How to see through political uncertainty and keep selling

… or how to keep a calm head while all about you lose theirs.

The last decade I’ve been running my design business has felt rather like being on a rollercoaster. The financial crisis was tough, but three general elections, a referendum and the Article 50 deadline has resulted in a recurring nightmare. I wouldn’t wish that little lot on my worst enemy.

As each of these events has drawn closer, it has had the identical effect on clients, colleagues and friends. That of anxiety, uncertainty and an understandable caution resulting in an unwillingness to commit to big projects.

It got me thinking about how I’ve navigated each of these five events – especially as the fifth is midway through and may even be postponed, causing a double-big-dipper effect. How does a service-industry business keep selling and steady the ship in turbulent times?

 

1 – Keep old faithfuls close

A small business owner assumes a certain amount of fluctuation month on month, but ultimately relies on stability. As a result I’m thankful beyond words for long-time clients who we service on a regular basis for whom our work is a critical facet of their business. In my case, hotels, PR agencies and social care businesses.

Having regular clients mitigates the chaos. It gives me a baseline each month as I go out and talk to potential new clients to know that a handful rely on my business still being around.

As a result I would recommend staying in very regular touch with ‘old faithfuls’ who have stuck with you through thick and thin. Go and have coffee with them, buy them lunch, say thank you. Maybe they’ll give you a new brief.

 

2 – When new clients get in touch, don’t send a proposal, arrive with it

When a prospective new client calls from out of the blue, my usual way of doing things has been to swiftly write a proposal and send it over. Efficiency is the order of the day with these things and people don’t like waiting for a costing.

However I’ve changed my approach a little. When clients are spending money with a tight budget, they want to know who they’re spending it with. Anonymous suppliers are disposable ones. So I’ve taken to either arriving with my proposal and explaining it line by line, or sending it with a meet-and-greet in the diary.

This kind of personal approach makes a big difference and can even allow for you to tweak the proposal and invariably results in the addition of a wider scope of work if the meeting is fruitful.

 

3 – Be flexible with costs, but with one eye on the bottom line

It seems to me that in good times and lean, everyone is looking for a bargain.

However I have grown wary of saying yes too quickly to simply slashing a cost – but not amending the workload that goes with it. Doing that has the difficult effect of taking our work into loss-making territory. That causes more problems than it solves. Sooner or later the tide turns and you’re still working on a project with a tiny budget and low hourly rate that can become a regular problem. You don’t want to have to turn down big-budget work because of promises you’ve made on a loss-maker.

My suggestion is that it’s better to be up-front and explain that a profit aspiration is key to your success. We’re lucky in that respect as tailoring product to a budget is easier in a service-based business like design. A great example is website projectss where a start-up client can launch with a smaller product that retains visual punch and gets them started. There’s always scope for a second project expanding the site in six months time. That’s good for you and your client.

 

4 – Adapt your offer to small fry as well as the big fish

This notion can apply to small jobs and small clients!

Sometimes clients assume we only want big-ticket jobs such as rebranding and website projects. While obviously those are welcome, in fact sometimes tackling smaller projects swiftly is a smart way of building trust with a new client. It also has the handy effect of working through items on their To Do list which had been kicking around.

  • That shabby PowerPoint presentation with dodgy graphics – sorted.
  • The out-of-date price-list PDF / printout – smartened up.
  • The new feature on the website to capture leads in a database – deployed and working.

As I mentioned, we work with large clients and small. Start-up businesses with a specific budget and requirement for a swift turnaround are just as welcome as larger organisations with a complex decision-making hierarchy.

Working with startups can also result in a really creative end-result, another bonus. Our need to work on exciting, visually innovative work doesn’t die off in tough times, but then again, neither does our need to pay the bills.

 

5 – Keep on keeping on

Panic gets you nowhere. Fundamentally, while external crises may cause you to lose sleep, remember to keep on plugging away in the daylight hours!

My suggestion is, in addition to following a few of these ideas above, to consider a marketing plan that has quick fixes and long-range answers for when the storm passes. Nothing lasts forever, but you still want to be around to see the better days. So in the short term, I’d suggest setting up a few meetings with your existing client base and seeing if shaking a few trees yields some much-needed fruit.

This approach is particularly effective if your services have evolved in the last year.

For instance, we’re offering a new way of data capture using fantastic online forms these days. So I am out banging the drum about those and the ways they can work for job applications on HR sections of websites or complex data capture of requests for financial services.

So, have faith, be confident, good luck. We all have to continue, it’s just a question of seeing the best way forward.

 

If you’re a business in need of a dutiful design team, get in touch on 020 7351 4083.