By Jody Sutter
New business is one of those responsibilities that should be fully integrated into your daily schedule—some days in a more active and focused way, other days more passively and opportunistically.
But for a lot of agency leaders, it’s not.
New business is an activity for times when the pipeline dries up. Or it’s what you do when you’re in a competitive pitch. When it’s not a daily habit, consistent action is hard to sustain—because it means starting over again and again and again…
You’ll reach points when you conclude you can’t go on like this any longer. You’ll pause, gather your team, and brainstorm ideas for a better business development strategy.
There’s satisfaction in developing new ideas. It’s inherently optimistic and creative! You remove yourself from the daily grind and whisk your team off to an inspirational spot to think big strategic thoughts and reshape your agency’s destiny. And I encourage this! In fact, I conduct these kinds of workshops. They’re energizing and I get satisfaction from watching an agency team walk away excited about the plans they’re going to implement.
What I don’t enjoy is watching them neglect those plans as soon as the daily grind takes over again.
Good Habits are Helped by Strong Frameworks
Acting on new ideas requires us to form new productive habits, which is a challenge in and of itself. I’m not an expert on how humans form habits, but I can speak from personal and professional experience that good habits around business development are aided by strong frameworks.
I created such a framework a few years ago after I’d had an epiphany: if money, time, and resources were no object, an agency would do it all—blogs, Instagram Lives, webinars, proprietary research, PR, prospecting outreach… Anything that you didn’t like to do or have time to do, you’d hire someone else for or you’d outsource it.
But time and money is always an issue. And agency leaders are rarely going to do stuff they don’t like to do.
What I realized was that to make a business development strategy stick, it must be based on tactics that are right for that agency.
This inspired me to create the New Business Ecosystem™ framework.
A New Business Ecosystem includes anything your agency uses to support business development, from a pricing proposal to a website to social media strategy. Like a natural ecosystem, it promotes growth when the interconnected parts are suitable for the environment.
When I’m building a New Business Ecosystem with my clients, we look at all they’re doing and all the tools they’re using and we assess their utility against goals, resources, and strategic positioning. We ask:
- Are the tools and activities right for the culture and environment?
- Do they encourage and nurture growth?
- Do they support the agency’s goals?
- Are there too many tactics to easily sustain?
- Do they all interact in a healthy way?
Usually, the outcome of this exercise results in a sort of kanban board for new business. From there we can create a plan and define the activities required to get to the goals
Filling the Void between What You Want and How to Get There
This plan helps fill in the void between stating a goal, such as increasing revenue by 25%, and taking the right steps to achieve it.
A New Business Ecosystem offers you not only a bird’s-eye view of the activities that are most likely to get you closer to your goals, but a roadmap for what you must be doing on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.
When you know exactly what actions to take, and those actions nudge you out of your comfort zone, you start to see progress. You can apply this to any goal you have in life, whether it’s to retire at age 50, learn how to juggle, or grow your agency’s total revenue by 25%.
Your New Business Ecosystem will be custom to your agency, but here’s my advice on the actions you should take on an annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily basis.
Your New Business Ecosystem is essentially your new business plan and you should evaluate it annually. Look for opportunities to systematize and scale what you’re already doing if it’s producing good results. And explore what can be added or taken out of your ecosystem to keep it at an optimal level of health.
Here are four areas to consider:
- Recommit to your core tactics. Analyze the core business-generating activities you’ve chosen based on your new business strengths. (Here’s a quick and fun quiz you can take to find out your new business strengths profile.) Are they working? Do they need improvement or optimization? Can they be delegated to others or are they still dependent on your involvement?
- Add complementary tactics. If you’ve got the core activities running on autopilot, consider adding complementary activities that support them. For example, if you’ve got momentum behind a speaker strategy and it’s starting to generate leads consistently, complementary activities might include nurturing those leads with a webinar series, getting a better CRM tool in place to manage those leads, or adding functionality to your agency’s website to better engage leads.
- Assess the health of intellectual property. Review IP workhorses like case studies, team bios, and credentials documents to see if they need updates. These don’t change frequently, they do require care and attention if they are going to work effectively. Be proactive instead of being forced to make last-minute and hasty updates to fulfill an immediate need.
- Review and recalibrate new business policies and procedures. Are they still working smoothly? Do they help you make the right decisions about what new business to pursue?
I’ve become a big fan of quarterly working sprints to accomplish goals (I think they can be so effective I’ve re-engineered most of my programs to include them).
Quarterly sprints can be a great way to tackle both necessary projects, like a website redesign, that easily get pushed aside by daily emergencies and distractions as well as “always improving” projects—projects that push you into new areas and have a positive effect on your new business operations over time. These are often the complementary activities I mentioned in bullet #2 above—initiatives you’ve been wanting to start but never seem to have the bandwidth for.
For your first foray into quarterly sprints, choose one or two goals and make them manageable. Outline a plan for what must get done on a daily, weekly or ongoing basis and use that plan to assign yourself and your team weekly actions that, if taken, will lead you to successful completion.
This approach works because it deconstructs big, amorphous statements like, “we’ll improve how our agency generates leads” which can be hard for teams to convert into action, into a tactical road map that everyone understands and follows. Seeing progress being made instills a priceless sense of satisfaction.
Daily, weekly, and monthly
I lump these together because they’re all related to frequent and consistent action required to keep your new business ecosystem humming.
Plus, they tend to vary by goal, individual, and agency. For example, if your core activity is outbound sales, your activities will include things like daily list-building and sales calls. If your activity is content marketing, your weekly and monthly activities will be related to keeping the content engine running: writing, shooting, editing, formatting, distribution, and promotion.
And, of course, always include:
- A regularly scheduled new business status meeting. Many agencies have these weekly (a few neglect to have them at all, which astounds me). I like a biweekly cadence, which frees up time on the schedule and allows you a wider perspective to see progress over time.
- Pipeline report updates and distribution. I’m all for a wider distribution of the pipeline report, especially if you expect most people at your agency to be involved in new business. Consider having a modified report that omits sensitive financial information that you can share with your larger team. I bet you’ll find they feel more invested and willing to participate.
And, finally, document ongoing activities that won’t be going away any time soon in an operations manual so that you can grow and scale them as your agency grows.
I was recently a guest on Marcel Petitpas’s The Agency Profit podcast and Marcel and I talked in-depth about how to operationalize a new business strategy, including many of the points I make here (if you want to take a listen, click this link). He asked me how an agency owner can stay accountable to goals and objectives when it’s so easy to get pulled off track by client needs.
My answer: lean on your New Business Ecosystem.
Having a plan and supporting structure in place makes it much easier to regain the momentum you’ve lost. It eliminates that common and demotivating feeling of “starting from scratch”.
Because the fact is you will get derailed (I haven’t figured out how to crack that case yet but when I do, you’ll all be the first to know)—you just want to minimize its impact by going back to the actions that are right for you.
About The Author:
Jody Sutter, is the owner of The Sutter Company, a business development consultancy that specializes in working with leadership at small ad agencies who are underperforming when it comes to winning new business and would like to win the right clients consistently but also make the process less chaotic and exhausting for their teams. To learn more about how she can help your agency, schedule a free 45-minute consultation here. For more information about The Sutter Company’s programs for optimizing new business at small agencies, go to www.thesuttercompany.com.