And whilst difficult to achieve, neither present the biggest challenge I faced as an entrepreneur. In fact, they were the solution to it.
The challenge for me at the start was standing out against more established competition and successfully winning big business, when RPM had no prior trading record or case studies. It is an even bigger challenge facing entrepreneurs starting out now.
In today’s world there is an increased centralisation of, and focus on, procurement and purchasing, when ultimately investing in relationships or quality of product is just as important. There is a growing loss of autonomy within corporate organisations; so you might well be the best individual or business for the job, but you’re not going to get it because you don’t conform to the criteria set by corporate governance.
Criteria such as auditing your books to ensure placing business with you will not take up more than 25% of your overall revenue. Proof of accounts to establish what your trading position is. Proof of experience and stability. Not the easiest task for a start-up.
But not an insurmountable one either. In 1995 M&C Saatchi pitched for British Airways. There was no question that they were the underdog. Long story short, they rented a bigger office for the pitch and brought in a load of people on the day to give the impression of a busier agency. Having thought they’d won the business, they were then asked to pitch again at a second round, and finally won a £60 million piece of business as a result. I’m sure they’ll agree it was totally worth the large rent fees.
But don’t risk leaving it all to smoke and mirrors.
Create partnerships with professional suppliers, like your bank manager and auditor, who will reinforce your position as the right choice and in turn, validate your financial and business stability. Authenticity and transparency is essential, so take them on the journey with you and make sure they understand your business and product. Don’t keep them at arms-length; immerse them in your team and figures on a regular basis so they know how you operate and can thus be much more supportive.
Get endorsement from existing clients to illustrate what it’s really like to work with you. Whoever you’re talking to - get them to come in and get a feel for how you work, rather than reading about it in a line report or a bit of analysis that might be on their desk one minute and off it the next.
When pitching for a specialist business, investigate who is well respected and well recognised in that sector and build a relationship there. Bring them on board in a consultant role; to advise, to buy into your business and ultimately, to give you an authoritative position. At the same time invest in targeted PR and marketing to raise awareness of a specific campaign or research initiative that reflects your expertise. Create a shop window – either on your website or through other channels, to profile your achievements and what makes you stand out.
If you are lacking in campaigns and case studies, invest in research. Gain knowledge of the sector, work with a recognised research partner and produce valuable industry insight that proves your understanding of a certain sector, consumer, market or product is better and more in-depth than the competition.
The common thread here is commitment to building personal relationships with suppliers, clients and prospects alike; and cementing them by delivering a high quality service, whether through competitive insight or product. It’s this that will enable to you win big business and consequently, make the step change from an entrepreneurial start up to a profitable, reputable and respected organisation.
Hugh Robertson, Founding Partner and CEO, RPM
As the founding partner of RPM, Hugh launched the agency in a Wokingham cowshed in Jan ’93 after identifying a burgeoning opportunity for brands within the experiential market. 19 years on and his pioneering vision for an independent marketing agency, with brand engagement at its core, has developed into an award winning business, employing 185 people and delivering multi-channel global campaigns and events. Hugh is also a Business Leader with the Marketing Society, a fellow of the RCA and a board member of the MAA.