Most small to medium agencies I encounter don’t have a business development and marketing plan. Objectives? Yes, even if they can be somewhat arbitrary. But a proper plan? Not likely. A reliance on referrals and a haphazard approach to lead generation, jumping from one silver bullet to the next, is more common.

The result? Revenue up and down like a yoyo.

To fix the problem you’ve got to address the root cause. If we ignore the events of this year (I’m determined not to mention the ‘C’ word in this article), the peaks and troughs you experience can probably be traced back to a lack of consistency in lead generation. The tap is on one minute and off the next. This is no way to survive / recover / grow (delete as appropriate).

What you need is a plan. But more importantly, you need to execute that plan. Consistently.

Not another bloody ‘canvas’, Ben?

Yep. I love a ‘canvas’: a simple, one-sided planning framework. I’ve got one for positioning. And another for creating a business development and marketing plan. At this rate, expect another couple before Christmas.

This one helps to answer three questions critical to shaping and executing your plan:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What do we need to do?
  • How are we going to make it happen?

biz dev and marketing canvas including target audience, new biz objectives, pipeline targets, other goals, barriers, capabilities, opportunities, channels, priorities, roles and responsibilities, tools and technologies, reporting and review

Business development and marketing planning canvas (open in new tab to enlarge). Image: Ben Potter

Whilst it might look like a lot to consider, it should take you no longer than half a day to work it through. And perhaps another half day to write up your summary (think a side of A4) and create an action plan. More on that later.

Using the canvas, let’s break each of those questions down.

What are we trying to achieve?

The easy bit. In theory.

Target audience

Pretty self-explanatory, this is a brief description of who you are targeting; the businesses / people who benefit most from your expertise. If you currently describe your audience as ‘businesses of all shapes and sizes across any sector’, go back a step and work on your positioning. Without a narrower focus, you’ll find the rest of this exercise rather difficult.

New business objectives

What is it with 20%? Invariably, when I ask an agency owner about their growth plans for next year, “20%” comes the reply. It’s completely arbitrary. 20% might be right. But it could also fall well short of what is achievable. Or it might be far too punchy.

Whilst there isn’t a perfect science when it comes to setting your new business objective, grounding it in reality is a good place to start. If you did £200K this year, is £500K likely next year, all things considered?

So, before you look forward, you need to look back. How many new clients did you win this year? How much, on average, were they worth? Where did your leads come from?

And then looking forward, consider what are you going to do differently next year. Are you increasing your marketing budget or planning to hire a BDM, for example? Will your pricing model or rates be changing? Thinking these questions through will help you arrive at a more realistic new business objective.

The goal from there is to break down the big number into smaller targets and ultimately, actions. Start by calculating how many clients you will need to win (and bill) during the financial year. You might use an average client value or range of values e.g. X2 clients @£25K, X4 clients @£50K and so on. 

Pipeline targets

Once you know how many new clients you are looking to bring on board, you can estimate the number of pitches / proposals, qualified leads, meetings and, ultimately, leads you will require. Think your classic sales funnel. Yes, it’s old-school but I make no apologies for it.

sales funnel

Again, it’s not a perfect science. And it will depend on how much historical data you have to work with. But even a rough idea is better than no idea.

Other goals

It’s not all about the money. Consider what will give you a warm glow inside, beyond hard cash? For example, increasing your profile in an unchartered sector, specific brands you’d love to get in front of or winning an award in a new category.

What do we need to do?

So, now you know what you want to achieve, it’s time to work out how you are going to get there.


“If you fail to identify and analyse the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you either have a stretch goal, a budget, or a list of things you wish would happen”. Richard Rumelt, ‘Good Strategy, Bad Strategy’.

With this in mind, identify your internal weaknesses e.g. resource, skills, processes, assets and tools. What might stand in the way of meeting your objectives?

And explore any external events that may bring about challenges. Granted, right now it’s pretty hard knowing where we’ll be next week, let alone six months down the line. Let’s not forget we’ve still got Brexit to come people. Yay!

Is there anything you can start doing now to mitigate internal and external issues? A little scenario planning now will stand you in good stead later.


Review what you already have to work with. What are your strengths? What has worked well in the past when it comes to lead generation? What do you enjoy? What role could the wider team play? 


Consider if there is anything you are not doing now that you could be doing in the future. What is happening in the agency market? How have the needs of your target audience changed or evolved? Are there services you should consider introducing? Where do these fit into your plan?


If you’ve done a decent job on positioning, you’ll be clear in who you are targeting. But how do you decide where to invest your time and money to increase awareness, capture their interest and build trust?

These days, it’s like being a kid in a candy store with the number of channels, tactics and shiny new ways we could spend our marketing budget. But invariably we don’t spend it on the right things. We try a bit of everything hoping some of it might stick.

Some activities are a given: referrals and strategic partnerships, for example. But others will depend on your target audience, capacity and budget.

Keep in mind that an effective approach to lead generation combines thought leadership, inbound and outbound activity, alongside more traditional marketing and PR tactics, such as events and public speaking (virtual, for now). Nothing works in isolation. It’s about finding the right mix and balance.

So, whilst brainstorming ideas, consider where your target audience spend their time. How can you educate and inspire prospects? What is your angle or opinion? What excites or energises you? What is your budget? How much time do you have available?

Don’t discount any of your ideas. For now, anyway.

How are we going to make it happen?

Knowing what you need to do is one thing. Making it happen is quite another. It’s time to start prioritising activity and working out who is doing what.


It’s difficult to create a detailed plan for eight or nine months down the line, even at the best of times. So, don’t try. Inspired by ‘The 12 Week Year’, I recommend creating more manageable quarterly plans.

Start by prioritising the ideas from your earlier brainstorm. You might find this matrix a useful tool in assessing effort and financial investment Vs the likely impact.

Realistically in a small agency, you’ll probably be able to do five or six things well (far better than doing fifteen things badly). So, in putting together your action plan, only worry about those activities you are going to start working on during the first quarter. It’s all about focus. The rest you will revisit when you create you next quarterly plan.

The keyword here is ‘action’. As Brian P Morgan and Michael Lennington say in ‘The 12 Week Year’…

“You have greater control over your actions than you do your outcomes”.

That’s why it’s an action plan, detailing the tasks you need to carry out on a week by week basis. For example, let’s say you set a goal to meet with five prospective, strategic partners over three months. From there, you establish the actions to meet that goal, for example:

  • Create an ‘ideal partner’ profile
  • Research and create a shortlist of 15 prospective partners and add to CRM
  • Write cover email template
  • Set up means to track opens / clicks
  • Send emails / LinkedIn messages
  • Diarise follow up calls

You then plot the actions, in priority order, in your quarterly plan (bearing some may be recurring). At the end of each week, review your plan and schedule time in your calendar to work on these tasks (according to James Clear, you are X3 more likely to follow through on actions if time is blocked out in your diary in advance). 

Roles and responsibilities

Work out who is going to do what, remembering that business development is a team effort. Building a new business culture is an article for another day. But in short, everyone in the agency can (and should) bring something to the party.

Based on your action plan, decide who is going to take ownership for what (and why?). How can you play to peoples’ strengths? How are you going to ensure time is set side? Do you need additional support? If so, who and when?

Tools and technology

Summarise the tools and partners you are already using to support activity, such as your CRM, data services and intelligence tools. Where are the gaps? Consider where technology could be used to automate processes and tasks. Work any actions in to your plan.

Reporting and review

In business development, we only tend to measure lag indicators, such as number of leads, meetings and proposals. But you should also measure lead indicators, notably the number of actions completed. It’s a little brutal. But Morgan and Lennington claim that if you complete 85% of your actions (on a week by week basis), you’re likely to achieve your objective.

In terms of lag indicators, as an absolute minimum, track…

  • Number of leads (and source)
  • Number of qualifying calls / meetings
  • Number of qualified opportunities
  • Number of proposal / pitches
  • Win %
  • Average lead time
  • New business revenue vs objective

Decide how you are going to collect this data and who is going to collate any reports, along with the frequency of progress meetings.

Now, go and make it happen

When you break it down, business development is simple. It’s about doing enough of the right things, consistently well. Always. Even when your attention is diverted to other stuff.

For a lot of agencies, pipelines have been decimated in recent months. It’s unlikely they are going to replenish themselves. Now, more than ever, you’ve got to make things happen.

Have a plan. Focus on action. Review weekly.

It’s the only way.

P.S. If you’d like a copy of any of the graphics included above, just shout.

Do agencies really need a ‘purpose’?