Steffan Aquarone

Steff is a film producer and technology entrepreneur who speaks internationally on innovation, entrepreneurship and digital marketing

How to get your first clients

I found myself writing a longer-than-usual response to a request for advice recently. I’ve only done this a few times in my life and it’s usually when someone asks a really smart question that deserves an answer.

I’ve turned my response into some tips you might find useful if you’re starting a business or know what you’re going to do but need to find your first paying client. Almost all of the clever stuff comes from other people – but these are very select personal recommendations from across the five business I’ve started, so think of it as meta-curation if you like.

1. Work out your business model

I would take a good hard look at decent business start up books to help you understand your business model and what you’re selling that’s of value. One of the only books I’ve read on business is this one

2. Start selling sooner rather than later

Assuming you’ve worked out what you’re doing and who for, it’s time to start selling.

The most powerful technology I’ve found in growing business is Linkedin. A few quid a month extra buys you the ability to get better search, and contact people directly who aren’t in your network. Throughout the five businesses I’ve started, Linkedin has been the single most valuable channel for business development.

3. Network

You can’t feed a machine with thin air, and for me networking fuelled the Linkedin machine. This will always be easier if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing (see even if you’re networking in relatively generic environment. At the beginning of my career it was local Chamber of Commerce, BNI and other small business networking events that got me started – I discovered the more focused, relevant events in time, for example industry specific ones. However even now my networking skills help me get leverage. If you have a big client then you can even network within that client. Nowadays I promote myself on the international speaker circuit which earns me money as well as boosting my network and delivering exciting opportunities for whatever I’m working on (currently There are always people in the speakers’ room that would make for fantastic contacts so it never really stops.

Below are the slides from a seminar I did recently on the power of networks. It was aimed at people’s individual personal development but exactly the same approach applies to company business development and you are selling yourself for a large part of the process before you get on to talking about whatever you’re going to do for someone.

4. Try writing useful stuff

Content marketing cost very little, yet publishing stuff online that’s useful, interesting or entertaining and that people will want to watch or read and share is a powerful way to boost your reputation. If budget allows, then running your own seminars to teach people something cool or powerful they can do for themselves is a more concentrated form of this. If you’re aiming high up the organisational structure you might need to throw in a dinner in order to get interesting people and potential customers together.

5. Get some customers before you start spending lots of money

Try wherever possible to do things that don’t cost very much money. When I worked in a restaurant the owner taught me a valuable lesson (amongst many less valuable ones): in most businesses every £1 you spend has got to generate £10 of sales.

Good luck!

Filed under: selling creative, successful businesses

Just tell me what you do!

Is it me, or do marketers seem to have dropped the clanger of yesteryear that is “professional, high quality, cost-effective solution” in favour of excessive wording and jargon?

I’m sure we’ve all used verbosity to sound convincing, or to confuse the person we’re talking to. But do people actually buy it?

If I need “innovative ad products, custom media solutions, research and insight, and guaranteed brand safety – to make the digital medium more engaging, accountable and scalable” I’ll go and research corporate video production companies.

Same as when I need a sub-aquatic ceramic anti-carbonic-coagulant solution for my ceramic receptacles I’ll buy some toilet cleaner…

Buyers: don’t be fooled. Anyone with half a brain and a dictionary can sound like they know what they’re talking about. If you want to know if someone’s good at what they say they do, ask for the evidence.

Filed under: selling creative, , , ,

How much should a website cost?

A friend asked me this question today. I’ve often been on both sides of the table discussing the price of creative services. It’s a hard question to answer and I’ve usually been answering it in relation to the cost of producing films.

It might seem like the price you can pay for a website is a complete piece of string. On the one hand there are ‘out of the box’ products for as little as £500; on the other hand one of Venio’s clients is a digital and web agency that doesn’t take on web projects below £5,000 in value.

What you get for your money is just as much a piece of string. Birmingham City Council paid Capita over £2,000,000 for their website and it’s been widely felt by Birmingham’s digital community that nothing short of a boycott of council tax can compensate for what a naive, uninformed purchase this was given what they actually did for the money.

When you’re buying creative services you’re buying three things:

1. People’s time. This is really the only direct cost for suppliers. It has little to do with the number of pages on a website as nowadays websites are mostly CMS (content management system) driven anyway – so you’re creating the pages! You could spend weeks getting something done perfectly for your needs, and spend a fortune, or you could spend hours getting a web designer to simply adjust a free-to-use WordPress template that looks great already and has most of the functionality you need built in.

2. Creative input. This is a clear value-add that most one-man-bands can’t offer, but which most agencies / web companies market themselves on. You won’t get much of this, or it won’t be much good, if you’re paying less than a few thousand in my opinion, unless you’re lucky to know a really good one man band who really can think, advise, design and build themselves.

3. The reputation of the company and how they charge. Hence starting prices of £5K for some, £15K for others, or out of the box products for £500 from elsewhere.

My advice?

1. Work out how much you want / can afford to spend. It’s really unhelpful for digital companies when people say “I don’t know how much I want to spend” or “tell me what I need and I’ll see if I can afford it” as they won’t know if they can ever be a fit, or whether the pitch is worth investing in.

2. Look around on the web for local companies (simply because it’s easier to work with someone local) whose work you like the look and feel of. Few agencies are big enough to have so many different design teams that they don’t have a ‘house style’ whether deliberate or accidental.

3. Write a one-page brief, send it to the companies you like along with your budget and see who comes back. It’s tough out there – you might find a good company whose work you like who’ll do a great job for £2,000 just because they need the work.

Filed under: selling creative, , , , , , ,

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