Business Development for Agencies: The Ultimate Guide[2023]

Esther Cohen
July 6, 2023
Creative Agency Management
9 minute read

Originally published June 8, 2022. Updated July 6, 2023

Learn how to revamp your agency business development in 2023 in this latest post.

The way to run sales and marketing agencies has changed drastically over the last two years.

Shouldn’t the way you attract new clients change as well?

For many agencies, their business development plan has seen little change since 2021. In most cases, it wasn’t even necessary - the demand boom unleashed by the pandemic meant you had more work than you could possibly keep up with.

That strategy, however, might not hold up in 2023 anymore. Demand is at least starting to slag, and your employee attrition problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

So, how to do business development in the post-pandemic era? What changes should you make? What should you retain?

I’ll share some answers in this guide. You’ll learn:

  • Why it’s crucial that you define your niche expertise in 2023
  • Why 2023 is the year of “active business development”
  • How great content can help you tap into an entirely new market

First, let’s define:

 

What is business development for agencies?

Business development for agencies refers to anything that is strategized to help increase the growth and revenue of the agency. Examples of business development efforts include networking, producing content, and building brand awareness.

 

The Importance of new business development for marketing agencies

What if you have leads coming in faster than you can handle them? Would you still need to spend time on new business development?

The answer is that no matter how successful, every business needs to stay on the ball to stay ahead of the competition.

Even if you have an unending supply of leads, are those leads exactly the kind that you want to be dealing with? New business development can help you corner your favorite market.

Additionally, digital marketing is one of the most fast-changing businesses out there. What brought in the money last year may be way out of fashion this year. It’s therefore imperative to spend time focusing on, and improving business development.

 

Business Development vs. Marketing: What is the Difference?

To understand business development, we have to understand the difference between business development and marketing. Simply speaking, business development is the generation of new ideas to improve the business, whereas marketing is the use of existing ideas to increase sales. Another difference between marketing and business development is that business development is focused on growth whereas marketing is all about customer experience. At the end of the day though, the two are very much intertwined and dependent on the other for success.

In the next 9 points, we’ll go through some top tips for business development for agencies.

 

9 Key Tips For Business Development for Agencies

1. Defining your expertise is more important than ever

We’ve talked about expertise and specialization in the past. And while most agency leaders will readily admit that it’s important, many keep putting it off on their “to-do” list.

In 2023, it’s time to change this.

Understand that in 2023, your usual competitive advantages are largely eroded. If you could earlier corner the local market simply by being physically present, in 2023, your local clients are now being courted by remote agencies across the world. 

In this landscape, expertise is how you win new clients, and more importantly, retain talent.

At a time when attrition rates are at an all-time high, retaining talent isn’t just about offering a raise (though that helps). It’s also about giving your employees more meaningful work and the opportunity to learn on the job.

According to one survey, the “nature of the work”, and “opportunity to learn” are the biggest reasons for employee engagement and happiness.

Survey

Any agency that positions itself as a “jack of all” likely doesn’t offer the deep learning and immersion necessary to truly learn and grow. In an ultra-competitive hiring landscape, employees are more likely to gravitate to agencies for business help that can help them become future-ready by picking up new skills.

The same rationale applies to dealing with clients as well. At a time when agencies and the businesses they serve are going remote, why should any client pick a mediocre “full stack” agency when it can hire true experts from half a dozen dedicated agencies?

Furthermore, clients, just like yourself, feel competitive pressure as well. Their small business isn’t just competing with other similar small businesses - they’re competing with the Walmarts and Amazons of the world. To survive in this environment, they need deep expertise, not just generic advice.

Whatever else you do, clearly defining what you do and learning to do it well is essential. 

Our article on agency positioning is a good place to start this quest.

 

 

2. Make Business Development an active pursuit

What does your current agency business development plan look like?

If you’re like most agencies, your answer will likely be “hope and pray for a referral”.

Agency business development is remarkably passive, even in our current competitive environment. Even though most agency leaders know that they need to overhaul their approach, there is still strong resistance because of the fear of being too “salesy”.

This is perhaps why referrals remain the top source of leads for agencies.

Graph

While nothing beats a strong referral as far as conversion rates go, referrals really don’t scale. More importantly, they take all agency (pun intended) away from you. Instead of proactively finding new clients, you end up waiting for someone to contact you.

The solution to this problem is twofold:

  • Adopt a proactive, even “salesy” approach to business development. Use email, social media, seminars - anything you’d do for your own clients - to get in front of new prospects.
  • Zero in on your own dream clients and use account-based marketing (ABM) to turn them into leads

Both of these approaches require focused, active participation. business development can’t just be “something you sometimes do”; it’s a core part of your regular work activities.

Ideally, you’d want dedicated personnel for this, but even if you don’t go that deep, you should be doing some business development every day. Send out a few emails to prospects. Publish and promote content. Establish yourself on agency search platforms. 

Essentially, your goal should be to spread out and be seen and heard. And this should permeate throughout your agency’s culture. Your creatives should be willing to tweet and snap and blog about their work. Your account managers should be ready to answer questions and send emails to prospective clients. 

The more you can make “active business development” a part of your agency’s DNA, the less you’ll find yourself worrying about your next client.

 

3. Great business development starts with great content

Above, I talked about the importance of actively seeking new clients.

And the best way to do that passively is by creating content. This is especially relevant to content development agencies because if your content is good, they’ll likely come to you for their own content.

This might sound paradoxical, but every time you actively create content, you create a channel that can passively earn you clients.

A top-ranked blog post can earn you a steady stream of leads years after it went live.

A viral Instagram story can reach millions of people you never even intended to target.

A great YouTube video can introduce your brand to entirely new audience segments.

Sure, the majority of these interactions will lead to nothing more than a few likes and subscribers. But for every 100 people you help, a few will remember your brand. And the next time they need professional help, they just might turn to you. 

This simple thesis has been at the heart of content marketing for over a decade. Yet, the number of agencies that consistently create compelling content is minuscule. 

There are, for instance, nearly 40,000 agencies in the US alone. But when you Google a question related to your expertise, do you really see 40,000 agencies represented in the results?

statistics

Of course, content creation to win engagement isn’t anything new - you already do this for your clients.

What has changed is the nature of this content. 

Remember when we talked about the opportunities in small towns and local businesses? Since the pandemic, a huge number of small businesses have been forced to move online. And while they have deep local expertise, they’re often clueless about marketing themselves on the internet.

This audience needs content that is tailored toward helping them navigate the internet. They’re still in the ‘Awareness’ phase of the content lifecycle. Deep expertise and thought leadership, while perfect for your more significant clients, can come across as jargon to businesses that didn’t have any online presence until a year ago.

Thus, your content roadmap for targeting these clients should focus more on the basics. Don’t be afraid to hold their hands through beginner topics. Your goal should be to help them, not just bump up your engagement metrics.

Adopt this approach in your 2023 content plan and you’ll see big wins.

 

4. Don’t stop developing your existing business

I get it - acquiring new clients is exhilarating. Turning a cold prospect into a revenue-generating client is exciting and greatly rewarding. 

Yet, for most agencies, a bulk of their new revenue comes from growing their existing clients.

In the pursuit of “new” business, this fact can get lost sometimes. You can be so fixated on winning new deals that you forget to expand your existing relationships. And it is substantially easier to expand existing clients than to win new ones. After all, these clients already know and understand you.

Growing business with existing clients requires two things:

  • Deep knowledge of the client’s business and core industry
  • An expanding portfolio of products and services to sell to these clients

You should be actively scouting for opportunities for your clients. Maybe they’re falling behind on their social media. Maybe their content strategy is outdated. Or maybe they need a thorough rebranding to compete better.

This needs to happen at both the agency level and the Account Manager level. 

Your account managers should know the client’s business and their point of contact thoroughly. The latter is particularly important. If you don’t know what metrics matter to your point of contact, you can’t possibly pitch them ideas that improve on those metrics.

At the agency level, it’s critical that you constantly improve and expand your expertise, especially in correlated areas. An SEO agency that doesn’t do content, for instance, is at a huge loss given the strong synergies between the two. Similarly, social media agencies without in-house video creation capabilities are going to miss opportunities.

 

5. Think like your customers

To get through to someone, you need to speak their language - fluently. The question is, how do you go about thinking like, and understanding your customers?

The first thing is to understand their pain points. Let’s say you’re a brand that sells e-cigs. To understand your customer’s perspective, you’ll have to ask yourself questions like ‘Why are my customers buying e-cigs instead of traditional tobacco cigarettes?’ The answer may be that it’s healthier, or that they just prefer the ‘taste’. Knowing why your customers are interested in your product allows you to send them targeted messages and convince them through persuasive advertising to buy your product. Thinking like your customers also means using social proof - an exceptionally powerful tool -  in a way that will be meaningful to them.

 

6. Focus on developing your brand’s personality

When someone types ‘marketing agency’ into Google search, they are swamped with thousands of options, many of which are likely to come before your own. How then do you stand a chance of being chosen from the masses?

The answer ties into what we spoke about above - specialization. Developing your brand means focusing on developing your brand ‘personality’ - are you a happy-clappy type of brand or more of a serious, understated brand? Do you include jokes in your messaging or would that be undermining for your brand?

Defining your brand archetype and consistently following through with it makes you more likely to stand out from the crowd. Instead of just being ‘another agency’, you're ‘the agency with the funky sense of humor’, or ‘the elegant, upper-class agency’. 

 

7. Keep following up

It’s very rare to get a prospective client to convert after just one touchpoint. Your first couple of attempts to engage with a client might even be totally ignored. The trick is not to get disheartened but to be persistent. Obviously, there is a fine line between being persistent and being annoying, but research shows that it can take up to 8 touchpoints before a prospect even looks at you. 

A touch point can be anything that is a direct communication between you and the prospect, e.g an email or a voicemail.

 

8. Build a brand community

Building a community is building trust. Having followers brings more followers and being well-connected lends you credibility. 

Networking events are great for building your brand’s community, as is having a newsletter, a podcast, or a group on social media. 

Besides spreading your reach, having a community in which other brands can participate will teach you a lot about your space and help you develop your business further.

 

 9. Don’t let opportunities for referrals slip through the cracks

We spoke above about not relying too heavily on referrals for business. Referrals do have a place though and the perfect time to ask a client for one is when you’ve just completed a project or service for them. Then, they're satisfaction with you is at its peak and their praises for you are fresh in their minds. Use this time to ask them for at least one referral. Word of mouth is really powerful when you're battling against the sheer number of digital agencies out there.

 

How Workamajig Can Help Your Agency Business Development 

Agency business development has changed over the last two years. Some older competitive advantages have been erased, while newer ones have popped up. In a rapidly changing competitive landscape, you can’t just rely on passive referrals. Instead, you have to create an active, evolving business development strategy.

This starts with clearly defining your expertise. At the same time, it also requires casting a wider net to tap into the massive market of local businesses coming online for the first time. And once you’re done with that, you need to focus on growing existing clients.

One way to streamline agency business development is to bring your entire agency under one roof. With Workamajig, you can get immediate insight into every facet of your business. Know exactly how many leads you have in the pipeline, your metrics for any business period, and the products & services you need to focus on more.

See how Workamajig can transform your agency - tap the button below for a free demo today.

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