Communicators don’t tend to be the most strategic bunch of people. We like to jump right to tactics and forget about the research and plan phase of what we do. That’s a generalization, of course, but it happens enough that it’s become a generalization. And, while research and planning—and, gasp! measurement aren’t nearly as exciting or interesting as tactics, it should drive everything we do.
Just like a communications plan, every business must also have a roadmap for where you are going.
If you don’t own an agency or business or are never planning to, keep reading with your communications plan in mind. Though I’m looking at it with an agency owner’s lens, the structure and bones are the same.
Following are the 13 things every agency should include in their plan that will drive all marketing, business development, and growth.
An Agency Business Plan
- Objective: If you want to grow your agency, the objective will always be to increase client acquisition. This is where you’ll state which kinds of clients by size, industry, and marketing needs. You also should say how much the increase should be and make it realistic enough that you can actually achieve it. For instance, I know LOTS of agency owners who think getting to $1MM in revenue will change their lives. If you did low six figures in 2020, be a bit more realistic for 2021. It’s not impossible you’ll get to $1MM this year, but it’s also not realistic.
- Strategy: This is to build and enhance your reputation as a specialist to attract more clients from your target market. The specialist could be in the type of work you do—crisis management, reputation management, media relations, content marketing—or it could be the industries in which you specialize. I have a client who has been in business for three years and she started out with an incredibly narrow niche—and she hasn’t strayed. She has never had to actively go out and do business development because she’s built a brand in the industry that people trust. I’ve never seen anything like it. Specialize, specialize, specialize.
- Plan: Develop deep and narrow expertise in industry XX or in specialty XX with focused positioning that includes targeted staffing, research, special resources or capabilities, relevant work experience, and other activities.
- Executive Summary: This should be a one-page recap of everything in your plan and should sit on your desk so you can review it daily. Don’t shove it in a drawer. Review it every morning to help determine the most important things on your task list each day. That way, your priority list will always help you achieve your goals.
- Key Challenges: A description of the services you want to market, and a bulleted recap of your goals, as they relate to any of the challenges you might see. For instance, maybe a competitor has more experience in an industry or your communications firm doesn’t yet have the history a prospect would want. List them all out.
- Situation Analysis: Identification of key industry status metrics, including your overall goals and focus, your culture, your perceived strengths and weaknesses, and your market share position.
- Customer Analysis: The type and number of clients you are striving for, including the values of the targeted sector(s) and an overview of the decision process those prospects use to hire communications firms.
- Competitor Analysis: Analysis of your marketing position, along with the market positions of your closest competitors, including any weaknesses that could curtail your efforts to compete effectively.
- Implementation Summary: Analysis of how you will use the above information to achieve your goals. This should be as specific as possible to allow for accountability.
- Positioning Statements: Language you will use in your marketing materials to differentiate you from competitors, highlighting your key service mission and qualitative skillsets.
- Cost Strategy: An overview of your pricing structure, relative to that of your competitors and averages for size of firm, industry, and region. The more you can claim deep expertise, the more you can charge. Crisis communications experts do well here because they get paid based on their expertise. Don’t worry. This is an internal document. You don’t have to post it externally anywhere (though I would argue you should post pricing).
- Promotion Strategy: A recap of the specific methods and initiatives you will use to get your marketing language and related content in front of potential clients. It should include a detailed delineation of who on your team will implement specific elements of the plan and a timeline.
- Changing Market Analysis: Forecast anticipated changes in the fiscal landscape of our target industries in the next three to five years. How will these changes affect you? For instance, no one could have predicted a pandemic, but you should be prepared, even if you can’t predict the specific instances.
- Measurement: If your objectives are measurable, you have the metrics in here. So make sure you follow the SMART structure when creating your sections: Are they specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound?
Get the Plan Done to Prep for Biz Dev
Let’s spend a few minutes now going through how to reach those goals you created—and how to generate the right kinds of clients for you.
Every agency needs a business development plan, but many of us (cough, cough) have grown our organizations without thinking strategically about how to do that.
I know you know what I’m talking about. People refer business to you. You get leads from networking events and speaking engagements. Maybe you blog and get new clients because they like the way you think. You might even do inbound marketing, which is amazing.
But do you have a written business development plan?
I’m going to guess less than 10 percent of you do.
Create a Prospect List
A few years ago I read two books that helped in my thinking around this: “The Ultimate PR Agency New Business Handbook” and “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.”
Both helped solidify my thinking on our business development efforts.
The first is a Bulldog Reporter book, but because they were purchased by Agility PR Solutions, the book is no longer in print. But don’t worry! I’ve included some highlights below.
The second, Traction, is available on Amazon and I highly recommend you read it.
Here are four things you should do to create your prospect list before you build your business development plan.
- Build a wide-ranging list. You need at least 200 prospects on your list. Include anyone and everyone you’d like to work with, even if they’re not in your verticals. The idea is to write down companies you’d like to work with, as well as those where you know someone inside your organization knows someone inside theirs. I know I said earlier to specialize—and I mean that—but if your specialty is a service versus an industry, it’s important to include everyone you’d want to work with.
- Create an ideal client profile. This should include company type, industry sector, competitive landscape, size (number of employees), assets and revenue, attitudes, and culture. This will help you later on when your first $1MM client comes knocking and you have to decide if they’re a good fit for your agency. It helps you stay away from the alluring “work with clients for the money” conundrum.
- Segment targets. Do this by putting your targets into 10 ideal profile types. You may have an ideal profile type that is a certain size in a certain industry and a second type that only hires specific expertise (crisis communications or content marketing, for instance). Then divide those lists into A, B, and C prospects. The A-list prospects are within your verticals or in your expertise sweet spot AND you know someone at the organization. The B-list prospects are within your verticals or in your expertise sweet spot. The C-list prospects fit neither of those categories, but you’d still love to work with them…they’re a dream client for your roster (like Cervelo or Trek would be for me).
- Build database. Bulldog Reporter recommends using Winmo to quickly get contact information. This is not buying lists; rather it’s an easy way to get an email address and phone number. Do NOT add them to your mailing list and start sending them content. You can email them individually, with customized and personalized notes, but do not send them your newsletter, unless they subscribe.
Now you’re ready to begin marketing to your lists and staying top-of-mind.
Execute the Agency Business Development Plan
There are lots of things you can do to stay top-of-mind with your prospects as you execute on your business development plan.
The gold standard is email marketing IF you offer something of value and aren’t only talking about yourself.
Those things could include:
- Blog posts that help your prospects and showcase your ability to help them solve their problems.
- Your own research, which could be gigantic like Edelman does with their Trust Barometer or like what Andy Crestodina does with his blogger survey.
- Develop studies, tools, or resources. For instance, if you work with authors, you could create a toolbox to help them promote and market a book.
- Case studies told from your client’s perspective (not the boring old award entry-type case study).
And remember, you can only add them to your mailing list if they’ve opted in.
If they haven’t, you could send an email that goes something like this:
This is Lizzie. Lizzie is my 2017 Trek Madone, who happens to be the second I’ve bought in the series. She is what I earned when I accomplished the racing goals my coach and I set.
I love Lizzie and I thought you’d like to see her in action. She “helped” me write an article for our blog, Spin Sucks, about the rules of the road for drivers and cyclists. Just like Trek sets out every day to protect cyclists on the road, it’s near and dear to our hearts, as well.
I’d love the opportunity to chat with you about your content marketing efforts—and perhaps even catch a ride together. I’ll give you a call later this week. Alternatively, let me know if a day/time that works for you.
See the difference between sending this and just putting “Bob” on our email list?
This is personalized and comes directly from me. If he doesn’t respond, he’ll never hear from me again. Were he on our list, he’d feel like he was being spammed with our content. And, no matter how great it is, he didn’t ask for it.
Don’t do that. Send personalized and customized emails to each individual.
Other Business Development Tactics to Consider
But email marketing isn’t the only thing to consider.
Also think about:
- Participating in LinkedIn conversations, private Facebook group, and Twitter chats.
- Participating in conversations already happening online in your vertical markets (#PR or #healthcare).
- Attending, contributing to, or speaking at industry events.
- Creating your own events. This one is lots easier to do today with everything virtual.
- Creating a goal to meet one new prospect per week through the social networks, speaking, and/or networking.
- Pursuing associate or sponsorship memberships in trade organizations.
- Building information roundtables with the influencers in the verticals where you specialize.
- Providing pro-bono services in industries you care about.
- Volunteering with groups that need communications help.
This is a lot. I know it’s a lot. But if you need help with all of this, come hang out in the Spin Sucks Community. And, of course, you can always send me an SOS note and I’ll do my best to rescue you.