Opinion: Grow faster by saying no more often

Having the guts to turn down work can actually be one of the best ways to grow your agency, explains Vuki Vujasinovic, founder and CEO of Sling & Stone.

Vuki Vujasinovic
Vuki Vujasinovic

One of the best ways you can grow your agency is by getting better at saying no.

It might seem counterintuitive, but the minute you stop saying yes to every opportunity that presents itself, and start getting better at saying no for the right reasons, your agency can grow faster than you might have thought possible.

This strategy is all about doing more of the work that you love, are good at, and your team enjoys doing. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also about doing less of the work that isn’t profitable, that you don’t enjoy, doesn’t match your values, or fails to get you out of the bed in the morning.

Last year, through a period of rapid growth, we were at risk of taking on work that wasn’t quite right for us. The clients we represent at Sling & Stone were very happy with their partnership with us.

Many of them were telling others in the industry about working with us, and we had a tremendous volume of potential work knocking down our door.

Some of it was in our wheelhouse, but much of it was not what we were passionate about.

At this point, we were at a juncture in the business. Do we say yes to every potential customer, aggressively grow, but become generalists?

The benefits were better short-term growth (saying yes to 20 clients in one quarter means a lot of immediate revenue), but a lack of specialisation. We were known for partnering with a certain type of client, and this growth strategy would have changed that reputation.

We took the alternate route. Honing in on what we knew we were good at and love doing. A business can specialise in what it does, or who it does it for. We chose to focus on the latter.

We decided to only partner with challengers, disrupters, and entrepreneurs. Some of them are startups, but many are established businesses that have recognised the need to innovate.

Apple, one of the biggest companies in the world by market capitalisation, is still a challenger brand. It might not outwardly or explicitly challenge another business (though, this too is beginning to change). But it does absolutely, every single day (bar a few recent mishaps, perhaps), challenge the notion of boring design in consumer electronics.

It was these types of companies — entrepreneurial, disruptive, innovators — that we went all in on.

It’s not easy as a business owner to have a client come to you, ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars a month, know that the earning potential over time for that client is huge, but decide to say no.

This happened time and time again. But, taking clients like that one — that just weren’t right — would have meant losing sight of that relentless focus, and losing the position we had in the market.

Sometimes it was that the company wasn’t truly innovative, other times it was that they wanted to appear to be a challenger but didn’t actually walk the walk, and other times it was just that our team didn’t passionately believe in the product or business.

But each time we said no, we strengthened our focus and specialisation.

Then a funny thing started happening. We began growing even faster than we were before. Our position in the market, our focus, and our passion continued to grow, which brought in more of the types of clients we love working with, and we went from strength to strength.

By not being a jack-of-all-trades, and by applying 100 percent of our energy, enthusiasm and passion to that specialisation, we generated an even better awareness in the industry for what we do.

I think this strategy can apply to many businesses, and other PR agencies too. It means not only faster growth, but also the right kind of growth. It means happier staff, happier clients, and a stronger business, built on a strong focus, not on generalisation.

I don’t understand when I meet other agency owners, and their client portfolios are full of companies they don’t really care about (beyond the revenue), don’t believe in, and have teams servicing them that have zero passion for the client.

The same could be said for any business. Do you spend all day every day serving customers you have no respect for?

If you look at your customers and don’t see the sort of passion we see with our clients, it might be time to have a think about whether you are saying yes to too much.

Or, to put it simply, what was the last time you said yes to a new client when you should have said no?

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