Everybody wants more clients. As a business owner it’s a challenge that can keeps me up at night. However, it’s important employed designers don’t underestimate the importance of bringing new work to the board room every once in a while.

I’m confident everyone agrees business development is utterly relentless and rarely enjoyable. However, the moment we stop developing business things become far bleaker.

Business development is the act of winning work. It’s the tactics used to catch a client’s eye, build their trust and ultimately sell your services. New clients are won just as well with a tweet, a sexy mailer or two years of protracted negotiations.

There’s no set plan for business development. It’s a strategy unique to the seller, and the industries, brands and individuals you’re selling to.

My background is business development. I’ve been helping creative people get paid since 2005 and it’s fair to say, I’ve used almost every trick in the book. There are some tools I’ll always return to; building relationships, running workshops, writing articles while others still give me the screaming fantods (I’m looking at you, cold calling).

Whatever you call it, boil biz dev down and you’re left with three ways to win clients. Selling, Not Selling and Reputation.

Selling by Selling.

Cards on the table; biz dev is just a fancy word for selling. But we had to rebrand it because nobody trusts a salesman. Back in the day, businesses would phone every relevant business in the directory to request a meeting and sell their service. Thankfully those days are long gone.

In my entire career I’ve made two successful, old school sales. Two. In a ten year career and I’m putting them both down to luck.

Selling is an art. It requires meticulous planning, research and execution. Sales people use a variety of tools to build a relationship with prospective clients. Direct communications such as mailers have thankfully replaced cold calls (a serious no no these days). While the advent of social media and industry events affords us the opportunity to warm up a prospect.

Selling doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As design buyers get busier, their tolerance for unsolicited advances diminishes. I should know. I was once a marketing director myself. Everyday I found my pigeon hole stuffed with expensive pieces of print from some of the UK’s top agencies. I didn’t call a single one back.

So if you plan to sell, you might also consider Not Selling.

In 2013 I replaced selling with doing. I learned a lot from my year as a marketing director, especially how terrifying buying creativity can be. As a studio, we chose to pull back the curtain on our work processes and present a version of creativity which hopefully our clients could comprehend.

These days, we use any available medium to share the realities of creative work. Guest blogging, white papers, conferences and workshops afford a creative professional the opportunity to share their experience with a prospective client.

Not selling is a risky business. Giving clients the tools to decide for themselves means many qualify themselves out before you’ve ever met them. Yet, while the amount of clients approaching you may be lower, they arrived assured of your capabilities and easier to secure.

However, selling or not selling is irrelevant if you’re let down by a bad rep.

Statement of the century: Keeping existing clients happy requires less money and effort than securing a new one. All busy clients want is a designer they can work well with. Deliver and you’ll stay paid for as long as you don’t stuff up. Impress a client and they’ll tell their client friends about you.

If you’ve read to the end hoping to be let into some big biz dev secret, there isn’t one. Follow the rules or don’t. It’s all gravy baby. Just remember…


Be good and don’t cock up.