Blair Enns | Business Development for Creative Professionals

Blair Enns is the Founder and CEO of Win Without Pitching, a sales training and coaching organization for creative professionals. He has advised hundreds of design firms, advertising agencies, and other creative authorities on how to deprogram themselves from the standard approach to win new business. 

Blair is the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour. He is also the co-host of the 2Bobs podcast and 20% – The Marketing Procurement Podcast.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Blair Enns, the Founder and CEO of Win Without Pitching, about his manifesto for helping companies pitch and win better business deals. They also discuss Blair’s specialization principle, tips for having conversations about money, and the secret behind the success of Blair’s 2Bobs podcast.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:20] Blair Enns shares his college experiences
  • [07:35] Why Blair went into business development — and the challenges he faced 
  • [13:15] How Blair developed the principle of specialization for large organizations
  • [18:10] The evolution of service delivery in creative agencies
  • [23:38] Blair’s advice for building your expertise quickly, getting paid for your services, and having money conversations
  • [35:42] The secret behind Blair’s 2Bobs podcast— and why he started 20% – The Marketing Procurement Podcast

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome, everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And if you’re new to the program, go check out our archives. We’ve got some great interviews of smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, Quicken, Redfin, and we had Grub Hub the other week. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today, first, before I get to them, I want to give a shout out to David C. Baker, who is his co-host for one of the podcasts that he does, he was a past guest on my podcast. If you haven’t heard that episode, you want to check out that one as well because they talk about a lot of similar principles. But my guest here today is Blair Enns. He’s the Founder of Win Without Pitching. It’s a sales training organization for creative professionals. It’s author of the Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour. He is also co-host of the 2Bobs podcast, and he’s got another newer podcast called 20%, which you have to go check out as well. 

And of course, this is episode brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And if you’re listening to this and thinking about starting a podcast, like Blair and I both have, go check out our website, because there’s lots of resources there for how you can do it right. is the website or you can email us at [email protected]. All right, Blair, pleasure to have you here. I’ve known of your work for a long time. I’m also active in the Bureau of digital where there’s lots of agency owners, and it feels like every week someone is citing you and saying check out Blair and check out Blair Enns. But I want to start at the beginning of your journey, because you’ve got this great story about you’re too crazy about college, you’re trying to figure out whether you wanted to continue, I think it was a nice way of putting it. And you have this story that I heard, you’re sitting in the Dean’s office waiting to go in and you look across the street and there’s a travel agency and it’s it looks like a picture out of a movie. There’s like a scene or a movie where you’re like, do I go this way to the dean’s office continue with college? Or do I go and travel and you decided to pick travel, which I love. So tell us that story how that unfolded? Yeah, it was.

Blair Enns 2:57

It was the last day where it could get written permission from the dean to be allowed back into attend the second year of a liberal arts university in the small Canadian city where I grew up, and I had this money in my pocket. And I was not a very good student. I was a great student until the end of third grade. And then something changed. And I don’t know what changed. After that, I was never a very good student, which is funny because I really consider myself a lifelong learner. But in that moment, I was sitting the outer Office of the Dean of the dean’s office and I needed her written permission to attend the second year it was a formality I had to go in and say yeah, I’m going to be a good student. And a friend of mine was in a similar situation. So we’re both waiting, waiting, waiting in the outer office. And we look across the street and there’s a travel agency and they had these flight passes for a now defunct Canadian airline. And then a Bruce Springsteen concert tickets, so this was 1984 or 8585, I guess, in Toronto. So with that asked her this. We went across the street, but the flight passes the concert tickets and then traveled for the rest of the summer. And yeah, no regrets. I probably shouldn’t have done the first year of university. I wasn’t ready at the time. I did go back and went back to a community college I did a two year business administration diploma that I crammed into three years. So it was I literally, I don’t know if you heard this part of the story, John. So I go back and do this. I was such a lazy young man. And I do this program. And I don’t do it in the two years and it’s a really easy program. But I really enjoyed the social aspect of of going to school. I took a third year to finish and then I was a I was a credit short I did the math wrong. After an easy two year program. In three years. I was still a credit short, and then I’m like nah, I gotta get on with my life here. So I had a meeting with that Dean and I convinced him to give me a credit to get rid of me because I was already a pain in his ass too. So yeah, that’s my stellar act. Are

John Corcoran 5:09

you a credit through your will more credit? That’s great. Do you remember when your credit because like, do you remember was that? Was there one thing you pointed to? And you’re like, but I did this thing? Yeah, yeah.

Blair Enns 5:17

So there was a, you, I could have done a physical education like, I could have had a credit for going to like a volleyball class or something. And I didn’t, but I worked out every day. And there was a young man, but my age who had cerebral palsy who is actually who had had, he was in great shape. He was had problem with his legs and other health issues, but he wanted a workout and he needed somebody to workout with them. So for a couple of semesters, I just wait trained with this guy just because a friend of mine was doing it previously. And he laughed, and I’m so I took it over. And I just said, Hey, like I did this for two semesters, can’t you just give me give me that credit for that effort. And you will never see me again, he said deal.

John Corcoran 6:07

It’s funny, we have these pivotal moments in our life that we can look back to and kind of say, you know, that kind of makes sense. And what I do now, I had a similar experience in high school where I convinced a teacher the day after the last day of the semester, to change my grade. And I did it based on like finding one problem that I got wrong in a math test and letting me redo it. And I said, if I get this right, you got to change my grade. And she did for you with that story that you just told. Does it make sense? Now what you do that you are helping others to sell it and to be persuasive?

Blair Enns 6:50

Yeah, I don’t know. Because, you know, this idea that selling is persuasion. I actually don’t subscribe to that theory. I think selling when it comes to professional services, when it’s done properly is not about talking people into things, I actually think it’s a different social dynamic altogether. I think it begins with crafting a meaningfully different value proposition and then going in search of those who you can help. And just being really discerning about who you want to do business with. And that discernment needs to come through in the first conversation. So I actually don’t see the correlation there. I think it’s just a fun story. There probably is one. But it’s not something that immediately is immediately obvious to me. Yeah.

John Corcoran 7:37

You have an interesting trajectory, because you were interested in writing and creativity, you’re really inspired by leaves the book, All the President’s Men interested in journalism, but you also had kind of the business side to you as well, which is compelling to me. Because I’ve always felt like I’ve been a similar in the sense that there’s kind of creative side to me the business side to me. So talk a little bit about how you kind of found your way as you got into the creative services. And you, you were attracted to the creative side. And you ultimately kind of, you know, went into business development as well.

Blair Enns 8:13

Yeah. So when I did go end up going to this community college, I had to decide, did I want to take business administration, I always had aspirations of being an entrepreneur, or did I want to take I forget what it’s called creative communications, I think writing basically writing as a career. And so I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but deep in my heart, I really, you know, that question. What’s the one thing? You know, if you knew you wouldn’t fail? What’s the one thing you would do? To me? The answer has always been, I would just, I would be a writer. And I had to make a decision between the two I chose business because I didn’t think journalism at the time, which I saw as one of the most noble professions on the planet, I didn’t think it would pay well, I wanted to, I wanted a nicer standard of living. And then when I did become an entrepreneur, even before I became an entrepreneur, printer, it’s almost ironic that I found that most of what I was doing was writing and then building my business when without pitching, which is a training company today. But it began as a solo consulting practice. I built that business through writing and when I did business development for ad agencies and design firms. Previously, I did most of my lead generation work through writing through content marketing, before it was even called Content Marketing. I think we call it education based marketing. I was writing blog posts and sending them via fax because there was no email and there were no websites to post them to. So I would write these articles and I would just fax them to my prospective clients.

John Corcoran 9:53

Interesting. The end, but I’m curious, did you get pushback back then when you We’re doing business development, you know, was there? Did you ever have supervisors are saying, you know, why are you doing that when you should be just knocking on doors, you should be going to visit another prospect? Why are you working on writing these blog posts and fax them out to people? Or did you work for? You know, did you have people above you who kind of saw the potential?

Blair Enns 10:23

No, I worked for a great guy who was very understanding. So I’m a Canadian, I live in Canada, I’ve always been based in Canada, our company today is global, like a lot of companies are. But at the time, I was in Calgary, running a field office for a Vancouver based agency, and the previous manager of that office had, I forget what our titles were. But the previous guy, the guy replaced, all the clients were friends of his so when he left all the clients left, and I showed up to basically an empty client roster, and only one other employee in addition of myself. And I said to the owner, I’m going to, I’m going to take, I’m not going to take my time to do this and do it right. And he’s dead yet, however you want me to trust you? So I had I had his and his wife’s, who was his business partner, I had their I had their full support to do it this way. And it didn’t take long for it to bear fruit. Hmm,

John Corcoran 11:26

was it? Do you think you were helped by the fact that back then there wasn’t as much content marketing? Oh, yes. Yeah. So someone taking that approach, that education based approach had kind of an advantage? Well, first