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How do you pick a good design agency?

June 01, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone

Finding a good design agency to work with on your logo design, rebrand or website isn’t easy. Even if we start with the premise that no one sets out to do a bad job (I really believe that’s true), there’s more to finding a good design agency than randomly picking the company that tops the search results.

Finding a great design agency – one that you can build a relationship with over time, one that becomes a partner to your business, one that revolutionises how your current and prospective clients view your business – isn’t an easy task.

It’s also not a decision that should be driven by budget. Sure, budget counts, but if you try and save too much money in the short term, then it’ll definitely cost you more in the long term. False starts cost time, money and heartache so it pays to find the right design agency in the first place.

I suspect that this could be an incredibly long post, so let me just give you a few bullet points to get thinking about.

  1. What’s the brief? What do you need doing? Is this a design project? A development project? A branding project or all three? Don’t be blinkered about what you think the real brief is either — be prepared to listen to the experts.
  2. Don’t be too prescriptive. We recently met with a start-up who was out of love with his logo before he’d even launched! He was on revision seven and had just given up by this point. How sad! He explained that he’d told the agency “exactly what he wanted” and it was only when he saw that, he realised he didn’t like it. We never ask the client to tell us how we want a logo to look – instead we spend time understanding their brief, their objectives and the impression they want to create and we use our expertise to deliver something waaaay above and beyond the client’s imagination. If they really insist they know what they want, then we’ll always show one version alongside two of our own.
  3. What questions are they asking you? How interested do they seem in your business? Are they passionate about what they do? Are they excited about what they can do for you? Do you get the feeling that they’re just going to deliver what you’ve asked for? Or are they going to listen to your brief, think creatively about how to solve your challenge and deliver something that really adds value to your business?
  4. How do you respond to their portfolio? Are you inspired by it? Does it have you thinking excitedly about the possibilities for your own business? Is it creative? Is it diverse? I always say that you don’t need to like everything in our portfolio but you do need to like the reason behind it. You need to like our approach – and you should like a good chunk of the portfolio if you’re going to work with the agency.
  5. What’s the team like? There are pros and cons to freelancers versus an agency. Clearly an agency is going to cost a lot more than a freelancer - their overheads are higher. The flip side is that the world doesn’t stop turning just because they land a big job or go on holiday and I believe that the diversity and vibrancy of a creative team is essential to generating ideas that are ahead of the curve. Also consider whether they have designers/developers in-house or do they outsource?
  6. Are they producing powerful design? The concept of powerful design is not easy to put your finger on — it’s about everything from creative flair to producing designs that enable you to win more business. It requires robust processes and a clear insight into a client’s business.
  7. What are their strengths? And how does that fit with what you need? All too often we’re asked to redesign a site that has been designed by a web development agency – unsurprisingly it lacks the creative flair, vision and design edge that a design/branding agency can deliver and it’s that flair that’s essential to ensure that your site engages your target audience.

Fiona Humberstone is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and runs her own creative consultancy.

How a Scotsman can help you qualify a prospect

May 31, 2011 by Craig McKenna

Qualifying a prospect is probably one of the most important elements of selling if you are a small business. The time you can save by not trying to sell to prospects who ultimately never would have bought anyhow is invaluable, as well as the mental advantage that can be gained by being able to focus only on the right prospects.

The eight key stages that should be followed can be remembered easily using the term SCOTSMAN.

(S) Solution — Have you clarified if your prospect understands what it is that you wish to sell them. What is your solution and why will it work for them?

(C) Competition — Have you an awareness of whether there is anyone competing with you to sell to your prospect or for the money they may use to buy from you? Your competition could be internal as well as external.

(O) Objective — Have you a clear understanding on what your client is looking for, what are they in the market for? What is important to them now and in the future? Do you improve their services or processes, or do you save them money?

(T) Timescales — Have you clarified what timescale the prospect is working to? Can you deliver within that timescale? Does the timescale work for you? Is there a timing factor that could be used in your favour, for example a financial year end?

(S) Size — Is the potential size of the deal worth the effort going to be needed to win the business? Have you a clear picture on what size the deal will be? Is it smaller than ideal but could open doors? Is it too big and may have a detrimental impact on your business?

(M) Money — Does the prospect have the money in their budget to pay for your solution? If they don’t have a budget, can they find the money or do you need to consider walking away?

(A) Authority — Are you speaking to the decision maker? The person who ultimately will sign the cheque? Are they even aware that you are speaking to their company? It is no longer imperative to deal with just the decision maker, there is a value in dealing with another contact within the business but very few pieces of business are completed without the main authority signing off on it.

(N) Need — Does the prospect actually need your solution? Very few deals happen in the current climate without a clear need. There are many reasons why they may need your solution and it is key that you find out which one is relevant and focus on it.

If you can answer all of the questions in a positive manner, then your chances of closing the deal are significantly higher than if you can’t. Very few deals will actually happen if one or more of these eight key stages are missing, and the time you may waste on chasing shadows is valuable.

It can be easy to get sucked into thinking that every deal will happen, and there is also a sort of comfort that some small businesses value in having a large pipeline that “could” close but I would encourage you to qualify properly and allow yourself to focus only the deals that have a chance. You are better off closing three out of five good prospects than two out of ten prospects as your focus was stretched thin.


Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.

Brand survival and the brand iceberg

May 27, 2011 by Berry Burgess

Branding, is like an iceberg — it exists mostly below the surface. The visible brand messaging accounts for what we see above sea level. The invisible brand – the company culture, the customer experience — is the mass below the surface

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin came back from the moon, the first thing they were greeted by was a huge neon sign that said "Welcome to Earth — home of Coca-Cola". That is how powerful a brand can be.

But your company doesn’t have to be the size of Coca-Cola or Mercedes to have a brand. In fact, every business has one. And by building yours into a strong one it can become one of your most valuable assets. Branding is a simple representation of who you, your company or your product are. One of the key fundamental steps to begin this process is to implement some honest self-analysis to discover your brand truth. The results of this establishes your unique brand identity if you are true to yourself.

Branding ultimately creates that all important first impression in your customers mind. A dynamic branding and product positioning formula is one that will invite new customers, and propel them into a desired action.

Remember, a brand is not a name or a logo or a colour scheme or a design layout or a tag line or an advertising theme. A brand lives in the customer’s perception. A brand is not what the marketer says it is; it’s what the customer thinks it is. A brand begins and ends with the customer, and most important to the customer’s perception is the customer experience. Customers will believe their own experience before they believe the advertising.

Advertising works only when it is supported by the customer experience, and strong brands are built one customer experience at a time. Effective branding is what causes people to walk past all the no-name, on-sale colas at the grocery store and pick up the six-pack of Coca-Cola that costs twice as much — just ask Neil Armstrong.

Berry Burgess is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut, and managing director of Armadillo Creative.

Posted in Marketing strategy | Tagged branding | 0 comments

How to hire a social media consultant

May 26, 2011 by Chris Street

Chances are, if you’re an entrepreneur or marketing director of a small to medium-sized business, you’ll have been dipping into social media platforms and hopefully getting engaged by now.

One of the biggest issues I regularly come across for those involved with, or looking to get involved, with social media for business usage is that of not having enough time to do it thoroughly, or not having enough expertise to get engaged effectively.

Agencies, in particular, are having trouble providing powerful social media services for their clients – as they are so busy doing the daily stuff, many have been left well behind the curve on blogging, social media, and micro-blogging developments.

Solution? Hire a social media consultant.

Here’s a few tips from me on how to hire well – or, to put it another way, my 6 P’s of things to look for when hiring your social media consultant.
Remember, it’s their job to make you look absolutely brilliant online, and draw attention to your door:

1. Passionate

Is the social media consultant passionate about social media? Are they passionate about getting you results on social media platforms? Can they demonstrate their passion for social media?

2. Professional

Is the social media consultant professional in their outlook to social media platforms? Have they delivered professionally for other businesses and agencies on a variety of relevant social media platforms? Is their own social media presence professional?

3. Prompt

Is the social media consultant prompt in the social media presence? Are they blogging, tweeting and adding powerful content promptly, consistently and with a proven track record? Is their social media promptness provable for other existing clients?

4. Personable

Is the social media consultant personable? Is it apparent that they have a social and professional personality which will translate well for your business if you put them in front of them? Is their personality appropriate for social media engagement on your behalf?

5. Practical

Is the social media consultant a practical deliverer? Can you see a track record of ‘sleeves rolled up’ by them? Are you confident that they will work hard, consistently and diligently on your behalf on social media platforms?

6. Price

Now, although we’re all looking for a bargain, is your social media consultant too cheap? After all, if they charge peanuts, what do you think the results will be? Are you looking for a cheap, non-effective social media presence, or have you allocated a workable budget for your social media consultant to deliver on your behalf?

Chris Street of Bristol Editor

Is blogging the new PR?

May 25, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone


Ask anyone in the business of selling a product and they’ll evangelise about the benefits of having their wares featured in a magazine. Not only does a feature in a magazine — be it in the “What’s new” section, part of an article or a specific feature to drive traffic to your site — it’ll give your business much-welcomed kudos to be endorsed by a magazine title your customers look up to. It’s also a sneaky ego-boost.

But gaining PR in printed titles isn’t easy. Nor is it as cheap as it first seems. You either need to be on very good terms with the magazine editors, which takes time to foster, or you need to have an incredibly hard-working and focused PR company working on your behalf, which, let’s face it, ain’t cheap.

What many e-tailers seem to be overlooking is that the rise in the uber-bloggers provides just as precious PR as traditional printed literature channels. These blogs can provide just as much influence as the glossies and better still, these blogs often link direct to your website! I’m not just talking about you using your own blog to build relationships and generate awareness, I’m talking about you getting your products featured on top blogging sites just as you would an aspirational magazine.

So how do you get your products featured on an uber-blog?

Start by doing your homework. Read the bloggers in your niche and suss out which ones resonate with your brand and your clients. Draw up a hit list of five or so that you’d like to be featured on and start to build relationships with the writers. Network with them on social media sites such as Twitter and comment on their blogs. Ideally you want to maintain a buzz of regular exposure, so build long-term relationships if you can, rather than one-hit wonders.

Bloggers love good content! Great photos, news their clients will love, scoops, sneak peeks and so on are great for the bloggers. It adds richness to their site as well as making their lives easier. I love the ethics of bloggers such as Design*Sponge who only feature on merit rather than due to backhanders! It definitely makes the reading experience more authentic.

I’ve seen too many blogs recently that have clearly just cut and pasted badly written press releases on blogs. It doesn’t work for the blogger or the product and it looks transparent. Blogging is different to the printed media. Just as you wouldn’t want a journalist to print your press release in full (including contact information for your PR), so you don’t want bloggers to publish that info either. And whereas traditional PR may follow a very fixed format, blogging is more free and easy. When we’re reading a blog we want the inside scoop – and that means the blogger giving their opinions and hopefully endorsing your product in some way – so don’t write your usual style press release.

Make sure you send in great images and ask the blog owner what they’re looking for. Oh, and just as with printed media don’t forget to be grateful – a little thank you (I mean literally just thank you – no need to bribe…) goes a long way!

Fiona Humberstone is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and runs her own creative consultancy.

Find out more on how to write blogs:

Posted in PR | Tagged PR, Blogging | 1 comment

How to sell when you are "crazy busy"

May 24, 2011 by Craig McKenna

Busy woman with phones

All business owners get busy — it comes with the territory and we all have to make choices on what we prioritise and what we don’t. Human nature tends to encourage us to prioritise the tasks that we like or are stronger at, and this, more often than not, does not include selling.

To achieve sustainable growth and drive a business forward it is essential that we have a consistent approach to sales. How do we ensure that we continue to sell effectively during the periods when we are flat out and crazy busy?

1. Qualify targets properly

When we are busy it is vital that we don’t waste time chasing shadows or lost causes and the best way to achieve this is by qualifying targets properly and only chasing the targets that could close.

2. Choose meetings carefully

There is a real value in meeting potential clients face to face and I am a huge fan of ensuring that the personal touch is always given precedent over email and phone but we have to be careful we don’t over do it. When you factor in prep, travel and the actual face to face time, meetings cut heavily into your diary. Pause and think — do you really need to attend a meeting to move the deal forward? Would a call be more appropriate? Does the meeting even need an hour?

3. Network efficiently

Networking is an essential part of the majority of small business sales strategies. It is important and it needs to be done properly, but plan it. Work out how much time you can designate to networking and work a plan around that. If you can only attend one group, attend it properly and make sure you get value from it. Don’t try and attend a lot of groups sporadically, it won’t work. You need continuity to get benefit from any networking and if not done right, it is just time wasted.

4. Work to properly set targets

If we have properly set targets and work towards them, it becomes a lot easier to focus our selling and avoid wasting time on the wrong activities. Too often small businesses either don’t have targets or don’t work towards them effectively and this can result in a lot of wasted time. If you know you are close to achieving a target or you are miles away it helps you make the right decisions on which meetings to take and what other activity you need to make time for.

5. Always maintain activity

No matter how busy we get we cannot afford to let activity levels drop to zero! It is a lot easier to keep activity going than it is to restart it. Too many businesses only sell when they have very little or no business at all and then they find it difficult. No matter how busy you get, your selling must keep ticking over. Identify your key targets and work on them, whether you choose 40 or 200, it is up to you, make a call on the number and get to work on them.


Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.  

Posted in Sales | Tagged selling, sales | 0 comments

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