How to ensure you protect your agency by existing on more than just the odd referral

Referrals are by far and away the best and lowest-hanging fruits in terms of new business.

What better than using the warm glow of success from a previous job to attract the attention of another client?

A referral is an endorsement of quality and many agencies rely on leveraging the past for the future.

There are some downsides however.

If you only rely on referrals for your future, the biggest potential negative by far is the drag on creative innovation.

As a small business owner myself, I know that keeping all the plates spinning restricts your ability to devote time to developing new skills and products. As an agency, if you’re doing the same – or similar things – for one client after another, then you might be highly skilled in one direction but come up short in many others.

In short, you could be living in an echo chamber and not even realise it.

This is why it is essential to have two strings to your new business bow; one for referrals and one for exploration.

Probing new channels or markets is an essential skill in new business development. Many agency owners are hesitant to deploy this because it is viewed as resource-heavy. It’s not easy devoting time and money to courting new clients in new markets.

You have to prepare a whole new set of materials, for one thing.

Sometimes you have no track record or direct experience or credentials or (gasp!) referrals.

You have to get used to handling objections and answer a lot more questions than usual.

You need data, and lists, and insight and research.

But as you stand at the bottom of the mountain, looking at the summit, think about the view from the top, not the effort to get there.

Think about how a whole new sector of clients will stretch your agency’s skill set. Think about how many new and different referrals you will be able to sell from. Think about how many new and different awards you might be able to win.

But above all, think about how much more resilient you will make your agency against the winds of change.

Because a bit of new business NPD now will yield rich rewards further down the line – even if you’re able to identify what areas you DON’T want to target in future and why.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive process, but it is necessary in order to protect your agency from what you can’t see coming.

Speak to your friendly new business manager or new business development agency, or even invest some time yourself and get the right tools for the job.

Just don’t rely just on one form of new business and expect it to be never-ending.

Keith Smith is the Managing Director of The Advertist – the UK’s only unbiased, independent platform for agency new business intelligence.

The Advertist offers agencies of all sizes access to fresh, GDPR-compliant data and insight that enables productive and informed new business conversations.

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