Yes, you need a marketing plan, though something that will fit on the front and back of one napkin will work fine. Yes, you need marketing materials. Yes, one person needs to be charged with making this happen.
But there are four things that will do more than anything else in making you successful at landing new business. If these four things are present at your firm, you’d actually have to work very hard not to succeed.
First, you need compelling positioning. If we could take your positioning (in other words, “what makes you unique in the marketplace”), hand it to a competitor of yours, and they could say all the same things … you don’t have a good positioning. Most firms are much better at differentiating their clients’ products/services than they are their own. They make three mistakes, typically: They talk about what’s true but not necessarily what’s different. (“We think strategically.”) They rely on things that are not demonstrable during the dating process, confusing why clients come to them with why clients stay with them: (“You’ll like working with us.”) Or they emphasize the wrong things. (“We’ll do things on time, on budget, and you’ll work with senior staff.”)
Second, you need personal confidence. Successful people exude confidence and (potential) clients relax. Do you really believe you are different (see above)? I mean, do you really believe you are better at what you do than most of your peers? If you don’t really believe that, find another field of work where it can be true. If you do believe that, act like it. Get out there and make credible claims, price your work accordingly, and then deliver with great solutions. The first step toward achieving this is focusing your work. Nobody is good at doing everything.
Third, you need connections. In spite of our grandest plans, most great clients come not from your direct efforts but from your indirect ones. These indirect ones include a client connection, vendor connection, employee connection, or supporter connection. If you don’t believe me, list the top five clients you’ve ever had and then tell me how they came to be a client. Probably two-thirds of them were not tied directly to your marketing plan or your staff sales person.
Fourth, as the principal of your firm, you need to be intimately involved in this process (if there is more than one principal, at least one must be deeply involved). Even when you get old, you should be wheeled into the corner where you can drool intelligently and communicate the weight of a key client meeting only with your presence.
Developing a unique position for your firm is an essential component to developing a comprehensive marketing strategy and differentiating yourself from your competition.
As part of your marketing process, don’t just research your prospective clients; research your competitors. Pay particular attention to the positioning statements they proclaim on their websites. If you find several that are uncomfortably close to your own, then you’ve got work to do. You’d be surprised how many creative firms claim, “We partner closely with our clients to develop strategic, on-target communications.” Or something to that effect.
Positioning has everything to do with the expertise you provide and nothing to do with the design work you create. You should craft your positioning entirely on your strategy and not your execution. Don’t mention the latter, don’t feature it on your web site, and don’t give it any prominence in your presentations. Quit hiding behind the things your hands do and learn to stand naked in front of a crowd of prospects, without props obscuring your ability to think and ask the right questions.
1. Discover additional resources for creative services firms and purchase white papers on business development at Creative Business.
2. Download a 3-page version of this position paper from ReCourses.
3. Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching offers excellent strategic information on positioning, including this article on 5 Positioning Mistakes.
4. Learn more about the Mind Your Own Business Conference.