Join Petrula Vrontikis for an in-depth discussion in this video Business development methods, part of Running a Design Business: Starting Small.
As a business owner, your time is limited. It's important to know where to burn calories to pursue more work. There are four basic ways to pursue new business. Personal referrals, RFPs, networking, events, and through social media. Most of your work will come from referrals and word of mouth. Recently, I tracked where my business has come from over the years. I created a client family tree and found that more than 75% of my work over the last 20 years has come from an ongoing relationship with one smart, well-connected marketing director. She takes us with her when she makes career moves, and we often obtain work from the organizations she's moved on from.
She's referred us to her colleagues in various industries. This was a symbiotic relationship. She helped me understand what works for balancing creativity and client service. I helped her understand the process we use, and the support we need to do our best work. We established a rhythm of communication that was clear and efficient. And made each other proud. Our mutual respect and trust for each other made working together a pleasure. Designers just starting out may find it more difficult to establish that kind of trust.
The anonymity of online business correspondents disables the kind of interaction that develops a commitment. It's the phase to phase meanings. The onsite presentations and the real conversations that cultivate meaningful business relationships. The ones that withstand the test of time. Responding to anonymous RFPs or requests for proposals can be time wasted unless you're the cheapest vendor. Those requesting the bids are often looking for the lowest price, not an ongoing relationship.
The reason is that you don't have the opportunity to show your value. What they review is just an estimate. And sample imagery somewhat out of context. Attending chamber of commerce, and other business networking events is an option. But I found most participants were looking for jobs and for some investment money. Not for well-compensated design services. Contacting vendors and ongoing clients to ask for leads can be somewhat successful, as you are at an advantage. Your track record has already been established.
Social media is invaluable as a PR and self promotion tool. But it's rarely the best business development, too. The return on investment of time spent in social media forums as business development won't yield the same results as personal referrals and word of mouth. The bottom line is doing good work for smart well-connected clients is the best business development strategy for you. Staying away from task-oriented anonymous online projects will ensure the potential for more meaningful ongoing business relationships.
- Naming and structuring your business
- Keeping records
- Cultivating business relationships
- Hiring employees and subcontractors
- Creating schedules and managing deadlines
- Understanding industry trends
- Avoiding the pitfalls of spec work
- Promoting your business through social media