When I was on staff leading new business teams at ad agencies, I spent many an August working late nights and weekends in overly air-conditioned offices rather than enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer.

I attributed this spike in new business activity to summer vacations – not mine but the client’s. I imagined the client realizing somewhere in July that the agency search she’d planned to do that year hadn’t started yet. But if she could rally and send that RFP before her vacation started, the agencies that received it would have a couple of weeks to respond while she enjoyed the beaches of Nantucket.

Maybe you spent your summer pitching a lot of business and not resting too much – and I hope that most of those pitches were successful—but as we move into Q4, you should be turning your focus to two things: tactical wins in what’s left of this year and a strategic plan for the year to come.

What can you close quickly in Q4?

Prospecting... that word sparks anxiety attacks in most agency leaders. Some get motivated. They realize they need to put an outbound prospecting program in place and rally the troops to make it happen. Contact lists get made, tasks are assigned, goals are set. Maybe even a few incentives are dangled in front of those reluctant team members who dread that moment when the boss decides it’s time for them to get serious about prospecting.

It’s not that it isn’t a worthy effort. In fact, I applaud the initiative. The problem is, the important work doesn’t always get done. After the initial burst of energy and preparation, other priorities have a funny way of usurping your attention and very little outbound prospecting actually occurs. The lists are set aside to gather dust and your team members breathe a sigh of relief that they’ve dodged the bullet once again.

There’s another approach—and it can be particularly effective this time of year. Start with the leads that are most likely to turn into clients. Here are a few types of low hanging fruit waiting to be plucked:

Dormant prospects

Go back through your files over the last year or even two and list the companies that expressed interest in working with you but never followed through. You might feel some trepidation about re-contacting them. After all, they must have had a good reason for blowing you off and not returning your calls and emails, right?

Not necessarily. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Remind them that you’re still out there and that you’re still an expert at solving their challenges (just be sure you’re specific about what those challenges and solutions are).

The “rejecters”

When you lose a pitch, it's natural to drag yourself from the battlefield, lick your wounds and move on to new, brighter prospects. But, unless you whiffed it, the client probably still has a positive impression of you. The day you lose the pitch is the day you start to nurture the relationship...

Organic growth

It’s funny how we sometimes look right past the prize sitting under our nose. When was the last time you scrutinized your current list for opportunities to grow the business you already have?

I did a one-day workshop with an agency a few weeks ago. In one of the exercises, we were defining their ideal client by looking for positive and negative patterns in the types of clients they work with already. One unexpected outcome was their realization that a quarter of those clients had untapped revenue opportunities.

(Want more detail on how to re-contact your prospects? You can find it here.)

What should you be planning for next year?

Ah, planning. Another one of our favorite activities (she said sarcastically).

We get what we focus on. That’s probably the best reason I can give you for investing the time in planning for next year’s growth.

And, as we sit on the cusp of Q4, this is a great time to start.

Why start now? Because you know this is a project that’s not going to get done in an afternoon. It requires research and reflection—and both of those take time. Plus, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be interrupted by a thousand other things–client fire drills, unexpected recruiting and hiring, a few more attractive-looking RFPs that come over the transom. You will pick up and put down this annual plan numerous times. Give yourself the space to do that. The reality is, even if you start on October 1, you may still not finish it by December 31.

And, where exactly do you start?

Start by looking back in order to look forward. What trends have emerged over the last year that forced you to do business differently? Who are your clients? Are they different from years past? Why? 

How was your business development performance this year? Did you stay focused on pursuing your ideal prospect? Do you even know who your ideal prospect is?

What about other achievements? Did you finally buy a CRM solution? Did you overhaul your case studies? Did you get out there on the speaker circuit? Allow yourself a moment to feel good about what you got done and use that to think strategically on how to build upon it.

Then there are the goals.

As you start thinking about your revenue goals for next year, look realistically at the financials. What’s your cost of pursuing new business? I bet it’s higher than you realize. Are you making the most of that investment? What about your current clients? Are you taking into consideration “at risk” clients and the effect they may have on your overall revenue goals?

When it comes to goal-setting, it’s tempting to shoot for them moon. After all, the optics are great. Who isn’t impressed by someone who seems determined to achieve big things against all odds?

I’m all for big goals, but there’s a tipping point when a goal goes from admirable to ridiculous. The more ridiculous the goal, the bigger excuse you have for not reaching it. Think big, but ground it in reality.

We’ve got three more months to maximize our performance for this year and get ready for the next. Let’s use them well!