Analyze your firm’s strengths and weaknesses honestly.  Set realistic marketing goals based on your firm’s financial means.  Design your program around your needs and interests.  Record your goals and marketing plan.  Identify your markets through careful research.  Involve as many of your staff in the promotion of the offices as possible.  Follow up on every letter, brochure, or portfolio that you can send out. Use interviews to ask questions, not to give a speech.  Good cost accounting helps you set fees in a convincing way.  Keep your promotional materials as flexible and inexpensive as possible.  Make sure you distribute your promotional materials widely.  Research, analysis, and synthesis is the three-step approach to solving design problems.

Marketing: A step-by-step program to find and develop possible commissions based on self-chosen, long-term goals and self-analysis of your firm’s capabilities.  It consists of promoting and selling, both pursued as consistent, focused efforts at contacting prospects that are limited only by your firm’s financial means and the time available.

Promotion: Vigorous outreach to sources of work identified through market research and referral.  It is designed to pre-sell prospects with printed materials conveying an appropriate image of your firm and with telephone and personal contacts that emphasize your professional competence and your interest in solving that particular organization’s set of design problems.

Selling: The process of convincing individuals that your firm is the one that will most thoroughly fulfill his or her needs and desires for a specific project.  It requires listening to the client and restating his or her wishes in terms of your potential.  Finally, it involves striking a balance between service and price that satisfies everyone.

Questions to ask before setting up a marketing program:

  • How do your design goals affect your business goals?
  • What matters most to you as you go about your work?
  • What are your feelings about going after new clients?
  • Why are you running this business away?

Small Design firms have to asses Finances.  Accounting methods to keep track of the firm’s income and expenses have to be addressed.  Is the office stable (size of staff, gross income, amount of work, and so on) over the past few years.  What’s your marketing budget each year?

Analyze your Service Capabilities.  Become known for high-quality client service?  Or are unhappy clients a constant, nagging problem?  Narrow down the strongest services that you offer clients and stick to those (programming, in design/conceptual skills/in production capabilities, or technical development)?  In order to create a “full-service” practice, you must include feasibility studies, design and documentation, and project management.  Clearly defined professional services can help distinguish you from the competition

Professional Services

Meeting the client’s functional space and facilities requirements.  Designing with excellence and innovation.  Assigning staff with applicable experience, while adhering to budgets and schedules.  Full and careful coordinating with the client’s in-house staff.  Coordinating consultation services as required.  Working for highly competitive fees. Establishing a personal commitment to each client.


Are you considered an expert in any area of design or practice?  What is your firm’s history or project specialization (example by example)?  Could you office associate with others to offer a joint specialty with a variety of expertise (such as engineering/architecture joint venture in sophisticated medical facilities)?

Personnel Strengths

Do you have turnover problems, or is your staff stable, loyal, and enthusiastic?  Do you have individuals on your staff that could carry out your marketing support functions?  What are the individual qualities of your staff that could contribute to your marketing efforts?  What areas of expertise should be strengthened, or should personnel be brought in fresh to open new marketing possibilities?

Project Management 

Document the timetable and cost of your past jobs.  Understand the patterns of inaccuracy or irresponsibility that can be identified from your records?  Have a strong record on budget and schedule control, do you emphasize it to prospective clients?

–What are the business sectors in your area that need your services and what are the specific growth possibilities there that relate to your practice?  What potential economic developments can you capitalize upon?  How does population/age statistics influence future demand for your expertise?

Marketing Design

Diversity: Identify one or more new markets and sources of work in them; aim for a stated percentage of total income from them.  Have a fresh approach.  Base your presentation on examples of proven experience and skill in making money for your clients.

Client Selectivity: Increase marketing efforts so that there is enough work in the office to allow a stated percentage of expected referral work to be refused, and approach a stated number of identified premium prospects and make every effort to win commissions. Raise the quality of jobs offered to you firm through a well-focused program of promotion and selling.  Have at all times enough work in process so that you can afford to say no to any job you don’t want and have well-developed selling techniques that enable you to go after and win the commissions you do want.  Evaluate projects based on how they match agency philosophy and basic strengths including personal compatibility with the client.  Also look for a profit.

Stability: Keeping employees and growth.  Make up through marketing the difference between estimated income and targeted annual budget (not including projected profits)

Larger Market Share: Seek to raise the percentage of fees you firm gets from those estimated to be available from specific prospects in the geographic marketing area.

Higher Fees: Through publicity and other promotion efforts, raise the public image of your firm to justify asking for higher fees.

Adequate Return: Develop marketing efforts that will increase total annual income to include a stated percentage for profit.


Present your firm’s work and design potential with the use of visual media (portfolios, slides, video, film, etc).  What is your sequence of mailings sent to potential clients?Figure out the ideas/concepts/techniques work best to win you jobs.  A marketing plan is the heart of any attempt at focused promoting and selling of design services.  It also helps you to show natural patterns in the firm’s business that can be used to predict growth and profits.

Marketing Identification Criteria

  • Markets and their size?
  • What share of each market will we have?
  • What is each market’s potential for growth?
  • How can we best satisfy each market and what is our  “edge” in these markets?
  • How should we price our architectural (design) services to be profitable while remaining competitive?

Basic Marketing Issues

Determine the businesses you want more by what you have to offer in these markets.  What is the program going to cost?  The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) and Professional Services Management Journal.  Discuss Today’s economy and what it means to us in relation to markets and a marketing approach to each.  Have an overall marketing plan and implementation.

Leads and follow-up–>Feasibility studies–>New contacts–>Brochure and advertisements

*Have target dates and tasks (months out).  Have a proposed annual budget

Construct a 3-year cash flow projection based on both optimistic and pessimistic workload scenarios with help from an accountant.  Determine the amount or percentage of profit the firm should aim for over the next five years.  Design firms should spend 7-10% of annual income on marketing.  Person of marketing at a design agency must be promoting, selling, organizing, planning, scheduling, and constantly reassessing goals and strategies.

Criteria for analyzing prospects

  • Does the job conform to your marketing plan
  • How far is the job site from your office
  • Do you have other work in progress nearby
  • Are there other possibilities with the same client or in the same area
  • How does the project relate to other things you’ve done
  • Does it pose any unusual site or design problems
  • Is the budget and time schedule adequate to a good design job
  • Can you make a profit on the fee proposed for this project
  • Iist the scope of the job appropriate to your present staff
  • If it’s too big, can you find good people fast enough to get it done on time?
  • Is the client organization responsive to your ideas
  • Will you have to educate them to sell your design concepts
  • Do you feel comfortable with the prospect

General Information about future project developments that is shared by the network of members such as the Society of Publication Designers and the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA).  Specific information from colleagues, for example, on prospective client’s organization on cooperativeness and promptness in paying bills.  Referrals within the society of smaller or more specialized jobs from big offices to appropriate colleagues.  Exposure to show houses, design awards programs, and public service projects such as community design centers, donated ideas for refurbishing Main Street, or a public park.

Direct Mailing

Send brochure with a letter introducing the firm to a specific lead gotten from a referral or a printed source.  Follow up with a telephone call to be sure that the designated project director has received the brochure; use the call to build interest in the firm, learn more about the project, and ask for an interview.  Use the professional network to find out who else may be competing for the job.  Continue to telephone as appropriate.  Send along new information (publication tearsheets, reports on new projects begun that might interest this specific client).  Keep up the contact until told: the project has canceled, assigned to another firm, or the client is totally uninterested.

Mobile graphics organization–>Chairman of the board, corporate design and graphics manager, design consultants, graphic design advisory group, staff coordinators, field coordinators.  The cost-effective alternative to brochures is a portfolio–a handsomely produced cover or “kit” that encloses a packet of staff and project description sheets, reprints, and client lists.

It All Begins with a Great Beginning

For years, both advertisers and agencies talked about selling ideas. What they usually meant by this was slogans, which, more often than not, were based upon, distinct product attributes. Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates was probably the most articulate proponent of this philosophy of advertising. In essence, Reeves told advertisers to find a point of difference in the product, turn this into what he called a “unique selling proposition” or “USP,”

Today that seems old-fashioned. Compare selling proposition with a new concept, the “buying idea.” The concept of buying ideas shifts the emphasis from the point of view of the advertiser to that of the consumer—from what you are selling to what they are buying.  To accomplish the transition from unique selling idea to unique buying idea, agencies have placed more and more emphasis on a process called account planning. Planners are the buyers’ advocates in the agency and spend their time helping creatives create advertising from the viewpoint of the buyer, not the seller.  Use the “Who, What, What” process to create better, more buyer-relevant advertising.

  • Who — Who do you want your advertising to reach?
  • What — What does he/she think and feel about your product?
  • What — What do you want your audience to think and feel about your product after seeing your advertising?

1.2 Million in Annual Recurring revenue: 12 employees, office, expenses, and profit margin


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