Main Content

1. Client pressures

Clients are feeling pressure in terms of both time and money – they feel the need to do more with less and are constantly being bombarded by approaches from a multitude of other agencies. On average 17 approaches a day (from all types of agencies, not just design). The fact that 64% of clients couldn’t name more than three other design agencies shows that a lot of new business approach has become background noise. They don’t have time to have exploratory ‘credential’ meetings with agencies and they don’t like to feel sold to. Instead they like to feel they have discovered the agency themselves.

2. Agency positioning and promotion

Clients are interested in knowing what an agency’s core competencies are when visiting their website. 93% want to know what they are best at quickly and easily, rather than assertions that you are experts at everything. 88% of clients have not visited their agency’s website ‘in the last few months’ and when prompted to do so 44% said it ‘fails to communicate the agency I know’.

Agencies are obviously missing a trick. They need to articulate what they do simply (and differentiate themselves from competitors) and provide a reason for clients to revisit their site on a regular basis. Once a good relationship has been established, 33% of clients wish their agency offered more services. Getting a client to revisit your site (where your services are clearly explained) is a clear way of winning more business without ‘selling’ to the client.

3. Effectiveness

think

70% of clients believe that design effectiveness can be difficult (though not impossible) to measure. Those agencies that support and encourage their clients to measure their effectiveness have an advantage. Evidence of effectiveness was also the top answer to the question ‘If a new agency had 30 seconds to say something to you, what would be most likely to get your interest?’ A perfect reason to study how others have articulated the effectiveness of their work in the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards archive.

4. Questioning and pitch disruption

think

68% of winning pitch presentations went against the brief in some way. Proof perhaps that many clients don’t really know what they want or need at the start of the process – a sentiment echoed in a recent article for the DBA by Blair Enns, ‘Quit giving the client what they want’.

Questioning the brief should be the first stage of any project, but how far you push it relates to if you are in a supplier or partner relationship with the client. There is scope for more interrogation throughout a project though, with 44% of clients wishing that their design agencies asked more questions and 30% feeling that their agency was too passive.

5. Client servicing

think

Agencies rarely lose a client because they were not creative enough. 89% of clients who had a weaker relationship with their agency cited client service issues as the main reason. Biggest bug-bears include failing to flag additional costs earlier, haphazard progress reports, being too passive or overly defensive/stubborn. And people have long memories – 29% of clients referred to an agency ‘mistake’ that happened over a year ago. It is failings in client servicing which lead to only 18% of clients believing that their design agency ‘regularly exceeds’ their expectations.

Jonathan’s main advice for developing and maintaining excellent client relationships was to instill a defined approach to client servicing. Actually writing down how your agency manages client relationships is important so all staff can follow the same process and understand what needs to be done in different circumstances. Making mistakes is human, how they are corrected and dealt with can actually strengthen a relationship.

We recently launched the What Clients Think report with Up to the Light. DBA members can view the video of the launch event here (login required), which features in-depth analysis of results by DBA Expert Jonathan Kirk as well as advice and context around how agencies might address some of the issues presented.

If you’d like access to the video, become a DBA member. Call us on 020 7251 9229 or visit our website to discuss how joining us can help your design agency grow.

Image credit: Up to the Light

think

What do clients think?


The recent What Clients Think report by Up To The Light, in association with the DBA, has thrown up some interesting insights.

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Read more >>
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Greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
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Main Content

1. It’s about purpose

screen-shot-2018-06-06-at-11-30-52Having a ‘why’ that explains your existence isn’t just limited to the clients you work for or the brands that you design. Agencies and clients alike need to identify with a deeper purpose that goes beyond just achieving results. Besides understanding what they do and how to do it, they need to feel inspired by why they’re doing it. For example, at Elmwood we believe in the transformative power of design. We believe that everyone we work with and for will be better because of design. As such, our people are more than designers or client services whizzes. They are change-agents and problem-solvers, and people that apply their unique skills to help our clients make sense of the world and make it a better place for them.

2. It’s about people

screen-shot-2018-06-06-at-11-27-52

But for a purpose to stick, it needs to be lived every day. It needs to be reflected in your values and behaviours. This isn’t easy to do no matter what size your business is, but it gets more tricky as the business starts to grow nationally and internationally. Ensuring that the people you bring on board believe in the same things you do can help overcome this challenge. At Elmwood, every new joiner around the world receives a little hand signed book called ‘What makes Elmwood, Elmwood’. In it we explain what makes us tick, what we value, and what to expect. But it can also be reinforced by sending some of your key people to help set up your new locations to embed your value and behaviours. That way the understanding of your purpose gets transplanted and, of course, adapted to fit the local culture and the diversity of the local team. Reinforce that with totems, icons and communications that support your purpose, and no matter where you go you’re always ‘at home’.

3. It’s about development

 

culture

For the workplace to be a great place to work, it needs to respect your abilities and stretch them beyond where you think they could go. One of the most valuable pieces of career advice I was given, was given to me by Jonathan Sands, the owner of Elmwood. He told me very simply that I needed to step outside of my comfort zone. And it was true. He subsequently started to push me in directions I’d never considered possible. I went from being a production assistant to becoming what I am today, managing partner of our UK business. And we take a similar approach to everyone who works at Elmwood. Everyone has a learning and development plan and we look for opportunities for people to work on diverse projects in diverse teams that stretch their skills.

4. It’s about the work

 

s3-news-tmp-10557-elmwood2-2x1-940

The same holds true for the kind of work we bring into our studios. Nothing is more demotivating than working on a project that you don’t believe in. Working on a project you can believe in and being able to use design to take brands to new places motivates everyone. We all want to get up in the morning and work on something that makes your socks go up and down. That puts tremendous pressure on businesses to get work in that makes your people tick. This doesn’t always mean working on big projects with big budgets and big expectations. At times these projects can be the most challenging ones to work on, but extremely rewarding for the team. Working across diverse, international teams in which everyone has an equal voice and where extraordinary ideas are championed. Working on smaller projects or projects that stretch skills and ability can be just as motivating but brings different challenges. The key remains, however, that the work you bring into the business is congruent with the kind of work you believe in.

5. It’s about diversity

elmwood-london-group-web-pic-620x330We work in a young industry where people actively seek out experiences that take them to the next level. This can bring a headache to many companies, but embracing different types of people with different career expectations is good for business. Diversity encourages creativity and improves the skills of the wider team, and results in positive outcomes for clients. We have a saying at Elmwood, which is that whether you’re with us for six months, six years or until you’re sixty, we want our people to enjoy the ride. When they leave we want them to have left a mark, to feel that they have added to their knowledge, and to have got even better at what they do and brilliant at how they do it.

 

To end where I began, greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people. To paraphrase Richard Branson, if you look after your people, they will look after the success of your business. It’s that simple.

About: Sarah Dear

Sarah has over 25 years’ experience working in the design industry and has worked with some of world’s most prominent brands. She started at Elmwood Brand Design Consultancy as a production assistant in 1992 and is now Elmwood’s UK Managing Partner. Elmwood’s roots are in Yorkshire, but with studios around the globe, including London, New York, Singapore and Melbourne. Sarah has a French degree from the University of Birmingham, as well as a CIM Diploma in Marketing from Leeds Business School. 

Sarah is a non-executive board director of the Leeds BID, the goal of which is to help make Leeds a more attractive and successful city to visit, live and work in. She has recently been appointed to sit on the UK Council for the Creative Industries Federation.

10PR and profile raising | Half-day training workshop | Wednesday 11 July AM

Raise your agency’s profile with a sophisticated PR campaign that cuts through the noise and competition. You’ll learn about building and managing media relationships, the right tactics for achieving your goals, when you’ll need a PR campaign and when one off activity will suffice, and more. Book on today.

Image credit: Elmwood

think

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Read more >>
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Greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
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There’s a valuable, yet until now, mostly unknown cash boost that DBA members can benefit from. Uniform has been recouping funds for years, enabling the innovation agency to expand its revenue, head count and profitability. We chatted with Managing Director Nick Howe, to discuss how R&D tax credits can enable an agency’s growth.

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Read more >>
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Main Content

Firmdale Hotels

cc79197d-8e99-40a6-8379-0ab21d9cc51a“The overall design of each space and room, and the immaculate attention to every detail is magical. From a bottle of the hotel’s signature scent pillow spray on your first night, the fresh flowers with room service tray, to whimsical ‘Mythical Creatures’ Wedgwood bone china, no detail is left unloved.

Every member of their team – from the front desk to room service – performs with excellence and pride, making this brand, in my view, one that truly delivers a superb holistic brand experience across every consumer touch point.”

Deklah Polansky, Creative Director and Partner, studio‘farrell and formerly Global Brand Experiential Design Director, Coca-Cola

firmdalehotels.com

 

Nespresso

Ralph Ardill“There’s no shortage of contenders but recently I’d have to say Nespresso – from the meticulous curation of their Boutique stores, infectious knowledge of their coffee experts and intuitive minimalist design of their coffee machine and accessories range, all the way through to the immediately recognisable naming, packaging and systematic colour-coding of their distinctive ranges – effortlessly re-created online and supported with all the helpful ‘customer-first’ delivery, pick-up, help, care and membership services any hard-core coffee aficionado could want.
 
A brand that’s getting the basics spot-on, making the complex simple and never forgets coffee is at the heart of everything they do, but bringing consumer pleasure to why they’re doing it.”
 
Ralph Ardill, Founder, Ralph Ardill Limited and formerly Head of Strategy, Imagination
 

REI

nestoras-argiris-136515-unsplash

“For me, a great customer brand experience is when the brand stops selling products and starts providing great service that prevents what I call ‘collateral damages’, while increasing positive emotional connections along the customer life cycle.

One brand that does this well is REI. They have successfully positioned themselves as an outdoor lifestyle brand with a great customer service experience in all channels – in person, at the store, to online, with robust FAQ, repair / refund / exchange policy to promote customers to be the brand advocate by helping them to share stories, celebrating their great customer service success stories.

cc79197d-8e99-40a6-8379-0ab21d9cc51a-1The attention to details for these touch points have effectively addressed the underlying customer needs around saving time, fast service turnaround, price match, and positive emotional feelings interacting with the brand.”

Kevin Lee, Executive Director and Vice President, Head of Design and Co-Innovation at Visa

rei.com

Pet Smart

cristofer-jeschke-606582-unsplash“We have an ’emotionally delicate’ Boston Terrier named Liam. When he goes in for his monthly ‘Spa wash’ we are always surprised and delighted to receive a hand written report about his nails, coat, glands and his demeanor during the time spent there.

The staff are loving and kind and it’s clear that the animals feel safe and happy. For a low cost, and considering that this is a mass retail experience, you often receive more documentation, care and information about your pet than from your own Doctor’s visit.”

Deklah Polansky, Creative Director and Partner, studio‘farrell and formerly Global Brand Experiential Design Director, Coca-Cola

petsmart.com

 

*”Success is the sum of details” Harvey S. Firestone

Image credit: Matt Richardson | Unsplash
Image credit: Jack Kaminski | Unsplash
Image credit: Nestoras Argiris | Unsplash 
Image credit: Cristofer Jeschke | Unsplash
think

What do clients think?


The recent What Clients Think report by Up To The Light, in association with the DBA, has thrown up some interesting insights.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
sarahdear1

The importance of culture


Greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
matt-richardson-392152-unsplash

Delightful details: Nailing the customer brand experience


If 'success is the sum of details', which businesses are nailing a great customer brand experience in this respect?

02/05/2018


Read more >>
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What is a Small Giant? Is your business one?


What is a 'Small Giant' and why is the UK design sector a great place to find them?

02/05/2018


Read more >>
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Important news from the DBA regarding the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. The new entry deadline is on 30 November 2018.

10/04/2018


Read more >>
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There’s a valuable, yet until now, mostly unknown cash boost that DBA members can benefit from. Uniform has been recouping funds for years, enabling the innovation agency to expand its revenue, head count and profitability. We chatted with Managing Director Nick Howe, to discuss how R&D tax credits can enable an agency’s growth.

10/04/2018


Read more >>
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The DBA's Adam Fennelow explores how Absolute Design went from a hand-to-mouth existence to increasing their monthly, retained income five-fold.

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Read more >>
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In a world where growth is worshipped even above profit, is your design agency growing for the right reasons? David C. Baker gives his perspective on growth.

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Choose to be a Small Giant


The unique characteristics within your design business sets our industry apart. You think differently; you work differently; you aspire differently. You choose to be Small Giants.

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Main Content

‘The most successful I have ever felt’

unknown3Small Giants see beyond size as a success factor; exploring bigger choices in the development of their business and the way they work.

“I felt the book (Small Giants) was about staying pure to what you set the company up for in the first place. Set your own definitions of success – you don’t have to be big. The agency I co-founded in London had 12 people. The one I have now in Bath has four – this is the most successful I have felt. We are doing great work, for great clients and we win awards against agencies 100 times our size.”

Jamie Ellul, Founder and Creative Director, Supple Studio

‘Being able to say no’

daniele-levis-pelusi-311031-unsplashSmall Giants resist the prescribed path and external pressures to maintain what’s important to them: control – and the freedom to realise their own vision.

“Control to me is being able to say no to projects that are not right for us, and yes to the projects that really resonate. We only have a few clients, but we service them to the max. It is all about making their lives easy, and we are able to do that because we are flexible due to our size.”

Jamie Ellul, Founder and Creative Director, Supple Studio

‘With great teams comes great culture’

Small Giants treat their people with respect, dignity and integrity, understanding and exercising the value of making their business a great place to work.

unknown“We are focused on creating a great working environment for people to enjoy themselves. When people are enjoying themselves great teams are built. With great teams comes great culture. We have defined three sets of behaviours for everyone at MrB, which really helps us drive the business:

1 “It can be done” – be positive. Don’t just solve problems, seek them out.

2 “Be there” – turning up everyday, being a team member. You can’t do this on your own.

3 “Act like you own it” – empowers the team, but makes them think – ‘if this was my business would I do that?’

Simon Barbato, CEO, Mr B and Friends

 

“We have developed a culture of distributed responsibility by hiring staff on values – we look for the same core philosophies. We hire those people who you could sit around a dinner table with, who have diverse interests and backgrounds but fit in with your brand. We then follow the teach, equip, trust model. Don’t do it for them. If they make mistakes coach them, don’t dictate.”

Brian Mansfield, Chairman, Taxi Studio

‘Customer satisfaction has gone through the roof’

ep_0445Small Giants take advantage of being small and privately owned to develop and tailor effective, unique management practices. 

“We looked back to when we were 10 people. It was when we were our most productive, most agile and most profitable. So we are now trialling a pod system with a 10 person pod within the business made up of designers, copywriter, account director etc. We are three months into the trail, with the aim of having three pods in place by the end of 2018. Customer satisfaction has gone through the roof because we have been able to react to issues there and then. Plus with the pod’s notional P&L the PBT (profit before tax) has risen to 32%. If we can scale this approach we can be a larger business, while maintaining the entrepreneurial approach.”

Simon Barbato, CEO, Mr B and Friends

‘You build up trust on both sides’

Small Giants create exceptional relationships with their clients and suppliers for long-term benefits, and engage with local communities and issues for a meaningful emotional impact.

“We also try to collaborate with local suppliers and are very loyal to those we work with. You build up trust on both sides. We also try to put something back into the community by doing a pro-bono project for a local organisation each year.”

Jamie Ellul, Founder and Creative Director, Supple Studio

‘Someone in the business needs to care about that side’

Small Giants are proud to work differently for a better result for their company, people and community.

taxi_website2015_team_inpage_brian_mansfield_desktop“Design businesses will always be passionate about the work and the craft, but there is nothing wrong with also being passionate about the business itself – how it is run, how it makes money. Someone in the business needs to care about that side with the same amount of passion. There is no point being a boutique agency doing great work if you don’t make any money.”

Brian Mansfield, Chairman, Taxi Studio

Watch the full interview with Brian Mansfield of Taxi Studio, Jamie Ellul of Supple Studio and Simon Barbato of Mr B and Friends

tim-wright-506562-unsplash-1Training workshop | Redefining thought leadership | Tuesday May 15

DBA Expert Jonathan Kirk will use feedback and insight gained from hundreds of client interviews about how, when and why clients are engaging with agency ‘thought leadership’ activity.  You’ll learn how to set up your approach for success and return on investment.

Read on and book your place.

Image credit: Sutirta Budiman | Unsplash 

Image credit: Daniele Levis Pelusi | Unsplash 

Image credit: Design Week

Image credit: Tech Spark

Image credit: Catchfire funding

think

What do clients think?


The recent What Clients Think report by Up To The Light, in association with the DBA, has thrown up some interesting insights.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
sarahdear1

The importance of culture


Greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
matt-richardson-392152-unsplash

Delightful details: Nailing the customer brand experience


If 'success is the sum of details', which businesses are nailing a great customer brand experience in this respect?

02/05/2018


Read more >>
sutirta-budiman-557700-unsplash

What is a Small Giant? Is your business one?


What is a 'Small Giant' and why is the UK design sector a great place to find them?

02/05/2018


Read more >>
news

Important news: DBA Design Effectiveness Awards


Important news from the DBA regarding the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. The new entry deadline is on 30 November 2018.

10/04/2018


Read more >>
cash

Cash injection through innovation boosts agency growth


There’s a valuable, yet until now, mostly unknown cash boost that DBA members can benefit from. Uniform has been recouping funds for years, enabling the innovation agency to expand its revenue, head count and profitability. We chatted with Managing Director Nick Howe, to discuss how R&D tax credits can enable an agency’s growth.

10/04/2018


Read more >>
daria-nepriakhina-235583

Absolute transformation


The DBA's Adam Fennelow explores how Absolute Design went from a hand-to-mouth existence to increasing their monthly, retained income five-fold.

28/03/2018


Read more >>
john-salzarulo-44362

Growth is not always a panacea


In a world where growth is worshipped even above profit, is your design agency growing for the right reasons? David C. Baker gives his perspective on growth.

28/03/2018


Read more >>
small giants

Choose to be a Small Giant


The unique characteristics within your design business sets our industry apart. You think differently; you work differently; you aspire differently. You choose to be Small Giants.

08/03/2018


Read more >>
231

Then and now: The Clearing’s journey to effectiveness


We caught up with Richard Buchanan, MD & Founder at The Clearing fresh off the back of their wins at the 2018 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards to discuss the agency's winning journey.

28/02/2018


Read more >>

Main Content

About: DBA Design Effectiveness Awards

The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards recognise impactful, wide-ranging examples of design that have had a tangible and measurable impact upon business success.

Judged by business leaders and entered jointly by client and designer, the Awards draw focus onto design’s strategic and commercial value to business. They celebrate what’s possible when the best brains from design and business come together in true partnership and provide powerful evidence that design thinking combined with business acuity can bring about the right conditions for business transformation to occur.

View the 2018 winners at the Design Effectiveness Awards website.

think

What do clients think?


The recent What Clients Think report by Up To The Light, in association with the DBA, has thrown up some interesting insights.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
sarahdear1

The importance of culture


Greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people.

07/06/2018


Read more >>
matt-richardson-392152-unsplash

Delightful details: Nailing the customer brand experience


If 'success is the sum of details', which businesses are nailing a great customer brand experience in this respect?

02/05/2018


Read more >>
sutirta-budiman-557700-unsplash

What is a Small Giant? Is your business one?


What is a 'Small Giant' and why is the UK design sector a great place to find them?

02/05/2018


Read more >>
news

Important news: DBA Design Effectiveness Awards


Important news from the DBA regarding the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. The new entry deadline is on 30 November 2018.

10/04/2018


Read more >>
cash

Cash injection through innovation boosts agency growth


There’s a valuable, yet until now, mostly unknown cash boost that DBA members can benefit from. Uniform has been recouping funds for years, enabling the innovation agency to expand its revenue, head count and profitability. We chatted with Managing Director Nick Howe, to discuss how R&D tax credits can enable an agency’s growth.

10/04/2018


Read more >>
daria-nepriakhina-235583

Absolute transformation


The DBA's Adam Fennelow explores how Absolute Design went from a hand-to-mouth existence to increasing their monthly, retained income five-fold.

28/03/2018


Read more >>
john-salzarulo-44362

Growth is not always a panacea


In a world where growth is worshipped even above profit, is your design agency growing for the right reasons? David C. Baker gives his perspective on growth.

28/03/2018


Read more >>
small giants

Choose to be a Small Giant


The unique characteristics within your design business sets our industry apart. You think differently; you work differently; you aspire differently. You choose to be Small Giants.

08/03/2018


Read more >>
231

Then and now: The Clearing’s journey to effectiveness


We caught up with Richard Buchanan, MD & Founder at The Clearing fresh off the back of their wins at the 2018 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards to discuss the agency's winning journey.

28/02/2018


Read more >>

Main Content

cashNick, tell us a little about the innovation that you’re doing at Uniform.

We have an R&D programme that falls into two parts. The first is every day R&D that involves client work. With each client project, we look at how we can achieve results quicker, produce something better, or develop something smarter. We look at how we can innovate to solve our clients problems.

Secondly, we have a more formal and long-term R&D innovation programme, run by a specific team that explores two to three big tech driven themes per year, or longer if necessary. Right now we’re focused on AI, we’re looking at prototype projects, and some immersive AR and VR product development that sits in-between R&D and client work.

As a small business, how have you been able to fund this kind of work?

We made a conscious financial and business decision to forward fund our R&D and innovation programme as an investment about six years ago. We wanted to be a front-runner and externally it sent a strong message and cemented our position as innovators. Internally, the team know it’s not a luxury, while the innovation department sits outside our day-to-day services, their work and influence bleeds into client work every day.

The establishment of our R&D / innovation department has meant that the work being produced as a part of that is fully eligible for R&D tax credits, so there is an element of continuous self-funding as we reinvest in innovation.

Has claiming changed your approach to innovation (and risk)? 

In a way claiming de-risks the innovation work. It’s easier to launch into a project that might be deemed risky or unusual if we know we’ll receive a percentage of that spend back. It’s much easier to justify any spend or cost of investing in innovation work.

Has it changed the culture of your business at all? 

Well, we’re about to re-launch our website and re-communicate our offer more clearly, with R&D at the core. Innovation as a commercially significant part of our business is increasingly important, and with a focus on design thinking, sprints, innovation workshops – lots of this stems from the culture of R&D from within the business and the ability to continue practising this – made easier with the success we’ve had through claiming R&D tax credits and the opportunities this has opened for further innovation.

How easy is the process, and how much time does it take, and what would your advice be to design companies cashthinking about making an R&D tax credit claim, but not sure if it’s for them?

Explore the option – even if you’re sceptical. We were claiming on our own, with support from our accountants, and while that was successful, we didn’t realise until we started working with ForrestBrown that we were eligible to claim so much more. ForrestBrown are highly competent, they know the rules, what you can and can’t do. Working with them has been quite eye opening for us, in terms of understanding what were eligible costs – in a way that is robust and defensible. ForrestBrown has almost doubled what we were already receiving from our own claim, they helped us to interpret the process and the rules, and shaved about a two thirds off the time it took us to claim on our own.

We explored the market and chose ForrestBrown from three different specialists, purely on the basis that we felt ForrestBrown understood the design industry the best. They’re very strong in digital and in their understanding of design and innovation.

What are R&D tax credits worth?

How much R&D tax credits are worth depends on how much money you have spent on qualifying R&D activity. You can include the following costs in your claim: staff, subcontractors, materials, and consumables (such as heat, light and power).

SMEs are able to recoup up to 33p for every pound spent on qualifying expenditure using the SME R&D tax credit scheme. This means if you have qualifying costs of £500,000, you could receive a benefit worth £166,750.

How to claim

As Nick mentions, it’s best to work with true experts in this specialist area when submitting a claim. They will optimize the value of your claim. This means including everything that is valid, whilst also ensuring it can be robustly backed up should HMRC challenge it.

We can arrange for ForrestBrown’s team of chartered tax advisers – complemented by industry experts and former HMRC R&D unit tax inspectors – to handle your claim. They will gather information from the relevant people in your business, prepare all the paperwork and liaise with HMRC on your behalf.

For a free eligibility assessment or review of a claim you have already submitted, get in touch with the ForrestBrown team on 0117 926 9022 or hello@forrestbrown.co.uk and quote the code DBA.

About: ForrestBrown

ForrestBrown is an award-winning tax consultancy specialising in research and development (R&D) tax credits. Their team of chartered tax advisers help innovative businesses grow. This level of specialism means their chartered tax advisers have a deep understanding of the R&D tax legislation and its application to businesses throughout the UK, and creative businesses in particular. 

W: https://forrestbrown.co.uk/

Image credit | Uniform

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Absolute Design's work for Killerton Kitchen
Absolute Design’s work for Killerton Kitchen

Following the 2008/9 recession, Absolute, based in Truro, Cornwall had slipped from being an agency with £1m+ turnover and a 10% profit margin into becoming an agency that did anything that came along just to get money into the business. It was a gradual slide into a hand-to-mouth existence. Everyone worked incredibly hard, but at the end of the month there was no money. The work being done was just not profitable.

It was at this point (mid 2017) that Helen called the DBA and asked for advice on who could help her turn the business around. She was given a number of names from the DBA Expert’s Register, including Ralph Ardill, former head of strategy at Imagination, now a consultant for both agencies and ‘client’ businesses interested in business transformation.

Helen had spoken to Ralph after a DBA event in 2010 and would have worked with him then if it hadn’t been for the recession and a natural response to ‘batten down the hatches’. Ralph understood exactly what needed to be done. After much soul searching Helen and her husband decided to make an additional financial investment in the business and brought Ralph on board.

Ralph was drawn to Absolute immediately. “The work was great – an integration of architecture, interior design and graphics. But the business was siloed, it had lost its identity and the culture had stagnated.”

“I knew straight away that we could turn things around,” Ralph continued, “because of Helen’s commitment (in terms of time and energy) and her willingness to change everything if necessary. There were no sacred cows.”

A plan of action was thrashed out in the first meeting between Helen and Ralph, with a timeline of a little over 6 months. The plan, in essence, was simple – make Absolute the most important client of Absolute. To do on themselves what they do for their clients on a day-to-day basis. Simple in essence, but as any agency with an out-of-date website will attest to, harder in reality.

Key to the process was the involvement of the whole team at Absolute, and they were brought into the picture from meeting two. They were challenged to think way beyond their job specifications. Helen became the client, with no creative input, and the team presented to her and Ralph on a regular basis throughout the project.

The first stage involved the team presenting on what was wrong with Absolute. Ralph acknowledges that this is always difficult. “Ultimately you are telling someone their baby is ugly.”

The team threw themselves into it. It showed Helen who really cared, who had the character she needed long term. They looked at the agency culture, values and behaviours, at their identity, at the customer experience in the studio, the actual studio space itself to bring staff together – everything. They redesigned the business from the ground up.

Absolute Design's work for Fifteen
Absolute Design’s work for Fifteen

It all came down to identifying what they were good at, what work was most profitable for them, what the levers were that created value and how they could articulate it all. It was about doing less, but at a higher value. It is an approach advocated by Ralph for many years under the title ‘Project You’, where an agency becomes the inspirational client for its own most creative transformation project.

The key aspects of the approach are:

  • To have a single holistic model for looking at improving total agency experience – both inside for employees, and outside for clients
  • Built around best-practice ‘levers’ proven to build value in creative consultancy firms. (If it is not driving value you should not be doing it)
  • Focused on agency purpose, proposition, values and behaviours
  • Adding value to create premium design services, tools and methodologies across the board
  • Strong focus on IP development and creating more opportunities to commercialise talent, tools and techniques

The methodology for the transformation project enacted by Ralph and Helen demands frequent and rapid testing in live situations. Ralph explained it as developing propositions that “Help you win the day.” If it doesn’t then you know it needs more work. If it does you know you are going in the right direction.

The team developed the new positioning statement for Absolute – “Grow with Experience – how we can help your business grow through the power of experiential design.” Along with the positioning came a new ‘sales deck’ – a presentation for new business meetings focused on Absolute’s understanding of design and their experience. This was a prototype that got tested early with a prospective client. “He was hooked. The body language was fantastic – classic leaning in,” explained Helen, who was initially very nervous about the new approach. Having tested it in a live situation she realised it fulfilled Ralph’s criteria in that “it won the day.”

Absolute had always prided itself on its client servicing, but over the years had slipped into a very tactical and undefined relationships with their clients who found it easy to dip in and out with only small investments being made.

Absolute’s new approach has led to a more strategic, retained relationship with their clients. Within 3 months they increased their monthly, retained income five-fold.

Absolute Design's work for The Cornish Bakery
Absolute Design’s work for The Cornish Bakery

Since re-launching at the start of 2018 Absolute have hit their monthly targets in both January and February – achieving twice something they had failed to do during the previous four years.

Ralph acknowledges that up to three quarters of agency owners that try to transform their business so dramatically will fail. This is due to three main reasons:

  • Leadership team not willing to commit totally to change
  • Approach to change is doomed at outset and not designed to overcome the significant creative, cultural and commercial barriers that will inevitably be encountered
  • Unable to inspire and engage agency with personal and company creative opportunity change brings

Helen concedes that after many years of trying on her own, there was no way she could have achieved the transformation without external support, like the DBA Experts Register provided. “Ralph challenged everything,” she said “but it has given us the ability to know where we have the greatest right to win, and the ability to say ‘no’ at the right times. We have been absolutely transformed.”

About: Ralph Ardill

About: Helen Stephens

Helen Stephens, the founder and Creative Director of Absolute. She leads the direction and strategy for client projects. She has been working in the design industry for over 26 years and together with her team has built Absolute to be one of the UK’s leading brand experience agencies.

www.weareabsoluteuk.com

DBA Experts Register

As a DBA member, if you have a particular business challenge or are looking to move your agency to the next level, we’ll work closely with you to connect you to an expert, whatever the issue. We’ve identified expert consultants with sustained and relevant experience in supporting the design industry, so you can rest assured that we can introduce you to the right one to meet your needs.

Our Experts have extensive experience supporting the creative industry. View the Experts Register here.

Image credit: Absolute Design

Image credit: daria-nepriakhina | Unsplash

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1) Growth is primarily about the role you want

It doesn’t make any difference how big you are. I’ve worked with businesses with 40 employees whose sole principal is making $120,000. I’ve worked with even more businesses of less than 4 employees where the principal is making $600,000 consistently. It just doesn’t matter.

80_1140_611_perfect-size_-large_There are some advantages of being a large agency and different advantages of being a small agency, but the primary distinction between the two sizes is how you shape your role. And if you don’t frame the growth question this way, you’re just going to end up letting growth happen to you.

When you let growth happen to you, rather than making that choice for yourself, you’ll end up being dragged into a role that your business needs but which doesn’t feel comfortable for you. Do you enjoy being on the front lines and interacting directly with clients? Don’t get too large. Do you enjoy running your agency, landing new business, and shaping the careers of others? Think about growing your agency to take some things off your plate.

It’s really that simple and you’ve got to make the business your bitch rather than getting dragged around by this monster that you’ve created.

This part is pretty easy, but there’s a second element to this decision that forces you to live within the realities of the marketplace. That’s next.

2) Right size = Smaller than your opportunity

It’s not quite as simple as deciding what size business you’d like to run, based on what role you want to play. The marketplace has some say in the matter, too, and so once you decide what size is comfortable, your primary mission becomes finding more work (from qualified clients) than you can handle.

80_4665_4072_opportunity-vs_-capacity-large_

Yes, that’s not a mistake. You always need more opportunity than capacity. Otherwise you’re feeding a machine and any misalignment between your capacity and your opportunity will leave you scrambling to fill that gap. And that, my friends, is exactly when you’re most tempted to compromise on your standards for a qualified client. Your thinking goes something like this: “Yeah, I know that we aren’t going to make much money on this engagement. But we’ll make a lot more money than if my people were just sitting around.”

That sort of thinking means you are no longer in charge. You’re feeding a machine, and financial pressure is the primary cause of all business decision compromises.

If you lose your ability to say no because you have to say yes all the time in order to stay busy, you’re just along for the ride.

Life’s too short to be running someone else’s business. Apparently some of you feel that way, too. I asked 414 of you how you felt about growth as a principal, and here’s what you said:

I’d be happier if we had fewer people like before: 43%
I’d be happier if we stayed this size forever: 30%
I’d be happier if we got significantly bigger: 27%

About: David C. Baker

David is a speaker, writer, and consultant in the expertise marketplace, having worked with 900+ firms and in-house departments under the umbrella of his firm, ReCourses. His work has been discussed in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fast Company. Inc. Magazine, MarketingProfs, Forbes, and BusinessWeek.

Choose to be a Small Giant.

https_%2f%2fcdn-evbuc-com%2fimages%2f42458111%2f102399855273%2f1%2foriginalHere at the DBA, we champion greatness in small businesses like yours that think big. Our focus is to shine a light on the unique characteristics that drive you, with a carefully curated programme of training, events and resources that will help you shape your business. Read more here.

Image credit: John Salzarulo | Unsplash

(New) business summit with Blair Enns and David C. Baker

untitled-design-17If you are a leader in the creative community and your role includes positioning, lead generation, selling, or pricing, this is the high-level event you have been waiting for. Blair and David have worked in over 40 countries and have adapted these two days of learning in response to the unique market conditions you face. The two-day summit will be held in the UK for the first time on 25 and 26 June 2018 in London.

Book now

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Main Content

What is a Small Giant?

Better

As a founder or leader, you see beyond the standard definition of success and look to explore bigger choices in the development of your business, and the way you work.

Control

Building a business faces plenty of challenges but you resist the prescribed path and external pressures to maintain what’s important to you: control – and the freedom to realise your own vision.

People

Your people are valuable so you treat them with respect, dignity and integrity, whilst making your business a great place to work emotionally, spiritually, economically and socially.

Development

Usual corporate structures don’t work for your business so you take advantage of being small and privately owned to develop and tailor effective unique management practices.

Relationships

Working effectively means respecting everyone in and around your business, so you create exceptional relationships with your clients and suppliers for long-term benefits.

Community

It’s important to respect the neighbourhood, town or city where you do business, so you engage with local communities and issues for a meaningful emotional impact.

Passion

Design businesses start with passion and yours is no different, which is why you’re proud to work differently for a better result for your company, your people and your community.

Says DBA Chief Executive Deborah Dawton

“Our industry has unique characteristics that set us apart. And it’s these characteristics – the way we think differently; the way we work differently; the way we aspire differently – that enable us to deliver this level of customer impact and financial return for the businesses we work in and for.”

“When I look at the DBA’s membership, I see businesses defined by their determination to be, not just good, but to be great at what they do. Driven by a genuine desire to the best they can be at what they do, to create a stimulating place for their staff to work, to provide great client servicing, to make a wider positive impact beyond simply their own financial gains. It’s what gives this sector its unique mojo. And it’s what makes the UK design industry so special.”

mentoringDBA training workshops

Whether you own a design business or work in one, our training programme will help you hone the skills you need to make the design business you lead or work in truly great.

View all training workshops.

About: Small Giants

To learn more about Small Giants, you can read veteran journalist Bo Burlingham’s book; Small Giants: Companies that choose to be great instead of big.

Burlingham, editor at large of Inc., looks closely at businesses that have focussed on being great at what they do by fulfilling more satisfying business goals. He delves deep inside 14 privately held companies and explores how by marching to their own drum, they’ve gained a unique mojo, and draws out the lessons we can learn from this.

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