"Nothing easy is worth having."
There's certainly nothing easy about running a marketing agency.
It's a good thing there are ways around almost any challenge! Here's what a few smart agency owners did to defeat theirs.
Agency Challenge #1: Second Guessing
When you're starting out, you don't always get to know whether you're on to a winner or whether you're about to pour a bunch of time, money, and effort into a massive flop.
Charlie Patel, Ampfluence, @CharliePatel
"My biggest challenge was second-guessing whether I had a viable and scalable service offering."
"To overcome this, I studied the market."
"We found ways to differentiate ourselves that were counter-intuitive. I spent a lot of time fine-tuning the service delivery and quality, then built a team and trained them to carry out the strategy."
"Today, we work with hundreds of clients and dozens of other agencies."
Agency Challenge #2: Acquiring Clients
The eternal irony. We're all in the business of generating leads, so why is it so incredibly hard to do it for ourselves?
Brandon Amoroso, Electric IQ Marketing, @electrIQmrkting
"The key to overcoming this challenge? Persistence. I can't tell you how many times my services were rejected by perspective and potential clients. But I refused to be discouraged and kept at it."
"Once I finally got my first three clients, acquiring other clients became much easier. Just don't forget to organize data on your current clients to show prospective clients."
Agency Challenge #3: Lowballers
The Internet trained a lot of our prospective clients to think of marketing as something that could be done "for free." We know the truth is they can save time, money, or results, and they only get to pick two. Now if only they'd recognize that, too.
Carlos Rosado, Outlook Studios, @hellocarlosr
"My biggest challenge was getting clients to take me seriously for my skill set and experience. I knew I could deliver high-quality work, but many wanted discounts, and success on a shoe-string budget."
"I had to learn to say no to people who didn't want to pay my rates. I had to learn those people weren't a good fit for me anyway, and that I didn't want to take on work that required me to spend more time for less pay."
Agency Challenge #4: Self-Promotion
As kids, we're taught that only jerks talk about themselves. That's probably why none of us enjoy doing it too much. Can we please talk about our client's stuff instead? Only our client's stuff?
Nope. Sooner or later, we gotta talk about ourselves.
Jason Landis-Eigsti, Jacob LE Video Production, @Jacoblevideo
"The biggest challenge was learning how to promote my business with limited time and money. I had a great deal of experience promoting larger companies, but when I went solo I had to promote myself as well as my clients."
"I learned self-promotion is a unique skillset. But over time, I became better at using marketing and sales to line up consistent work. This required me to learn new techniques, and to test a variety of approaches."
Agency Challenge #5: Taking on Too Much
"If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself." Until you die of burn-out. Or until you screw something up because you really weren't that good at it in the first place.
Jitesh Keswani, E-Intelligence, @eIntelligence
"No matter how much we might want to believe otherwise, we are not superheroes. I overcame the challenge of taking on more than I could handle by investing in personnel who could add value to the business."
Agency Challenge #6: Cash Flow
Wasn't entrepreneurship and business ownership supposed to come with some mad, mad dolla bills, y'all?
Maybe. Eventually. When we're done dodging some of the bills some of the time and tearing our hair out over cash flow all of the time. Just what is the ETA on you getting that invoice paid looking like, Mrs. Client?
Katarzyna Iwanich, Insightland.org, @insightlandorg
"Smooth cash flow. New agencies don't have it! So you end up so focused on winning new clients and providing effective services for the ones you are already working with."
"But this means you're not focusing on your business, so you're not growing."
"Once we noticed the problem, we started dividing our activities into work with our clients, and cyclical new business activities. We chose the time in a month and week when we knew our client work was done and would not suffer, and used it to acquire new clients with our updated business strategy."
Agency Challenge #7: Team Building
"Fine. I've got to hire some folks. Got it. Now why are they all so incompetent?"
Probably, they're actually pretty great. You've just got to learn how to get good at management.
Stewart Dunlop, Linkbuilder.io, @Linkbuilderio
"Initially, I contacted freelancers to help with various projects on an ad hoc basis, and didn't provide much guidance."
"I was constantly frustrated because people couldn't work the way I wanted them to."
"I overcame the challenge by investing a huge amount of time and effort into developing a training course for new employees and freelancers, teaching them about our company culture and exactly how we expect them to do things."
"Since launching the program, we have had incredible feedback. I can honestly say it's made us function so much better as a company. We still update our training guidance on a weekly basis, constantly analyzing things as we find better ways of working. Many employees refer to this process as establishing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and I couldn't recommend it enough."
Agency Challenge #8: Differentiation
There are probably 50,000 other marketing agencies competing with yours. If not more. The saving grace may be there are plenty of clients in the world, too.
But that doesn't mean you'll win business if you can't explain why companies should work with you, instead of Marketing Agency #50,001.
Joel Bergeron, Deep Down Agency, @Joel_DeepDown
"Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to stand out."
"We discovered choosing a niche really is one of the most important aspects of starting a marketing agency. Niche till it hurts has become our mantra!"
"One way to do this is by developing a clear positioning statement for your company, like: 'We help X, do Y, so that Z.' Or, 'We help X, do Y, so that X, Y, and Z.'
"Ours is: 'We help purpose-driven mental health professionals and organizations double their impact, so that we can tackle the mental health crisis together.'"
"These statements instantly inform potential customers: on your website, socials, ads, pitch deals, and at networking events about who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and how you are special. And it does all that in less than 30 seconds."
What are your challenges?
The challenges of launching and running a marketing business aren't mysterious. Almost every agency faces these 8 challenges in different forms. They are, in fact, hurdles and problems common to every business.
Founders face uncertainty. Cash flow is a constant headache. Finding new clients or customers isn't easy even when it is your business, and it's a must. Deciding what to offer and at what price point is something even established agencies struggle with.
But there are common solutions, too. In every case listed above, thinking about the problem, taking action, noting the results of the action, and then adjusting future actions based on those results has brought about the changes that have made these agency founders successful.
Remember that, if you're facing challenges today. Persistence conquers all. Learning from people who have been where you are doesn't hurt either. No matter what, every problem has a solution.
What struggles are you facing right now? What are you doing to overcome them? What challenges have you already overcome, and how did you do it? Share your story in the comments below!