Learning from other people's mistakes and missteps can be one of the easiest ways to get to your own success faster. It's one less mistake you can make yourself. And when you're talking about starting an agency, there are plenty to be made.
So I rounded up ten agency owners and asked them to tell me what they wish they'd known when they got started, so I could help you make ten less mistakes as you get started.
Here's what they had to say.
Well, That Was Easy
"The one thing I wish I knew is how easy it is. I know going out and getting clients seems like this big, daunting thing, but it's actually not. If you know your market, and you're offering something of value to them, they'll usually take you up on it. Of course, not everyone will become your client, but the smart ones will!"
~ James Pollard, The Advisor Coach.
On Finding New Business
"The one thing I wish I had known would be how incredibly important it is to network. People want to help you out and refer you. The other thing would be how important it is to have a portfolio of data and accomplishments. A way to show how you have grown social media accounts, ROI you've produced, and how you've made companies better."
~ Jolene Rheault, Owner and Founder, Refresh Marketing.
On Implementing a System To Generate Clients
"I launched Signify as an answer to my friend's problems. I have a background in business communications, and had a lot of friends with small nonprofits, social enterprises, and ministries.
I was frequently asked for marketing and communications advice. So, essentially, my friends became my first clients. While it was a terrific experience beginning my new career that way, I wish I'd remembered to keep putting out feelers for new clients.
Some of those original friends only needed help for a short time. And the vast majority of my work is for very short-term projects, which I actually like. But it means more hustling for new work.
I wish I'd implemented a better system for that on the front-end, rather than playing catch-up as I went along."
~ Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder, Signify Solutions
On New Business vs. Old Business
"When I started the consultancy, I wish I'd known how much more important it would be to focus on current clients, rather than new business.
I spent a lot of time worrying about how we'd grow the number of clients we had, and how we'd appeal to hew business.
It turned out the main focus had to be our existing clients. When you're doing good work for them, new business comes naturally."
~ Antonio Wedral, Founder & Director of Novos
On Keeping Your Clients in the Loop
"One thing I wish we knew when we first started was how detailed we should be getting with updates for clients.
People hire agencies because they don't have the experience or capacity to market themselves, but that doesn't mean they should blindly trust you based on past work and solid reviews."
~ Andrew Maffettone, Director of Marketing and Operations, Seller's Choice Digital
On Giving Away the Farm
"The biggest thing I wish I had known was not to discount yourself too steeply to start.
I would do little projects for a couple hundred bucks to start off, and I ended up positioning myself as a discount marketer. That was totally fine when it was just a side hustle, but when I made the move to doing it full-time it became an uphill climb to get to a price point that put enough food on the table.
There's value in doing some free projects to hone your skills and boost your portfolio, but don't give away too much, or you'll end up paying the price down the road."
~ Alex H. Bryant, BA Strategies
On Deciding What To Do
"Don't try to do too much.
The digital marketing industry is big, and there are lots of specializations. It can be hard to decline going after business you can do because it's not what you're best at. You should decline that business.
Focus on your core competencies.
When you specialize, you'll be better at that one thing than 95% of generalists, and you'll be able to build a stronger referral business. Also, the big clients are more likely to hire a specialist than a generalist."
~ Collin J. Slattery, Founder, Taikun
Marketing's Not All There Is To It...
"One thing I wish I'd known was no matter how good you are at marketing, you also need to learn other aspects of business that have nothing to do with marketing.
You have to learn accounting, HR, payroll, business development, and more. You have to be willing to research. And you have to be comfortable asking for help when you need it.
Find a mentor who can guide you. For me, it was my accountant. She has been an invaluable resource."
~ Kim Kohatsu, Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Charles Ave Marketing
...But You Can't Wear All The Hats Forever
"I wish I'd known how to scale the business model. Every new business should have a plan for scaling. For the first few months I was doing it all.
Content creation, scheduling posts, web design, graphic design, sales, marketing, accounting.
It really took a toll on my health. That's when I realized the business would no longer grow if I didn't bring people in to delegate.
Today, I'm able to focus more on growing the business, managing systems and processes, and client relations, and less on the day-to-day tasks. This wouldn't be possible without the incredible team I have around me."
~ Michael Mejer, Founder, President, Experience Digital Marketing
On Developing a Process
"I wish someone had sat me down and explained that I should be thinking ahead toward growth during those early days, because it would've committed me toward creating repeatable processes that others could emulate.
Instead, I was so focused with my head down on the day-to-day tasks that it took me far longer than it should have to hire and delegate work away from myself.
Being aware of the potential for growth from day one will change your thinking about how you approach your work."
~ Flynn Zaiger, CEO, Online Optimism
What's your take?
Are you an agency owner who has already made some mistakes and has a "wish I'd known" to share?
Let us know in the comments below!
Are you currently struggling with a particular issue? Tell us that too!