It’s an issue a lot of our customers face: being priced out of work by newer, shinier and yes, cheaper competition. If your business is losing clients this way, it’s time to assess what’s going on.
As any business grows, one of the biggest challenges is keeping costs to a minimum while bringing in more revenue and staying profitable. In others words: achieving business efficiency. So how can you go about doing this?
Tip 1: Automate your systems and processes
A lot of small businesses still do everything manually which results in a huge amount of time wasted on admin tasks and may potentially even create inconsistencies (human error!) in their process. An online project management system can be a great way of automating your workflow, reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. And regardless of your business size, you can find a system with the right features to fit your needs.
- Compare product reviews; Third-party review sites like GetApp, Capterra and Trust Radius will help you get an unbiased opinion on different apps in the category you’re looking for. Just hit “project management” or “job management” in the search bar and you’ll be able to compare ratings and reviews for multiple products. If you’re a Xero user, check out the Xero Business Community for add-on reviews!
- Visit the product website for more information; Once you shortlist a few likely candidates from the review sites, you should dig deeper into the individual products by visiting their respective websites. You’ll be able to achieve a better understanding of the product’s features here. Case studies and testimonials on the website will help paint a better picture of how the software will work for your business/industry. You will also have access to a free demo or video tutorials that will once again solidify your understanding of the product. Where possible, take advantage of free trial offers to really see whether the system works for your needs.
Great, now that you’re on the way to finding a great project management system, you need to turn your attention to other parts of the business that you can automate to make your life easier. One of the other key areas will typically be your marketing. Automating your marketing process will save you heaps of time, freeing up resource to do what do you do best and what you’re in business for in the first place! Tools like Mailchimp will help you sort out your email marketing needs while Buffer or Hootsuite will do the same for your social posts. And if you need a more comprehensive content management system, you can find what you need through one of those nifty review sites as well!
Tip 2: Upgrade Your Technology
Staying up to date with technology is critical to stay competitive and efficient – but this doesn’t necessarily mean you need a flashy budget to do so. Prioritise your technology needs. You can even consider selling old equipment (printers, laptops, iMacs and screens) at a discounted price to staff to recover some of the cost. If some cases renting gear may be more appropriate. When I worked at an agency, our motion department often hired camera equipment before we could justify getting our own drone, 4 years later!
Bonus tip: Implement changes slowly so it’s more affordable and your team has time to get used to the changes!
Tip 3: Move to the cloud
Still using paper to track your invoices or a clunky time management software from the dinosaur era? It’s time for an upgrade! Migrating to the cloud requires little or no investment, is relatively straightforward, and makes remote working a real possibility. We wrote more about the benefits of moving to the cloud in The Ultimate Guide to Managing an Agency in the Cloud.
Tip 4: Consider the remote team
Before you start shaking your head, take a moment to seriously consider it! Remote working can be a great way to keep your operational costs low – hence helping you to be more competitive. Apart from low overheads, you’ll have increased flexibility (work from anywhere!) too. Plus with so much great technology to support our ways of working, if your team is scattered around the globe, collaboration through technology becomes even more of a reality.
You can find a comprehensive list of communication tools for working remotely in this post...because hey, at WorkflowMax we love remote working! So much so that we’ve dedicated an entire section of our blog to it! For more inspiration on how to make remote working work in your business, check out some of the posts on our Work & Wander section.
Tip 5: Re-examine your value proposition
“Think about what makes him laugh, or shake his head. Start a conversation. Picture him reading. Imagine the questions he’s asking. And answer these questions in your sales copy” – Henneke Duistermaat, EnchantingMarketing.com
One of the great tragedies of business – especially for creatives – is that clients often don’t understand the value we provide. In their minds, they want an isolated outcome – a new logo, a quick retail fit-out, an updated website. If we can’t succinctly communicate our value – the whole value we provide – then we are missing out on major opportunities and even selling ourselves short. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
Are you committing the “do it all” strategic sin? Also lamented by The Economist, this “something for everyone” approach won’t get you anywhere. What channels are you using to communicate your business services? Are these the most relevant ones and best suited for your target market? If you have a website, is it easy to find your services? Is your site SEO and keyword optimised? Were the last testimonials from more than a year ago? Are you updating your portfolio of work on on the regular?
Remember too, language evolves with the times – are you even using the right “lingo” to resonate with your target audience? And most importantly of all, are you speaking in terms of BENEFITS as opposed to FEATURES or services?
- Re-phrase your proposition so you’re speaking from the client’s perspective. Think “what’s in it for me?” every time you assess the copy on your website or other comms. Use a simple left to right diagram as above to help you re-write your existing content. You'll find that benefit driven copy is more effective – client has a problem, they want to know how you will help them solve it. What will they get out of it? When you write this copy, it should be simple, devoid of industry jargon or buzzwords, and in language your clients would use. Enchanting marketing offers some great tips on writing benefit driven copy.
- Use a visual approach; You’ve probably heard the saying “an image is worth a thousand words” – well, as a writer I say the real magic happens when images and words complement each other, perfectly and succinctly, to deliver real value. Global retail and brand consultancy Fitch Design illustrate their four step process visually on their website (see above), clearly illustrating how their services fall under each step of the process.
Tip 6: Re-invigorate your sales process
“Everything must first be sold, before it can be experienced or consumed” – Sales Tactics, NZIHF
Value is an intangible thing and hard to measure. That’s why you really need to nail your sales process to ensure you’re capitalising on new leads coming through the door (thanks to your updated value proposition and snazzy looking website, you definitely should have new leads coming through the door!). Unfortunately sales often gets a bad rap. But ultimately sales is simply about getting the client to commit to what they need and want. To do this, you need to:
- Invest in the right sales aids. Something as simple as a double-side 3 page brochure will help you tell your story better. It also serves as a leave-behind and is more effective than showering clients with endless business cards.
- Set a target conversion rate. You need to know what you’re aiming for or how will you know if what you’re doing is successful/making a difference?
- Practice, practice, practice! Never underestimate the power of a polished sales pitch. The more you practice (even role play it out!), the more confident you will be at learning to deal with objections and resistance to change.
- Try different sales tactics; Not every tactic will be appropriate for all clients. It’s good to have a variety up your sleeve. For example, offering incentives or options (but limit these!)
Tip 7: Keep an eye (or two) on competition
Bilbo: You will keep an eye on Frodo, won't you?
Gandalf: Two eyes, as often as I can spare them .
– Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of The Ring
Okay slightly obscure quote there, but to stay ahead of the game, you need to be keenly aware of what’s happening in your immediate surroundings i.e. have both eyes open. Read a lot, keep up with developments in your industry, follow industry publications and consumer trends. You could even consider collaborating with the other agencies: They probably have a skillset that complements yours, that you would benefit from taking advantage of. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…
Tip 8: Look after your existing customers.
“Get them to know you again” – Nick Redstone, General Manager NZ Sales, Deployed
If you’re in a highly competitive industry, your clients are in a constant threat of being poached. So while winning new business should definitely be a key strategy, client retention is incredibly important and in some cases, might even be your primary strategy. It takes a lot more energy to get new clients than it takes to keep existing clients! We know some of our customers face the challenge of keeping existing customer happy. So what can you do?
- Show them a little love – when they’re least expecting it. Touch base with them regularly and personalise your communications. And while Easter and Christmas gifts are well established traditions in most industries, how about sending a reward for crossing a particular benchmark e.g. first six months of being a client or passing the 1 year anniversary?
- Share their story. If they loved the work you did for them, they will usually agree wholeheartedly to be featured in any comms or promo material. Remind them this will also increase their exposure.
- Get some extra inspiration: Check out Client Gifts: 10 Creative Ideas to Say Thanks to Clients This Christmas and Agency Owners: How to Find and Reward Profitable Clients for some creative ideas.
Tip 9: Embed innovation and creativity into your culture
“Stay hungry, stay foolish” – Steve Jobs
You can’t stay ahead of the game if your company culture doesn’t allow for it. Are your team members able to work autonomously? Do they have freedom of expression? Companies like Google actually let their employees spend a percentage of their time on a personal project. It also goes all the way back to the hiring process – bring on people who are smarter than you and make “future thinking” a regular part of everyone’s job.
Tip 10: Become the expert
I'm a fitness fanatic and know a lot of coaches and trainers who have specialised in a particular area – whether it’s strength and conditioning, olympic weightlifting or even Crossfit. But the best example is the author of the book I'm currently reading, Bret Contreras. He is known globally and industry-wide as the “glutes guy”. And the name has stuck. Is it flattering? Maybe not. But anyone who hears this knows exactly what his area of expertise is. Now I'm not suggesting you need to go out and give yourself a nickname – but I will stress the importance of having a niche and owning it.
When a potential client is looking for a service you provide, your business should spring to mind automatically. Who does digital experiences the best? You do. Who does retail fit-outs like no one else? You do! There won’t even be a question of going to competition because your expertise is your biggest asset. Become known for something and soon clients won't be worried about price, but will come to you exclusively, for your time and knowledge.
Bonus Tip: Use every opportunity to add value
Every meeting or point of contact during a project is an opportunity to go one step further. If your competition is doing X, you should be doing X + Y. Little things go a long way: reinforce that you're in this relationship for the long haul, by providing your clients monthly trend PDFs or weekly newsletters relevant to their industry. Make them realise when you're working for them, you're future-proofing them.
A yoga teacher I know used to prepare lavender scented eye-sleeves for her clients during Shivasana. The result of this attention to detail? Queues out the door. Sure, you don't need to be this extreme, but some pampering goes a long way. Treat every client like they’re an A client and reap the rewards.