How to win business outside of your locality

This column was written for CityX by Graham Hunstone. Graham is the Managing Director of Visual Print and Design, an award-winning print and design company specialising in printed materials, exhibition displays and promotional merchandise.

Whilst it has its positives and negatives; it is fair to say that we are in the golden age of globalisation. Technology has enabled us to trade globally and with the world now doing business through Zoom, it’s unlikely to slow down anytime soon.

So, if this is all true – why is it hard to win new business in cities only 40 miles from you? And how do you go about winning contracts with a hundred miles of competition between you and them?

In the last 12 months, we have secured seven contracts with public sector organisations across the UK – our most recent win this month is a print and design contract framework for a council in Greater London over 100 miles away from Lincoln.

I wish I could say this win has been an easy one but securing these contracts hasn’t happened overnight. We made the decision last year to start expanding our reach outside of the county. We already had a number of clients in Wales, London and the South East of England who had heard of us and wanted to work with us so we started to scope out our potential reach outside of Lincolnshire.

When we started expanding outside our ‘local’ market, we discovered that it wasn’t easy and we discovered that we were a small fish in a big pond competing with bigger and established companies. They had huge marketing budgets and the marketplace was fiercely competitive. This was daunting, especially when we realised that winning national isn’t the same as winning local.

We made mistakes when we started to venture outside of our comfort zone. But it has helped us to learn. Firstly, our experience has helped us figure out that to win business outside of your locality, you need to differentiate, personalise your offer, provide customer service that feels local and do your research.

For us, it has never been about winning one huge contract with one big fish. As great as that sounds, that is not how to build and sustain a successful company. It might give you a few good golden years but if their account disappears, it leaves you with a huge hole to fill. Over the last decade, we have worked hard to secure smaller company accounts and we celebrate these wins because we have learnt that it is better to have lots of smaller accounts than rely heavily on that one big company. With over 3000 clients nationally on our client list, this strategy has worked for us.

We do of course work with a couple of multi-million pound businesses – including some global businesses. We have shipped to many different countries over the years. But we work hard as a team to look after our smaller business clients, and we strive to find more like them and every client, regardless of size or budget is treated with the same incredible service.

Visual Print and Design based in Lincoln

Spending time on research is also money and time well spent – another lesson I have learnt over the last few years. By doing this well, you save in the long term. So much time and money is often wasted in your sales and marketing efforts by failing to do the research first. I have been taught that at least a third of your sales and marketing resource should be allocated to research and this has served us well over the last two years by adopting this approach.

I believe that the mistakes we have made and the lessons learned – particularly in the last two years – and the new strategy we have in place will serve us well during these tough times. It is the reason we are still in business – and will be why we will continue to be in business for years to come.

And here’s my top tips on how you can take advantage too:

  • Do your research – Every customer and tender is unique so always do your research and use this to your advantage. You must never go into a tender document or a customer meeting blind.
  • Nurture the customer and win that sale – Focus on nurturing the customer or the lead to win that sale. Forget the USP for a second as very few businesses can be unique. Focus on differentiate, what makes you different, better, what makes you stand out so much the customer wants to buy from you.
  • Follow Up or Fold Up – if you issue quotes you MUST have a follow up process. We have a 5 or 6 touch follow up process and most sales are won after the last “touch”. If there is no follow up the customer will decide between you and your competition and that decision will likely be based on price.
  • Passion – I am regularly told by customers they love how passionate I am about Print. If what you do can shine through naturally to your customer, they too will then feel that sense of trust in what you can achieve for them.
  • Smile and Delight – Always aim to surprise your customer with an exceeded level of service. The customer experience in my opinion is one of the most important things in business. How would you like to be treated when purchasing a product or service?
  • Ask for feedback – If you’re unsuccessful with a tender or a quote, always ask for some feedback. This will allow us to improve and get it right the next time!

Established in 2009, Visual Print and Design was set up by Graham Hunstone after 20 years’ experience in print. They specialise in a full range of print and design services including marketing material, corporate stationery, publications, direct mail, exhibition displays and branded merchandise. For more information, please visit