Our readers, our staff and Kickstarter enthusiasts alike have shown a huge interest in seasoned design consultant Emily Cohen's new book, Brutally Honest: No Bullshit Business Strategies to Evolve Your Creative Business. So, we decided to publish a second excerpt in advance of the full release. Brutally Honest still has 13 days left in it's campaign, so if you like what you read, you still have the opportunity to get on the "no bullshit" train to design business success. Without further ado, here's part two of Chapter 8: It Is Not Cold Calling:
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Chapter 8: It Is Not Cold Calling (Pt. 2)
Over the 25 years I have been in this profession, I've heard all the excuses that designers use to justify why they are not currently pursuing new opportunities. Many of these rationalizations may be all-too-familiar to you:
"I don't know where to begin."
"I'm a quiet, modest or shy person."
"I don't need to. I get all of the business I can handle through referrals."
"Eventually I want to find a partner or hire someone to do that."
"I don't have time."
"I will... as soon as I finish updating or re-doing my website, positioning, elevator pitch, case studies, SEO strategy, [insert some other marketing tool here]."
"I do. I send out e-mail blasts."
My Relationship Curation Strategy
The following is one simple strategy that I have developed for my time-challenged clients.
Week 1: Research and identify 5 contacts (that's only 1 per day!)
Week 1 & Day 2: Write and mail customized letters to these 5 contacts and attach 2-3 case studies
Week 2 & Day 1: Call the 5 contacts from week 1 (refer back to cover letter and case studies)
Week 2 & Day 2: Research 5 new contacts (see who to reach out to below)
Week 2 & Day 3: Write and mail letter and case studies to 5 new contacts
Weekly: Repeat the above each week, be diligent, and never stop
The goals of this strategy are: Keep it simple. Stay consistent and focused. Build new relationships. Make relationship curation a habit. Dedicate time each week.
New Business Efforts
To grow a more sustainable and viable business, consider how you allocate your limited time to new business development efforts. Here is one way to think about how you do that:
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New Business Opportunities
The following highlights some obvious, but often neglected, strategies and tactics for developing new relationships. But, let's start out with a few ways to expand your reach.
Live outside your work and family. Engage with the world. Meet people outside your immediate circle. I once heard the successful apparel entrepreneur Johnny Earle, of Johnny Cupcakes fame, speak at an AIGANational conference in New Orleans. He humorously, but perfectly, captured this approach by suggesting the audience "meet strangers unless they drive a white van." You can meet people in the elevator, at sports events, while waiting on line, or even while on a subway, plane or train. You will meet people in the oddest places, so be open to that experience.
You never know where new business will come from. But, you have to take initiative. It's not about exchanging business cards willy-nilly or being overly aggressive. It's about reaching out and talking to people that you admire or want to work with or for. It's looking for opportunities to connect and not just build business.
ACTIVELY ATTEND CLIENT-FOCUSED EVENTS
Attend local, smaller events or large national conferences where your prospects and potential connectors meet and gather. Speak at these events. This is so important that I've devoted the next chapter to this tactic. But, the key word here is "actively."
NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS WITH INDUSTRY CONNECTORS
Connectors are your best ally and strongest referral source for new business. Connectors are non-competitive firms or individuals that offer a complimentary service within your target market and with whom you can collaborate with. They can include, but are not limited to: social media strategists, marketers, writers, new business consultants, developers and operational or industry experts. If these connectors, or strategic partners, also share your specialization, then you can also pitch business opportunities together.
STAY IN TOUCH
Send a handwritten thank you note to people who referred you, and a nice-to-meet you and stay-in-touch note after you meet someone new. And, send a thank you to your parents for teaching you this skill (while you kicked and screamed along the way).
GIVE YOUR LOYAL FOLLOWERS SOMETHING TO SAY
Without a strong position and a compelling and clear message, your connectors, followers and colleagues won't know what to say when they recommend or talk about you. In fact, they may say the wrong thing. Make sure you give them something to say about you by doing great work and providing them with memorable anecdotes and stories to tell others.
SUPPORT YOUR CLIENTS
Personally and publicly promote and praise the work and efforts of your clients. If they wrote an article, read it, quote it, post on social media about it, tell others. If they win an award, congratulate them. If they have a baby or get married, send them a gift. Spread the love. They will reciprocate.
READ AND RESEARCH
Stay aware of trends and trendsetters. Stay updated on business and industry publications, blogs and social media postings. Listen to industry podcasts and webinars. Actively attend industry events. Research and identify companies and specific individuals that you admire or who are doing intriguing things in their field.
If you don't specialize by industry, your potential prospect opportunities are vast, unmanageable, and overwhelming. That is the primary reason why most firms that are generalists are stymied by new business development efforts; it is just too much to manage and they don't know where to start.However, by specializing, you immediately narrow your focus. It makes new business development much less overwhelming, more focused, and frankly, very easy. (I discussed this more in-depth in Chapter 3, Specialization.)
Who Do You Reach Out To? ("Contacts")
The following are only a few ideas around how you can find and/or researchpotential candidates:
This is a great time to slowly (5 contacts at a time) re-organize and maintain the names on your current mailing list/CRM.
Periodically, perhaps each week, include 1-2 new contacts not already in your current database. These names may be researched and culled from:
- inspirational media you've read (blogs, articles, books, podcasts)
- inspirational speakers you've seen speak or have met at industry events
- contacts you've met while attending, or ideally speaking, at industry events (those events where you can meet/schmooze with potential clients)
- your top wish list of companies you'd love to work for (these may be a reach, but why the hell not?)
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.