catching. With so many agencies fighting for the same prospect’s attention, a bland or impersonal mail piece risks being lost in an ocean of monotony..so keep it interesting!! And above all, make it relevant. Sending a pair of underpants branded with your agency’s logo (or worse) through the post will earn you a few giggles but the chances of it enticing a new client to your books are doubtful.


2. Not Knowing One’s Onions

One of the biggest mistakes an agency can make when looking for new business is failing to fully research a prospect. A snazzy suit and industry-savvy patter is all very well but a lack of understanding for the potential client’s business will fast-track any advances to the ‘no chance’ pile. All too often there are instances where agencies fail to look at a prospect’s competitive situation, their culture and crucially the types of projects that would be appropriate for a company of their particular size and standing. The old adage states, ‘time is money’; and when it comes to choosing a creative agency to work with, clients are deterred by the thought of having to explain in great detail their status, the nature of their business and their needs. As stated by a participant in Acquire’s recent study “the greatest challenge when changing agencies is the education process, you have to invest so much time in helping them to understand your business and its customers before you get anything back”. So the message here is simple, failure to put in the groundwork can result in failure to attract new business.


3. A Perfect Mismatch

Impressive ROI stats, soaring pitch-wins and a glowing reputation are all great boasting points but an agency that fails to show category experience has about as much chance of winning over their prospect as Burger King would have at appointing Morrissey as their new figurehead. The demonstration of relevant experience is a crucial factor for agencies to consider when approaching client side marketing professionals. Whilst the view from Mount Ego may be a pretty one, potential clients are unlikely to want to join the expedition unless they can see exactly how an agency has developed a company similar to theirs. Recounting his own experiences of misplaced prospecting, a respondent to Acquire’s research said “we work in the B2B space and everyone knows that, so it makes me despair when we get approached by agencies who name drop and tell me they did great work on the KitKat brand, but have no B2B experience at all”.


4. Scraping the ideas barrel

A lack of creativity is another frustrating blunder in the art of prospecting. Time and time again agencies approach their target clients with the same old hackneyed propositions, prettied-up and re-packaged as their latest ‘new biz strategy’. A futile exercise, given that most clients are looking for daring concepts and innovative uses of new media; the things that will put them one step ahead of their competitors.

Ok, so creative flare alone won’t guarantee success, but it’ll certainly increase your chances. 29% of the marketing professionals interviewed by Acquire flagged “innovative and interesting content” as an important factor when being approached by agencies. As one respondent said, “most of the approaches I receive aren’t memorable in any way, but every once in a while I get something that’s really interesting or shows that the agency is innovative and makes them stand out from the crowd. In cases like these I’ll keep the information on file for future reference”.

5. Not Seeing the Wood for the Trees

In the frenzied hunt for prospects and new business, many agencies make the ‘epic fail’ of overlooking what’s right under their noses: existing clients. With many marketing professionals preferring to choose a creative agency on recommendation from their peers, it makes sound business sense for agencies to invest more of their energy in developing relationships with contacts that are already on their radar. By nurturing these connections and becoming a valuable asset, agencies will be able to give current clients the trust required to make a recommendation to anybody able to benefit from the services offered.

We’ve written a white paper which expands on the themes discussed above, if you’d like a copy, please email stefan@acquirenewbusiness.co.uk for more details

With 1 week left until I jet off for some winter sun so I thought it was time I reflected on my first of many professional years.

My professional development started off with the last 6 months of my 3rd year degree course ahead of me and I was still questioning what career path I was going to take. I struggled to identify a job role where I felt I would become a fundamental part of team rather than a small cog in a large agency machine. Above all I didn’t really understand what I was good at yet.

On the horizon was the final year group project which we were all looking forward to. It was understood that we were to become a mini agency and promote the kind of graduate you would expect to come out of the Design Futures course at Salford University. The methods which we decided to use were completely down to us. Job roles were created for each student within branding, finance, online, editorial & events. For some this would be their first exposure to the industry so a real chance to show off how professional you could be.

This project later became ‘I25UE’; A graduate movement that highlighted the gap between graduation and employment and the need for more engagement between the two. We produced a newspaper, mobile app, website and live event discussing what employees are looking for from graduates coming into the market.  

After hearing all the tales of the previous year’s financing issues I was pessimistic about being in that team to say the least! However I was shortly promoted to team leader by the rest of the team and we had to think of a strategy that would enable us to get the right amount of funding for our 4 elements but also provide an enticing offer with which industry professionals would want to engage, considering the economic climate.

At this point in the project, my professionalism was in full swing, I was organised, my team were getting on well, everybody was enthused and proactive and we got things done: Surely there was a leadership role within the industry I could adapt to just as well. I had never realised I could be a leader before or anything particularly managerial. I had toyed with account management before (through work experience with Saatchi & Saatchi) but I found the role too impersonal. The puzzle continues.

The next stage of the project was to pitch the idea to potential sponsors. We had to identify who we wanted associated with our cause bearing in mind shared values and possibility of employment.  We then secured a meeting with the Managing Director or Creative Director and in that meeting it was my job to explain why I25UE was a good investment. We were successful with 85% of our pitches, had 15 confirmed sponsors and with the help of Sarah Cheal, a lot of interest from the industry through a creative collaboration called Northern Soho.

Sarah was the first professional we pitched to. I didn’t fully understand business development at that point; in fact I don’t think I knew it existed! But as I listened to her explain how Acquire works I suddenly felt a strong feeling of enthusiasm, ‘I can do this’ I thought to myself. It was the first time I had felt at the top of my game, like a real professional and ready to take on my career. Luckily for me, on the night of our I25UE event Sarah approached me with her partner Stefan and I got my very first job offer.

I have been in my role of Account Manager for Acquire New Business for 4 months now and it has been a whirlwind of learning and unpredictability. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from being in Business Development is to expect the unexpected, think on your feet and adapt your behaviour quickly.

However just because I have a professional job role does that mean that I have achieved professionalism? I beg to differ. I believe that to be professional is a state of mind as well as behaviour. Too many pre-graduates think that getting the grades is the hard part but it’s building your professionalism that takes the most work. Learning how to walk the walk and talk the talk is essential if you’re going to lose the graduate ‘label’.

Looking forward into 2012 I aim to push my professional development towards seeking the relevant training and mentoring to help me achieve and realise my full potential and this time next year I hope to write a similar piece as a fully-fledged professional looking back at my pre-professional self.