Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

EP43: Business planning for agencies | Deepa Shah | Lab Eight

August 10th, 2020

One of the biggest challenges we face for the remainder of 2020 and beyond is undoubtedly our ability (or inability) to plan ahead.

Almost daily, we are bombarded in the news by a roll call of redundancies, rumours of regional lockdown, interspersed with “is it a V, U, W or ‘swoosh’?” predictions for our economic recovery. 

The end of furlough, Brexit (oh yes), and the prospect of a Covid resurgence over the winter all paint a picture where the only real certainty is uncertainty. And yet, if we are to survive and thrive, plan we must. 

So where to start?

This is the question I put to my guest, founder of Lab EightDeepa Shah.

Deepa is a vastly experienced, multi-award winning agency CFO and a fresh new voice on the agency growth advisory circuit having launched Lab Eight in April this year, exactly as the pandemic struck. 

Deepa shares her advice for where we should be focusing now, and how to plan ahead. 

It’s worth noting good proportion of the guests on this podcast are people I have known and worked with for many years throughout my career. They are the experts I have turned to for advice again and again, who can be relied upon for their deep knowledge of a specialist subject.  

Then there are those who have been recommended to me and others (mostly authors) who I have simply stalked until I could persuade them to join me. 

Deepa is someone who first appeared on my LinkedIn radar at the beginning of the year and quickly became a regular fixture in my feed, adding a constructive and positive commentary to the most interesting of threads. Aside from her insights on her specialist subject – Deepa’s use of her network and LinkedIn as a platform has been a masterclass in how to launch a consultancy. But perhaps that’s an episode for another day. 

In the meantime listen in and find out how to win a copy of Deepa’s recommended read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

EP35: Agency awards | Stef Brown | On Pointe Marketing

December 2nd, 2019

Whatever your planning cycle, at this time of year we are naturally drawn to consider our goals for the year ahead and begin shaping our marketing calendars.

And as agency awards can take up such a considerable amount of time, energy and budget -it seems only right that we apply our marginal gains scrutiny to understand how to maximise our return on investment.

In this episode, I get together with agency awards expert Stef Brown. Stef has clocked up an enviable win rate over the years, supporting all kinds of agencies to land their most prized gongs.  

Join us as Stef takes us through her top tips – from prioritising awards schemes, creating winning entries and publicising our wins.

We’re giving away a copy of Stef’s recommended read: A Smile in the Mind, listen in to find out how to win.  

If you are looking to take control of your agency new business and marketing planning in 2020, check out the Small Spark Theory Institute at 

EP20: Agency Revenue Models | Erica Wolfe-Murray | Lola Media

September 2nd, 2018

Finding an alternative revenue model to the billable hour, is a topic we touched on with Erica Wolfe-Murray of Lola Media, back in Episode 14, as we explored the subject of an agency’s intellectual assets, and returned to in our episode on pricing creativity with Blair Enns.

And as we head into what is arguably the most important three months of the year for agency new business, we are delighted to welcome Erica back to Small Spark Theory, for a dedicated episode on agency revenue models. Based on her experience across multiple industries, Erica takes us through how we can think more creatively about what we sell and and how we sell it, and how to create multiple, and more importantly, scalable revenue streams.

All this and more is available in Erica’s brand new book, Simple Tips, Smart Ideas: Easy to Use Advice for Business Growth, which will be available from January 2019, and get this… you can win a copy too! Listen to this episode to find out how.

We’ve been getting a lot of love for Small Spark Theory over recent months, which is heartening indeed. If you’ve been listening in and enjoying what you hear, please do leave a review on iTunes, it’s really quick to do and would make our day.

EP19: Planning for exit | Tony Walford | Green Square

July 25th, 2018

Right at the beginning of this podcast series we talked about the importance of setting objectives for growth that in turn, guide the new business & marketing plan and activities. But what if those objectives include a sale or exit? We need a different level of planning altogether.


In this episode I am joined by Tony Walford – founding partner of Green Square and one of the leading M&A and corporate advisory voices in the marketing communications, media and tech sectors.


Tony offers advice on what agency owners need to plan and prepare for, including the often tricky process of demonstrating ROI to clients (awards are critical!), why incentivising your staff is essential, along with key attributes in client relationships that are attractive to potential buyers.


Mentioned in this episode are:


The Diagrams Book by Kevin Duncan

Sad Men by Dave Roberts.

Details on the Green Square Ascension Day can also be found here.


Not only that we have our monthly competition! Listen in to find out how to win a copy of Tony’s recommended book ‘Sad Men’ by Dave Roberts.


Just in time for the holidays, this really is a really is the perfect sunlounger episode,  so put your feet up and kick back with a G + T. Stay cool gang.


EP17: Small Spark Theory Live Part One

June 13th, 2018

On a balmy evening in early May, we took to the stage at White City Place to host Small Spark Theory Live along with our friends at YCN. This was an opportunity to bring together some of our previous podcast contributors, some new guests and an invited audience of agency founders, leaders, and new business practitioners.


In this, the first of two episodes recorded on the night, we hear from Felix Velarde – back by popular demand following our growth planning discussion in episode 4 last year – together with Joanna Brassett, founder of Studio INTO. Since 2011, Joanna has been building a global design research and innovation business and over the past 5 years has been implementing Gunpowder’s Small Spark Theory philosophy. Felix and Joanna joined me to explore the challenges facing agency leaders at various stages of growth, from prioritising new business and marketing activity, getting to grips with cold outreach, when to delegate and when to hire.


Special thanks to our co-hosts YCN, the super team at White City Place, photographer David Townhill and to Ugly Drinks, Propercorn and ABInBev for providing our drinks and snacks on the night.


EP10: The pitch | Tony Spong | AAR

October 7th, 2017

Losing a pitch is just bad news all round. It costs an agency big; in time, money, resource, morale and confidence. So as new business performance improvement goes, there is surely no better place to make tangible impact than in the pitch itself.

The good news is that the opportunities for making marginal gains in the way we approach, plan and conduct our pitch activity are not only plentiful but often relatively simple.

In this episode of Small Spark Theory I chat to Tony Spong, Managing Partner at the original client-agency intermediary, AAR. Tony’s career has spanned both client and agency roles before settling squarely in the middle, where he has led hundreds of agency pitches. Who better to provide a unique insight on what works, what doesn’t and why?

As always, we’ve got a competition for you and will be giving away a copy of Tony’s recommended read ‘The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember’ by Nicholas Carr.  So listen in to find out how to win.

Follow us on Twitter @gunpowdertweets and join the conversation at #smallsparktheory

For more information on improving your agency new businesses effectiveness, please get in touch.

EP4: Agency Growth Planning | Felix Velarde

April 3rd, 2017

For agency leaders, managing the day to day business of client and staff needs whilst staying focused on a clear growth trajectory can seem an insurmountable task.

Whether you are looking for a high value exit, attempting to break through the turnover ceilings of one, two five or ten million or simply want to avoid the boom and bust revenue rollercoaster, this podcast episode is for you.

Agency growth expert Felix Velarde has founded, grown and sold agencies many times over and now works as a consultant and mentor focusing on strategy-driven growth and agency scaling. In this episode we discuss the need for differentiation, building superstar teams, and power of planning and process.

This month’s book recommendation is The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick M. Lencioni – as always we’ll be giving away a copy – tune in to find out how to win.

You can read more about Felix here.

Follow us on Twitter @gunpowdertweets and join the conversation at #smallsparktheory

Introducing Small Spark Theory™

January 24th, 2017

For many years now I’ve had the opportunity to observe new business performance in a wide variety of agencies and regardless of size, or discipline of agency, the challenges are remarkably similar. There are familiar patterns of success, ebbs and flows of revenue, euphoric wins and debilitating disappointments.

And I’ve become fascinated with those patterns, the formulas for success, the reasons for failure and a little obsessed about how we can become more effective in our marketing and new business endeavours.

Increasingly, the solution is not necessarily an ambitious marketing plan, an expensive sales resource or brilliant marketing idea (although that never hurts) but instead a forensic application of process and a marginal gains approach to performance improvement.

This brand new podcast series, Small Spark Theory™, explores the small changes we can make to our sales and marketing process to achieve better new business results. In this, the first episode, we set the scene for the using marginal gains and think about how to get some solid foundations for growth in place. Oh, and there’s a little competition too. What more could you want?!

With thanks to Matthew Syed for audio extract permission. Matthew’s book, Black Box Thinking is available here.

Follow us on Twitter @gunpowdertweets and join the conversation at #smallsparktheory

Selling your agency at the highest price

August 3rd, 2015

This month’s guest post is from Felix Velarde, serial agency entrepreneur, Board advisor and consultant to CEOs. In November last year Felix sold his agency Underwired for the final time. In the past 21 years he has founded and sold several agencies – in fact selling Underwired twice! 


Here’s his advice for agency owners considering a sale:


So I’ve been involved in more agency dealmaking than most, and I thought I would share with you some thoughts about how to get the highest price when you sell. Get the formula right and you’ll have an agency that potential acquirers will fight over.


Client balance

Buyers don’t like risk. The biggest risk is to your agency if you lose a major client. So any client that, if it were to leave, would cause a structural change has to be balanced: 40% really is the biggest you’ll get away with without it being a discount factor.


Say you have a client that dominates, at 60% of profit. Your multiple (M) will be based on your EBIT for the remainder on the assumption the dominant client is a major risk. So if your EBIT is £1m all in, you might assume you’ll get M6xEBIT – £6m – yay! Actually you’d be offered something more like M3x (for the remaining £400k EBIT) – £1.2m. Disappointing.


In fact, it might actually be worth resigning half the dominant client’s business – leaving you with £700k EBIT at M5x, or £3.5m in your pocket.


Once you know what you are trying to achieve it gives you specific sales goals and targets to focus the minds of your account handlers and new business team.



Over the years I have been involved in several agencies that have very rapidly become famous. They all had three things in common:


  • They weren’t big, but they were known for doing one thing exceptionally well
  • They got on every pitch list for that one thing, and punched above their weight in terms of their client lists as a result
  • They attracted lots of buyer attention (my last agency received nine offers when it was put up for sale)


This requires both tested processes and an appreciation that you can’t really be all things to all people. So you have to be courageous in stating what you do and what you stand for, in unambigious terms. This has two effects: you will get the attention of every client that wants what you say you do, and it will attract every buyer who needs to add your skillset to its portfolio.




Timing is of course everything. There is no point doing an earn-out deal at the bottom of your value cycle (which looks like a sine wave). By the time you’ve got your money, there is stil fifty percent more growth to be extracted.


Likewise, don’t do the deal at the top – there is no more growth to be done, so your earn-out will add little to your starting price. Let’s say the half way mark between now and the next dip is 2017. You need to get cracking and start optimising your business for sale right now.




Leadership, especially in the run-up to a sale, takes vision, drive and the ability to lean on others’ experience. There are seven major value creation steps you need to consider, and several critical considerations for selecting corporate partners. Might be time to get in touch!




Spring into action: Making the most of your agency marketing calendar

April 22nd, 2015

As April draws to a close we face an interesting time in the agency marketing calendar. The ski season is over, children are back at school providing a good 10 week window to engage prospects before the summer lull.


Those of you with a marketing plan and calendar in place will no doubt be working hard to keep on track and avoid project creep (there are still a few bank holidays to contend with after all) but for anyone just getting to grips with a more marketing focused approach, here are my top tips for making the most of May and June:


Plan your content

Whether you have world class thought leaders in your agency or simply an interesting and informative point of view, there is time to plan a campaign.


  • Get the team together, agree themes, assign responsibilities, apply deadlines.
  • Once you know what you want to talk about, you can decide how the content can ‘live’ and build a campaign around it. Is it a blog post, a white paper, a video? Or is it several of these things. How will they work together? How can you leverage social media?
  • Your insights should relevant to a one or more prospecting segments so depending on the depth of the content piece, think about how you can offer a ‘first look’ to a selection of key prospects before the rest of the content is published.
  • Uri Baruchin from The Partners gives great advice for thought leadership here.


Plan events

Hosting events is a wonderful way to engage clients, advocates and prospects alike, but the biggest reason for failure is down to lack of planning or compromising on deadlines.


  • Feed their minds, not just their bellies! Whether you are inviting guest speakers or promoting your own content, tailor the talks, presentations or leave behinds to your audience. What do you want them to remember you for? How do you want them to feel?
  • Mix clients and prospects. It’s good networking for everyone and should help keep last minute drop outs to a minimum.
  •  To get maximum attendance try to avoid the school holidays, which means events ideally need to be planned to take place before the end of June.
  • Invitations should be ready to send out 5/6 weeks beforehand so there is just about time to get something organised now. (Try not to be too ambitious, if the dates aren’t working or you haven’t the resource, plan for early September instead).
  • Sense check dates against sporting events and other industry events – ten minutes on Google will serve you well here.
  • Try not to get caught up agonising over the invitation design – this can be a real deadline killer so keep it simple.
  • If you are sending printed invitations, do follow up by email too. It’s much easier to track and you’ll get a far better response rate.



Get out from behind your desk and meet new people. This is a fantastic time of year with industry events and networking at every turn. Use this as an opportunity to pick up new insights and ideas that could help shape your own thought leadership whilst adding new contacts to your network. You can read the Gunpowder Guide to Networking here.



Check award entry deadlines. There a few in June – and you’ve got to be in it to win it!


Plan for the Autumn

The next key window in the marketing calendar is September to November. Start planning now and use the quieter, summer months to prepare.