Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

Fortune favours the brave

December 15th, 2016

This small consultancy, Gunpowder, turned 4 last month.


I’m not sure quite where the drive to start the business came from. 12 years before I had launched another business, this time in recruitment and with the backing of an agency group and sadly, within two years of our millennium launch, the post-9/11 downturn, and subsequent recruitment freezes hit us so hard we reluctantly took the decision to close. Failing was painful. I made staff redundant, my pride was hurt. I vowed never to do that again.


But I did, and 4 years on I’m still here. What I’ve learned during that time; from my own experience and that of my clients – is that nothing good or exciting comes from getting comfortable. As cliched as it sounds, moving outside one’s comfort zone, really is where the magic happens.


For many of the agencies I work with, the leaders are owner managers. They are practitioners; creatives, strategists, technologists, more frequently introverts than extroverts. For them, much of the sales and marketing process falls squarely outside their comfort zone.


Discomfort at contacting complete strangers with a business proposition, a dislike of networking or fear of public speaking are all common – instead, we retreat to the environments and behaviours which are less challenging, more comfortable. And yet left unchecked, that discomfort becomes a very real barrier to growth – for example, relying on our network alone for new business referrals is easiest, but unless we keep adding to that network, connecting with new people and sharing our knowledge and expertise, the network will in time diminish and the referrals grind to a halt.


I’ve talked before about the importance of using a marginal gains approach to fuel new business growth and many of these small improvements mean testing our boundaries, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.


I’m going to be exploring this is more detail next year in Gunpowder’s brand new podcast series; Small Spark Theory ™ which launches in January, but in the meantime, here’s a little taster of top tips and recommendations to fire you up for 2017:


  1. Making first contact with a prospect – The Future Factory are experts at generating new opportunities for creative agencies. Even if you don’t need a full lead generation programme but just need help taking the first step – the team run excellent workshops on how to write better prospecting emails. Get in touch with Kimi Gilbert to register your interest.
  2. Networking – It needn’t be daunting. Reframe how you think about it by reading our guide here.
  3. Presenting – If you find yourself fumbling through pitches and presentations then help is at hand. Catherine Allison founder of Master the Art is an expert at helping hone your personal presentation skills.
  4. Asking clients for more – Moving from supplier to trusted partner, means rethinking your client relationships and client planning processes. Get in touch for details of our Account Development Skills workshops.
  5. Team up – There’s safety (and savings) in numbers! Collaborating with a like-minded business or team who have complementary skills to host events or other marketing initiatives can feel a lot less daunting and will make your budget go further.


Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year break. Here’s to small acts of bravery in the year ahead.


Further reading:


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain


Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers


Give & Take by Adam Grant


To Sell is Human – Daniel Pink

How to make friends with your inner salesperson

January 19th, 2016

Sales gets a pretty bad rap in the creative industries and it is easy to see why.


If we imagine sales people, we tend to conjure up images of caustic Apprentice candidates, young and overconfident estate agents or the photocopier salesman of old. And then there are the telesales variety – no doubt we receive many of the same phone calls – from business directories, conference organisers, offshore SEO teams and the like, using poorly researched, arrogantly presumptive sales techniques. The gaping holes in subject understanding are plugged with the nonsense business speak, bad grammar and clichés that have us hanging up the phone in the first 30 seconds.


Yet new business revenue is the lifeblood of any agency – so how do we overcome our squeamishness and channel our inner salesperson to drive our businesses forward?


The good news is that whilst the sales stereotypes are very much alive and kicking, none of us have to behave in this way to win new clients. Here are my top tips for generating more opportunities, and winning more work


Think relationships, not projects

When we identify a new business shortfall in financial terms, there is a tendency to approach businesses and brands with a ‘sales’ mindset – what can we sell them, are they looking for a new identity, new website, new agency? Yes? No? Move on.


But let’s take a step back. For most of us, the majority of our business comes from recommendations, from our network, from existing clients. Those introductions tend to happen when there is already a business need and by being recommended, we come with a seal of approval from a trusted source. In short, we are fast tracking the relationship building process. It is no surprise then that ‘cold’ new business prospecting sees a far lower conversion rate than recommendations.


So, whilst we cannot rely on recommendations alone, it is worth changing our mindset about our cold prospecting activity. Instead of hoping to go from introduction to project opportunity to bottom line revenue in one fell swoop, imagine instead that we are simply adding to the network of people who know who we are and what we are capable of. It is the beginning of a relationship, so the pressure is off to ‘sell’ but by routinely meeting new people we start to build up a vibrant network of potential clients.


Be interesting

Anyone who has spent any time on Linked in over the past two years will have seen how it has transformed from being a simple ‘Facebook for Business” to a thought leadership platform. This trend is great news for small businesses. Without expending vast marketing budgets it is possible to pool agency thinking and build thought leadership campaigns which extend across a blog, Linked in, Medium, events or webinars. Regularly publishing new content gives our SEO a positive boost and keeping our growing network of contacts updated with news, views and invitations to events means we stay on their radar. Most importantly thought leadership means we stay authentic. As we will naturally write on the subjects we are passionate and knowledgeable about, potential clients are offered an insight into what it would be like to work with us.


Look for drivers of business change

The most effective sales weapon in our armoury is research. By understanding more about a prospect: the individual, the company, the competitors and the market, we can begin to have informed business conversations, rather than project discussions. Thanks to Google, research has never been easier and a few well-placed, informed questions will help uncover business challenges and initiate a far more interesting discussion than a simple sales pitch. To that end, where possible I would avoid a ‘creds meeting’, it implies a formulaic show and tell, which leaves little room for broader discussion. I’m reminded of a client/agency speed dating event I attended with the indomitable Richard Williams from Williams Murray Hamm. Whilst most agencies were juggling laptops and presentation boards, Richard, empty handed, simply fixed the clients in his gaze and asked one question: “So what’s keeping you up at night?” We won two new projects that day, no ‘selling’ necessary.


Be forensic

Lastly, and this is the boring bit – we need to add in a bit of process. The theory of new business is not rocket science, it really is just relationship building. But it does require time, energy and motivation. Without a plan, and a process for measuring our progress against that plan, we will just get busy with the business of looking after our existing clients. Put in place a simple plan, assign responsibilities then measure activity and results.


In short

Take a business card and link in with everyone you meet. Ask more questions and find out about their challenges. Stay in touch, however interested or interesting they may appear at the time – If there is one thing I have learned, some of the best new business opportunities come from the people you least expect!


This article was first published in the Design Business Association newsletter.

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.

Hello I’m Lucy, pleased to meet you…

July 9th, 2014

Last month a group of brave souls gathered together in a Shoreditch basement to face their networking fears at the Gunpowder Guide to Networking.


Challenging our preconceived ideas about working the room, elevator pitches and generating leads, we explored new techniques for making lasting connections, while speech and drama coach Steve Livermore spirited us out of our comfort zones to examine how the relationship between our body language, voice and energy impacts on the persona we present and the critical first impressions we make.


Want to know more?


Download a copy of the Gunpowder Guide to Networking or get in touch to register your interest for the next workshop.


Gunpowder Guide to Networking: June 10th 2014, London

May 21st, 2014

Does walking into a room full of strangers make you feel uncomfortable? Do you find the pressure to ‘work the room’ too daunting? Fear not, help is at hand.


The Gunpowder Guide to Networking rolls into town next month and takes a close look at the factors at play in a range of networking situations. Drawing on psychology, sociology and actor training, we will discover what our voice, body language and persona say about us and explore new techniques for building confidence and connections. You’ll leave with practical tips for making introductions, keeping conversations going, and following up after the event.


With a master’s degree from Central School of Speech and Drama in Actor Training and Coaching, our course leader Steve Livermore is a director, lecturer and workshop leader with over 20 years’ experience in theatre, performing arts and recorded media. He has directed classical and contemporary texts, pop promos, short films and TV commercials and worked on a wide range of production sizes; from small scale studio theatre pieces to international advertising campaigns.


Check out our event page here for more details and ticket availability.


Canapé anyone?

Networking skills. How do you measure up?

May 1st, 2014

There’s no denying that a healthy network supports business growth. But keeping your network healthy means getting out there and meeting new people. We know it works. A chance meeting, an introduction, a conversation over a curled up canapé, or when juggling a cup and saucer, laptop and notebook at a conference coffee break can lead to all manner of opportunities and ultimately, new clients.


But for many, the thought of getting out there and being interested and interesting on a drizzly Thursday evening can feel like a bridge too far.


Gunpowder is coming to the rescue. There’s a new training event brewing but we need your help to understand what you like and dislike the most about networking situations and the skills you’d like to hone.


Please share you thoughts here and watch this space for further developments or get in touch here.


How LinkedIn are you?

November 29th, 2013

In the decade since its launch, LinkedIn has grown to a whopping membership of 259 million. This is no flash in the pan social fad. It is now an accepted, practical and highly valuable new business tool.


So why is it that so many agency execs are still woefully negligent of their LinkedIn presence? Well I’m going to presume it is for all the same reasons as the slightly off message and search-unfriendly websites, the out of date case studies and those other  irritating tasks that get sidelined in the face of real, revenue generating client work.


Except that all of these things are revenue generating. But because they don’t represent immediate chargeable time, we kid ourselves that we will do or delegate them later, and another month, or year passes by.


Meanwhile LinkedIn continues to evolve, providing an increasing number of options for you to keep your hard won network easily engaged.


Unsure where to start? Here is Gunpowder’s checklist for pimping up your profile:


  1. Start with your company profile. Is everyone in the team connected to the right company page? You’d be surprised how many senior agency managers are linked to an altogether different business, if this is the case it’s easy to update but embarrassing if left unchecked. I recently happened across two founders of a highly creative design studio who have both inadvertently linked to the page of an IT services company by the same name. The IT company branding is so far removed from the design company aesthetic that the any new connections would be seriously misled.
  2. Update the products/services tab of the company page. This will give you the opportunity to showcase particular disciplines and link directly to corresponding pages on your website, you can add videos, images and best of all, your clients can recommend those individual services either with a simple ‘tick’ or a written testimonial.
  3. Don’t forget the branding. Company pages now have a range of image upload areas which will allow you to keep your profile visually on brand. Use the edit button to explore the options and check out company page for POSSIBLE for an example of a well optimized agency page.
  4. Make sure the social panel on your website and/or email signatures include a link to your LinkedIn company page.
  5. Now look at your individual profile. Provide a personal summary
  6. Add a professional headline. This doesn’t need to be the same as your current job title but a more descriptive headline that will help you appear in relevant search results.
  7. Ensure that your description of your current role, chimes with the agency positioning. This is particularly relevant for established businesses who have evolved their proposition over time. Keep it current and joined up.
  8. Keep up to date with your connections. Don’t be shy about connecting with people after a first meeting. It is perfectly acceptable. Just remember to add personal message where you can.
  9. Lastly, give recommendations and endorsements. You’ll be surprised how many people will automatically return the favour.


Need help managing your agency marketing? Get in touch to find out how Gunpowder can help.

The secret to a healthy network

April 30th, 2013

Next summer I will be celebrating 30 years in the workplace. I’m going to try not to dwell on that number too much, for obvious reasons, but the last few months have got me thinking about the wonderful network of colleagues, clients and associates that has grown, as I have grown, throughout my career.


When I launched Gunpowder late last year, I was overwhelmed by the unsolicited offers of help, referrals and recommendations that came my way.  Consequently, the tricky (branding, website) and dull (legal, financial) stuff was dealt with swiftly and expertly, leaving me to focus on my offer just in time for the new business referrals that followed.


A good friend who has just given up an executive position at a large corporation to take a six month sabbatical before, well, who knows what, has experienced the same tidal wave of “network love”.


So what, we pondered, were the secrets to network Nirvana? Here are our tips on growing and maintaining a healthy black book:


1.     Size isn’t everything
A 500+ LinkedIn network has become the bulging Rolodex of today. But size isn’t necessarily the right measure. Just like a marketer trying to figure out the value of a Facebook ‘Like’ – the focus needs to be on engagement. Yes, LinkedIn is a convenient way to keep track of those you meet and do business with, but you would be far better to have a smaller number of contacts with whom you engage rather than striving to hit that 500+ marker without keeping in touch.


2.     Show up
Turn off your computer and get out from behind your desk. The more people you meet, the more people you get introduced to and the more events you get invited to. Be the person who RSVPs on time and once you have accepted an invitation, don’t cancel unless it is absolutely unavoidable. A reputation as a ‘no-show’ won’t help you. Turning up to the event that you’d almost forgotten about at the end of long day almost always rewards you with an interesting new contact.


3.     Be curious
Ask questions and show your interest. Most importantly listen to the answers. If you don’t have a fantastic memory – keep notes. You’ll find out all kinds of nuggets that will be useful later on.


4.     Give selflessly
This is the Big One. Now your network is growing nicely and you have a clear idea about the individuals, their businesses, challenges and motivations, get stuck in. Offer help, make introductions, refer business, give advice, write testimonials, share useful articles, give up your time. Do all of these things without any thought to what’s in it for you.  The more you give to your network, the more you get back. Author Adam Grant explores this in more depth in his new book Give & Take


5.     Say thank you
This may sound obvious, but is so often overlooked. When the time comes that you need to call on your network, for a referral, a new job, for help or advice, you may be surprised who comes to your  aid. Whatever you do, remember to follow up and say thanks. It’ll go a long way.