Is doing the ‘right’ things making you a ‘busy fool’?

19 Sep 2017

Posted by Robin Bonn

If you’re trying your damnedest and still not winning enough, transforming your approach doesn’t have to take ages or cost the earth.

When new-business isn’t quite cooking with gas, agency CEOs often tell me they’re ‘doing everything right’.

Their team’s busily creating ‘thought leadership’, hammering lead gen. and networking aplenty. They’re churning out RFPs and getting pitch invites from friendly intermediaries.

But for some reason, it’s still not quite happening – and they’re not sure why.

Symptoms can be performance-based, like wasted meetings, an empty pipeline or a losing streak. Or sometimes they just have a strong sense that they should be doing better.

There are many causes, including simple naivety or a badly handled new direction. But they all reflect a failure to translate vision into a bespoke set of newbiz habits.

Your New-Business Operating System

The quick win is agreeing the decisions, structures and processes that codify your agency narrative (effectively your business strategy) into day-to-day actions. I call this your New-Business Operating System.

Without an O.S., agency newbiz flounders on a thankless treadmill, trying to do 100 generic things well, instead of 20 bespoke things brilliantly.

It’s like building your kids’ bunk bed without the instructions – you might get there, you might not. But even if you do, it’ll take ages, probably collapse and you’ll be in the shit.

Create instant focus

Defining your O.S. is a common starting point for Co:definery clients who need a step-change in momentum without wasting weeks and burning cash.

We call this ‘Discovery & Definition’, a diagnostic sprint (using the Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond’ model) that brings fresh eyes – and a client-centric focus – to the building blocks of new-business.

Working directly with CEOs and founders, we cut through the noise and assess factors including your vision, strategy and commercial performance, plus roles, responsibilities and processes, as well as infrastructure, tools and communications.

This uncovers what’s working well, where interdependencies lie and how to make a tangible difference quickly, leaving you with an agreed set of priorities, actions and owners.

Design your house before buying the bricks

Discovery & Definition is similar to a 90-day plan, as delivered by a newly-hired senior newbiz practitioner.

But as well as being an endangered species, try as they might, finding time and maintaining objectivity is nigh-on impossible as they’re immediately consumed – and institutionalised – by the day-job.

Having objective strategic guidance on tap also allows you to focus your full-time newbiz investment at the day-to-day management level, hiring from a larger talent pool at a lower salary level.

Keep calm and carry on struggling

Blithely ploughing on without a new-business O.S. is actually more risky than winging-it because you’re succumbing to the illusion of control.

But if you’re ‘doing everything right’ without sustained success, then clearly you’re not doing everything right.

And if you’re too stacked to ask why, then shrugging your shoulders and mumbling about ‘cobblers’ children’ makes you the classic ‘busy fool’.

Go bespoke or go home

Running to stand still with new-business highlights the insidiousness of one-size-fits-all best practice – seducing you to settle for average by trusting outdated methods.

But in a blurry, hyper-competitive market, you don’t become a high-performing specialist by relying on generalist newbiz techniques.

So are you ready to change?

Robin Bonn is the founder of agency management consultancy Co:definery, as well as a columnist for Marketing Week. You can reach him on

(Image: Scott Berkun)

Robin Bonn
Posted by Robin Bonn

Robin is a member of the BIMA MarComms Council and the Founder of Co:definery, a management consultancy advising agency CEOs on standout, conversion and profit. He’s spent 20 years driving growth for startups, indies and global networks, across a range of emerging and traditional disciplines. He’s also a mentor – or ‘man-bassador’ – for SheSays, an organisation helping women rise to the top of the creative industries, and a columnist for Marketing Week. In his old life, Robin led winning pitches for the likes of Skype, Eurostar, Fujitsu, Experian, Spotify, P&G, ITV, Microsoft, Facebook and Ford, to name a few. He’s also a former member of the IPA’s New Business Group and Direct Marketing Association’s Agencies’ Council. But while client challenges got harder, he saw agencies increasingly lag behind, with old-fashioned ‘best practice’ models for growth, new-business and profit dating badly. Since founding Co:definery, he’s advised the CEOs and Founders of dozens of agencies; repositioning, refocusing and reorganising them to increase standout and win more often.

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