How to approach new clients, with help from creative trio; Holiday, SOMETHING ELSE and Combination
In some companies, new business is an entire role – an entire salary or more dedicated to the endeavour. For many creative businesses and individuals, however, the practice is entirely an extra job, where they’re found balancing the pursuit of new work alongside the work they’re already doing. It’s a troublesome task and often one that can be draining and hard to find the time for. That being said, it’s got to be done, and the results of sticking with it can be quite extraordinary.
We’ve chatted with a trio of creative practices to learn more about how they manage the topic at hand, asking how they approach new clients, the etiquette of cold-calling and how to handle the dreaded conversation of budgets. In our lineup, we have Lisbon, Toronto and LA-based studio Holiday, Chicago-based agency SOMETHING ELSE and London-based practice Combination. Together, the three creative outlets have decades of industry expertise between them.
For some, new clients can arrive at their doorstep, having travelled by word-of-mouth, as is commonly the case for Combination’s Founder & Creative Director Craig Jackson. “Before I respond, I might go and do a little digging if I haven’t heard of the brand or person,” Jackson tells us, discussing how he’d typically reply when first approached. “But if it has come from a trusted source, I might reach out to the referral just to double-check,” he continues, finding out what the individual or brand is about before arranging to discuss further. “I would then arrange a call to get to know them to see if it’s something I’d like to be part of.”
This approach and optimistic, well-researched scepticism is mirrored in Holiday’s new business practice, with cold-calling and the act of directly reaching out to prospective clients a process they know well. “We usually do some light stalking on LinkedIn first,” Holiday’s Creative Partners Stuart Hall and Alex Bones tell us, sussing out what the individual has been involved in, all while maybe dropping a like or comment or two. “That way you can call out something like, ‘hey, we’ve seen you, we like you, so we thought we’d reach out,’ that sort of thing,” they continue, “but more formal and to the point – basically something to warm the cold,” raising the valid issue of cold-calling’s negative connotations.
Having sussed out the legitimacy of a potential client, however, Lauren Gallagher of SOMETHING ELSE suggests the significance of moral and personal affinity. “I look for clients that align with SOMETHING ELSE’s mission statement,” she tells us, raising the importance of working within what feels right and – more intimately – if one would be comfortable working with them. “I also look for clients that may have job openings for design positions,” she continues, noting, “although I’m not applying for the job, it usually means they are more receptive to outside design inquiries,” bringing into question the importance and respect for design within the prospective client’s company – elements of a collaboration that ultimately shape its success for both parties.
Having decided, however, that the client in question is ready to be reached out to, the next issue is what exactly to send over. For Gallagher, the answer is quite simple. “Sometimes it’s a PDF with two or three related projects,” she recalls, “while other times it’s just a list of websites SOMETHING ELSE has designed and built,” a sentiment and practice shared by Jackson. “I generally send over a PDF,” he agrees, “I have a 100-page presentation that I cut down to under 20 pages,” tailoring each presentation to every client by their working industry. “I also add wildcard projects which I think they might like,” Jackson continues, “but half of the time, if it comes from a trusted source they never ask to see examples.”
Taking somewhat of a different tactic, however, Holiday have a more digital-first approach to formatting their work for clients. “We use Figma to create tailored creds decks and scopes of work,” Hall and Bones explain, using premade pages that they write up for each client. “It’s essentially the same way you would create a PDF from InDesign,” they note, “but we are able to work on each document as a team to speed everything up dramatically,” favouring Figma’s collaborative emphasis. “As we are sending prospective clients a link rather than a document,” Hall and Bones remark, “it also means we can control who does and doesn’t have access to the document,” not only giving the studio greater creative control but also allowing them amends until the very last moment. “Although,” they caveat, “we’d be lying if we said we haven’t updated a deck during a meeting.”
So, having gained a prospective client’s respect and interest – as well as morally agreeing with the company’s practice – there comes what seems to be the biggest hurdle for clients to agree on and for practitioners to scope and suggest: budgets, money and rate. “I usually start with a personal introduction to get on their radar,” Gallagher recalls, “once we feel good about potentially working together, I try to get to discussing the logistics as quickly as possible,” respecting everyone’s time by getting the make-it-or-break-it stipulations out of the way. Discussing at what stage the topic is raised, Jackson details, “it’s introduced pretty quickly, to be honest, as I’ve learnt the hard way,” highlighting the importance of clarity when negotiating. “It’s always better to be clear when it comes to this sort of thing,” he continues, “as it’s a good way to weed out the time wasters,” noting how most of his introductory emails from new clients will state the budget they have. “It is a good starting point,” he adds, “I will then put a proposal together based on how much of my time I think it will take and whether that fits with budgets,” whilst also keeping in mind the significance of an ideal aim. “Having a target is always helpful rather than shooting in the dark,” Jackson advises.
In the end, we should strive to make the discussion of money easier – rather than the awkward conversation it often is – as it’s a discussion necessary for every single project. “It’s really hard to scope against a project without knowing the budget,” Hall and Bones clarify, “so we like to get into this early with some basic fee brackets based on previous work,” suggesting that one takes the time to clearly determine their rates before so that there is always somewhere to turn. “Perhaps Marge says it best (or worst),” they conclude, “depending on what side of the desk you’re on.”
(Marge) Homer, I have to go out to pick up something for dinner.
(Marge) Money’s too tight for steak.
(Marge) Eh, sure... steak.