Archive for the ‘Marginal gains’ Category

EP60: What can we expect in 2022? | Rory Spence | The Wow Company

January 10th, 2022

So here we are in 2022.

I’m not really one for resolutions, but there is something about a new year that makes me want to clear the decks, remove distractions and create a renewed sense of focus. A new notebook and a tidy Dropbox tend to help but I find data the most useful tool. Whether that’s marketing data, new business pipeline analysis or attributing the source of new client wins, good data removes emotion and really allows us to identify marginal gains.

With this in mind I wanted our first episode of the year to focus on agency performance data – and who better to talk to than The Wow Company.

This year, Wow launches the 10th annual BenchPress report, the largest survey of independent agencies in the UK, so I invited Rory Spence to join me to pick through a decade of statistics and uncover the insights that can give us confidence – or caution – for the year ahead.

Spoiler alert – you might need to increase your prices!

Whatever your agency plans are for this year I hope you are feeling refreshed, energised and inspired. Let’s make 2022 one to remember.

You can find all the previous BenchPress reports here and contribute to the 2022 report here.

Rory’s recommended read is I’m an Agency Owner, Get Me Out of Here by Jonathan Leafe.

EP59: Can we still win without pitching? | Blair Enns

December 6th, 2021

There has been much written on the subject of agency new business, but I’m not sure there has been a book which has resonated so deeply with agency founders and new business practitioners alike, as the Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns.

So as we come to the end of another extraordinary year and the final episode of 2021, I wanted to chat with Blair about his reflections on the Manifesto, over a decade from its publication and his outlook for the year ahead.

Do the proclamations set out in the book still apply in these altered economic times? And can we still gain traction with the value pricing approach in Pricing Creativity?

Join us as we explore the challenges and opportunities ahead, and tackle a few listener questions!

This episode marks the 5-year anniversary of Small Spark Theory. So a heartfelt thank you from me to all of the listeners and guests who have been along for the ride so far. We’ll be back in the New Year with more guests and more marginal gains. In the meantime wishing you all a wonderful festive break.  

Also mentioned in this episode


Four Regrets You’re About to Have

Win Without Pitching

EP58: How to be a new business catalyst | Louisa Clarke & David Kean

November 1st, 2021

In my work with agencies I witness a great deal of discomfort about the new business process. Of course there are brilliant, natural new business professionals out there who thrive on networking and relationship building, but for many, the possibility of rejection looms large and the process of prospecting or, shudder, ‘selling’, feels wholly unnatural.

This realisation was the basis for starting Gunpowder as a consulting business almost a decade ago and latterly, the understanding that taking a marginal gains approach could ease the some of that discomfort, the premise for launching this podcast.

Hot off the press, Catalyst: Using Personal Chemistry to Convert Contacts into Contracts  is a wonderful new book by Louisa Clarke and David Kean which gets to the very heart of new business. Exploring how our human interactions determine how we succeed and jam packed with actionable tips, this must read manual confirms that being a catalyst isn’t just the preserve of the new business professional, but a set of skills can (and should) be learned by anyone, one marginal gain at a time.

Louisa and David join me in this episode to share their own ‘catalytic’ experiences and pass on their advice. This is an energising listen for anyone who has lost their new biz mojo or simply wants to feel more confident starting, maintaining and growing a professional network.

As always we’ll be giving away of copy of Catalyst, listen in to find out how to win.

Also mentioned in this episode:

How to Win Friends and Influence Profits

Pitching to Win

The Caffeine Partnership


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris

EP57: How to lead an agency | Steve Parks | Convivio

October 4th, 2021

We’ve talked a lot about leadership on this podcast, and rightly so. Sustainable new business performance starts with a growth mindset and that has to come from the very top of an agency.

No matter how many people I speak with on the topic of agency leadership, every conversation brings a fresh perspective. And none more so than this conversation with Steve Parks of Convivio.

Earlier this year Steve and I were both named as “Inspiring People” in the BenchPress report from The Wow Company, something we were both so chuffed about that we reached out across the internet for a for a virtual high five. Our resulting conversation was so interesting that I knew I wanted to get Steve to chat on here.

In this episode we explore the wider role of agencies, high altitude leadership, the many hats of an agency leader and a window into the world of a private investigator!

Of course, we are giving away a copy of Steve’s recommended read: Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization by Niels Pflaeging, simply join in the conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram using #smallsparktheory and we’ll pick a winner.

Further reading and listening:

What are agencies for?

Too many hats

Your day at the top

The Agency Radar Report

The Convivio Agency Leaders podcast

Bench Press Agency Inspiration Report

EP56: New business leadership | Claire Humphris | Iris

September 6th, 2021

Earlier this year, Claire Humphris was named CEO at Iris, the agency she co-founded with five other colleagues in 1999.

Iris now numbers over 1000 people across 17 offices worldwide. As agency breakaways go, it is a perfect case study. But of course, what interests me is the new business story. Claire has spent the past 7 years leading the agency’s global new business operations, driving growth across the network and winning some of the agency’s biggest integrated pitches.

In this episode we get together to discuss new business leadership and culture, the importance of the marketing calendar, marginal gains and making your own luck.

As we shape up for the final marketing and new business push of the year and begin planning for 2022, this is just the inspiration you need.

As always we’ll be giving away a copy of Claire’s recommended read, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight listen in to find out how to win. 

EP52: Bringing in expertise | Andrew Southcott | Captivate Group

May 6th, 2021

It’s always a good day when someone gets in touch to pitch a podcast episode idea. Even better when that someone is a client.

Andrew Southcott is Managing Director at creative agency group Captivate. Andrew hired me last year to work with Captivate’s new business talent, a move that came as part of a wider initiative to bring in external expertise for advice, support or training on a range of themes across the business.

For me, this is a dream engagement. Mentoring up and coming new business talent is one of the most rewarding parts of my job, but I was interested to explore Andrew’s leadership approach – a growth mindset clearly focussed on development, improvement, and well…. marginal gains!

In this episode Andrew talks us through his experiences of the last year and how a range of experts and outsourced resource are adding value across the business. It’s a fascinating listen, jam packed with great insights and advice.

Breaking with convention, instead of a book recommendation, check out the YouTube channel Ashville Aggregates – for a example of entrepreneurship in action.

EP48: Habits | Clare Rees

January 12th, 2021

It’s safe to say that for most of us, 2021 arrived without the usual fanfare, excitement and expectation but instead, with an exhausted sigh and a resolution NOT to have any New Year resolutions.

Let’s be clear, the ambition and optimism are still there, but big fat goals can feel meaningless when we are surrounded by so much restriction, distraction and uncertainty. So what can we do?

In true Small Spark Theory, marginal gains style, for this episode we wanted to focus on some small stuff. Some helpful, positive habits. The things that can help us put one foot in front of the other, to keep going and stay motivated, even when we don’t feel like it.

To help me unpick the subject of habits I co-opted my long-term colleague and Small Spark Theory Institute co-founder Clare Rees. Clare learned a thing or two about forming good habits when taking on the mighty challenge of writing a novel, so has a great perspective on how to take small steps, avoid procrastination and keep our motivation strong.

As always, listen in for the chance to win a copy of Clare’s recommended read: Atomic Habits by James Clear – you can also download the first chapter here. 

We also have some questions and tips from our fabulous listeners. If you have a question or hot tip and would like to contribute to an upcoming episode – please get in touch.

Also mentioned in this episode:

Stephen Covey’s seminal 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 

Liz Wilde

EP39: Maximising cash | Michelle Cook

May 7th, 2020

Over the past six weeks I’ve been speaking to lots of agency leaders. Those one-on-one conversations have highlighted to me, just how many variables there are determining how agencies are able to weather this extraordinary storm. 

Aside from agency size and structure, services, client sector focus, and the deeply personal experiences of managing pipeline, clients and teams whilst either squashed together with, or isolating without family, there is the issue of cash. 

In almost every case it is the agency’s cash position going into this crisis that determines how able they will be to emerge. Cash provides time. Time to think, to adapt, to respond. 

So as we move into this next phase, and negotiate anew with clients and prospects, how can we maximise our cash? How do we make sure we still get paid for our ideas and solutions?

In this episode, I talk to Independent Financial Director and cash flow specialist Michelle Cook. We learn how Michelle has harnessed Just-In-Time methodology used in manufacturing to revolutionise cash management and her top tips for invoicing, negotiating terms and avoiding payment delays. 

This is another perfect example of how small changes in our processes can deliver marginal gains. 

We’ll be giving away a copy of Michelle’s recommended read The Innovation Book: How to Manage Ideas and Execution for Outstanding Results by Max Mckweown. Listen in to find out how to win. 

You can find Michelle on LinkedIn here. And if you want to discuss a new business challenge, you can book into my diary here.  

EP36: Agency messaging | Roland Gurney | Treacle Copywriters

January 6th, 2020

For marketers, brand positioning, proposition, messaging and tone of voice are no less fundamental than a visual identity. However, as we’ve discussed here before, for agencies –  largely SMEs and often without dedicated marketing resource – finding the time to achieve clarity here, let alone implement change, is a challenge. 

Back in episode 6 we talked about maximising agency websites and touched on positioning copy and about us pages. We dug deeper into agency positioning the following year when we talked to David C. Baker in episode 13. There’s so much more to say about messaging so I was very happy to stumble across the Treacle Copywriters blog (thank you LinkedIn) full of no-nonsense advice for agencies.

In this episode I talk to Treacle founder Roland Gurney about the common messaging pitfalls and the opportunities for agencies to express their difference.

We’re giving away a copy of Roland’s recommended read: Cashvertising by Drew E. Whitman. Listen in to find out how to win. 

Introducing the Small Spark Theory Institute

November 4th, 2019

Over the last three years we have received so much wonderful feedback from Small Spark Theory listeners, telling us how they have been putting the advice from the podcast into practice and seeing marginal gains improvements in new business performance. 

In response to this, we have created the Small Spark Theory Institute, providing mentored, online new business and marketing courses. 

Our first course – a New Business & Marketing Bootcamp, is designed specifically for founders of 2-10 person agencies, who want to build workable strategies and plans whilst optimising their results. Over 60 individual lessons and 4 x one-to-one video calls with me, Lucy Mann, we guide participants through setting objectives and a strategy, creating a workable plan, then optimising performance. 

Check out the course dates at and take advantage of special 15% discount for enrolments before 31st December by using the code PODCAST at the checkout.