Growing an agency is very difficult, and you might feel unclear what to do next in order to grow and scale your agency. The Smart Agency Masterclass is a weekly podcast for agencies that are wanting to grow faster. We interview amazing guests from all over the world that have the experience of running successful businesses, and will provide you the insights you need. Our podcast is just over 3 years old, and have reached more than a half million listeners in 42 countries.
Why Culture and Cash Flow are Crucial for Agency Growth
Think skillsets are all that matter? Need help building a team aligned around your mission? Skills and experience are important, but it's your culture that will really make or break your agency. It's that culture and your attention to healthy cash flow that can make or break your agency's growth.
In this episode we'll cover:
Why your digital agency's culture is so important. What to consider when hiring new team members. How to create a healthy cash flow for your digital agency. Today I had the chance to talk with Jim Flint of Local Search Group, a Houston-based marketing agency in the automotive industry. Jim began his career working with agencies from the corporate side at brands like Nike and Toyota, before ultimately deciding he wanted to help clients through an agency of his own. He shared what he's learned along the way so you can create a successful agency culture and increase your cash flow.
Why Your Digital Agency's Culture is So Important Before Jim realized the value of culture, he was hiring smart and capable people who weren't necessarily aligned with him in important areas. This created challenges within his agency, and he quickly learned the importance of building a team of people who are on the same page and headed in the same direction.
"It's not about the company and the person—it's about the company and the person and the client and the job," Jim says. If the fit doesn't go both ways, and if an employee isn't passionate about the purpose of the agency, you'll end up holding each other back.
Poor fits can lead to toxicity, which can take longer to undo than it takes to start. When toxicity takes hold at a company, the good employees will end up leaving, making it even harder to turn the ship around.
What to Consider When Hiring Agency Talent Creating culture starts with your team, and your team starts with the hiring process. Instead of only looking at a resume, try to learn who the candidate is as a person. Learn what they do outside of work and get a sense of where they are in life. Does it align with where your agency is headed?
Another consideration is whether a candidate has a side-hustle. Side-hustles used to be considered a red flag. However, Jim views them as indicators of ambition and initiative. They also tell you what a candidate is truly passionate about—and, if it's an area related to your marketing agency, it's a good sign they may be a great fit.
How to Create a Healthy Cash Flow While culture may be the more overlooked aspect of agency success, it's not the only piece of the puzzle. Another important component of digital agency growth? Capital.
Your cash flow is the lifeblood of your agency, and when it's running low your forward momentum can grind to a halt. What are a few ways to boost your agency's cash flow?
Change payment terms, so clients pay you pre-month instead of post-month. Beware of "scope creep" on your deliverables. Make sure you're charging enough for what you're providing. Be diligent about getting paid on time. Another way to benefit your cash flow is to get rid of the high-maintenance clients. They cost you more than you know — and beware of bringing on those clients from the outset. "A high-maintenance skinny deal is a really poor vanity play," Jim says, "and it hurts the company in ways you don't really understand until you come to actually experience it."
By cutting those clients loose, you'll free up your resources for more of the clients that are actually helping your agency turn a profit.
Looking for a Content Creation Solution? Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're intereste
How to Build an 8-Figure Agency with Zero Employees
Want an 8-figure agency? Tired of the hassle and cost of managing employees? Want an entirely new, innovative business model? The answer for one agency owner was in the cloud.
In today's episode, we'll cover:
What is the no-employee model? Why not freelancers? A unique way to compensate your team Today I talked with Julian Stubbs, co-founder and CEO of Up There, Everywhere. Since our last conversation in 2015, the cloud-based marketing agency has continued to grow and is now approaching 8 figures in revenue.
What is the No-Employee Model? The problem Julian had with the traditional agency business model is that you can never downsize or upsize as quickly as you need, so you are either missing opportunities or wasting resources. Combined with the high overhead of offices and employees, he knew there had to be a better way.
He and his business partner decided to take advantage of cloud-based tools to build a truly global agency. Instead of employees, they now have a network of members in 20 countries around the world. Members work on projects remotely for clients, and all their work is backed up online.
Why Not Freelancers? Often, when an agency chooses to go lean, they have a slate of freelancers they work with instead. As Julian says, though, freelancers don't scale and they aren't a long-term solution. Up There, Everywhere needs professionals who work consistently, which is why they opt for the member model.
To make sure it's a good match for both sides, potential members go through a series of interviews before joining the agency and learning how to work with their particular tools and clients. Because it's such a unique model, the agency isn't for everyone—and members need to be able to deliver.
Members don't pay to be a part of the agency, but they do donate their time to the community based on their skills, such as writing for the agency's blog. In addition to the pay they get from projects, members also have a reward system based on their earnings, their engagement, and other charitable endeavors the agency encourages. As with employees, keeping members engaged and motivated is crucial for the agency's success.
While they are free to pursue other work as well, Julian works hard to make sure the agency's projects are the most interesting—preferring members to choose their work rather than forcing it on them.
A Unique Way to Compensate Your Agency Team One of the most applicable takeaways from Up There, Everywhere's model is its fixed-rate structure. Instead of billing hourly and paying its members per hour of work, it has fixed rates for its clients and its members. Julian points out that when people are working on their own time, they're much more productive—a lesson for any agency owner. Consider how you can structure your team's pay around deliverables rather than time spent.
Other stats from the cloud-based agency's continued success?
Networking accounts for approximately 50% of sales, while content marketing brings in the other 50% Churn rate among members is under 5%, while at Julian's previous traditional agency that number was between 10-15% As in any agency, having a plan and direction is paramount. The various teams get together on a weekly call to talk about clients, members, and the agency. Think about your own agency and what you can do regularly to check-in across your team and make sure you stay aligned on the same goals, whether you're in the same office or fully remote.
Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your
Does Size Matter When It Comes to Agency Growth Potential?
Have you ever wondered if the grass is greener for big agencies? Or is it easier to be a small agency that is more nimble? Are you struggling with prioritizing growth strategies? Does size matter when it comes to growth trajectory? It all comes down to perspective. Size only matters in relation to your vision of growing your agency.
In this episode, we'll cover:
What are the big agencies missing? Hurdles to overcome when growing an agency. 3 ways a small agency can grow faster. I talked to Steve McCall, a partner in a branded digital strategy agency called Carbon. Formerly, Steve was the general manager of a large agency in Boston. However, as he explains, life happened a few years ago. The death of a loved one gave him clarity on his career goals. So Steve took a risk by partnering with two former colleagues who had already begun Carbon. Steve is here to share the differences between big agencies and small agencies and how Carbon provides the best client experience, best product, and best work-life balance.
What Are the Big Agencies Missing? "There is a lot to like about big agencies," Steve explains, adding that the benefits of a big agency include:
The high level of brands that look to large agencies to deliver their services. The ability to grow your skillsets across different client categories and disciplines. However, Steve and his partners realized something was missing from their experiences with big agencies. Focus is placed on making sure the client experience is equal to the output, even if it cuts into profitability. "We are not always profit-focused," he says. "It's more about ensuring a great product and developing a relationship with the client. In a larger holding company model, that is challenging to do."
Hurdles to Overcome When Growing An Agency Growing an agency that offers a work-life balance and is devoted to delivering quality products and client experiences isn't easy. The primary challenge was finding out where their product and level of service needed to be in order to be successful. Other challenges included:
Profitability without sacrificing service. "There are a lot of investments you have to make when you start an agency." Even while the agency was determining what products to offer and how to satisfy clients, they also had to learn how to be profitable. Creating forward momentum. Growth takes momentum and it's easy to become complacent or get bogged down in the trenches. Carbon built momentum through providing as many in-house services as possible. 3 Ways a Small Agency Can Grow Faster Carbon places emphasis well-roundedness and Steve attributes their rapid growth to these 3 tactics:
Cross-train. Steve said the ability to provide multiple services in-house with a small team requires each member of the team to have a base level skill set on as many tools as possible. This eliminates the bottleneck when only one person has the ability to perform a certain task. Use your client's data. Data will not only manage expectations but also help identify additional services to meet specific needs the client might not even know they have. This provides new revenue opportunities for you but also new business opportunities for them. Keep exploring what is possible. Just as you analyze your client's data, analyze your own data. Develop a grounded path forward in the firm understanding of where you are now as well as what it will take to get where you want to be. Looking for a Content Creation Solution? Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out Verblio.com/smartagency fo
Why Client Service is a Big Factor in Growing Your Agency
Are you feeling overwhelmed by client demands? Struggling to choose the ideal clients who are right for your agency? Have you lost a major client and you don't understand why? There are a lot of factors involved in growing your digital agency. But the most important factor is how well you serve your clients.
In this episode, we'll cover:
Why determining and communicating agency focus is important. Setting goals and making sure your agency is on the right track. 3 ways to use communication as a catalyst for growing your agency. On this episode, I talked to Tyler Dolph, the President, and Partner at the Wisconsin-based digital advertising and marketing agency, Rocket Clicks. Tyler joined the agency in a business development role about 6 years ago, after a chance meeting with the agency owner on an airplane flight. Shortly after joining the team there, the President of the agency resigned and Tyler stepped into the role. Since then, the agency has grown from a team of 12 to 39, and the client list has grown from about 15 to 85. Tyler is here to offer some insights about the emphasis his agency places on client services, and how it has helped them grow.
Why Determining and Communicating Agency Focus is Important "We're not a full-service agency, we're not everything to everyone," Tyler says of Rocket Clicks. Once the agency was financially stable, they discovered it was OK not to take on every client. Instead, they learned to focus the agency's service offering and narrow down to what they're best at.
Another important part of this process is determining who the right client is. The best way to accomplish this is identifying your ideal clients' service needs and the necessary budget. By establishing these parameters, you can target potential clients and quickly detect the ones that aren't right for you.
Developing the agency's focus is only part of the challenge, however. The other part was in letting everyone -- including the clients and the team -- know what that focus is. Tyler compared this to navigating a boat. When you communicate the focus it allows others to decide if they want to stay in the boat, jump off, or alter the course of the boat just a little bit and still reach the destination.
Setting Goals and Making Sure Your Agency Is on the Right Track Once you've developed the focus of your agency and distilled your offerings down to a few specialties that you do really well, it is important to set goals to ensure you are keeping focus. This isn't a one-shot deal. Goals should be set and revisited on a frequent basis. Each goal needs to be measurable. Rocket Clicks uses software that enables the process of setting these goals and gathering data needed to measure progress efficiently and with little effort required.
3 Ways to Use Communication as a Catalyst for Growing Your Agency The key is communication in order to provide superior client service. Tyler recommends the following steps in using communication as a catalyst for agency growth:
Avoid FOMO, fear of missing out. Many agency owners are honestly afraid of saying no to a client because they don't want to miss out on the opportunity and the profit the client has to offer. Unfortunately, this often provides the hard lesson of taking on a client you can't handle and subsequently losing that client. By clearly communicating with potential clients what services you are able to offer rather than approaching the relationship thinking about what you can get from the client, you build stronger relationships. Remember clients are people too. "At the end of the day, clients just want to feel like they matter. They want to know they're being taken care of." Rocket Clicks enforces this realization by eliminating the client services management role. Instead, the team member doing the work are the ones to communicate with the client. Empower your team from day one.
How Is Content Creation Changing with the Times?
Are you searching for more ways to attract new agency clients? Have you considered starting a podcast for your agency? Are you searching for new ways to spread the word about the services you offer? Are you wondering how to encourage your own team to be thought leaders? Now more than every, content creation options are endless. Take advantage of them all by asking for help so you can focus on growing your agency.
In this episode, we'll cover:
How content marketing is changing with the times. When should content be written vs spoken? 3 things to turn your team into thought leaders. I talked with Steve Pockross, the CEO of the content creation marketplace, Verblio. Verblio currently has 3,000 writers who create 70,000 pieces of unique content each year, with a focus on delivering content to more than 500 digital agencies who count on the company to supply content for their clients. Steve is here to talk about how content creation is changing with the times and how agencies can keep up with these changes. Today, Verblio's writers need to go beyond writing simple blog posts to transforming audio and video content into written work and refreshing old content into something new.
How Content Marketing Is Changing With the Times At the beginning of 2020, Steve noted the trend in content creation was long-form content creation. Clients were seeking content that was 1,000 words long or more. Additionally, clients were beginning to ask for written content created from video. However, when the pandemic hit in March, the requests for content changed again. "Since the pandemic, we have seen a move toward instant impact content," Steve says. "We are getting requests for content refreshers. We are re-purposing audio content as written content." Additionally, Steve adds, there is a micro content trend in which larger pieces of content are broken up into smaller pieces that provide a quick, easy read for the client's audience.
With all of the changes experienced through technological advances and world events, one thing Steve has noticed is clients are going bigger. Verblio has experienced a 25% increase in content requests since April.
When Should Content Be Written vs Spoken? Digital agencies are looking for a way to reach their clients in a world that offers many different channels and platforms. Steve says to use them all. "Podcasts are a DVR for audio," he says. "They're so accessible, you can listen anytime you want." He adds that there is a natural viral aspect to podcasts: they're interactive, they're engaging, and they are a way to build your audience.
On the flip side, though, Steve stresses making a podcast involves preparation. You can't ask every guest the same questions, and with 800,000 podcasts available, it's important to know what you're trying to create and who you're trying to reach. As effective as a podcast can be in reaching your clients, "many people still love to read," Steve said. Providing your podcast content in written form is a more complete way to present the content and reach different listeners as well as readers.
Writing is time-consuming and not everyone is confident in their ability to do it. Steve encourages agency owners to perform the work they're strong in seek help from outside sources or others on your team in order to provide content in other formats to reach a larger audience.
3 Things to Turn Your Team Into Thought Leaders Being a thought leader is difficult to manage when you still have a day job, Steve notes. This is one of the reasons that encouraging your team to be thought leaders can provide you with advantages. Some of the things you can do to encourage this thought leadership in your team include:
If you do a podcast, include your team. One way to start this process is to ask team members what questions they are repeatedly asked by clients. Then create a podcast around those com
The Key to Growing Your Agency in Spite of Mistakes
Do you feel like you've made so many mistakes at your agency you may never be successful? Do you find yourself trying to be someone else for your clients? Are you willing to accept any client and any project out of desperation for cash flow? Truth is, you can learn from your mistakes and grow your agency because of those experiences.
In this episode, we'll cover:
Why bigger clients aren't always better clients. How relationship-building helps retain clients. 3 tips for healthy agency growth. I talked to Theo Fanning, the Executive Creative Director and President of Traction, a digital marketing agency in San Francisco. Traction was started in the ruins of the dot com bomb of 2001. At that time, faced with few opportunities, Theo and three friends decided to start an agency of their own. "It was blind fury," he recalls. "We had no idea what we were doing. Many of us had not had management or operational roles. We just assumed everything would come our way and we made a lot of mistakes. We are an agency built on failure, but we're always failing up." Theo shares some of those mistakes and lessons learned so he could grow his agency to a team of 50.
Why Bigger Clients Aren't Always Better Clients Traction was built on a freelance-based model, "because we had a lot of friends who were freelancers," Theo explained. However, this business model led to some of the agency's earliest mistakes: "Freelancers are flaky and you can't build a business off the backs of friends."
What followed were several years of a truly organic agency experience that began without operational tools and timesheets. Along the way, however, the agency managed to break even and the team began to grow. In 2005, after having just relocated to new office space and with a team of 12-15, Traction lucked into the opportunity to pitch Apple. "We sort of jumped into it with no true strategy," Theo explained. "All we had was grit and good nature, and some good relationships that we had built."
Theo points out that landing this first big client taught the team something very important. "When you're the smallest agency working for the largest client, you really don't get to run your business the way you'd like." He said the experience with Apple helped them learn to focus on clients of all sizes. Traction still works with Apple 15 years later but has a greater appreciation for fostering relationships with decision-makers of all-sized clients.
How Relationship-Building Helps Retain Clients One of the most important things an agency can do is build relationships. Traction's relationships with the business owners they work with has taught the team to better articulate their value. Gaining the trust of the client through the relationship opens the door to offering additional services to help the client succeed. Traction prides itself on being able to show clients "new ways to do old things," -- which can include the adoption of new technologies as well as new ways to look at their business.
Theo says the relationships you build with your team also go a long way. The agency started by friends focused on doing quality work and providing the ability for staff to have a good quality of life, as well. What they got in return was a team that is both strong as well as loyal.
3 Tips for Healthy Agency Growth Theo embraces the learning process that comes from making mistakes. Some of the tips he offers to other agencies who are struggling to find their place in a competitive industry include:
Stop trying to be what you're not. In the beginning, Theo notes, Traction tried to position itself as a full-service agency. "We wanted to play with the big kids," he says. What happened instead was the team couldn't compete. While they looked like they were able to provide the same level of service as larger agencies, they did not have the resources to back it up. Let go of the
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Jason offers savvy go-to strategies for agencies. As someone transitioning from being a freelancer to building a boutique communications agency I can't get enough of his advice. Great show, awesome guests. A must-listen. ~ Maggie Patterson, Marketing Moxie Podcast