Building your design business through uncertain economic times

Admirable welcomes here a good American friend, Linda Fisher, who is an internationally . She is president of Design Management Resources, which offers outsourced marketing services and public relations exclusively to design firms.


Now is the time to proceed…

While a slower economy may effect the daily pace at design firms, business is in no way grinding to a halt. Decisions are made more carefully, perhaps, and projects are delayed, but client budgets are still being exercised. Design Management Resources, which offers marketing and public relations for creative services firms, cautions its clients to avoid the common pitfall during tough times of becoming « accidentally stagnant. » Now is the time to proceed with your business’ growth plans even more vigilantly ; get focused and prepare for opportunities that will certainly come once existing and prospective clients begin to regain their growth energy.

As we all know, the design business is exhilarating when companies are flush with money and creative budgets are plentiful but it’s downright painful when budgets shrink. From our work with design and creative services firms, we’ve come to understand that these companies are often the last to think of themselves as businesses first and designers second.

Consider the old Madison Avenue quip : « When times are good you should advertise …. When they are bad you MUST advertise. » Do you think, as a design firm, that this adage applies to your clients and prospects but not to you ? We believe it’s an unfortunate fact that many creative services firms neglect to develop a marketing or public relations strategy when times are good, but we maintain that to be successful, to grow and to prosper, you would do well to consider creating that plan now.

Some marketing tips…

Here are some marketing tips for taking advantage of the opportunities created by uncertain times and continuing to build your business through any economic cycle :

In tough times, the strong get stronger by exploiting their unique points of difference. Sought after firms are in demand because they have developed and maintained a clear area of specialization. In leaner times there is greater value placed on expertise and experience. Don’t weaken your positioning by casting too broad a focus. If specialization was a key component to your success in the past, it is probably the factor that will continue to drive your growth looking forward.

Develop your marketing and sales talent. Some firms make it a point to add staff during slow periods, when many highly qualified individuals are out of work or underemployed in their current jobs. The bottom line may not seem to support this, but such aggressive action can give you an edge on the competition, plus you’ll have people trained and ready for the « up-ticks » which always come. Many of our clients are completing their best years ever because of increased planning, staff and effort in the last two quarters.

Perform the organizational tasks necessary to ensure that you remain healthy in difficult times : aggressive marketing, cost controls, timely billing, negotiate contracts that make real sense. Do all the things you would do regardless of the economic climate, but be even more vigilant and disciplined about your business practices.

Increase your marketing efforts to both existing and potential clients. Consider the ways you communicate with this audience. Are you making frequent, substantive contact, and do you have the sense that your firm will be top-of-mind when a project needs a vendor ? Maintain and strengthen existing relationships with the strategic vision of making your expertise their best tool for future growth.

Educate yourself about the competitive environment. Many changes occurred in the design industry in 2002 ; make sure you know what they are and what trends to anticipate in 2003. Revise your firm’s proposal structure to better differentiate your approach to a project in comparison to the competition.

Increase your project management services on all active projects to guarantee the best possible results. Never forget that « word of mouth » rules in the world of creative services.

Reduce new business expenses by putting strict emphasis on qualifying leads and encourage your executives to see multiple clients and prospects each time they are traveling.

Things are beginning to look up. Are you ready ? Do your investors, employees, clients and key publics agree ?

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