How to Start an Agency That’s Set for Success
Starting your own agency can be a lucrative idea, but switching from freelancing to a full-time business can be challenging. Of course, it comes with its rewards, but running a digital agency can be highly stressful.
There can be several reasons why you would like to start an agency, such as having complete authority over its functioning and execution of projects. You are free to choose your team and try different strategies to reap its financial rewards.
If you've decided to start your agency, chances are you have already worked with one before. Or, maybe you've some exposure to this business. In that case, you must also be familiar with different processes associated with an agency business, such as invoicing, pitching and managing the clients, generating reports, achieving the desired results for your clients, and managing the workforce.
Be self-motivated and know how to get the required information using Google. You must also be familiar with the functioning of search engine algorithms and keyword rankings.
Here are a few tips to start an agency and succeed in it:
1. Setup a Brick & Mortar Office
Even though remote working is growing as popular culture, there are many big cons to it. Even though it comes as cost savings, it is not suitable for an agency, especially when starting. The first major disadvantage of working remotely is that nobody will take you seriously. The first impression of such a business is a fly-by-night company, especially when you are a young agency and your brand is not that well known. If you have a physical location with lovely impressive interiors, it immediately creates an impression of a successful agency. Furthermore, when you work remotely, you cannot enjoy the close communication required for an agency's day-to-day operations.
Even advanced project management and communication tools such as Slack, Basecamp, Skype, and emails have their limitations, so they are not ideally suitable for serious meetings where both the creative impulse of the employees and brainstorming sessions are required. When people don't collaborate and can't interact closely, the quality and the outcome of a campaign may suffer greatly.
2. Find a Buddy
You might think that running an agency alone is advantageous because you don't have a partner, and you don't have to share your profits with anyone. Furthermore, as a hundred percent owner of an agency, you can take strategic decisions and be responsible for your actions. However, the reality may be quite different. As a single founder, you will be burdened with the enormous pressure of running an agency, and you are likely to feel lonely and stressed. Sometimes you might feel isolated with nobody around to help you. Most of the successful agencies and startups had cofounders.
Microsoft's Bill Gates is an innovative software professional, whereas his partner Steve Ballmer is very good at marketing and hardware. The complementary skill sets of both these childhood friends worked wonderfully in favor of Microsoft. As a result, the organization was successful in terms of both its revenues and innovative products. However, leadership is a quality that is needed to run an agency successfully, and if either of the partner or cofounder has this ability, things will become smoother.
3. Focus On Building Your Brand
A brand commands tremendous power that is even more than your products and services. Your brand has a direct impact on your marketing and sales. With a weak brand, even if you have excellent products and services, you may not easily connect with your target audience. For example, when a customer compares two products that are almost similar in features and price, they may choose a better-known brand against a weak brand. It is easier to build connections and attract fans and customers when you have a growing brand.
If you invest in branding and have the right strategy, your customers will become a part of your marketing machine and spread the message through word of mouth. A strong brand also helps you win the price war. To build a good brand, you should stop positioning yourself like the Dollar Store commodity. Your design, messaging, graphics, and everything else should be outstanding and of high quality. Only then can you think of becoming a brand that can charge premium prices.
4. Figure Out Your USP & UVP
It is crucial to have a unique sales proposition (USP) and unique value proposition (UVP) to differentiate yourself from your competition. When someone opens a store, they don't position themselves as just a store. Instead, they choose a segment such as clothes, books, or shoes and then figure out a unique value proposition. Even Walmart positions itself as a superstore for affordable everyday items. It provides customers a reason to visit the store.
Being a full-service agency may sound good, but positioning yourself as an agency specializing in a particular segment and naming your agency as a paid social media agency or a graphic design agency will attract more clients than a full-service agency. Even when you scale your agency, you shouldn't change your marketing strategy and stick to your original positioning. This strategy works because it allows you to target customers with more precision.
5. Figure Out Your First Hires
The primary reason why an agency would hire experts is to free up time. As a co-founder, you spend hours creating designs or using Google Analytics and SEO tools. However, you are wasting the precious time that could be used in business development, marketing, and relationship building.
So, figure out the tasks that are chewing up most of your time and find an experienced person to do that. For example, your first hires in a digital agency might include web developers, designers, project managers, and client-service people. Before hiring an individual, go for screening to save you time. For example, before hiring a web developer, ask for their portfolio.
6. Avoid Hiring Freelancers and Interns For the Key Jobs
Hiring interns can also be a significant mistake when you are just starting out as an agency. Your goal should be to free up your hands more than blind cost-cutting. So there is no benefit in hiring inexperienced interns where you have to devote more than 60% of your time to mentoring, training, monitoring, and tweaking. Your new hires should be able to work independently.
Such employees need minimum supervision to ensure that work is in line with the agency's vision—the ultimate objective of the entire exercise is to keep the clients happy. There is no need to micromanage. The tendency to micromanage things is responsible for the stagnancy of many agencies. Many agencies are not growing because their owners and CEOs can't trust anyone else to execute their tasks. So, make sure that you are not tied down to every project.
It would help if you also tried not to hire freelancers because freelancers can be pretty expensive for a young agency. Hiring remote employees is also not a feasible solution because, in the beginning, you need a lot of communication, internal liaison, and brainstorming, which is not possible with remote employees.
However, if you cannot hire a full-time expert for your requirements, you can hire a remote employee if they have the skills to handle your project. Check out the ways to improve remote workforce collaboration.
7. Set Up Systems and Processes For Everything
If you have proper systems and processes in place, you'll have a set of standard procedures that will save you time and ensure consistency. Standard procedures also lead to client satisfaction because if everybody is allowed to do the way they like, the outcome will vary every time, and it may annoy your customers. For example, if a restaurant is known for a particular dish or a recipe, it must have the standard procedures to prepare it.
Otherwise, the dish may taste differently every time there is a slight change in the ingredients, ratio, and the time spent on each subactivity. It means even your loyal customers may get turned off if they don't get what they were expecting. These procedures should be appropriately documented so that the new hires don't face any difficulty replicating the old methods.
It would help if you had standard processes for pricing, sales, onboarding new clients, human resources, designs and graphics, proposals and pitching, development, and delivering work.
8. Don't Overburden Your Employees
Don't succumb to the insane deadlines given by your clients. It might overburden your employees resulting in fatigue and burnout. Attrition is the last thing an employer wants to see in their organization. So, allow them to work at their natural pace and set standard procedures, so they can work naturally without causing harm to anyone. In fact, for a today startup of any kind, it is important to nurture an amazing company culture that can inspire every employee to grow and reach their fullest potential, not pushing them to the finish line.
9. Focus Hard On Sales and Marketing
You can't run an agency without clients. Unfortunately, most digital marketing experts find themselves struggling with sales. It is primarily because sales is a different discipline altogether, and you develop sales skills gradually. However, as an owner of an agency, sales becomes your core job. If you feel that you are struggling with sales and not achieving the numbers you want, hire a salesperson immediately.
If you don't want to handle sales yourselves, you may act as a subcontractor for a big agency. This way, you will be able to focus on your core skills. However, even if you hire an in-house salesperson, you will have to act as the organization's face and participate in all sales meetings. The salesperson will take the dirty work out of your hands and simplify the job by cold calling, making lists, and doing follow-ups.
Building an agency from scratch is not easy. It would help if you were ready to go through an emotional roller coaster and put in the hard work it requires. As an agency owner, you can't sit idle as you will actively be involved with managing projects, clients, and users. Recruit a team of experts, supervise them to achieve the best results without micromanaging them. Thankfully, various platforms allow you to manage your projects and clients using a single dashboard. Your journey will become easier once you get a few big clients.