13 November 2006
Linda Fisher
Linda Fisher

Today, we are standing at a threshold in the business world, fraught with peril, yet, full of possibilities. It is a time filled with new kinds of challenges and uncertainties. Recent corporate scandals, economic downturns and up ticks, and global corporate repositioning have catapulted business into a period of great transition. Inevitably, tremendous opportunities arise in times of transition. Is your design business in a position to take full advantage of these opportunities?

A tough economy and increased competition are not your firm's only challenges. I am here to give you additional insights into global business strategies that will be invaluable to you. Many of these insights come from my countless interviews with brand managers and corporate buyers of creative services all over the world.

In the United States, there is a statistic regarding businesses that fail: most do not have a written business or marketing plan. Do you seriously think that as a design business, having a sound business plan applies to your clients' and prospects' companies, but not to your business? Do you think that if you market "design" first and the "business" benefits second, that your potential corporate clients will consider you a valuable resource? I maintain that to have a sustainable design business, to grow and prosper, and to ultimately be successful, you should write down your strategic marketing and business plans now. Otherwise, you risk becoming a statistic and going out of business altogether!

In order to thrive, basic marketing principles must be implemented. We are not talking about what is commonly referred to as "self-promotion." We are talking about a true marketing plan. Every design business must have a clear mission statement, and positioning in the marketplace. It must create a consistent brand message and a true brand strategy. Examples of leading design firms are in publications. Your brand must be managed just as every other aspect of the design firm's operations is managed.

The key to today's marketing strategy lies in the understanding of "real time" - there are no time zones. Nor are there any national boundaries. The marketplace that I refer to is a global one. Why? Because of the Internet, and your firm's website presence. Electronic marketing is a fact of business life, and when integrated as a communications component of an overall marketing strategy, it becomes a powerful tool, complementing all of the firm's marketing activities. Utilize it wisely. Think of the potential clients you are trying to reach with your particular services. Can they easily navigate your website? Are you speaking to them in their industry's unique terminology or "language"? Are you making the "intellectual connection" that you should be making? Or, does there seem to be inadequate, or ineffective communication between your business and your potential clients' businesses?

In all of your marketing functions, hone in on your firm's unique points of differentiation from your competitors, maintain clear areas of specialization and focus on those factors that have driven your growth and success in the past. Have you targeted specific industries to work with? Have you gained expertise in these industries? Are you in fact specialists? Or, perhaps your firm has more depth in a creative decipline or specialty such as annual reports, new product innovations, or store design. The potential client wants to know this.

Develop marketing talent in the firm, or hire a person with marketing expertise who will make consistent contact with both existing and potential clients. The idea is to make your firm "top of mind" with your key publics, so that you don't miss any opportunities for new projects. Make certain that all leads are qualified to save the firm time and expense. Maintain and strengthen existing relationships with the strategic vision of making your expertise their best tool for future growth.

Don't forget to also perform the organizational tasks necessary to ensure that you remain healthy in good times and challenging ones: consistent marketing communications, cost controls, timely billing and negotiating contracts that make real sense are good places to start. Do all of the things you would normally do regardless of the economic climate and increased competition, but become even more disciplined about your business practices.

Educate yourself about that competitive environment. Many changes have occurred in the design industry over the past couple of years. Your competitors are not in the same state, province or country; they are all over the globe! Large global corporations are outsourcing creative projects all over the world. Have you positioned and written a strategic plan so your firm shows it has earned it's share of the business? Have you harnessed the power of public relations to increase the visibility of your firm and built it to even a higher level?

Revise your firm's proposal structure to better differentiate your approach to a project in comparison to the competition. Develop sales talent in the firm to give more high-level presentations to prospective clients. Someone who knows how to "close the sale" is invaluable to your design business. This is particularly important if your firm regularly makes presentations where the project requires a group buying decision.

Read business articles on line and in the press to become aware of emerging business trends around the globe. You cannot afford to remain ignorant of trends; reading and understanding trends positions your firm to take advantage of opportunities! Build your firm's reputation by becoming a real businessperson. The design industry itself will mature and be more respected for the value design brings to business when design firms implement standard business practices.

Today more than ever, business survival depends upon the factors we have touched on in this article. 2004 is going to be a watershed year. Many design firms will go out of business. Many will grow and prosper. A select few design firms will have such a compelling vision and well-executed strategic business plans that they will become global leaders. Which one will your firm be?

For more information, contact:

Design Management Resources
Post Office Box 423
Thompson, CT 06277
T: +1 800 230 3603
F: +1 860 923 3800
W: www.designmanagementresources.com

Linda Fisher
Linda Fisher is founder and president of Design Management Resources, Inc. She forms strategic partnerships with her clients by consulting with design firm principals to define their mission, position and business goals. Ms. Fisher is a regular on the speaking circuit and conducts intensive workshops to educate design firms about sound business tenets. She has written numerous articles for internationally recognized publications, including How Magazine and Communication Arts. She also writes an international newsletter, "Marketing and Public Relations Tips Exclusively for Design Firms," which is currently read in over 32 countries.

Design Management Resources, Inc.
Design Management Resources provides strategic consulting for design firms who are global leaders - or aim to be. The company specialises in:
- Living Marketing Plans
- Public Relations
- Positioning: Differentiating Strategies to Compete in the Global Marketplace

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