My team has only one KPI: ‘Do one favour a day’

Four years ago I founded my company – I was utterly naive, over excited and full of ambition – and I set out to build a digital agency. I knew nothing about marketing or sales and I had absolutely no idea about how to find clients or grow my business. The only thing I did know was that I had to build a portfolio of quality work. As a result I offered many favours in the hope of winning work in the future. 90 per cent of people were very grateful and said they would be in touch and it was only a rare few who took these favours for granted.

When I give talks about growing your business through networking, I give the example of one of our first ever website jobs. A brief story; my friend was looking to leave her job and launch her own PR company and needed to establish an online presence. She knew we built websites and asked if we could help. Obviously, her budget was much lower than we would have liked, but we decided we would build the website as a favour. All we asked in return: if she liked the work we produced, please could she spread the word about our business to her friends and clients. Of course, we didn’t have to do the favour, nor did she have to promote us, but because we helped where we didn’t have to, she felt genuinely indebted to us and we’re still reaping the rewards of that favour today. Unbeknown to me at the time, our growth strategy was born.

By maintaining this mentality, we’ve doubled our turnover every year for the last 4 years and have established ourselves as a reputable, client-focused digital agency. Apart from my annual update to my personal contacts, to this day we’ve never conducted any outbound marketing. Whilst we continue to utilise content and social the fact is: the majority of our clients come from existing clients referring us or from other individuals we have helped but haven’t directly worked with.

In many ways, the greatest marketing that a company can do is to deliver quality customer service. By dedicating so much to your customers and going above & beyond to make their experience exceptional, you increase the probability that someone will buy from you again, retain you full time, refer you on or promote your services.

Give and keep on giving

Another lesson I learnt was was that, the more people I meet, the more opportunities present themselves. So on top of helping clients and others, I actively try to meet new people and not necessarily people within one industry or sector, but from all over. I started networking more and more (I do hate that word but it suits here), attending client events, industry events, meetups, drink ups, launches, lunches, breakfasts, dinners, etc… Everyone I meet, I always ask or try to work out how I can add value (however small) to whatever they are working on. Often, it is as simple as sending over an article about something I’ve read, introducing them to someone I know, or just meeting for a coffee to brainstorm a business problem they have.

It was only years into Verb’s journey that my commercial team sat me down and started to try and reverse engineer our success in acquiring leads and customers. It was a gruelling process, tracking clients back, through years of referrals to the original source. The results were crazy, an almost reverse mind mapping exercise if you will. I quickly put together an example below of a small part of those sessions. We worked out that almost 75 per cent of our work only ever originated through 4-5 certain individuals that I already knew or met while working at Red Bull or Proteus over 6 years ago.


It was even later that I ended up being recommended Adam Grant’s book ‘Give & Take’, after a talk I gave on networking and reciprocity. It was a sensational read, and reaffirmed much of what I had accidentally learnt but gave new purpose and confidence in what I was doing. Similarly, I met a consultant at the time who advised upon very similar principles of network building. Based on our history, the book, the consultant and much more, I decided in 2013 to set myself tangible and measurable targets for both networking and favours, odd metrics I know but I thought I would take a more analytical approach to it all. In short, meet 50 new people a month and do two favours a day.

For the last two years, I’ve done this and roughly speaking I’ve met 1200 people, and completed roughly 1500 favours. The effect of this is that my personal network grew enormously and almost daily now I’ll have a friend, or someone I’ve met ring me up or email to say “Thanks again for X, Y and Z, my company is/my friend’s company are looking at their digital, need a website or need some help with their campaign, can you come in to help?”. Therefore, when it came to setting tangible KPIs for my commercial team, there was only one thing I could think of that would help them grow personally while benefitting the company at the same time.

And so, the favour a day was born.

Thank you for reading. My only hope with this article is to share our learnings and hopefully inspire other businesses to try a more organic route to acquiring new clients. I completely agree that there will be arguments for and against outbound marketing and against our methodology, so please do comment or engage on social and I will reply with my thoughts. There is a lot more about our business that allows us to grow quickly and acquire customers, however I just wanted to focus upon these topics above today. I look forward to sharing our results, our progress and our thoughts in further posts.

Chris Donnelly – Managing Director, Verb Brands.