Most small agencies at some point experience the sinking feeling of losing a whale client or seeing a sudden sharp reduction in revenue.
When you get that kind of news, what do you do?
That’s what Chip and Gini discuss on this week’s episode — especially for agencies that may not have an active pipeline of prospects in place.
Ramping up revenue quickly means focusing on the right things and not wasting time on tactics that will only pay off in the long-term (if ever).
- Gini Dietrich: “Business development should be your number one priority, and client service should be delegated to your team so that you can focus on the right things to continue to build your business, even in times that are good.”
- Chip Griffin: “When you are the busiest is when you need to focus the most on business development.”
- Gini Dietrich: “Help your network understand what you’re trying to achieve, why you’re different, and how they can refer business to you.”
- Chip Griffin: “Networking is the only thing I can think of that allows you to immediately get out there and start filling the pipeline.”
- Block time on your calendar for business development — and stick to it
- Business development for agency owners who hate sales (Webinar)
The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.
Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin
Gini Dietrich: and I’m Gini Dietrich.
Chip Griffin: And Gini, all your clients are gone. You need to go get new ones right now.
Gini Dietrich: Oh boy. Okay.
Chip Griffin: Right after this.
Gini Dietrich: All my clients are gone.
Chip Griffin: All your clients are gone. Well, maybe not all your clients. Maybe your biggest clients.
Gini Dietrich: I’ve lost some clients.
Chip Griffin: Yes, this is a challenge a lot of agencies go through at one point or another, particularly when they’re small, because most small agencies have a handful of really large clients, or maybe one really large client that makes up a disproportionate share of the revenue.
And when that client cuts back or leaves, many of these agency owners who have been sitting pretty before now panic because they didn’t have a pipeline in place because business was good. And so. They come to you, they come to me, and they say, what do we do now? And so that’s what we’ll talk about today.
What do you do if you suddenly find yourself in desperate need of revenue and you don’t have an existing pipeline that you’re already working?
Gini Dietrich: I think you should work on your website and your capabilities deck because those two things will bring in clients.
Chip Griffin: Absolutely. Immediately fire up that editor.
Start, start messing around in WordPress and,
Gini Dietrich: please don’t do that.
Chip Griffin: The clients will show up the next day. Unfortunately –
Gini Dietrich: The other, the other one that I think we should, should discuss, are you getting all these emails from people saying that they can give you like 10 clients in 30 days and quadruple your revenue?
Like I get 10 of those emails every day. It’s insane.
Chip Griffin: Yes.
Gini Dietrich: Please don’t do that either.
Chip Griffin: There must be so many rich people out there because these folks just have the sure thing. And, and I’m sure if you’re an agency owner, you are seeing these, they’re coming to you on LinkedIn. They’re coming to you by email and people are saying, you know, we can get you as an agency, 10 leads guaranteed in the next seven days or your money back or whatever.
I mean, fantastic. It doesn’t work. There are, there are no shortcuts. There are certainly things that you can do to accelerate your development of revenue when you are in this position, but there’s no sure thing. There’s no guarantees. There’s no magic wand that you can simply tap into. And all of a sudden the revenue shows up.
It is going to take work. It is going to take some effort. It is going to do require things that you probably aren’t entirely comfortable with in order to shake the money tree and get revenue in sooner rather than later. Which is why you should always be building a pipeline. But we know that realistically doesn’t always happen.
So that’s what we’re focusing on today.
Gini Dietrich: Human nature is, right, that we are like, oh, okay, well, we’re busy. We’re doing client work. All of this is going well. And our human nature just is not, is to deprioritize or not focus on biz dev. And then when something happens, we lose a client or whatever or two clients or the economy bottoms out or whatever it happens to be, we have to put the priority back on business development. When in fact, business development should be your number one priority and client service should be delegated to your team so that you can focus on the right kinds of things to continue to build your business, even in times that are good.
Chip Griffin: Right. And that’s, I mean, it’s the top piece of advice that I’ve given to owners of all businesses really for the past 20 plus years. And it was a lesson I learned the hard way early on in my own agency business was when you are the busiest is when you need to focus the most on business development.
And it seems counterintuitive that that’s the case, right? You know, things are going well. That’s the time when you need to focus because otherwise you will have your pipeline dry up. You will have your relationships atrophy and you will not be in a position to be generating business on an ongoing basis so that you smooth over those bumps in the road because we all lose clients at one point or other.
There’s no agency that I’ve ever heard of that, that has kept every client permanently. It just doesn’t happen. I mean, for all sorts of reasons, they have a staffing change. They have a change in their business. They don’t, they don’t fit with you anymore. I mean, there’s so many reasons why clients go away.
So you have to anticipate that it’s going to happen no matter how well you’re doing for them, no matter how happy they seem. And so you need to be focused on business development on an ongoing basis. But let’s assume you did not do that. Let’s assume you didn’t listen to all the advice that we give all the time and that most professional advisors will give you.
And you are in that position. And so, Gini, you get that call that says your whale client is going away and They’re probably not even going to try to, to, to fulfill the 90 day notice period or whatever that you have in your contract. And so they’re, they’re going to say, well, we’re done at the end of this month.
So basically you feel like you’ve got three weeks to solve this money problem. Now, the reality is you probably can’t solve it that quickly. So hopefully you do have some kind of cushion there, but what, what would, I mean, after you sort of, you know, hang up the phone and you start pounding the table and yelling and screaming and all that kind of stuff, and you kind of get past that and you acknowledge this is happening.
I need to do something about it. What do you do to try to fill up your revenue or fix your revenue situation?
Gini Dietrich: I mean, there are, there are lots of things that you can do for sure to, to build your pipeline. And it ranges from, you know, going onto LinkedIn and figuring out who your contacts are and who your network is and reaching out.
You know, there’s, I’ve had a couple of situations in the past, probably the past several months – six or seven months. Where people have lost their jobs and it’s not exactly the same because it’s a job versus a client. But they’ve reached out and said, Hey, recently have lost my job. This is what I’m looking for.
Would you mind keeping your eyes and ears open? And yeah, I’m super happy to do that. The same kind of thing can happen with you where you can network, use your network and say, we just lost this client. We’re looking for this. There’s a freelancer that I follow on LinkedIn and she’s, she’s creating really great content.
And at the end, she says in every call to action, if you’re looking for help with, for, to do something like this, give me a call. So there are lots of things you can do from using your network to creating content, that some of those things take longer than three weeks or 90 days, you know, these are the kinds of things that you should be doing consistently, but you can, especially from a networking perspective, start to get on the horse pretty quickly.
Chip Griffin: Yeah, I think it really does start with networking and, and, you know, when you’re out of work, that’s, I think, a little bit easier because almost everybody wants to help someone who has lost their job, right? That’s the natural instinct.
And so you can very easily go out there and say, Hey. Lost my job, got laid off, whatever, and you will immediately be able to find people who are willing to help. When it comes to losing clients and your agency’s in that position, you’re in a little bit more of a challenging situation. I don’t think that’s something that I would recommend that you post publicly.
Like you might with being out of work, right? Yes, because there is a certain stigma from a business perspective that can attach, you know, to being in desperate need. And so I would typically, but I think it is something that you can use with your close contacts, with people that you know and have a good relationship with and preferably people who can refer business to you, but are not necessarily target clients, right? I think the challenge with making a target client aware that you’re desperate is first of all, it can be kind of a turn off because they want people want to work with someone who’s in demand. But more importantly, they then know that they have all the leverage in the negotiation for the terms of the deal.
And so it is you do have to be a little bit more cautious about how much of the truth you tell to whom when you’re in that process. But it does. I think networking is the… it is the only thing I can think of that allows you to immediately get out there and start filling the pipeline. And most of us have a lot of people that we know or are connected with that we haven’t talked to in a while or that we’ve never really talked to.
If we just sit there and we focus on doing outreach on LinkedIn, by email, setting up conversations. It’s not fun. It’s not what we want to do, but it’s not, it’s not true cold calling. Right. So I’m not advocating that you just go buy some list from one of these and you just start, you know, dialing for dollars.
I don’t think that is going to, to win you business in the near term, but your network that you’ve probably neglected, and that’s why you don’t have a pipeline. That’s where I would start. Talk to as many people as you can.
Gini Dietrich: And I think. In this case, it can be former clients, you know, depending on the relationship and you know, when, how they left, but there, we have several former clients who I could call and say, Hey, listen, we’re looking to beef up this part of our business, or we’re looking for this particular client, or I see you’re connected to so and so would you mind making an introduction?
And I think that works as well without me saying we just lost a whale client or something like that. So I think that I agree with you. I think networking is and totally agree. Don’t post it on LinkedIn, like do one off emails and phone calls. But I think that’s probably the fastest way to start to generate and build your pipeline immediately.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I, and I think with most people, you don’t necessarily have to, or you don’t necessarily, you don’t say that you’ve lost business and you’re trying to recover it. You would just say, we’re looking to grow, which is true. You’re just looking to grow from a lower point than you were at 30 days ago, but you are still looking to grow.
And so I think if you talk in those terms, you’re, you’re effectively telling the truth. But you are you’re omitting the reason why you need to grow and I think that’s perfectly fine because you know People are still understanding what your objective is and why you’re reaching out. Because if you just reach out and talk to someone and it’s not clear that you’re looking for new clients or something like that And I think you’re just calling to kibitz
That’s a problem, right? That’s a problem, yes. They need to understand. But I think the other thing that this calls out is the importance of being able to tell your agency’s story really succinctly. Because if you’re doing this outreach and you’re just kind of just randomly ambling through the conversation, that’s not helpful.
You need to be really clear about the identity and positioning that you have as an agency. So while I do not generally encourage you, if you are in this revenue loss situation, to spend a lot of time focusing on creating collateral and that kind of stuff. If you are not clear about your identity and positioning, and you cannot in no more than two to three sentences, absolute tops, really clearly identify what you do and who you do it for.
Do that first. That is a worthwhile exercise before you start talking to a lot of people. Because if you’re on the phone with them and they don’t, they just know you’re a PR agency or a marketing agency and, but they don’t really understand who you serve and what you do, well, then you’re wasting your time in those conversations.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I used to have a business coach who, in the beginning of our relationship, would say, who can you refer to me? And I’d be like Uh,
I don’t know. Let me think about it because when, when put on the spotlight, like your mind goes blank. So he started showing up for our one to ones with a list because he’d gone through LinkedIn to see who I’m connected to and who he thought might be a good prospect for him. And he’d say, can you introduce me to any of these 10 people?
And I would go through the list and say, yes, yes, no, no, no, no, yes. And yes. And then I would make those introductions, you know, to those three or four people. That makes it significantly easier on the person you’re asking for help. Because you’re not putting the onus on them. You’re not requiring them to do all of the work.
You’re saying, Hey, I noticed that you’re connected to so and so at this company. They’d be a great client for us. Would you mind making an introduction? Sure. Most people will do that. Absolutely. And it’s, that again, is another easy way to start to build your pipeline through the people that you know very quickly
Chip Griffin: Right. And so the having a specific list is one good way. The other is to have a very clear criteria. You know It’s so instead of saying who can you refer me to you could say hey, you know, I’m looking for automotive Supply companies that are between five and $50 million.
Very specific, you know, in the Midwest or what I mean, something, something that, that allows me to, instead of sitting there saying, I don’t know, like you did when you were asked for just who can you refer to me. Now my mental Rolodex is, is much easier to navigate and I can go through who do I, who do I know who’s in the automotive supply sector?
In my case, I don’t think anybody but right . Oh, I do know an agency that works with some automotive manufacturers like tire manufacturers, so I could refer you to them, right? I mean, it’s, it’s one hop away, but I, I, I would not have thought of that. Had we not had that kind of criteria. And so you need to have that kind of criteria so that you can tell people, what is your ideal client look like?
Because then they can find somebody and you can even, you can even ask them for advice. You can say this, these are the kinds of companies I’m looking for. Who, who do you know? Who might, you might not know those people. But who do you know who you might be able to refer me to who could make those introductions?
Or, I mean, anytime you ask for advice, people feel good. Yeah, they do. And so, you know, I love if you’re in this position where you need to accelerate your networking, whether it’s because you have this urgent need or just because you’re looking to grow over time and build a reasonable pipeline, because you are listening to us, you know, ask them for advice.
And this is true, even if they are, you think they might be a prospect themselves. Ask for advice. You know, say, okay, you know that, you know, we’re looking at, at rolling out this service offering or tweaking this thing, you know, what, what do you think? Is that the kind of thing that businesses are looking for?
You know, how would you describe it to people? What are those pain points if you frame it more that way? You can often get people talking more and have a more receptive conversation than you going to them and either saying, Hey, Yeah. Are you interested in hiring us? Right? Just kind of punch him right in the face and say, money, I want it now.
Or even, you know, hey, who can you refer me to? Right? Because, because now if you’re asking for that advice, you’re putting them up on a pedestal and positioning them as an expert that you want to learn from. And I think that can be particularly powerful in moving the conversation forward.
Gini Dietrich: I love that advice.
Please everybody listen to that advice. That’s really good advice. The second thing I would say is that. There is that short term piece. But longer term, there are things you should be doing very consistently to keep your pipeline full so that you’re not in this crisis moment all the time. One of the, we lost a client in August.
I actually said to them, I think the time has come for you to sail on your own. And they said, no, and I was like, I, I really think you can do this by yourself. And they said, are you firing me? And I was like, we’re not firing you. We just like the project’s over. It was crisis work. We’re done. Like you’re not in crisis.
Chip Griffin: But the fact that you handed them that man overboard kit and a life preserver was kind of a giveaway.
Gini Dietrich: So, so it took them a couple of months to realize that we were correct and they really didn’t need us anymore. And then. They can always call if something happens, right? But I had stuff backfilled with that.
And then I could go to our, you know, three prospects who were kind of waiting in the wings and say, okay, we’re ready for you to do this, this, and this. And that’s all through content. It’s all every, every bit of that is through content. It’s there, you know, we’ve tweaked it over the years. It used to be that the blog was our number one driver of revenue, then became the podcast.
Now it’s LinkedIn. So you tweak it where you’re distributing. Every year, probably. But the content is the content and it’s the way that you do it for your clients. You should be doing that for yourself. And I understand it’s not billable work and it always gets deprioritized and we always put our client work first.
But I am telling you it is the very best way to drive revenue. Consistently.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, look, and I think for most agency owners, content may not be easy, but it is one of the easier things that they can do from a business development. Yes. Perspective. Yes. Because I don’t, I don’t, I know. Well, actually I do know.
I know a very, very small percentage of agency owners who actually enjoy the cold calling process, right? Very, very small. There are a few. You know, they, they just, they really enjoy it. They’re just, they’re extroverts who like to just sit there and have new conversations with new people and they don’t mind getting yelled at, hung up on, ignored, all that kind of stuff.
If you are one of those few people, great. Then, then obviously you already know what to do if you are in a revenue ditch because you’ll just sit there and start doing it because it’s your nature to do it. But for the rest of you. It can be a really good way to supplement some of the outreach that you’re doing.
It can be a good tool to help that outreach along because if you’re posting on LinkedIn or your blog or you have a podcast, those are things you can share with people. And it becomes much easier to have that as part of your conversation. If you’re talking to somebody and, and, you know, they express, oh, we have this particular challenge.
You can always say, Oh, you know, I just, I wrote an article about that not long ago. Let me forward that to you. Right. And so it helps to advance the conversation without you having to move into a sales pitch because you’re just sharing your expertise and you’re sharing something for free. And so it, it really facilitates that outreach that you don’t feel that, that icky feeling, you know, that, that many agency owners get when they’re, they’re out there and they really feel like they’re just selling in that conversation.
You know, you’re just trying to be helpful and that does come back to benefit you, but you can also use the content itself for those connections. You can interview people for your article or your podcast. Again, you’re positioning them as an expert. Most people will say yes to an interview either, you know, whether it’s something that you’re going to put into an article or in a podcast episode.
And that can be a good way to accelerate your conversations because it doesn’t all have to be just, Hey, can we schedule a 30 minute call to catch up, right? Right. So some of, some of this outreach may be that, but more often than not, you want to have a better excuse than that.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I think. To that point, I think a lot of people are worn out by do you have 15 minutes to chat?
Like nobody has 15 minutes to chat, but they do have time to answer an email or respond to something that you’ve sent to them or, you know, read an article or listen to a podcast episode that you’ve, you’ve thoughtfully sent to them. Almost everyone will do that, but trying to carve out 15 or 30 minutes during the day when we’re all hectic and we’re all busy is almost impossible.
So make it as easy for them as possible. And also there are people despise the “can we chat.” Somebody on my team. Just make it easy.
Chip Griffin: I mean, I, I don’t love a just generic, can we chat, but I think that you can get people on the phone if you give them a reason why that’s not that you’re selling them. Right. Can we chat about how I can help you?
No, no, because you haven’t given me, you haven’t, you haven’t laid the groundwork for that yet. Right. If I say, you know, can I have 15 minutes because I’m researching for an article or an ebook that I’m writing or something like that? Yes. Yes. You’ve got a better shot. Yes, you still have the scheduling challenges that exist, but people are more likely to be receptive to that.
And they might say, you know, I just, I can’t fit into my schedule. Then you can always fall back to, well, what if I just sent you a couple of questions by email that we might be able to do, right? So I would still encourage you if you can have a, a voice conversation versus doing it by email, you’re better off.
Right? That’s, it’s a more powerful way to connect with somebody, preferably by video, right? Because it’s still even more powerful. Yep. I would stay away from in person to the extent that you can, simply because if you are in that desperate need for revenue now, that really slows you down, right? Yes. So Unless there’s someone who, you know, they always come through for you over the years, they’ve referred a ton of business to you and you know that all they really need to know is that you’re, you, you shouldn’t need to meet them in person.
But maybe there are some people in your network that are just that way that might be worthwhile. But I, one of the mistakes I see is that people try to set up lots, lots of lunches and coffees or travel or those kinds of things. Mm-Hmm. . Yeah. And if you need money, fast. You want to do things that you can, that you can scale much more easily and quickly than that.
And so that tends to be phone, email, zoom, that kind of thing.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah. Yeah. So make it as easy for people as possible. Help them understand what you’re trying to achieve. Help them understand why you’re different and how they can refer business to you. And create content that demonstrates that thought leadership in your expertise.
And your pipeline will always be full. But you can’t, you have to do the work. You can’t just… Expect it to come or that referrals are just going to come out of nowhere. That’s not going to happen. And especially if you’re in a crisis. mode, right? Because you’ve just lost a client. You have to do the work and you have to be consistent about it, because if you’re not, you’re going to be stuck every time you lose a client.
Chip Griffin: And I mean, and you’ve got to start with a list, right? Because I mean, one of the other problems I see is people say, well, I don’t even know who to talk to, right? You know, there’s one or two things. Take LinkedIn and just look at all your connections and just go from, from A to Z and, and go through there and just, you know, kind of start marking people off that, that are worth having conversation.
There are going to be people on there. You don’t even recognize their names. I know that’s, that’s my, I mean, I’m like, I have no idea how I know that person. Sometimes I click on them and look at where they worked in the past. And I’m like, Yeah, no, still, still have no idea then I clicked the info to see what date we connected and I compared to where they were.
Yep. Still don’t know. It happens, right? You know, but more often than not, you’re going to find plenty of names as you go through that. The other thing you can do is just take your inbox. If you’re someone who doesn’t delete all your mail, you have a record of it, go back two or three years and just, you know, start from that period in time three years ago and just start skimming through the, you know, the, all your deleted emails until you see some names.
You’re like, Oh, I haven’t talked to so and so in two years. I should reach out right there because in particularly in that case, you know, it’s people that you interacted with and if you use the search function on your email, you can even see what your last conversation was and say, Hey, you know, I was just today.
I was looking at this article reminded me what we talked about 18 months ago because you just saw it in your inbox. They don’t need to know that you were trying to find something. I mean, it might even be that you see their name. You see what you talked about last and you can’t think of anything that you’ve seen recently.
So you go to Google. Yeah. And you type it in and you find an article that you just stumbled across and that you can use it as the hook for a conversation. This doesn’t need to be difficult. It doesn’t need to – I’m not suggesting being dishonest with people, but you can manufacture the reasons That’s perfectly acceptable, but you need to start, you know, just working through it methodically and making sure you’re doing this outreach every single day, particularly if you’re desperate.
Don’t sit there, freeze up. Don’t do the behind the scenes work other than identity and positioning because that’s where too many of you are messing up. And when you have that revenue need, it’s all about talking to as many people as possible.
Gini Dietrich: The last thing I will add is that both of our communities are pretty good about that kind of stuff.
Like different from posting it publicly on LinkedIn or something like that. You can say in the Spin Sucks community, you can say, Hey, I’m looking for this, or we’re looking to grow and add this, or this is the type of client we’re looking for. Can you help? And almost always there’s somebody who can help.
So don’t be afraid to use either one of our communities for that purpose as well.
Chip Griffin: Absolutely. Your peers are great resources on this because, you know, too often agencies view every other agency as a competitor. Not true. Most agencies don’t really compete directly with each other. And most agencies are happy to help when they can, because it makes them look good in their own network if they can make a referral that works out.
Gini Dietrich: And good karma. It’s good karma.
Chip Griffin: Good karma. Yeah. All right. Well, we’ll end this episode of Good Karma. No, I’m sorry, the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.
Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.
Chip Griffin: And it depends.