Searching for the secret sauce that’s going to grow your marketing agency? Here’s what you need to become a thriving business.
Starting a business isn’t easy. You’re faced with a bold challenge—creating something out of nothing that makes sense, makes money and makes an impact.
Regardless of your marketing experience, launching a marketing-specific agency is no walk in the park.
Starting, Surviving and Thriving
Starting, surviving and thriving are distinctly different stages in the life of a business.
An agency will travel from starting to surviving to finally thriving.
Your Processes and Mentality Determine When You Become Thriving:
Every agency begins at the starting phase. It’s just a fact of life.
Your agency has to transition from starting to surviving. If you can’t make it to a place of surviving then it’ll shut down eventually. From there, the remainder of the journey is to the land of milk and honey—the thriving state.
The truth, however, is that too many agencies get stuck surviving in the wilderness. They experience some success and start to settle into a groove rather than traveling to a thriving state.
Everyone wants to be thriving, but whether it happens comes down to processes, discipline and mentality.
An Inside Look at the “Surviving” Agency:
The surviving agency doesn’t look so bad from a far. It might even have some impressive clients, a sexy brand and some cool founders.
But look a little deeper, and you’ll see some things you probably wouldn’t like.
There’s enough cashflow to pay a team, but profits aren’t consistent. That cashflow can be tight at times and often comes from a gigantic pool of underpaying clients. Some are legacy clients that have been on board forever. Others are new ones who just showed up at the door. This yields a team that’s underpaid, overwhelmed and overworked.
The agency as a whole is doing good work, but the environment is stressed. More times than not, the clients run the show more than the leaders.
- Some Make It: At one point or another, self-aware agency owners will recognize the problems. They’ll realize that something has to change.
- Others Don’t: Unfortunately, others just maintain the survival.
How to Grow a Thriving Marketing Agency
Looking to be a growing, thriving agency? Here are six guaranteed ways to get there.
1.) Clearly Define Your Service Offerings
No—you can’t be good at everything.
A lot of agencies try to offer whatever service is needed. The reality of the situation is that every agency has sweet spots. You can’t be good at everything, so it’s absolutely vital to figure out what you’re best at.
The fear of a lot of agency owners is that by doing so, you’re narrowing the amount of clients you can take on. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By offering “whatever is needed” you’re turning yourself into a “do anything” mercenary. By offering a thoughtful, value-adding set of specific services, you’re positioning yourself as a strategic partner.
You’ll also be better equipped to bring in your ideal customers, which we’ll get to a bit later.
Figuring Out Your Service Offerings:
If you’re struggling to figure out what to base your business off of, you’re not alone. Here are some questions to ask yourself to uncover your strongest talents:
- Where can you do the most good for the most people?
- Is your team a group of website development and design experts? Is your team a creative bunch of designers specialized in branding? Are you a team of seasoned media relations experts?
- Don’t try to be what you’re not. If you’re a team of website designers, consider focusing specifically on being the best you possibly can at website design. If a client knocks on your door asking for media buying, say no because you do website design.
- Where are you true passions?
- What topic do you eat, sleep and breathe?
- If it’s not public relations, for example, then don’t offer it or choose to do it.
- What can you do that is scalable?
- Some services are more cumbersome and take more time than they’re worth. These will hold back your long-term growth.
Naming Your Services:
Don’t be hell-bent on sounding overly innovative or trendy. The key to naming is positioning your services in a way that makes sense to people.
When you’re naming, it’s also important not to be overly vague. Instead of marketing, be more specific. If you specialize in digital then be unabashedly digital.
2.) Develop Documented, Repeatable and Scalable Processes Around Each Service
The second element that has to exist with your services is the processes driving them.
Everything that you offer should be driven by proven and repeatable processes. If you don’t have a method for leading your clients from start to finish, you’re going to be leading them blindly.
To maximize the scalability of your agency, these processes should also be documented.
Thoughtful, documented processes are agency growers for several reasons:
- They help you onboard new employees faster
- They help you cast a vision for your clients
- They make you more efficient at delivering services
- They put you in a state to constantly improve your services
3.) Identify Your Ideal Clients
The biggest mistake that agencies make is taking whoever knocks on the door.
Just because someone is willing to pay money doesn’t make them a qualified client. Every client you bring into your agency has an impact on your culture. Beyond that, every client will also send positive or negative ripples through your life at home.
Reflect for a moment on that horrible client you dealt with or are currently dealing with. Everyone on your team is stressed and frustrated. The partnership has fallen off the rails, and you find yourself doing things you normally wouldn’t. At this point, the troublesome client isn’t just affecting your agency—it’s traveling home with you at the end of the day.
This is no way to live.
Do Some Homework and Be Proactive:
Be proactive. Make it a priority to set aside time with your team for some soul searching.
- Who have we worked the best with?
- Who (industry/company structure) have our services helped the most?
- Who is our dream client?
From this, you’ll begin to uncover who your ideal clients are. You might identify several different kinds. I recommend picking your top three or four and defining them even further:
- What is their industry?
- What is their company structure?
- What is their budget?
- What services do they need?
Be Determined to Work with Your Ideal Customers:
Realistically you probably won’t be able to just deny every single client who doesn’t fit in the “ideal” category. Make it a point, however, to move your agency in that direction over time.
This can only be achieved by an abundance of leads coming in, which we’ll discuss shortly. Without them, your stuck with whoever decides to show up.
4.) Fire Bad Clients
Bad clients are agency wreckers.
I’m all for giving clients a chance, but you have to draw the line if you want to grow a thriving agency.
Here are some common bad client types:
- Dictators—they want it done their way or no way.
- Dreamers—they string you along, but don’t actually have any real business, “yet.”
- Slow Pay, No Payers—payment is extremely late or doesn’t come at all.
- The Doubter—they never stop questioning your methods.
- The Abuser—they beat up and belittle your team. This should be an #instafire.
- The Creeper—they never stop requesting/demanding services outside the scope and agreement.
- The Departed—people so hard to reach, you wonder if they’re dead or alive.
No one likes conflict, and it never gets easier. You have to do it though for the sake of your team and the growth of your agency. If a client enters the badlands, fire them and move on to bigger and better.
It’ll be a huge relief for you and your entire team.
5.) Build a Solid Brand
By identifying your ideal clients, you’re already better equipped to cultivate a compelling brand.
Take a good, hard look at your brand. Is it positioning you to attract your ideal clients? Is it supporting your central services?
On an outward level, your brand can make or break your business. If someone comes across your company and is confused then they’re going to go look for someone else who makes sense.
Here are a few common confusion points:
- Your name
- Your tagline
- The description of what you do, exactly
6.) Treat Yourself as Your Most Important Client
You can only build a thriving agency when you are treating yourself like a client.
Attracting and converting new clients is mission critical. Without having the ability to generate new, qualified leads on a consistent basis, you’re stuck working with whoever shows up. Again, you should be moving to a place where you work with your ideal clients.
If you can’t generate your own new clients then there’s a larger problem here. If your agency is unable to make things happen with your own tactics, you can’t in good conscious expect clients to pay for them.
If this sounds like you—your agency will fail in the long term. Either you won’t have enough good clients to keep the business alive, or you’ll score a reputation as an agency selling bad services.
Go Out and Grow!
There you have it—six guaranteed ways to grow a thriving agency. Running an agency is a busy endeavor, but make sure you focus on what’s important. If there’s something on this list you need to evaluate and apply, don’t delay—get the ball rolling.
Here’s to your success,