Effective Small Agency New Business Is All About Scale

If all agencies had to do every day was run their new business programs, a steady flow of new business would be coming through the pipeline.

Sadly, agencies DO have other things to do, including servicing and retaining current accounts, growing those accounts organically, developing great strategies and creative ideas, generating estimates, producing and overseeing production, creating and implementing media plans, testing new tactics, and so on. And those are just the outward-facing things agencies must do. They also need to attract, recruit and hire new personnel; train those people; find great strategic partners for specialties the agency does not do in-house; find and manage valuable freelancers and independent contractors; track and monitor time against estimates; monitor billings and collections; keep an eye on the agency’s financial health; self-promote the agency to attract more business and top talent; manage the agency’s inbound marketing efforts… well, the list goes on.

In short, there are a host of reasons why many smaller to mid-sized agencies so frequently park new business on the back burner. With so many pots on the boil, new business is forgotten until something happens that forces the agency to pay attention. The fact that new business development adds to the already-packed daily to-do list certainly doesn’t help the cause. Consider what a good new business program requires:

  • Planning and development
  • List-building and qualification
  • Lead generation and capture
  • Email, SEO/SEM and direct mail marketing
  • New business content strategy, development and deployment
  • Research for niche/industry knowledge or specific pitches
  • Pitch development, practice and meetings
  • Cold and warm calls
  • Tracking the process


So how does a busy agency fit new business into the daily schedule?

An agency principal or key manager may have to take the new business lead. Finding (and affording) a full-time new business developer is tough; finding a really good one is even tougher. So assign one person with strong verbal skills and an outgoing personality, who is a powerful advocate for the agency brand and capabilities. Back up this person with an organized and process-oriented support person to maintain the contact software or system and coordinate in-house new business efforts.

Qualify all prospects and leads. Set your criteria for the “best” clients and try to expend your new business energies in winning those clients. Pursue fewer, better prospects, especially if you are a very small agency. Why waste time going after every opportunity? Chase those prospects you really want.

Scale new business efforts to agency size and ambitions. If you are a typical small agency (10-15 employees, maybe $1 million or so in billings), your new business pursuit may be just 10 or so targeted “A” prospects, with 50 or more “B” list prospects to be developed. If you are a larger agency, you might bump the “A” list up to 50, and the “B” list to 100. The key is to scale new business efforts to what you can realistically handle, both in pursuit and in active client base. New business should be about keeping a steady flow of quality opportunities coming into the agency, not necessarily volume opportunities.

Put new business projects and pitches into the daily schedule. If you make new business a “when you have some extra time” project, it will never get done. Treat new business projects the same as “live” client jobs. Open job files, track time and schedule due dates. Enlist everyone in the agency to do some portion of the new business effort, whether stuffing mail pieces, doing research or participating in a pitch.

Hold regular pipeline meetings. You should always have a few active new business projects “in the pipeline”—researching, conceiving pitches or developing tactics and content for reaching out to targeted prospects. Your new business team should meet at least every two weeks to discuss projects in progress and initiate new projects. Do this without fail to build a new business focus among your entire staff.

Mix new business content into your inbound efforts. Inbound marketing is increasingly valuable for identifying leads and “hot” prospects. Talk about the kinds of prospects you want to attract. Ask what information or knowledge you can share to attract those prospects. Then build content you can push to prospects to draw them in. Build scripts for talking to prospects to learn what consideration stage they are at, so you can move them to letting you pitch or offer a proposal.

Never drop the ball on new business. The biggest problem with new business efforts in smaller agencies is keeping up the regular effort. Like everything else in a small agency, having a process is only part of the job; sticking to that process is what turns effort into opportunity and eventual success.