Our founder Geraint John looks back on the early days of Move Digital, and how he learned an important lesson about the importance of avoiding desperation in business.

Running a business is hard work, and when the going gets tough, it’s easy to get desperate. I’ve been there, and it’s not a pleasant thing to have to go through. The one thing I took away from that time of my life is that desperation won’t get you anywhere. Here’s how I ditched the desperation and built my business.

Desperado Days

I started Move in 2012 from my shed in South East London, servicing clients on a beaten up old laptop, and making sure meetings took place in their office rather than my humble wooden one.
I had it in my mind that to be successful you just had to be in central London. Nowhere else would do.  So, in 2013 I made the – somewhat dubious – decision to move out of my garden shed and into an office in Fitzrovia.  I was now working a stone’s throw from the BBC Broadcasting House, in the same building as Twitter. I thought of myself as a bit of a trailblazer, and thought I’d become the second most notable Welshman in Fitzrovia, after Dylan Thomas.
It didn’t exactly work out that way. When I was sat alone in my Fitzrovia office, my optimism melted, and all I could think was one thing ‘oh shit.’ Unlike the garden shed, which was essentially free, I was now paying thousands of pounds to be in Central London. I’d only started my business a year ago, what the hell was I doing renting office space in the same building as Twitter?! My investors were openly questioning my decision, I was struggling to sleep, and the days in the office were feeling darker and darker. I needed new business, quick. So what did I do?
Like a desperate 15-year old pining after a girl, I quickly got desperate. In my business, as with many other industries where you supply a service, it’s standard practice to send a proposal to potential clients, detailing what you’ll do for them and how much you’ll charge. Businesses will frequently receive proposals from multiple companies, and they can sometimes be the length of a university dissertation. So needless to say, businesses can take a while to come back with their response.
In my panicky, desperate state, I didn’t really consider this. Within hours of sending a proposal, I’d be on the phone asking if they wanted to work with me. Then I’d call again, and again, and again. This tactic doesn’t work when you’re trying to woo a girl, and it sure as hell doesn’t work when you’re trying to get someone to work with you. You come off as creepy, desperate, and weird. And if they do decide to work with you, they can just smell your desperation, so you’ll get vastly underpaid for your service.

Generating Goodwill

Now I’m older and wiser, I look back on my desperado days in Fitzrovia and cringe. I can see it from the other side now as well. Very recently I filled out an enquiry form on a security company’s website saying I was interested in a burglar alarm. What happened next can only be described as a barrage of calls from them, asking when I wanted an appointment to have an alarm fitted. After 17 calls in a week, I was getting a bit pissed off. ‘Sorry mate,’ I said, ‘but I’d rather get burgled than have you call me three times a day.’ Don’t get me wrong, I feel for the guy and I’ve been in his position, but it doesn’t make it any less irritating when you’re on the receiving end of it.
Having gone through this experience, the best way to win business is now very clear to me; goodwill. People say never work for free, but I think that’s bullshit. Look at it this way, if you’re spending your days writing essay-like proposals, sending them out, and then desperately calling and calling to see if you’ve won the business that in itself is unpaid work! Also, pro tip: if you have to chase a potential client, they’re going with another supplier. This is how I see it; offer people work for free. Don’t let them take the piss, carrying out months of free work for no return, but make allowances here and there.

Here’s how to approach it

If you’re not yet working with a client, don’t send a stuffy proposal. Offer them a day of free work, and take it from there. If they’re satisfied, they could become a customer. Even if not, they’ll remember you and could become a customer in the future. Maybe you left a really good impression on one person at the company, but the board wouldn’t sanction the budget. Two years down the line, that person has changed jobs and just like that, you’ve got a new client.
The same principle goes for clients you’re already working with too. Let’s say you’re working on a project for a client; you’ve mapped out how many days of your time it will take, and how much it will cost. At the last minute, something goes wrong that’s nobody’s fault, but it will take a while to fix. Technically, you’re well within your rights to do one of two things; charge them at your day rate for the time it takes to fix it, or refuse to do the work. To those two approaches, I say fuck that. Fix it for the client, and do it for free. You’ll build a lot of goodwill, and help to entrench the business relationship further. They’ll know you’ve got their back, so they’ll have yours.
This is really the key to how I grew my business; relationships. Those relationships are built on a foundation of goodwill. Everyone starts a business to make money, but if it’s your sole focus, you’ll end up alienating people. Build those relationships with goodwill, and they’ll last a long time. And remember, whether it’s a potential client or the girl you fancy, if they’re not answering your 45th message, it’s never gonna happen.

Geraint John is the founder of Move Digital, a digital marketing agency based in Kennington, South London.