This week, we’re excited to be launching our very own webinar series, where we’ll be meeting experts from across the agency world – sharing their stories, insights and game-changing ideas. To kick things off, Daniel de la Cruz from The Agency Collective dropped by to chat about drumming up new business – and why finding your specialism is worth its weight in gold.
Watch the full webinar here, or read on for the headlines…
Say hello to Daniel de la Cruz
Daniel (you can call him Dan) is managing director of The Agency Collective. It’s a supportive community of over 1,000 agency owners who share knowledge, create accountability and, ultimately, help each other build stronger, more successful companies. There’s a focus on doing new business well, building a great culture and shaping up your finances – all areas creative founders can find tough.
A budding boxer, former triathlete and part-time mountaineer, Dan’s not afraid of a challenge. In fact, when he spoke to Tom, our New Business Development Manager, he was pretty laid back about a rather fetching black eye. Boxing grounds him, he says, and it pushes him out of his comfort zone – something he encourages agency owners to do too.
The power of specialisation
The Agency Collective was set up to help the independents, underdogs and start-ups of the creative world find their feet and get growing. Over time, it’s broadened to include more established agencies, and its offer is always evolving. In the coming months, the team will be helping members explore the power of specialisation – why having a sharper, more niche offering can be an incredible asset, and how to define yours.
It’s something Dan’s fired up about, and with good reason. The Collective conducts an annual benchmarking report for independent agencies (still the vast majority of their members) and the most recent results showed that specialist agencies were 9% more likely to say their turnover and net profits had grown by 25% in the last year? than generalists. Most agencies expect around 15% growth, so that’s a healthy – and convincing – figure.
Picking a niche with real potential
Dan believes finding that niche can have a massive impact on your agency, and the sooner you do it, the better. But what if you’re still looking for yours? He says zeroing in on the right specialism means looking at both your skillset and the industry you want to target.
Ideally, that industry will be one you’re already flying in. But if you’re not passionate about it, you’ll eventually run out of steam, so Dan advises balancing passion with potential. Likewise, make sure your niche makes commercial sense. If you’re going after a sector where businesses can’t afford to pay what you need to charge, think again. And if you’re so super niche that your pool of potential projects is tiny… rethink before you run out of work.
Host an event, build a community
So, once you’ve defined your niche, what’s the secret to generating new leads? Dan explains that one of the biggest, most effective trends he’s seeing at the moment is agencies running their own events. And you don’t need a big budget to make a big impression.
Breakfast is a great place to start. Venues are cheap in the morning, coffee and pastries won’t set you back much and for maybe £200 you can host ten potential leads for a couple of hours, building relationships by just getting together and talking.
Dan says he also sees lots of agencies running workshops for clients within a specific sector. They look at current challenges, give people the chance to connect and position the agency as a hub at the forefront of that industry, creating real demand.
“It’s a really low-friction sell,” he explains. Rather than approaching a client cold with a big-budget proposal, you just invite clients along. “The only thing they need to invest is their time.”
Making friends with bigger (and smaller) fish
Public speaking, being on panels and even doing your own podcast can all help create that same exposure, says Dan. But one of the big things he recommends is building strategic partnerships.
It might be that you partner with an agency with a slightly different skill set to yours, working together to offer clients more. You can also form alliances with agencies smaller or larger than you, so if you’re approached by a client that’s not the right fit, you can recommend them to a team who’ll return the favour.
“It’s a really good way of working together to capitalise on each other’s clients,” says Dan, and it creates a positive circle where you’re building each other’s reputation. His advice to smaller agencies? “Don’t be afraid to speak to agencies that are larger than you. You’d be amazed at the amount of things you could actually do for a larger agency.”
Making new business a new habit
Generating new leads is a constant pressure for agency owners and the worst thing you can do, according to Dan, is nothing at all. Owners often know they should be nurturing leads, but never quite get to it because they’re so busy. When things go quiet, they start planning, but by the time they’re ready, a project usually comes in and those plans get set aside.
This creates a constant circle of peaks and troughs. And the only way to beat it, he believes, is to be disciplined. Put time in your diary every week – every day even – to look after your leads. And be patient. Sometimes they’ll take months or years to pay off, but if the right lead comes good, it could transform your business.
To pitch or to ditch?
Tom and Dan also talked about the thorny (and universally agonised over) issue of pitching. How much work is too much? And should you even be pitching at all? They discussed The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, by Blair Ens, which lays out 12 ways agency owners can distance themselves from the competition, without the stress of the pitch process.
Dan knows how difficult it can be for agencies to put that into action when it feels like their clients hold all the power. But, he says, “the more specialised you are, the more power you have in that relationship.” If you can get to a position where the client genuinely sees you as the best in your field, you’ll be able to set the rules and those rules can be – we don’t pitch.
A fresh approach to pricing
Another area agencies often wrangle with is pricing. One answer, Dan believes, is to take a three-tier approach. Show new clients an under-budget option, an on-budget option and a blue-sky, way-over-budget option that really shows off your creativity.
In a lot of cases, clients will shy away from the lowest option because they don’t want to look cheap, choosing the on-budget route but cherrypicking extras from your big-budget package.
This creates exciting opportunities for them, great projects for you and bigger budgets that help to keep your agency growing. Again, being able to show you’re a specialist will add value to your recommendations and enable you to charge more for things like workshops or consultancy.
Once you’ve got a client onboard, securing a retainer for regular work can help you plan, forecast and pay the bills. It’s about forging that deeper level of partnership, so even if the next big win takes a while to come good, you’ll be able to survive while you’re working on it.
Want to watch the webinar in full? Grab a cuppa and click here to get started.
If you’re an agency owner or director, you can find out more about joining The Agency Collective, by emailing [email protected].