I don’t remember when or how I first heard of Graphic Thought Facility, but I’ve had my eye on them from the days before starting my first design consultancy, Vivian Cipolla, with my friend Luca in 2002. Two friends from the Royal College of Art founded GTF in 1990, with a third RCA graduate making it a trio from 1996. Their people list currently stands at 15 in total, with many more creatives (12) than project and finance managers (3). All in all a great size and balance of people.

It was GTF’s outstanding work itself rather than their studio mix which first caught my eye. They have some of their own products too, like MeBox customisable storage. The agency is a decade ahead of Grain and the perfect one to emulate.

Luca and I did end up at their offices once to discuss a project for Tom Dixon, one of their clients directly and through Habitat. At that meeting the topic of new business came up: how you find projects, and tracing back the origins of the connections which led to the projects. They had in fact visualised their own connections in a poster: an elegant feat of information design. I begged to keep a copy of the poster and have kept it safe, if not entirely dust-free. It’s incredible to trace back connections through time, and see how far back they go, and sometimes how random the points of contact are.

Since that day, whenever I think about connections I think of this poster. When I record our business leads, if it’s a referral or word of mouth, I trace back (and back and back) what the original source was. Many come from friends from my Gucci days, many of whom of course work in the fashion industry, and have moved around to other companies. My Fashion Girls group is a mix of mostly Americans and Brits who have lived in Italy and work in complementary fields like fashion design, mergers & acquisitions, journalism, online marketing and buying. Fifteen years after meeting the first time, we try to all see each other at least once every few months. Some of us now have kids the same ages and sometimes we manage kids’ meet-ups too.

Speaking of kids, I do recommend them as a way of gaining new business. You have to work out the finances of raising them compared to potential earnings. We have successfully used them for child labour so that can be factored into the positive side of the equation.

Our main lead categories are: referral, word of mouth, SEO/PPC and networking. I’ve written a bit about networking on this blog, and SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC (pay per click advertising: the Google AdWords which appear at the top of search results) are more technical than touchy-feely. Referrals are from anybody who has worked with us, as a client or supplier – people who have firsthand experience of how we work and are evidently pleased with it!

Word of mouth is the category which is hardest to control but which often ends up with the most interesting projects. It could be work from a parent of our kids’ friends, or an office neighbour, or an old schoolmate. These are usually likeminded people because we have chosen the same school or office building, and the work stems from a friendship rather than a battle of business cards from a networking event.

Our new business comes from a fairly even one-third each SEO/PPC, referrals and word of mouth. These projects in turn lead to repeat business; the PPC client refers us to someone else, as does a word-of-mouth client and it all grows into a lovely diagram of connections like the one from the beloved poster.

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