Photo by Jordon Opel on Unsplash

Hunters and farmers

I’ve always found it incongruous studios need to ramp-up new business activities when we are busiest. Seems bonkers, but research proves it time and again. Sustainable businesses need constant client renewal.

One would think, with all that research, someone must have found some kind of formula / KPI / ratio for the number of clients needed to sustain a certain number of staff. Or maybe it’s not clients maybe it’s billings. A total amount of dollar earned x staff member = sustainable studio. So I went looking for a benchmark out there…


Known unknowns

Believe it or not, there is no ‘magic’ formula. Benchmarks exist but they come with so many covenants they’re not of any value. Any ratio would depend on a studio’s number of staff, their productivity, and their client list – all such variables that any generalised guideline comes complete with a paragraph of small print rendering it useless.

Known knowns

What we do know is the 80/20 rule: generally, 80% of our business comes from the top 20% of our clients. And we also know that most design managers really dislike cold calling in any shape or form. That makes it also fair to assume that most new business activities are generally centred around hitting existing clients for more work. #wouldyoulikefrieswiththatburger?

Old ways won’t open new doors – author unknown

Here’s one solution for getting new business that involves the whole studio:

Hunters and farmers

Hunters’ are those that have a knack of finding and assessing an opportunity (even when others can’t see the opportunity) within a prospective client. They have an ability to find a solution within the studio’s offering that meets a specific need. In your studio it may be the studio owner, or a design manager or a designer – someone that likes to network and get outside the studio to hunt down new opportunities. Hunters are often big picture people that love the thrill of the hunt.

Farmers’ are those that are good at tending and nurturing an existing client relationship. They are patient, good at detail and consultation. Where hunters love the thrill of the chase, farmers love to see a project from beginning to end and take pride in the final produce.
One way to sustain new business development is to separate the activities needed to hunt new clients and farm existing clients, then match the skills to inhouse staff. It is a perfect way to include everyone in new business development.


Can’t identify the skills inhouse? Take the opportunity to run an inhouse ‘Personal appraisal’ activity and introduce a ‘Personal skills audit’.

Don’t have time to do new business development? Condense the activity by designating one day a month as a ‘hunting day’, when everyone in the studio chases new prospects. Morning could be hunting, discuss potential clients over lunch and then implement the hunt during the afternoon. The rest of the month, everyone can farm.

Not sure how to hunt? Use the opportunity to develop or refine your studio’s design value proposition or a better still, your dvp for each client segment. The clarity will make it much easier to pitch to new clients.

Blatant pitch for new business 🙂

Not sure what personal appraisal forms, a personal skills audit or client-focussed design value proposition is? Funnily enough they are exactly the skills the Design Business Council and Design Business School offer across various ecourses, workshops, mentoring and programs. Email Carol or Greg for more information.

As always, love to hear your views. Please feel free to email me.

Carol Mackay

Want more information like this? Subscribe to get weekly Design Business Review articles, Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers.

Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she transitioned from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Carol has just written a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. Contact Carol for more information.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.