A couple of years ago I remember watching Michael Palin staring down at an unrecognisable plate of food, in a remote corner of the world and thinking, ’better eat up as I’ve no idea where my next meal’s coming from’. That was then and when similarly I think about the design sector, I am glad those hungry days are now a fading memory.
So with positive signs of growth, questions like ’where do we look’ and ’what should we do’ become ever-more pressing to get your head around. If the former glory days are returning, what’s the right way to go? Big or small? General or niche?
I hope one or two of the following thoughts might be useful as you ponder your very own growth challenge.
Let’s start with the easy one:
1 Persist. Keep in touch with your old clients. It’s obvious, but surprising how we forget to do it. So, be pushy, but keep it always on the jolly side of annoying as all you’re trying to do is to keep on their radar. My colleague Richard Morris has been pestering (nicely) with a potential client for nearly two years and we finally had a meeting with them last week with a brief for a proposal.
2 Copy. Do you like what your competitors are doing? Then do the same kind of thing. I am often looking at our competitors’ work and thinking ’wish I had done that’. Well, what are you waiting for? Might seem strange, but it’s exactly what our clients do with their products and services when they see their competitors’ launching something new.
3 Specialise. Be master of one thing. Every group tends to be stereotyped, so accept it and focus. Do it brilliantly and aim for clients that only fit your approach. Becoming famous for one thing might take years, but eventually you will have a solid portfolio of work and – hopefully – a credible reputation that clients will want to rely on for your experience and peace of mind. Or you could do the opposite, of course, and…
4 Generalise. Add more strings to your bow, spread your risk instead of finding yourselfin a specialist area that nobody wants any more, do lots of different things. For some this makes life interesting as you swing from, say, a retail store to a corporate website. In theory, it’s a good way to spread the money too. It can make recruitment a bit tricky and, of course, the moniker ’master of none’ is quite potentially a problem.
5 Hunt – and target your future clients. Don’t go for stuff you can never possibly win – or even deliver – and be sure it’s what you want. A mate told me that he made one of the big supermarket brands a target and it took him nearly two years to get the opportunity, but then he discovered that there wasn’t any money to be made in that particular line of design. So be careful with what you wish for.
6 Farm. It’s by far the easiest and safest growth strategy. They say it takes around seven times as much effort to find a newclient than to service an existing one, so wrap your arms around that client of yours and show that you love them. Innovate and look at other parts of their business to see how you can help, as clients love consultancies thinking about them.
7 Publish. Is this vanity publishing or a necessary tool of the trade? The brochure is a virtual thing of the past and, equally, blogging isn’t for everyone. Maybe you have a special view on a sector that can be used to target potential clients or perhaps some research is giving you an insight into emerging consumer needs. As long as it’s relevant it might give you a way into future client work.
8 Adapt. Some consultancies are completely changing their business model. The digital revolution is transforming our lives, and it’s even led me to write this on my iPad. From websites to interactive apps and animated shorts, design groups have adapted and evolved into completely new versions of their former selves. Digital is still the daddy so get stuck in and find the niche that applies to your business, and evolve.
9 Export. OK, so this could well be easier said than done, as our industry has been exporting for years. And yet, many foreign clients still like to buy internationally as it gives them reassurance – and a bit of cachet – within their own business. There is a perceived higher value in choosing an international group, so this can provide a valuable stream of work for your consultancy. We’ve done a lot of Russian work over the years and you really need to take time to understand their ways of working. But personally I love it, and I find each new client culture interesting.
10 And finally, last but not least, invest. It’s critical to your consultancy’s growth, as youcan’t grow unless you hire or develop your team. Give people the time to evolve and take on the work that you did. When it works out, it will be one of the better decisions you will have made.
So if we assume that growth will come, a lot will boil down to how personally motivated you are to this growing change.
If you are happy with what you are doing then that’s absolutely fine, of course. Or alternatively, like Palin always did, after finishing the plate of food, he thanked his hosts and with a cheerful wave was on his wayto find a new adventure.
Franco Bonadio is chief executive of Identica