How to score more business, with creative agency Yoke

AUTHOR:  
Published:  September 1, 2015
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There’s no getting away from the economic realities of working in the design industry – if you don’t bring in the bacon (paying clients!), then your cupboards will run dry. So, how do stable design businesses find their work?

 

WORDS BY
Richie Meldrum, creative director, Yoke
Salli Jokinen, marketing manager, Yoke

 
 
The predictably annoying response to the question “How can I gain new clients?” is that there is no quick fix, no easy solution to scoring new business. With such a vast array of marketing activities and initiatives to choose from, the only way to find the ones that will work for you is through forming and deploying a tailored approach based on the specifics of you and your design business.

In good news: when it comes to winning new work, a lot of the most effective strategies are pretty straightforward and, as a professional working in the communication industry, well within your means.

Here are a few ideas on how to bring in the bacon at your design business.
 
DON’T JUMP JUST YET:
PLAN A STRATEGY

For freelance designers, small studios and large creative agencies alike, the process of securing new business needs a well-thought out, carefully plotted marketing strategy – with an actionable plan at its pointy end. The strategy must be tailored to the business’ situation, with realistic consideration given to the time, money and resources available. In terms of time-frames, it’s a good idea to work to a 12-month plan. With new projects and new opportunities cropping up all the time, however, you will want to have a review every three months or so, to see what’s working, what’s not and what new ideas you may want to try.

It’s common for people to forgo the planning stage and jump right into the activities and initiatives that combine to form the strategy. But be warned: this is a sure-fire way to end up with a scattergun approach. When it comes to marketing, taking pot shots willy-nilly tends to end up with fewer hits and more misses.

If your team is lacking someone with a business or marketing background, fear not. As always, Google is your friend and there are plenty of online resources available that will help you pull together a comprehensive marketing strategy and plan. A good place to start is HubSpot’s marketing resource page where you’ll find a good selection of web tools, eBooks and webinars to get stuck into. It is certainly geared more towards fledgling marketers, and isn’t a substitute for an experienced resource, but it offers some valuable insights nonetheless.

Yoke HQ.

Yoke HQ.

A WINDOW TO YOUR BUSINESS:
FIND THE RIGHT MARKETING PLATFORMS

This is the fun bit, the chance for you to use your creativity to make, write, talk and design your way towards winning new business – all within the constraint of the overarching strategy, of course. Again, there are no set-in-stone rules here, but to kick things off, here are a few of the key marketing tactics we pay attention to at Yoke.

Digital marketing forms the largest part of Yoke’s marketing strategy. At the centre of this is our website. Like us, the website has evolved over time, with new features being introduced and some less effective ones removed. For a true picture of your website’s effectiveness, pay close attention to your Google Analytics reports. If a page or a section of your site isn’t getting much traffic or doesn’t hold a user’s attention for very long, then it’s time to take action.

Despite the changes we’ve made to the Yoke website over the years, the overall strategy has always been to present an experienced and professional agency that is capable of producing quality work across all of our service offerings. In order to achieve this, we keep our message simple and straightforward, rather than overloading users with info. We favour imagery over text wherever possible and try to make sure the site reveals the personality of the agency and the people who work here through an interactive team page featuring images and a little bio of each of us. It’s important to show your business to be open and approachable with a friendly tone. Your website is a window into your business, people will only knock on your door if they like what they see.

Our website is also the vehicle for the next tactic in our strategy: content marketing. Although it’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment, the concept of content marketing has been around for ages. Yoke runs a blog where we create and publish in-depth articles that educate, inform or entertain. We decided to avoid the thin content route where snippets of material are pumped out every day. Instead, we create unique long form content that shows knowledge, experience and ability in the areas in which we work. It’s about providing real value to your audience, giving them something for free without asking anything in return. This builds your credibility in the minds of the reader and helps to establish you and your design business as the ‘go to’ provider. It’s not an easy thing to do, but, for those who can, the rewards can be plenty.

Past topics on the Yoke blog have covered everything from our favourite wine packaging designs to emerging trends in property development branding, the latest ecommerce sales models to how to utilise data in web design. Admittedly, we do try and throw a few light-hearted topics in there every now and then in order to show our personality by sharing the things that amaze, amuse and inspire us. In fact, our most popular blog post ever was a Valentine’s-themed article, ‘Dating a Designer: 10 Things You Need to Know’. The post went viral thanks to some humorous half-truths that struck a chord with the design community, and their better halves! We received over 470,000 unique views, and over 95,000 likes and shares on Facebook.

In fact, the only nine countries that we didn’t get traffic from were Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Western Sahara, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and, somewhat unsurprisingly, North Korea. Even today, over a year since we first published the post, it still drives a lot of traffic to the site. This little piece of free publicity has helped create an awareness of Yoke around the world.

Of course, content marketing is about more than just creating fantastic content; it’s also about making sure this content gets out into the world and ideally into the browser of someone interested in engaging your services. A strong and consistent social presence across multiple social channels is invaluable here. As with our website, it’s important that the tone and personality of Yoke comes through in what we say and how we act via our social media channels. Looking at our audiences, we have a real mix with a lot of design enthusiasts, as well as those with a passion for branding, strategy and business.

We try to pay attention to the breakdown of these different groups and where they are. Often we’ll post more visual or creative stuff via Instagram and Facebook and more business orientated content via LinkedIn. Another technique we deploy is blogger outreach. This can be pretty time consuming so, for the best results, the bloggers and websites you target should be directly related to your industry and to the topic of your content. What your practice talks about publicly, and through what channels, are considerations to address at the planning phase of your strategy.

Moving offline now to the good old-fashioned direct mail. And old-fashioned it may be, but direct mail is still one of the most effective tactics if done properly. At Yoke, our direct mail takes the form of the Yoke Workbook. This is a newsprint magazine that introduces the studio and showcases a selection of our work via case studies of past projects. We use the Workbook as a ‘send me something’, a ‘leave behind’ and a ‘handout’ at industry events. With so much direct marketing coming via email, being able to give someone something tangible often produces a positive response. The Workbook was intended to be a regular publication, with new editions published every three months. However, the realities of putting it together – including the time it takes to print and shoot new work, write new content etc – has meant that the frequency of publication has been somewhat lower than we initially planned. When we do put together a new edition, however, the result is always good.

The Yoke team pose with their studio workbook.

The Yoke team pose with their studio workbook.

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE:
GET INVOLVED IN YOUR COMMUNITY

Another offline tactic we use at Yoke is involvement in industry events. By putting yourself forward to present, teach or instruct in the areas in which you work, you’ll be able to demonstrate specialised expertise, increasing the profile and authority of your design business. Again, do the old-fashioned thing: network, network, network. A couple of LinkedIn messages later and you may well have a new project on your hands. After the event, you may want to consider posting your presentation slides online or converting your content into a post for your blog.

Finally, if you can’t get hold of an invitation to someone else’s event, then why not start your own? At Yoke we’ve opened our doors to stage a range of events, from studio open nights and talks, to full-day branding workshops. Our hands-on design event ‘A Brief Night’ was created to try and bridge the gap between education and industry. At this event, we challenge aspiring designers to complete a 90-minute brief within a real studio environment, the pressure of a deadline often producing some great results.

As well as helping us to stay connected and involved in the Australian design industry, hosting these events gives us an opportunity to give back to the industry. Events offer another chance to show your experience and expertise to new audiences and, as an added benefit, are great fun to be involved in.

These are by no means the be all and end all of a new business strategy and there are many, many other ways to win new projects. Of course, in your hunt for new business you should never forget the business you have. At Yoke, building strong and lasting professional relationships with our current clients takes precedence over everything, and many a successful design business has been built on just that.

New, current or old, everyone is different when it comes to the set-up and structure of their client base and you have to find out which techniques work for you. One thing you do need to do, however, is to never stop working at it. Having a successful design business calls for much more than just producing great design work, so while creative thinking is our trade, strategic thinking is our future.

Inside Yoke for A Big Brief Night, 2015.

Inside Yoke for A Big Brief Night, 2015.

All images courtesy of Yoke.

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