Choosing your agency's service offerings is one of the most important strategic decisions you'll have to make.
By recognizing this is a strategic decision, you're already ahead of many other agencies, who try to offer everything and the proverbial kitchen sink, only to find that they can't maintain the quality of service their clients deserve, or keep pace when they've over promised things they don't really have the manpower or know-how to deliver.
While you can always take a U-turn if you find your business going in the wrong direction, you'll have fewer false starts (and make more money faster) if you have a solid service offering strategy when you launch.
Start where you are, use what you have
When you start, it's always best to begin within you or your current team's personal zone of excellence. This gives you the confidence to approach potential clients while ensuring you deliver outstanding results.
"We knew we were really good at social media marketing and paid ads in the beginning," says Phillip Lew, Co-Founder of C9Digital, a boutique marketing firm. "So that is where we started. Authenticity, and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, cannot be overemphasized."
Don't pressure yourself to turn PPC into one of your agency's service offerings if you're still struggling to understand what the heck an Ad Group is. If the idea of checking XML sitemaps and doing 301 redirects makes your eyes glaze over, there's no good reason to tell your clients you're happy to handle the technical side of SEO during your agency's initial launch.
Figure out who you want to serve, then figure out what they want
Your ideal client will always make a difference to what you offer and why you offer it. And there are two important points to make here.
#1: Knowing who you want to serve gives you awesome tools for developing insights into what those kinds of clients need
Blend Commerce is a marketing agency which is laser-focused on helping companies who want to launch, grow, and automate Shopify stores.
This business mission statement has a direct impact on the services they decided to provide.
Their Head of Marketing and Strategy is Adam Pearce, who says, "Shopify is very much community based, so it was easy to spot what Shopify users wanted and needed. We listened carefully to feedback on forums and on social media to ensure we had a range of services to meet specific needs. By partnering with an established theme provider, (Out of the Sandbox), we also managed to niche down to a very specific area of the market."
#2: Digging in and doing this research may reveal you'll need to choose a different direction
Remember that U-Turn? If you're doing your "ideal client" research right from the start it may show up sooner than you think. This is a good thing, as it will keep you from spending money and time to brand yourself into a niche which won't help you build a successful agency.
Kimberly Afonso of Kimberly Afonso Digital Marketing Consulting works exclusively with start-ups. Her original idea for her ideal client at launch? Beauty companies, who turned out to be a poor match for what she had to offer.
"Most beauty companies are more traditional, and like to see the agency in-person. Most companies that want to work with a remote agency or consultant are actually start-ups. Start-ups are looking for lean solutions to help them succeed and are normally too busy to set in-person meetings even if they wanted to. It was really important for me to pivot my services early on, focusing on solely partnering with startups."
Recognize no two agencies are alike
If you've caught some of my interviews with various marketing experts you may have noted they don't always agree on certain points.
And the thing is, whether you follow Odden's advice or Rozek's would depend a lot on who you (and your team members) are.
It might also depend on where you are. Afonso works out of Milan, Italy. But had she been working out of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, New York, or Chicago, the beauty industry might have been perfect for her after all.
Build yourself a dream team
Ashley Mason's initial agency offering and focus is right in the name of her business: Dash of Social.
Social media is what she knew, so that's where she started. But Dash of Social now offers SEO as well, because Mason found the right SEO person to add to her team. She's now looking for the right team members to fill other roles and to expand her services.
Of course, you shouldn't necessarily set out to hire an SEO person if SEO isn't what you do. Or any other kind of person, just for the sake of adding one service offering or another.
You'd either let the demands of your clients drive you to offer specific services you'd need...or you'd expand because you find talent so incredible it just doesn't make any sense not to snap them up and find a place for them.
Realize where you start isn't necessarily where you're going to land
As your agency grows, morphs, and changes, your service offerings will too.
You'll respond to new advances in marketing technology, new channels, and new trends. Or you'll find the members of your personal dream team.
So you're going to have to make this decision again. And again!
And while you should never add new service offerings just for the sake of it, carefully considering the opportunities before you and figuring out whether you can do a good job seizing on those opportunities is the kind of thinking that could take you from consultant to founder faster than you can imagine.