After being in the creative industry for over 12 years, I decided the time was right to have a go on my own. No children at the time, a modest mortgage – if ever there was a time to take a gamble, this was it.
On a dark, wet October night I set off from London to Dorking to meet a mutual friend who would help me with the legalities of setting up my own company. I left with a smile on my face. zed was registered at Companies House, had a VAT number and even a bank account (with nothing in it). This time next year, Rodney…
Except I had no clients, hadn’t approached anyone and the country was entrenched in a global financial crisis. And I hate sales. Hate the idea of picking up the phone and selling to someone (still do); cold calling brings me out in sweats.
But zed is still here, 10 years on. So I guess I must have done something right. I’m not going to pretend I’m some business guru; follow me and this is the road to a successful business, and so on. But I’ve learnt a lot about what’s worked for zed and what hasn’t…
- Cold Calling doesn’t work…
… I should know, I’ve never tried it. I just couldn’t, no matter how much I needed clients. Instead, I wrote to potential clients. I introduced myself, laid down my experience and how I could help them - but didn’t go into hyperbolic detail.
Thankfully, it worked. Probably because I wasn’t a salesman. The best person to sell your business – certainly at the outset – is you. You’ll have the most drive, passion and personality.
- Seven points of contact…
But don’t expect an instant rush to your door. My old boss had an anecdote he always rolled out to his sales team that it takes seven points of contact to win a new client. I’m not sure what statistics back that up, but the point is a good one. Many of our long-standing clients are those I’d been in touch with for two years before anything materialised.
- People buy from people
When you eventually get in front of someone, be yourself. Yes, there are fundamentals you need to meet in terms of quality of response, budgets, expertise, but you need to be liked. That goes a long way in building a successful, long-term relationship. Especially in the creative industry when the projects we work on are so enjoyable.
- Speak to your clients
One of my golden rules is use email as the last resort, not the first. A conversation gets a query sorted quicker, continually strengthens a relationship and takes out any risk of misunderstanding.
- Even better, visit your clients
Take time out to drop in for a coffee. There’s a fine line between irritating them, of course, but there are so many other agencies out there circling around. The thrill of the new can be a strong pull. The stronger your relationship and the more you know about your client and their challenges, the better your position.
- Take time to listen to your clients
One of the best things we’ve done is to undertake client research: sit down and ask what we’re good at, and, crucially where we need to improve. Don’t be afraid to have awkward conversations. It’s better to know of any negatives, no matter how small. They may fester and before you know it, it’s too late.
- Do what you say you’d do
I’ve been in so many meetings where people have nodded and agreed to do a whole number of things, without any intention of doing them. Write it down on the pad and forget about it later.
I’m fastidious about actioning everything, no matter how small. Some may not matter, and the client may not care, but it builds a huge amount of trust. Which matters more than anything.
- Create a culture early…
I knew someone who ran his own business from his spare room. But he would still put on a suit. It was his way of getting into character. Work out what sort of culture you want right at the start. This will define the company and the people you want in it. As you grow, it’s so much harder to create a new culture and expect people to adapt.
- Employ the right people
Obvious, I know. But they have to be the right ‘fit’. Our studio is small, housing six of us. Being good at what you do is a must, but we all need to get on. Having a temperamental genius just wouldn’t work. One of our values is to ‘have heart’: to be honest, friendly and welcoming. And this is just as important as anyone’s talent.
- Don’t be afraid to resign an account
Remember why you started your business in the first place. For me, it was to have control of my own destiny. I’m not motivated by money, more enjoying what I do and working with clients who contribute to that. If anyone compromises that and the culture you’ve created, show them the door.