Richard Williams is co-founder of the award-winning brand consultancy Williams Murray Hamm, whose clients include Hovis, Unilever, and McVities. WMH were recently acquired by the Loewy Group. He appears regularly on TV and radio programmes (including the Today Programme) and now on this blog. Prior to all that he set up Design Bridge, one of the biggest design firms in the UK. He's also on the council of the Design Council. So he knows what he's going on about.
Here's what he has to say.
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Being 59, this is about my third recession. They are survivable.
Cash is king
Manage it like a hawk.
When you start a project, make sure you get client sign off.
Make sure each stage has an order number. Don’t start work without it, it’s tantamount to a contract that assures you of payment.
When the work is finished, get the invoice out immediately and chase for payment the moment it is due.
Make friends with the clients accounts department.
If you can, devote someone in the company to debt chasing.
Charge interest on overdue bills.
Charge for work outside your contract, but do agree a fee in advance.
The best new business is with your existing clients. Take them out to lunch, send them stuff that’s relevant that you’ve seen on the web or in the press – become completely engaged with them, but don’t prostitute yourself. Don’t work for them on cheap rates or for nothing. They won’t respect you.
They are often the biggest waste of resource in a design firm.
Here’s a simple guide:
Ask yourself, if the pitch will deliver a long-term client or a one off project? Don’t bother if it’s the latter. The investment won’t be worth the prize.
Never, ever pitch for nothing. Get at least 60% of your normal fees covered and all of your costs.
Never pitch against more than two other agencies (the more agencies in a pitch, the less chance you have of winning.)
If the pitch is abroad make sure they cover your travel costs too.
If the client asks for ‘sketches’ for nothing, don’t do it. Sketches contain the idea – the rest is mere execution.
This is the one activity you shouldn’t cut.
I have a personal aversion to cold calling. It’s a numbers game and delivers the wrong sort of meeting. One day, you’ll find yourself on an industrial estate in Burnley on a dark, rainy Friday afternoon having just met a halitosis ridden yoghurt pot manufacturer with a comb over, who the calling agency managed to lure into having a meeting with you. This is to be avoided.
Spend time defining the right clients for you. Filter out people you couldn’t help or would hate to work with. This will probably leave a reasonably small cluster of people to write to or network with.
Write intelligent letters that are not about you, but about what you think might be keeping the client awake at night. Follow them up, but take the hint if the client refuses to speak to you.
Think of witty stunts that will engage them (we once had a student walk up and down outside United Biscuits offices dressed up in a sandwichboard saying ‘Jaffa Cakes needs WMH’ and won the job).
Go to conferences and network like hell.
Get your website working for you, track those who come onto it and follow them up.
Keep your profile in the news. Journalists need good stories – feed them interesting thoughts and news and you’ll be in all
You’ve taken ages to find and develop them and probably paid 18%+ of their salary to recruitment consultants.
Keep them by being fair to all of them.
If it’s getting tight, cut your own salary first, put on a pay freeze if you have to and, at worst, cut the week down to four days. Remember you’ll need them in the upturn.
Don’t do work that’s below par because you want to get it out of the door – great work gets repeat clients, poor work lets the competition in.