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Golden nuggets: Takeaways, advice and insight to grow your business

Our Head of Services, Adam Fennelow meets and hears from hundreds of agencies and industry experts each year. He feels privileged to be in a position to be able to soak up valuable advice and insight from these meetings and events, and to be able to pass on what he learns back to our members to help grow their businesses.


Here’s a whistle stop tour of his year, along with some valuable nuggets of advice he’s picked up on the way…

There is value in talking and sharing with your peers

February found me in Bath having breakfast with half a dozen members from the area. I was presenting a look at financial benchmarks for South West agencies compared to the UK as a whole, but the biggest surprise for some of the agencies present was how much they enjoyed meeting with and learning directly from each other. The DBA is a community, and sharing for the benefit of all is a key aspect of belonging to the Association.

You need to plan for the future

futureexits_door-167x167In March we ran a couple of workshops, in Leeds and London, on succession planning. The key idea I took away from the sessions was that you do not have to carve your future in stone, but you do need some sort of plan to both manage the surprises that life throws at you and drive the business forward in the right direction. As DBA Expert Jack O’Hern says “You will leave your business at some point. You’ll either go bust, die or sell – ideally the latter.”

Why not search for and download our Succession Planning Guide in Resources to find out more?

Design effectiveness requires effective data capture

ceremonyDuring April every year I meet with many DBA members who are looking to write case studies to enter the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards.

The biggest barrier is always the agency’s access to data – which is why I wrote this article The Secret to Capturing Data on Design Effectiveness. (Spoiler alert – it’s all about that dreaded “P” word – process).

The agency Member that left me with the biggest smile on my face was The Clearing who had a Road to Damascus moment of clarity and then changed the way they thought about what they did, and the value they bring to their clients. They explain their change of approach here.

Financial metrics

surveyMay always sees the launch of our Annual Survey – a call for members to share their financial data to enable us to produce our Annual Survey Report later in the year. The survey can be intimidating for some of the smaller agencies but those that do complete it benefit from developing the financial rigour that is required to grow a profitable business.

During conversations on finances I am always asked about the ratio between income, staff costs, studio costs and promotional costs. DBA Expert Gary Baxter wrote the ultimate paper on this – all on just 1 side of A4. 

On the road asking about business growth

alexander-limbach-dreamstime_l_53574541-copyLate spring and early summer was an ideal time for the DBA to go on the road organising member events on the subject of “business growth” and what it meant to our members. The series of case studies from members illustrating the highs and lows of growing a business received a fantastic response from those that attended.

In Edinburgh, Steve Pearce from Skyscanner talked about the challenges of recruiting a new person every week and how interviewing and on-boarding take up so much of his time.

In Bristol Kinneir Dufort, Taxi Studios and Workbrands told their stories, while in Manchester Love Creative and Uniform took the stage. The stories were different, but the themes of having a strong plan, recruiting wisely and maintaining your culture ran through them all. Read more here 

Earn the right to work by relaxing

ideaDuring August it seemed like the design industry shut down for a bit. Are we going a bit French? Well, maybe we should be.

David C. Baker and Blair Enns, in their fantastic 2Bobs podcast series talk about the importance of taking time off – and switching off. You should not be working yourself into the ground trying to earn some time off – which you then spend checking your email everyday anyway. Your downtime is the period where your batteries get re-charged. To paraphrase David, if you cannot take the time off (and cut yourself off) you are either not charging enough, not good enough, or you are more interested in your job as a hobby than as a means to having a better life. Listen to 2Bobs here.

Struggling September

https-%2f%2fcdn-evbuc-com%2fimages%2f33606066%2f102399855273%2f1%2foriginalWhat is it about September that highlights the financial issues in a business? Is it the reforecast with only four months of the year left? Was it the lack of a holiday during the summer? Either way, this is the time of year when I seem to have the most conversations with agencies that are struggling.

My advice would be that early action is always the best course of action. Health check your business regularly and if you have concerns on any areas of your business, contact us and we can put you in touch with someone who can help you address the issues before they become entrenched. 

The transformational power of design


In October we explored an issue affecting many of our corporate members – how to embed design throughout an organisation. Design leaders from global businesses such as GE Healthcare, PepsiCo, Heineken, The Hershey Company, and Fjord shared their thoughts along side those of our agency members, resulting in 100 attendees, like StudioLR’s Andy Gray, taking much food for thought away. 

“A high quality event, of real value to members and in fuelling the DBA’s work of highlighting the value of investment in good design.” Michael Taite, MD, Blue Moon Creative.

transformA new lesson learned – FD’s drink more than creatives

In October we also launched the 2017 Annual Survey Report to a packed room at Kingston Smith. The drinks went down far quicker that at other events this year – something about having to deal with excel on an endless basis maybe?  

Creative entrepreneurs and the art of the sound-bite

impactTwo of the most popular consultants in the design sector made a joint trip to the UK in November to record a couple of episodes of their 2Bobs podcast live with the DBA.

Both Blair Enns and David C. Baker have new books out and the event gave us a fascinating insight into their new thinking. Both are expert at distilling ideas into short sentences. Here are a few of my favourites:

“We can’t read our own label from the inside of the jar” – David on understanding your agency positioning.

“Value, like beauty, is entirely in the eye of the beholder” – Blair on value pricing.

“Expertise renders your work less interchangeable” – David on how a specialist can charge more for their expertise.

“It’s not the price you charge, it’s how people feel about the price they pay” – Blair quoting Reed Holden

Drinks under the mistletoe

b9d2f7a3-b1f9-48d9-be4c-f82550ece5b2-1And so to December. This is a busy time for everyone. So many people have Christmas as a project deadline (for no other reason that they want it to be done and dusted). The world tries to fit four weeks of work into the first three – before eating themselves into a sugar coma for a couple of weeks, then starting all over again.

So lets break the cycle. Join us if you can on Thursday, 14 December for a chat and a drink at DBA HQ – maybe even a game of ping pong. Talk to some of your fellow members. Share and learn. If you can’t make it, pick up the phone. A conversation is always better than an email, and you never know where it may take you.

Image credit: Sarah2 | Dreamstime

Image credit: pic.r | Dreamstime

Image credit: Alexander Limbach | Dreamstime

Image credit: Blazej Lyjak | Dreamstime

Image credit: Yutacar | Unsplash 

Image credit: Evelyn Unsplash 


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