In order to push forward in our careers, we often need to expose ourselves to the cold, hard truth and push past common excuses that do nothing but keep our development stagnant. Too often we settle for general career advice that beats around the bush because a) honest advice is often difficult to handle and b) no-BS advice on forming and maintaining a reputable design career isn't something many designers have access to.
After previewing four or so chapters of Brutally Honest, we can confidently say the book serves as motivation to cut the crap and start taking positive steps towards a successful, well-organized design career. The book itself is tastefully colorful because let's face it: boring textbooks suck, and the chapters are brief and digestible, yet powerful. Cohen has generously shared an excerpt from Chapter 8: It Is Not Cold Calling with the Core77 community, which you can read below:
Chapter 8: It Is Not Cold Calling
It is relationship building. Which, when you think about it, is just about being friendly and likable. That's not too hard, is it? Yet, most of us avoid one-on-one relationships like the plague and settle into what's easy.
I know that you are proud that most, or all, of your business comes from word-of-mouth referrals. That means your clients love you and they love to spread the love. Congratulations. Great job.
Now, for the bad news: Relying on referrals alone for new business is a limiting and unsustainable strategy that does not support the long-term health and growth of your firm. Essentially, you are allowing your current clients and contacts to drive the direction of your firm. Referrals will only take your business so far by limiting your ability to expand your expertise and services. You will eventually lose control of your own business because these incoming business opportunities may not align with your own business goals.
Ideally, the time you devote to new business should be spread out and allocated to four key focus areas:
- Responding to incoming word-of-mouth referrals
- Nurturing and building one-on-one relationships
- Managing and responding to online search inquiries
- Maintaining and expanding repeat business
This chapter will focus on the most important area of new business development: relationship building.
What do I mean by this? Essentially, it is time spent actively pursuing new business opportunities. It is not reactive, responsive, research, or referrals—it is actual hard work. But, it also can be fun and extremely rewarding.
Your Website Is Not New Business Development—It Is a Marketing Tool
The most common excuse designers give me is that their website is outdated, not maintained, or in development and that they first have to relaunch a more impactful and current site. When I ask them how long their site or various other marketing tools have been in development the consistent answer is: "On and off for the last two years." Sound familiar?
Essentially, that is two years of valuable time wasted not actively pursuing new business. Waiting for your site to be completed is not a legitimate excuse!
Let's face it, designers are rarely happy with the current state of their site or their positioning. A rm's positioning, work, services, staff, business, economic and competitive environments, industry trends, and even the tools and strategies used in our industry will always be evolving and changing. Just when a website is ready to launch, much of what it was based on has evolved and the process already has to begin anew!
Your website, positioning, case studies, etc., are only tools in your marketing arsenal which support your new business efforts. The lack of, or dissatisfaction with, any one of these marketing tools shouldn't prevent rms from actively pursuing new business opportunities. They are not how you get new business.
So, how do you move forward? First, you have to change your long-held negative impressions of what "new business development" means.
Change Your Mindset
Thinking about new business as "cold calling," "sales," "marketing" or even as a way to build a vast database of contacts, is a very limiting way to think. Rather, new business development is about building authentic one-to-one relationships. In reality, new business strategies are robust, multifaceted and, dare I say, even a fun and challenging aspect of any successful business. But they take time, focus, ongoing nurturing, and attention.
Be Personally Committed
New business will come, but only if you are committed and have the following traits:
The primary reason most clients select a new design partner is based on overall likability and trust. Be authentic. Be warm. Be nice. Don't try too hard. Be your natural self and new clients will like you for who you are not who they want you to be. Clients will forgive mistakes, want to work with you, defend you internally and, more importantly, recommend you to others.
LOVE WHAT YOU DO
If you aren't proud of what you do, no one else will want to work with you. If you love what you do, this will shine through in all your interactions.
DO GREAT WORK
Your work should speak for itself. Not all your work will be great, but, make sure the high profile, portfolio-based work is at the highest level and truly demonstrates your expertise, talent, and insight (and general awesomeness).
SOLVE CLIENT PROBLEMS
If the solutions you develop for your clients have measurable, tangible results, shout this from the rooftops. Develop strong case studies that highlight your success metrics, and new clients will be attracted to you and convinced that working with you is a worthwhile, results-driven investment.
New business opportunities grow and develop over time; they don't happen overnight. It can take up to two years for an initial connection to result in some sort of new business opportunity. It's about the long haul, not short-term wins.
New business is like breathing; it is something you have to do in order for your business to live and grow. Don't just do it when you are slow. My relationship curation strategy, described later in this chapter, is one way to make it a habit. However, if you choose to pursue new business opportunities, you need to dedicate some time to it, not just use all your time reacting to incoming referral-based business. I recommend spending at least 10 percent of your time to new business development. That's only 4 hours a week or half of one day!
DO MORE, PLAN LESS
Stop over-thinking everything and worry less. Smaller, focused efforts have more impact and are easier to manage than larger and broader efforts. Focus more on achieving s.m.a.r.t. goals. Just do it. Actions speak louder than words. It is about the quality of your relationships and not the quantity of names on your mailing list.
MANAGING YOUR DATABASE
Your partner in crime in new business development, so to speak, is an effective but simple customer relationship management (crm) tool that helps you manage, organize, and track your growing database of contacts. Ideally, you should have your list categorized in a variety of ways, including:
- existing clients
- past clients
- potential clients
- key connectors
- by industry (to align with your areas of specialization)
- media (bloggers, podcasters, editors, magazines, publishers)
- vendors (printers, video production houses)
- strategic partners/contractors/freelancers
Remember, new business may take up to two years to build and this requires you staying in touch. Your crm tool helps you do this. It is also important to use the crm tool strategically: Again, it's about the quality of your relationships (knowing everyone on your mailing list) and not the quantity of names on your list.
The goal is not to grow your list to a size that is unmanageable, so yearly or even quarterly editing is often required. Make sure all your contacts are still relevant and categorized. You may even delete contacts that you are no longer interested in or have been on your list for too long (typically after 3-5 years) and have had little to no progress building a relationship with.
GO ON VACATION
Louise Fili once told me her favorite strategy for developing new business: she plans a vacation. As soon as the universe knows she's unavailable, the work comes flooding in! Works every time.
Emily is the Content Marketing Manager of Autodesk Fusion 360 where she focuses on shaping the overall Fusion 360 content strategy, including the Fusion 360 blog and social media directions. Prior to Autodesk, Emily was the DMTV Content Coordinator at Design Milk, the Business Editor at HYPEBEAST and an Editor at Core77. During her time at Core77, she also served as co-chair of the 2018 & 2019 Core77 Conferences.