The Ultimate Guide to Business Development for SME agency owners

  • Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Articles
  • /
  • The Ultimate Guide to Business Development for SME agency owners

Business development is essential for every company, whether they are Coca Cola or Bill’s Web design down the road. Developing and growing your agency as an SME (small or medium-sized enterprise) brings with it its own problems and issues, whether it be embracing technology, finding a consistent flow of ideal clients, or attracting the right talent so you can provide a good quality of service.

But where do you start if you want your agency to grow? Well, that’s the million-dollar question and one that I hope I will be able to help you answer over the course of this article.

Let’s get started with our Ultimate Guide to Business Development for SME Agency Owners. 

Avoiding Feast or Famine

I spoke about the ‘feast and famine’ cycle in a previous article (which can be found here) so I won’t go into great detail here. In short, ‘feast and famine’ is the cyclical nature of many businesses as they go through waves of success followed by lean spells.

The ‘feast’ part of the cycle is when times are good. Everyone has plenty to eat and you become preoccupied with serving existing clients to the detriment of marketing your agency and new business and to the detriment of your future agency.

The ‘famine’ comes when the clients dry up or a project ends. And the kicker is, this isn’t always easy to foresee – clients can end projects for many reasons and projects may end due to unforeseen issues completely out of your control.

It’s in a time of famine that most agency owners start to exert the most effort as they dedicate themselves to rekindling their order book through hard work and determination... which, with luck, can lead to another ‘feast’. But it’s also in a space of famine where agencies make bad decisions such as discounting their services or taking on any kind of client just to get money coming through the door and sadly this type of decision-making ensures that the feast and famine cycle repeats.

But the ‘feast and famine’ business cycle is not sustainable and very stressful for you and your team, and all it takes is one extended ‘famine’ to push even the most robust company to the brink of extinction. This past year’s COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of how unforeseen events can cause extended lean spells for everyone.

You may be asking how you can avoid the ‘feast and famine’ cycle. Well. I spoke in detail about this in the article mentioned earlier (here) so head there if you want a full break down.

The one thing I do want you to take from this section is that ‘feast and famine’ can and should be avoided. Make sure you have short-, medium-, and long-term plans and keep your head straight: don’t become complacent during good times. Keep those clients happy, keep focused on new business, and the money will keep rolling in.

Avoid “The client service hamster wheel of doom”

hamster wheel

The client service hamster wheel of doom is all too familiar to many agency owners and it goes hand in hand with the ‘feast and famine’ cycle.

When times are good and you are feasting on the spoils of your success, servicing clients can become a vast black hole of time and effort. Multi-tasking becomes paramount and you seldom have time to think about your agency’s future, which is vital if you want to avoid famines and develop your company.

But eventually, the client you’ve spent so much time and effort on will sail away or the project you’ve worked hard on will finish. What now? The famine is fast approaching, and you’ve had little time to plan ahead or develop your business to succeed beyond right now.

So how do you avoid the client service hamster wheel of doom (catchy, right?)? How do you keep clients happy while ensuring you develop your business to keep the wheels turning and food on the table? There are a few things, that you can do to avoid this particular challenge, including:

Don’t be afraid to say no – You want your clients to be happy but there has to be a line in the sand. Being accommodating is one thing but being a pushover is another. Learn to say no when you have to (and teach your team to). Obviously, do it in a professional, polite way with reasons. Most clients will understand and be totally fine with it. It’s all about having clear boundaries and not just jumping when clients say so!

  • Define the scope of your relationship with the client – Make it clear from the outset the type of relationship you will have with your client. Give them clear indicators of how you work. Don’t lead them on into thinking you will jump through fiery hoops into an abyss when they ask if this is something they are not paying for!
  • Define the scope of the work you will do for your client – Again, make it clear what you will do for your client in terms of work (and therefore what you won’t do). Don’t be vague or lead them into thinking you will do something (to win the business) that later on you either can’t or are reluctant to do. Define the terms of work clearly and make sure your clients understand and sign-up to them.
  • Ring fence time to focus on the future of your agency (let’s call this strategy) – Don’t just say you will do this when you have time but rather set aside time on specific days where you will focus on strategy (i.e., planning, product development and business development). Schedule your clients around these times and be unavailable to clients when you are in your ‘strategy time’.
  • Get clear with clients the difference between a ‘standard’ service (i.e., what is included in the scope of work) and an ‘extra’ (i.e., something they will have to pay for) and if for whatever reason, you decide to do an ‘extra’ for free then make sure the client understands the value of it and that this would normally be charged for (and therefore will be charged for in the future).

The 3 components of business development

Of course, knowing that business development is vital is only half the battle. The other half is successfully implementing ongoing strategies that allow your agency to grow no matter what the current circumstances are.

How you do this is important because flailing around with various strategies with no game plan will prove fruitless, time-consuming, expensive and stressful!

Any successful business development plan will need to address 3 key components (click on 1, 2 or 3 below to read in more detail):

1. Marketing

2. Sales

3. Client retention & growth

And finally...


Business development as an SME agency owner can be challenging but it is essential to deliver controlled growth.

Make sure you do two crucial things that will ensure success:

1. You work out your best business development strategies to engage with your ideal target customer.

2. You ring-fence time every week in your diary to focus on these business development strategies.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our Ultimate Guide to Business Development for SME Agency Owners. Have a look around my website for many other useful articles and free eBooks to help you with your continued controlled growth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}