Make it personal – how building your network could win you work

The DBA’s John Scarrott offers advice on how to build personal relationships with your network and win more work.


How many of your clients came back to work in January with the intention of moving jobs this year? If the 2015 Salary Survey 2015 from Design Week’s sister title Marketing Week is anything to go by, it could be almost 40%.

According to Marketing Week’s research:

  • 81% of marketers plan to leave their job in the next three years.
  • 39% of marketers plan to leave their job in the next 12 months.
  • 47% of marketers are either indifferent or unhappy about their job.

Has that got your attention? It might have, especially if you’ve ever found yourself affected by a client move; when the client took you with them, or when they didn’t and the new person brought their consultancy with them.

All this chopping and changing can easily create gaps in your workflow, as clients move from one place to another. These gaps form during the time between your work being cut off at the old company, and restarting at the new company, assuming your client takes you with them. Or when you have to replace the client if they don’t.

Aside from the issue of gaps in workflow, is the client actually moving to a business that you know and want to work with? This raises the question of who is in charge of the work that your consultancy takes on? And how much harder do you need to work to keep business coming in to the studio, with all of this movement going on?

It may be that these situations are both inevitable and outside of your control. It’s true to say that you can’t control your client’s decision to move jobs. But you can manage your behaviour around the situation of a client move, and take action to maximise your chances of benefiting from the changes.

So what can you do?

A useful first step is to take stock of how alert you are to potential changes. This starts with examining how you think about your clients. Just what are they to you? Here’s a question to help you think it through:

When you think of a client, who or what comes to mind?

  1. The company?
  2. The brand?
  3. The person responsible for the brand?
  4. The work you did for them?

To find the answer, consider what you focus on when you talk about your past or current clients in different contexts, for example at new business meetings or during internal discussions. Do you tend to talk about the company, the brand, the individual or the work?

Why is this question worth considering? Because how you relate to your client will indicate what your likely exposure is to client job changes. The more you think about your clients in terms of a relationship with something other than the person, the more locked off you could be from detecting changes, and as a result, the more exposed you’ll be to those changes.

Here’s why it makes sense to be conscious and deliberate about how you think about your clients. Ask yourself: who dictates the decision in a client company to use a particular consultancy? In truth it may well be a blend of “company policy” and the individual. But by inadvertently getting fixated on the idea that the company or brand is the client, a consultancy can be missing opportunities to develop new business.

The real opportunity to influence how you are affected by people moves rests on the idea that decisions on which consultancy to use are made by people, who base their decisions on their opinions and experience. And if those people are moving around as frequently as this survey suggests, it makes sense to refocus on the people rather than the companies.

What could you do to make sure your focus is in the right place? One strategy is to consciously work on building and then maintaining your network.

Imagine if you had kept in touch with all of the people you have ever worked with; what would your network look like now? By staying connected to the people that you have a past or current connection with, you can nurture your relationships. It is possible that you might have enough contacts to never have to do any cold new business again.

Five steps

Imagine having relationships so strong that they would keep work flowing to you. That’s the goal. Here are five steps to get started on nurturing your network using social media, in particular LinkedIn.

1) Follow the people as well as the company. Use LinkedIn to connect with all of the people that you have worked with in the immediate past. You could take the past three years as a time period. Start by making a list of all of the people that you came into contact with. Then find them on LinkedIn and connect. Always add a personal message to make the contact relevant and this will increase the likelihood that they will accept.

2) Stay engaged with small gestures. When you have your group assembled, use the LinkedIn functions to track their career progress. LinkedIn gives you options to say “Congratulations” on promotions or anniversaries. Take the opportunity to “like” these events and write a personal message. Keep an eye on extra roles that your clients are taking on in addition to their existing role. These could be sources of potential future work.

3) Do some analysis of your new, enlarged network. What sectors are your former clients working in now? Are they the same as those that they were in when you worked for them? If not, how are they different? And what sort of opportunity does that represent for you?

4) Make it easy for your network to stay engaged with you. Make sure that all of your LinkedIn contacts are on the list to receive your Blog bulletin, ezine or whatever means you have of sharing insights with them. And if they have moved sector, consider how relevant your communication is to them now.

5) Reach out. Your small gestures and regular communication will make it easier for you to drop them a note. Lead with two messages: “what’s going on with you” and “we have one or two insights we’d like to share with you”. Neither of these are a sales message or a communication that asks: “have you got any projects on the horizon?” Let go of the need to ask about projects. If they have a project coming up, they will tell you about it.

This is a simple, straightforward way to start to nurture your network. It’s really important to stay away from any sales messages. You’ve spent time nurturing a relationship. Treat it with care. Cherish it for its own sake. And you’ll see the benefits.

John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @DBAJohnScarrott.

Latest articles


Conference: Design for Europe – key learnings

Design for Europe: Powering Innovation was a one-day summit which took place in Tallinn Estonia this month, with industry experts discussing everything from education to skills development and business growth – we summarise the speakers’ key points on the value of design.


Michael Wolff: “Why all the poor logos?”

Michael Wolff scrutinises recent logos which he believes have fallen short and offer little more than “visual nonsense” as he assesses where they’ve gone wrong and how they could have been designed differently.


Offset Sheffield: 5 talks to catch

Design conference Offset has been going since 2008, taking over Dublin for three days a year with inspirational, educational and amusing talks from an array of well-known and up-and-coming designers. Having started up a London festival last year, it hits Sheffield for the first time in 2016, and will feature 60 speakers across two stages. We’ve put together a handful of must-see talks.