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.
Should Your Marketing Agency Pitch for Free?
Are you tired of losing time and money on RFPs? Do you want to start charging for creative strategy? There's a long-standing debate in the agency world about whether or not we should pitch for free. It all comes down to knowing when and how to position a paid strategy.
In this episode, we'll cover:
Pitching new clients vs. organic agency growth. How your agency can get paid for the pitch. Should your agency ever work for free? I talked to Aleena Mazhar, Vice President and Managing Director of the Experiential Division of Fuse Create, a marketing and ad agency based in Toronto. Aleena is a self-admitted addict to the fast-paced nature and constant problem-solving of the agency culture. Aleena has experienced both organic growth in her agency as well as growth fueled by pitching the agency's services through the traditional RFP process. She is here to talk about both methods and when it's ok to give your ideas away for free.
Pitching New Clients Vs. Organic Agency Growth Aleena says she and her partners at Fuse were fortunate that when they created their agency, they each brought clients with them. This fueled a lot of organic growth, as the agency leaned on these existing clients for input on how to expand their services to meet their needs. This helped build a stronger relationship with their clients. By being responsive to their needs Fuse was willing to grow alongside their clients. It also brought new business through word-of-mouth from those satisfied clients.
How Your Agency Can Get Paid for the Pitch Aleena feels you should not be pitching for free. Pitching for free is essentially giving away your creative vision to a company that could ultimately decide they don't want to work with you. Your time and your agency's creativity deserve compensation. How do you get paid for the pitch though, particularly in an industry where free pitches are commonplace?
One way involves assisting an existing client in developing a strategy for their RFP on an upcoming launch. By getting your team involved in strategizing with the client on what they are looking for, you ensure your team's work isn't being given away. You also position your agency to win the proposal since you have been involved from the early stages and have helped develop the proposal requirements that you must meet. Additionally, there is comfort for the client in working with a team they have already become familiar with.
Should Your Agency Ever Work for Free? While the preference is getting paid for creativity, Aleena says there are projects the agency will pitch for free because they are simply so enthusiastic about the work. They're willing to take the risk just to be involved in it. As a smaller agency, very selective with the clients they work with, Fuse can't afford to do free pitches often. However, if it's the right fit; the right size, the right niche, and the right service needs - it's a no-brainer. "In your heart, you know when it's the right thing to do," she says.
With those unicorn opportunities too big to risk putting the client off with a paid pitch, Aleena says it's important to involve all levels of the agency team. This reinforces the feeling of transparency that builds trust between the client and the team and helps the client feel that his or her needs are of the greatest importance to the agency.
Would you like a 90% close rate on the deals you want? It took my agency years to develop a solid foot in the door offer that converted at a high rate. And, Ian has spent the last 10 years developing his too. That's why we decided to collaborate and create the FITD framework to share with other agency owners.
If you want to learn more check out FootInTheDoor.com. You can discover the exact framework that Ian and I created so you can be successful. Close deals faster, stop giving away strategy for free and win the deals you want. When you
Do You Send Emails Your Agency Prospects Want to Open?
Are you struggling to attract new clients with your outbound marketing? Do you need to build deeper connections with your prospects? The key is creating an outbound strategy that is worthy of prospects' engagement. In a time when we're all bombarded with multimedia and social media, what are you doing to make your agency stand out from the rest?
In today's episode, we'll cover:
How to send emails your prospects actually want to open. How personalization can help your agency win clients. Should your agency outsource outbound sales research? Today I had a really fun chat with Jonathan McFarlane, Director of Strategy at Hybrid Marketing Company. His agency deals almost exclusively with cannabis and hemp companies. The agency hasn't experienced a lot of the challenges many other agencies are facing during the economic downturn. That said, Jonathan still works hard to look for opportunities to grow his agency. He is sharing what he's done to reignite his agency's outbound marketing strategy and how he's using humor to connect with prospects during this difficult time.
How to Send Emails Your Prospects Actually Want to Open Hybrid Marketing Company started three years ago. During that time, the agency has relied heavily on referrals to bring in new clients. But while referrals are great, they are not a scalable approach for continued growth. Recently, Jonathan decided to switch things up. Now, the agency does a lot of LinkedIn networking and cold emails to build up their network.
The problem with email campaigns is most people won't even open an email unless they already have a personal connection with the sender. Yet Jonathan averages a 55-60% open rate. How?
Jonathan says his goal is to create funny, witty emails. His emails feature his new work-from-home "assistant" — his two-year-old daughter who says, "it's time to build new connections." Each email features a link to a case study and a picture of his assistant doing something cute and irresistible, like "sleeping on the job" :)
Jonathan's advice is to get creative, have fun, and try to connect with prospects on a personal level. You also want to do some research and personalized the email. Be relatable and unique so your emails are read instead of ignored.
How Personalization Can Help Your Agency Win Clients Even if you can get a prospect to open an email, it can still be a hard sell to get a client to reach out to you, especially in today's climate. This is where personalization can set you apart. Every now and then, Jonathan will check out the websites of prospects who he thinks might be a good fit. Then he'll email them with specific ways his agency can help.
Obviously, most agencies don't have the time to personalize every email they send out. Focus on prospects who align with your agency's strengths or those with an existing connection. Even if they don't need you yet, when they do decide to hire an agency, they'll remember the extra work you put in.
Should Your Agency Outsource Outbound Sales Research? If personalized emails are so effective, then wouldn't it make sense to outsource your research so you can maximize outreach efforts? The choice is up to you, but Jonathan says he likes to keep the research in-house.
When you bring in a third party to gather information, there's an extra level of communication. Think of it like the game of telephone — you risk losing valuable information with every layer that stands between you and your potential client. When your team is doing the research, you'll have a better idea of what makes your agency best suited to meet the client's needs.
When you're trying to build new connections, it can be difficult to get people to pay attention. Find ways to stand out and show you're invested. Even if a prospect doesn't reach out to you right away, there's a good chance you'll leave an impression.
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How to Make Sure Your Agency Merger is Successful
Are you having trouble scaling your agency? Considering a merger as a growth plan? Have you been approached about merging with another agency? A merger can be a great way to scale up faster by adding a new, complimentary service or a bigger piece of the niche. On the other hand, agency mergers are just as risky as starting the business the first time. If you're considering a merger, there are ways to ensure it is successful
In this episode, we'll cover:
Three plans you need to make your agency merger successful. Why your some team members might not follow your agency merger. Creating team trust through vulnerability. I talked to Lisa Vielee, who merged her small, 4-person team with a larger full-service agency 15 years ago. Initially, she was seeking a mentor to learn how to scale. He agreed, but also asked her to consider merging the agencies and succeeding him when he retired. The two now have a team of 30 people, and Lisa is President of Well Done Marketing. She is here to explain how the agency has thrived since the merger.
Three Plans You Need to Make When Merging Lisa agreed to merge her agency with Well Done Marketing because she had reached the point with her four-person team where she either needed to let them go and return to freelancing or scale into something bigger. She chose a mentor who had successfully grown his own full-service agency. Instead, the two decided to merge agencies. This isn't a simple process, however. It involved developing plans and getting on the same page in three different areas:
The 5 to 8-year plan: It is one thing to combine two teams into one. It's another thing figuring out how to move the newly created team forward. You need to find a way to retain their unique connections with clients and provide a greater number of services for all clients involved. The divorce plan: Just as in marriage, most people don't want to think about their brand new merger not working out. However, businesses that merge sometimes fail for any number of reasons. Developing a plan for how to "unmerge" - a sort of prenuptial agreement - is as important as the merger itself. The team plan: One of the mistakes Lisa made in planning a merger was failing to let their teams completely experience all the emotions. Emotions over a merger can range from anxiety about working with new people to sadness over change. Why Some Team Members Might Not Follow Your Agency Merger One of the scary things involved in a merger is the notion that your existing team may not agree with the new direction. Part of Lisa's own growth was learning the importance of giving her team the information they need and letting them decide to stay or not.
When Lisa's agency merged with Well Done, she did lose some team members. However, because she was able to realize they had a responsibility to choose their own career path, she continues to partner with those former employees on projects. Lisa turns to them when she needs freelance work and has the opportunity to see them continue to grow and contribute to the creative community.
Creating Team Trust Through Vulnerability But wait, the work isn't finished once the merger itself is complete and the teams are working together. Lisa explains you must create cohesion and a unified vision for the team. A few years ago, some young team members requested to add empathy to the team's culture. However, what Lisa realized, was in order to receive empathy, they needed to first become vulnerable to one another.
Vulnerability, she says, is the act of letting go of control of the outcome and trusting others in their role. It involves talking to people, not just about the work but about outside things that impact their work. This was something she learned as President of the merged agency -- a role that allows her to step back, view how the agency is functioning, and create a culture without microma
4 Things Successful Agencies Are Doing Right Now
Does your agency have the right people and the right systems in place? Do you want to work smarter, not harder? If it seems like no matter how much time and work you invest, you just stay stagnant, it may be time to review these four basic things.
In this episode, we'll cover:
4 things successful agencies are doing right now. Why you shouldn't compare yourself to larger agencies. How do you measure your agency's success? Are you planning to sell your agency someday? Today I sat down to talk with Robert Craven, founder of GYDA Initiative and author of Grow Your Digital Agency. Robert works with digital agencies to help them figure out what they want and the life they want to live. He's here to talk about what he thinks is working right now (and what's not) and why so many smaller agencies struggle.
4 Things Successful Agencies are Doing Right Now There's no doubt many agencies across the globe are struggling right now. While the pandemic has hit some industries harder than others, Robert says there are a few things he has noticed some agencies are doing right to stay afloat in today's economic climate. So what can you do to grow your agency today and when the economy gets back to "normal"?
Start with strategy: Where are we going? Do you have a vision? Do you have a plan for success? Focus on marketing: Are you struggling to convert prospects? Trouble generating leads? Don't let your own marketing take a backseat. Make time to work on the business, instead of just in it. Build your team: Hire the right people in the right seats. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and be smart about how you grow your agency team. Understand the finances: How is your cash flow looking and how can you improve the situation? Consider: changing payment terms, raising prices, or even firing those PIA clients who aren't profitable. Naturally, Robert has also noticed things that don't work, regardless of the economic climate. This includes:
Hiding your head in the sand — just because you don't want it to happen, doesn't mean it won't. Thinking just because you can create a good product/service people are going to buy it. Focusing on you instead of the client. Let them be the hero -- you should be Alfred (the advisor) and position the client as Batman. Why You Shouldn't Compare Yourself to Larger Agencies Robert and I have both worked with many smaller agencies that attempt to replicate the success of larger agencies. They'll go in and copy the website or a marketing campaign because "if it worked for them, it will work for us." This simply isn't true.
The successful agencies are the ones who take time to do the boring stuff. They measure time and profitability and have long-term contracts in place. But they're also the ones who are able to be a solution to their client's problems. Remember, your client doesn't want to hear about how great you are or what awards you won, they want to hear how you will make their life easier.
How Do You Measure Your Agency's Success? How does your agency define success? Most agency owners look at margins, EBITDA, or how many clients they have. But profits are variable and can depend on a variety of factors. As such, they aren't always the most reliable indicator of success.
At the end of the day, most of us got into the business to be able to do what we want and pick and choose who we work with. But you can't just skip to the end and have a million-dollar agency. To find success, you need to go back to the basics. Understand how to manage a business and people and figure out how to get the right systems in place. Success doesn't just come down to the numbers. It's about fulfillment and significance.
Are You Planning to Sell Your Agency Some Day? I tell agency owners I work with, start with the end in mind. What do you want to get out of your agency and how do you plan to get there? A
How Can Your Agency Survive and Thrive in Difficult Times?
Worried about your agency's future? Do you second guess every decision you make? There's no doubt, things are uncertain right now. But what if you took this moment to focus on the opportunities available right now, instead of the challenges that could get in your way?
In this episode, we'll cover:
3 tips to help your agency survive adversity. Why you should build relationships with fellow agency owners. Can your agency grow during an economic downturn? Today I sat down for an informative chat with Rudy Fernandez, CEO of Creative Outhouse. Rudy started his agency in October 2001, right after 9/11. Less than 10 years later, Rudy faced another challenge, the death of his partner during an economic crisis. And now, Covid-19. He's here to talk about how his agency has survived when many people would have given up and what you can do right now to protect your agency's future.
3 Tips to Help Your Agency Survive Adversity Rudy has seen his share of adversity over the past 20+ years. But through every twist and turn, Rudy has managed to push through and grow his agency into what it is today. So what's his secret?
Just keep moving: When life hits you in the face, sometimes the only thing you can do is just keep moving. Rudy says this is how he survived the death of his partner in 2009. Focus on what you know you are supposed to do and what you can do. Think about the clients you serve and why they hired you. Above all, keep making the calls and getting out there. Celebrate the little wins. When you're dealing with adversity, the big wins can feel few and far between. When things get tough, don't forget to recognize the simple things. Did you have a great phone call? Connect with a potential prospect? These little wins can build momentum and push you to keep going. Surround yourself with the right people. None of us make good decisions when we let our emotions lead the way. But when you're going through something, it's hard to separate yourself from what is going on. This is why it's important to work with people who aren't afraid to tell you the truth. Why You Should Build Relationships with Fellow Agency Owners When I first started my agency, I had the mindset of 'seek and destroy.' If I won, that meant somebody else had to lose. But this isn't how it has to be or how it should be. In fact, your fellow agency owners can be some of your biggest allies, mentors, and friends. Other agency owners have the same unique perspective and it benefits you to build those relationships, not destroy them. Rudy says the agency owner community is a unique one that is always looking out for one another. Sometimes we compete for a client, but ultimately we want to see each other do well.
Rudy and I agree, we're all in this together. If you're facing a challenging time, chances are, one of us has been there. Learn from the mistakes of others. I've grown so much by working with those around me. Create those win-wins and build your network. When you do, they'll be another person there to support you when you need it.
Can Your Agency Grow In An Economic Downturn? Believe it or not, you can grow your agency during an economic downturn or challenge. Now is the perfect time to self-reflect and evaluate your agency.
Your number one client should always be yourself. Figure out the stuff you like to do (and the stuff you don't). Take a close look at your vision. Are you working with the type of clients you want to and doing what you love? Do you have a clear vision? Your vision is the foundation of everything and yet it is a step so many of us skip.
If you expect to have any sort of longevity as an agency owner, inevitably you will face adversity. When that happens, challenge yourself to do what you love and focus on the wins, big and small. When you do so, you'll find it easier to keep moving forward, and not just survive, but thrive.
Is It Time to Hire a Human Resources Role for Your Agency Team?
Is your growing team in need of more structure? Do you feel like you're too caught up in the little stuff? Or does the small stuff turn real big, real fast? Too often, as owners, we hesitate to give up any sort of control out of fear. The truth is, when you are willing to delegate and bring in support, you free up time to focus on your agency's growth.
In this episode, we'll cover:
Does your team have the tools to succeed? Is it time for your agency to hire an HR person? How transparency builds trust with your team. Do you need to learn how to trust your leadership team? Today I sat down with Ben Askins, owner and managing director of Verb, a full-service agency based out of London. In the six years since Ben has been with the agency, Verb has gone from a project-based structure to a retainer-based model. The agency has subsequently grown from a small team to a team of about 65. Ben's here to discuss how he keeps such a big team motivated and what he's doing now to make sure they feel comfortable about the agency's future.
Does Your Team Have the Tools to Succeed? Any good leader knows, your team is your biggest asset. So it makes sense, if the team is unmotivated or disorganized, you're going to have a problem. Ben says one of the best things his agency did was create an HR department. Here they were able to develop their brand pillars and create incentives to keep their team motivated.
While individual programs like peer-to-peer recognition and limelight awards help build morale, one of the biggest investments has been in manager training. Ben says, no one ever sits down with you and tells you, "this is how to be a manager, this is how you train, and this is how you can increase morale." So, when it comes time for annual reviews, there's a disconnect between what the manager expects and how the employee thinks they are actually doing. Verb devotes half of their training budget for the employee to spend on enrichment programs of their choice and half on what the manager deems necessary. This helps everyone be on the same page and allows for self-improvement and re-investment.
Is it Time for Your Agency to Hire an HR Person? Not enough agency owners recognize the value of a strong human resources presence. While we often look at HR professionals as paper pushers who deal with insurance and employee discipline, HR is actually a vital part of any organization.
Think about it this way, as an agency owner or CEO, you may have two, three, or even four layers between you and your lowest level employee. This makes it hard to know what's going on in your agency. Something may start as a minor problem, but by the time it gets to you, it's too late. The purpose of HR is to sort out these problems and identify them before they become something bigger.
So when is the right time to bring in HR? Ben says if he could do it all again, he'd bring on HR as soon as there was more than one layer of seniority away from the team.
How Transparency Builds Trust With Your Team Like so many other agencies and businesses right now, Verb has furloughed several members of its team. And while this is never easy, Ben says one of the things that has really helped is transparency. Everyone at the agency has complete access to the business financials.
At a time like this, there is no benefit to hiding information. Your team needs to make decisions just as much as you do, so knowing a layoff may be coming can help them prepare. The same goes when you hire people back on. When you support your decisions with margins, your managers can better understand your decisions and what benchmarks they have to meet. Margins become less arbitrary, allowing your managers to appreciate these guidelines are designed to promote agency growth, not pad profits.
Do You Need to Learn to Trust Your Leadership Team? Bringing in HR and being transparent only go so far