Smart referrals

Smart referrals

Client development is a vital skill that can have a massive impact on agency growth. However, there is often a greater focus on the more expensive business of winning new clients and many of us have the suspicion that we may not be maximising the potential of our existing client relationships. You have worked hard to develop rapport with your key clients by explaining the value of design. You have empathy for them. They are more than just ‘a client’.

They are the lifeblood of your studio growth. Why not ask them for a referral?

Let’s take a typical Australian design studio. It’s a business of three people wanting to grow to five or more or it might be a sole operator wanting to add their first hire.

Referrals are the quick path to growth.

The clients you have rapport with have colleagues and contacts in their field or allied fields. These are the people you want referrals to. As we found in our 2020 What Clients Want survey clients are more than happy to refer designers to colleagues. Designers just aren’t asking.

Consider this.

Every business has ten activities that add value for them. This is their value chain. It’s also a design value chain. It’s the key to smart referrals.

The value chain

Manufacturing businesses create value by acquiring raw materials and using them to produce useful products.

Retailers bring together a range of products and present them in a way that’s helpful to customers, usually supported by services such as fitting rooms or personal shopper advice.

Insurance companies offer customer policies underwritten by larger re-insurers. Here, they’re packaging these larger policies in a customer-friendly way, and selling them to a mass audience.

All of these have a value chain where value can be added at various stages to generate profit.

The value that’s created and captured by a company is the profit margin:
Value Created and Captured – Cost of creating that value = Profit margin

The more value an organisation creates, the more profitable it’s likely to be. And when you provide more value to your clients’ customers, you build competitive advantage. The key to this is understanding the value chain.


The design value chain

Look at this diagram and think about your favourite client and how many of these activities are in their business.
Can they refer you to the HR director where you can talk about internal comms or an on boarding package or a employee journey map?
Can they refer you to the operations director where you can talk about workplace health and safety communications?

Using LinkedIn you can identify the key decision makers in each of these areas. Then approach your client.

‘Can you give me a referral to Jane in HR I would like to talk to her about internal comms.’

This is a smart referral.


The mistake is to only talk about design as marketing and comms activities.
We know design is valuable in all activities of an organisation, for example:

  • in human resources; from well branded recruitment ads to efficient onboarding/training of new staff;
  • in operations; activities like analysing and visualising workflow to improve productivity and
  • inbound logistics; such as the design of more efficient packaging that costs less to freight

to name just three.

The task is to be proactive and explain these examples of value to our clients.

Contact Greg if you would like to learn more about using the design value chain to create competitive advantage for your clients.

Want more?

Here’s more information on how design maturity creates value:
1 What motivates clients
2 Understanding a client to develop new business
3 How design mature are your clients.

We help designers build a more profitable design business

We do that by
• supporting creatives to learn management skills
• helping identify and target better clients
• increasing your studio’s productivity, and
• focusing on a sustainable work/life balance.
We share our knowledge in a library of free resources, workshops, group and one-on-one mentoring.

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Greg Branson

Design Business Council
Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.

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