What does a big client look like to you? If you ask that question to five creatives in the same industry, you’ll likely get very different responses from each. Some may think of their breakthrough client as a big brand name like Nike, Disney, Toyota — easily recognizable logos and names. For others, a big client can be one that brings in three times as much monthly recurring revenue as their average, normal client.
Whatever the case may be, knowing who you want your big client to be is only half the battle — the other half is actually landing the deal. I reached out to three agencies who’ve had crazy success from landing their first big client and asked them exactly how they did it! Let’s dive in.
Personalize your outreach and craft strategic pitches
Speak Creative is a nationally-known digital agency that specializes in web design, app development, digital marketing, and video production. Their team approached getting a bigger account in a unique way: pursuing several big clients within their target markets, humanizing their outreach efforts, and crafting strategic pitches.
“There are some obvious big fish, so we strategically introduce ourselves through meaningful outreach. Rather than sending emails or trying to make cold calls, we start our outreach sequence by mailing branded, local swag and a handwritten note. Everything gets packaged in a highly-branded container, so (we hope) the overall effect is professional and impressive. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed for the first conversation. Other times, it’s the thing that makes our more traditional outreach via email or phone more effective — it opens the door a little bit because there’s warmth and enthusiasm.” –Matt Roberts, VP of Marketing and Sales
They approach pitching to new clients in a no-stress, easygoing way — with a simple conversation to several different divisions of the same company.
“Marketing is the obvious place to start, but those folks get pitched all the time. There are departments (beyond marketing) all throughout most organizations who have communication needs. These are great places to get experience with a company or big brand.” –Matt Roberts
For the team, they know that a perfect polished pitch is only part of the equation; they also attribute their success on timing and persistence.
“If we’re reaching out with a great pitch to one group, it’s statistically improbable that we’re going to get a response from that group, even if our pitch and brand presence are top notch. If we reach out to 10 or 20 groups, we’re much more likely to have someone who says that they’d like to have a conversation about what we can do and invite us into their problem and needs.” –Matt Roberts
While landing a big client was important, it wasn’t the end all be all.
“It’s exciting and it feels really good to be able to show that you do business with some great brands. However, we value building a portfolio of clients that keeps us diversified. If we get too dependent on a single client or a small group of clients, it can change our culture.”
They value, more than anything, a healthy work-life balance. And in the cases where they need additional hands for a project, they make sure to hire intentionally and strategically.
“We don’t go on a hiring spree or drastically adjust compensation. Of course, if we need more talent to handle the project or to continue serving our other clients, we’ll make sure we’ve got the right mix of folks, but we try to be cautious. The big deals are fun and exciting, but we get a lot of satisfaction in the smaller, everyday wins as well. It keeps us from falling into the trap that a big client or a big project is going to solve our problems.”
While timing and persistence are key factors, the team didn’t land their first big client by chance, they made an actionable plan to work their way up the ladder.
“I’d recommend looking at groups you want to work with as a 2-year goal. Then start working with smaller, more local groups that might have some of the same needs or that the larger group would recognize as an up-and-coming player. Build your portfolio to show that you can do business with folks in or near the same industry, then start to pitch the organization directly. Sometimes you get lucky — a key contact with one of the smaller organizations might get picked up by the larger organization, and you’ve suddenly got an ally. The biggest thing is to not see landing a big client as some lottery that you hope pays off. Put in the work and create your own luck.”
Speak Creative is a proud Flywheel customer which means their team uses our managed WordPress hosting platform to manage their client’s WordPress sites and they know Flywheel always has their back with 24/7 support whenever they need it.
Speak Creative is also part of Flywheel’s Agency Partners Program, a program dedicated to helping agencies earn monthly recurring revenue, helping them scale their agency. Although Flywheel didn’t help Speak Creative land their first big client, the team has helped them with complex clients ever since.
“We made the switch to Flywheel in the past year and a half, and they’ve been a tremendous asset for us as we’ve looked to host and support some pretty big organizations with complex needs.”
To learn more about Speak Creative and the work they do, follow them on Instagram!
Be confident in your proposal, the design process, and every step of the way
Grain & Mortar is a strategy and design studio and they specialize in brand creation, custom websites, and illustration. Their first “big name” client was Google and the project was designing in-depth slide presentations for an international conference they were hosting called Google Cloud.
Unlike most agencies, their big client reached out and found them. Google saw the work on their site and sent an email requesting to hop on the phone to learn more about the agency. (Don’t knock the importance of contact forms on your site!)
For Grain & Mortar, creating and submitting an outstanding proposal was a key part of the process.
“We spoke with the project lead at length about the project’s needs, then put together a proposal including cost, timeline, and portfolio examples.”
Learn more about what questions to ask clients before starting a web design project.
Design aesthetic (based on the team’s portfolio) was one part of the equation in the client saying “yes” — another part was presenting everything confidently.
“The client already knew they liked our design aesthetic from looking through our portfolio, so once they reached out, it was all about making sure they knew we were competent enough and professional enough to handle their important project. Presenting our design process and workflow confidently was key, as was assuring them we could meet their deadlines.”
Grain & Mortar’s business changed for the better after working with their first big client.
“We continued to do work with Google, and have since worked with Facebook, Twilo, Twitch, and Teennick. Doing work for large tech companies gives instant credibility.”
Grain & Mortar did find a few challenges when working with this client, mostly due to the client’s complex industry.
“Sophisticated clients, specifically in the technology industry, are always a challenge. One unique challenge in working with Google specifically was learning their language and jargon. Back in 2014, we hadn’t worked with many companies in Silicon Valley up until that point, so learning how to speak the language and understand their culture was crucial. Although challenging, it accelerated our learning at a very fast pace.”
In addition to the industry, working with a big client usually means working with a bigger team, which became a challenge in itself.
“Generally, large companies will have large marketing teams and there’s always a lot of stakeholders to satisfy. In many ways, design is subjective, and we have honed our skills in proving our work through rationales and data to back up our design decisions.”
Is your agency ready to land your first big client? Davey Owens, Flywheel’s paid marketing strategist, sits down Kristin DeKay, the co-founder and operations director of Grain & Mortar to chat about how to get big clients.
Learn more about how they land big clients here.
Although Grain & Mortar had clients before this one, the team learned a lot from working with this big client.
“We learned how to execute a project at a much higher level. We gained experience working with large internal marketing and design teams that are extremely focused on their product. We got better at managing a large project in a short period of time and delivering what we said we would deliver.”
Finally, we asked, “What one piece of advice would you give to other agencies wanting to land their first big client?”
“Just do great work and get it out there on the internet. Use every opportunity you have to create projects that are excellent, case study-worthy work. Be honest and kind to every person you meet – you never know where they might end up. They may hire you for a project one day!”
To see more of Grain & Mortar’s work, check out their Instagram account!
Step out of your comfort zone and put yourself in challenging situations
DayCloud Studios is a brand strategy and digital advertising agency that specializes in web design, copywriting, social media, UX and UI, videography, and content creation. The agency was founded by Liz Hunt (now Principal & Creative Director) and the agency’s first client was Lutz.
At the time, Liz had just started freelancing on her own when she found her first big client in a common way: a networking event.
“I met one of the partners at a random Silicon Prairie networking event. He handed me his business card and we shook hands. The max amount of time we chatted was 60 seconds. I have no idea how he remembered me.”
If you ask a few agencies what’s most important in landing a big client, most of them will say the pitch. A pitch can make or break whether you sign on a client — or not.
“It was more of an interview style. I shared my work (this was back when portfolios were still printed!) and let them know my hourly rate. We did a trial project to see if we worked well together but it was an insane deadline. I designed an entire website for them in one weekend. (I wanted the work so I got it done!)”
You can present a perfect pitch and a client still might say no, not because you did anything wrong, but because your values might differ from theirs or the project might not be a good match. In this case, Lutz was extremely impressed with Liz’s work ethic, which set her apart.
“They liked my work and they could tell I was hungry.”
DayCloud started as a one-woman team, so for every client Liz signed on, she had to be the account executive, the designer, the developer, everything! Signing on her first big client, she definitely had some feelings:
“It was just me at the time. It felt scary and exhilarating all at once! I had no idea what I was doing but I was getting up everyday choosing to do something.”
For many agencies, once they sign on a big client, their business transforms. They have more revenue coming in, which means they can oftentimes sign another big client after that one or add more employees to the team to help with workflow and bandwidth. For Liz, both of those happened at DayCloud.
“I added my largest client ever after that. I began adding employees to my team. Instead of freelancing by myself, I became a “we.” What really changed for me during my time with this client though was my mindset about my business. I began to realize that I wanted to build a business and not be a solopreneur. I wanted to run and operate a team of creative people rather than do this on my own. So, that created a big shift in my company in many ways as well.”
When working with big clients, there are always challenges you have to work through, whether that’s managing client conflict or just the project difficulty.
“That was the first time I built a client’s website on my own. I’d assisted on website’s at my previous firms but had never done the whole process on my own — leading the client, leading the development team, leading the charge from beginning to end. But I did with that client! I would show up to meetings (literally) shaking and terrified out of my mind because I was so anxious. But I kept showing up. In the end, we created a great product for the client that they loved!”
After working with more and more clients, you tend to always learn something or have a new takeaway. For Liz, it was getting out of her comfort zone.
“One of the biggest things I learned from that process was that the only way you grow as an individual and as a company is get used to uncomfortable situations. If you’re always comfortable, you’ll always do what you’ve always done. But if you step out to try something that makes you, in my case, wildly uncomfortable, you’ll learn something. You’ll grow. You’ll see a new side of yourself you never knew existed. You’ll find a strength inside of you you never knew was there. It’ll change your perspective about what you’re capable of. But first, you have to step out of “the comfortable”.
Landing your first big client is a milestone, an achievement, a stretch goal that all agencies have. It’s a symbol of success after working with smaller clients and building your portfolio. In this guide, we’ll show you all the things you need to do to land your first big client. Download it for free below.