How to win new business?

Richard Weston
Richard Weston is Head of Strategic Design at Thought Collective, where he helps develop brands and marketing solutions. He writes and designs. Richard also curates the found type, print and stuff blog Ace Jet 170.

It’s the million-dollar question: How do you win new business? I don’t need to tell you that there is no easy answer. As with recruiting new staff, the reputation and image of your business will be the foundation stone of any attempt to find new clients. Specialising can help massively. Being able to define your particular area of expertise (and it be tightly focused) and expressing it to the right people (who need your tightly focused expertise) will help. And, like for the designer looking for his or her new post, a good portfolio, with a specialised, single-minded ethic will connect better with like-minded potential clients.

I’ve witnessed persistence being a useful tool in the fine art of client seduction. Developing a comfortable, even casual, channel of communication between yourself and the company you’d like to work with can, if you persevere, pay off. I’ve seen it happen many times.

Adrian Shaughnessy, in his book (that you probably have), How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul, suggests targeting companies that clearly need help; whose current design work is poor. He warns that you’ll still need to work very hard at it but that the outcome, if good, is more likely to be satisfying because of the dramatic poor to good design work shift.

I’m not going to open Pandora’s Free Pitch Debate Box here, but it is worth mentioning, as Shaughnessy goes on to, that it’s hard to avoid the pitch scenario, whether it be paid or otherwise. In fact, it’s useful to emphasise that “Pitching” doesn’t have to mean “Free Pitching”; paid pitching is not unheard of and is a much more comfortable pill. The competitive aspect of pitching can be thrilling although you have to recognise that the effort required has to be carefully weighed up with your desire to win a particular piece of new business. In his book Perfect Pitch, ace ad man Jon Steel outlines pitch technique in great detail and in particular how to focus all efforts and expenses on maximising the chance of connecting with the prospective client.

Which, I guess, is what it’s all about really. Finding the common ground you have with that company that you really want to work for is key to starting what should be a long-term and happy designer-client relationship.

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