Be a flexible business or get left behind


Be a flexible business or get left behind

Three things have happened recently that put us in mind of the topic for this blog post:

  • Sail Creative were featured on the Design Business Association’s website in an article about our structure and how we operate;
  • We received feedback from a client about how we quickly adapted the work we were delivering in reaction to changes in their business;
  • We met design agency, Pentagram in London.

What do these have in common? They are examples that highlight Sail’s agile methodology.

Agility to us is a set of values that we hold dear and influence our style of working. The culmination of all of these events have got us thinking about why it’s so important that a business – and therefore its brand – has an agile way of working.

What is an agile methodology?

The concept of business agility has its roots in the software development and manufacturing industries. The term was coined to describe a way of working that can respond and adapt quickly to changing customer needs and the environment in which it operates.  

An agile business is not one that is bogged down by its processes, conventional approaches to working or stubborn adherence to its plans. An agile business is innovative, nimble and adaptive. It is willing to try fresh ways of working and is attentive to the needs of its customers.

Inspiring leaders in agility

On a recent trip to London, I (Mandy, Sail’s founder) recently met with designer Jon Marshall from Pentagram (proving, that, people are people, and most are willing to help out where they can-thank you, Jon, for an inspiring chat-and great coffee!). I have always admired Pentagram, since the day I started out in design, and will continue to put them on a pedestal because of their groundbreaking model that still stands today-40 years from it’s start up phase.

Pentagram are an inspiration to shaking up traditional business. They are the world’s largest independently-owned design studio. The 20 partners are all practicing designers delivering work across all mediums of branding.  

Set up in 1978, Pentagram’s structure is unique today, let alone back in the 70’s. They are the only major design studio where the owners of the business are the creators of the work and serve as the primary contact for every client. This reflects their conviction that great design cannot happen without passion, intelligence and — above all — personal commitment…” Pentagram

From my discussion with Jon, I took renewed inspiration from their collaborative approach. The successful operation of an agency this size and influence proves that an agile way of thinking is a viable business model.   

Our agile approach to business

Sail were recently featured in an article on the Design Business Association’s website about how we defy the traditional agency structure.

The interview gave me the opportunity to share the way I set up Sail to work and put forward the case for a business model that champions the freelance creative. The core team of Sail may be small but our network of skilled, passionate freelancers encompasses many different fields of expertise. We come together to collaborate on projects, bringing unique skills, talents and ideas to each piece of work. Our lean structure enables us to deliver work that eclipses the standard of stale teams in larger, international agencies.

Inspired by Bo Burlingham’s book called “Small Giants”, I also attended a place on the panel of a DBA event to discuss why it’s important to focus on being great at what you do, creating a great place to work, giving clients a great service, having a great relationship with suppliers, making great contributions to the communities you live and work in.

I always look for partnerships, over ‘looking for customers’ 

An experimental approach to carrying out work may sound very exciting, but how will it impact on your client and provide them with the service they desire?

Speaking from our own experience – and based on feedback from our clients – our agility means that we are able to respond quickly and build specialist, bespoke teams. We always receive glowing client feedback, proving our work is built on strong relationships. We don’t just create design behind a screen, we become a member of the team. For example, we recently received an email from a client who was grateful that Sail Creative had reacted swiftly to changes in his business that affected the project. The upshot of this is that his time wasn’t wasted as he waited for an answer from a faceless central team.

Just like Pentagram’s model, our clients deal directly with the team at Sail who are delivering the work. Those relationships are what’s important to us to be able to produce our most innovative work that makes the most impact on the community.

Benefits for agile businesses

As you may have gathered, we are taken with the whole concept of working in a way that allows us to be at our most creative whilst developing strong relationships with the people we work with.

There are many ways in which embracing a more agile business model can benefit an organisation:

Specialist expertise

Bringing in experts tailored to your project has huge advantage. You get the right knowledge from the right people, with the right experience. We build strong and solid teams, with individual specialisms, that would be hard for an internal team to match.


With this way of thinking comes improved communication, both within teams and with the client. People have all the information they need to make decisions and progress is swifter as people are kept up to date.

Empowered teams

Teams that are supported and empowered to make their own decisions are ones that are able to react to change and customer needs. By removing unnecessary hoop jumping from the process, staff are able to work much more autonomously, which has a huge positive impact on the culture of an organisation. This workplace wellness is essential for a healthy and productive workforce.

Willing to embrace change

An agile business must be willing to adapt to changes in technology, culture and influences outside their control. A head in the sand approach to advances in the world around you – especially those in technology – will see you lag far behind your competitors.

Daring to be different

Business agility will utilise a set of principles and values that can represent a shift in mindset for many organisations. However, if you dare to be different you can take the competitive upper hand and trigger innovation within your market.

Unlike some companies that may refuse to tweak their processes at the risk of upsetting the pail, an agile business is a disruptor to the norms in its niche. Embracing alternative ways of thinking means that your business will position itself on the experimental edges of your industry.

How does this all relate to branding?

Adopting an agile approach to business can have many benefits, like the ones explored above. What I love most about agility though is that it is wonderfully people centric. Yes, many businesses run on processes at their core, but the true heart of any brand is its people.

Communication, collaboration and challenge are all things that we thrive on. When dealing with you we will bring our flexible approach to working, our inquisitive nature and our desire to scope out the very limits of your business to create unconventional branding that will set you apart and spark conversations.

As our previously mentioned client found out, we work with clients to ensure that their business is treated as the individual entity that it is. Understanding your business in depth, your culture and ambitions is an essential part of creating an effective brand strategy.

Agility means more time

Ultimately what this comes down to for brands working with a design agency is time.

A branding agency who can be contacted easily and is responsive to your input will save you and your business time.

Pentagram, who work one-on-one with their clients, understand the vital ingredient to the branding process is personal relationships. Working in a way that breaks down barriers and allows communication to flow between client and agency is the best way to create incredible results.

What are your thoughts on agility? Do you work in a way that is flexible and open to change, or does your business struggle to adapt its operation style? What benefit could a shake up and refreshed way of thinking have for your brand?

Talk to us about any of the ideas raised in this article. We’d love to have your feedback!

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