In my last article, I talked with various agency owners about how they scored that first, crucial client. But one client isn't it enough to float a marketing agency or consultancy. You need more clients to fill up that roster.
Several of the people I talked to highlighted strategies that worked. A few also shared how they would have approached the problem of finding those early clients a little bit differently.
In the past, I've talked about "what agency owners wish they'd known," but this topic gets highly specific thinking about a specific problem.
I thought these bits and pieces of wisdom were worth sharing as well. Making these mistakes won't break your agency, but they will result in lost opportunities and money left on the table. It might also take that much longer to ramp up your growth.
Mistake #1: Forgetting who owes you
Yes. You're trying to get clients.
But guess what? You are already someone else's client. Chances are you have a doctor, a dentist, and a mechanic. You might have a lawyer or an accountant.
These people had to land their first clients too, and they know how hard it is. And because you have already given them your business, you have a bit of a leg to stand on when you ask for a small favor.
Not a big favor. Just something simple like allowing you to put your business cards in their offices. This is especially helpful if you're marketing to local businesses.
For example, your doctor probably sees over 100 people every month. Some of those patients will be small business owners. Some of them will need digital marketing services.
Why not put your name out in front of them?
This was one of the tactics Husam Machlovi of With Pulp wishes he'd engaged in early on. When you're just getting started, getting eyes on your website is half the battle, and this is a cheap, grass roots way to make it happen.
Mistake #2: Failing to leverage referrals
There's no doubt about it; referrals are one of the strongest sources of new business you can get.
But referrals often hard to ask for, and when you're getting started you don't exactly have a long list of happy clients to draw from.
What you do have is your network of family members, friends, and other contacts. Which is why Machlovi also wishes he'd considered creating incentive bonuses to hand out in exchange for referrals.
Because sure, your ex-colleague might not have a need for your services, but they're not necessarily going to have you top of mind when they run into someone who might. Creating a really good incentive could get that colleague to search out opportunities to promote your agency that he or she just wouldn't bother looking for otherwise.
We can all be nice people, but we've all got to do a lot to survive and manage our lives, too. It's really hard to get anything done without incentive. Many people are also uncomfortable sharing the names of service providers, because they don't want to be perceived as selling services. Giving them a little lagniappe can be exceptionally helpful.
Mistake #3: Failing to make it easier on your allies
There is no such thing as an incentive that can help you if you make spreading the word too big of a PITA. You want it to be as simple as allowing your contact to fire off an email that says something like:
Hey, George, you mentioned you wanted to revamp your website the other day. My friend does this stuff and he's super trustworthy. Check it out.
Commence copy-paste of a URL that leads straight to a landing page that talks about web design, and only web design. If George wants other services, George can poke around your website and find them.
Meanwhile, if George calls, your buddy or aunt or dentist has just earned their referral incentive. Make it as easy as possible.
Because if it's easy, why not do it again?
Furthermore, when you ask your contact to pass your name along, you shouldn't ask them to do it for every service you offer. Go with your main, core, this-is-what-you-rock-at service.
It's not easy to ask your contacts to manage a landing page for everything you've ever thought of offering.
But it is easy to ask your contacts to remember that you do this one thing like a boss, and they should help other people find you, so you can do that thing more.
Mistake #4: Failing to address existing pain points
Right now, you're thinking about starting a digital marketing agency. You're good at marketing or interested in marketing, and because just about every type of local business needs the types of services that digital marketers provide.
While most business owners are focused on immediate results, it's also important to future proof your agency. Sometimes, a casual conversation or unconventional opportunity might cross your path. As new challenges and pain points present themselves, using your marketing chops to solve those unique issues can result in an unexpected unique value proposition to help you sell your services.
Jason Lavis of Out of the Box Innovations stresses this point, because he never set out to create a marketing agency. He set out to create a recruitment agency for the oil and gas industry.
"I partnered up with a high-level oil engineer with thirty years of experience who had the contacts. I had a similar record in sales and marketing.
What could go wrong?"
Lots could go wrong. A crash in the oil industry and massive job loss.
Lavis definitely wasn't getting much business. Instead, everyone wanted to know about his website.
"By late 2015, I was spending more time giving (free) advice on digital marketing. At one point, I said to my first client, 'tell you what, why don't you pay me to rebuild and look after your website?'"
A marketing agency was born.
Lavis says if he finds himself in a similar situation in the future, he'd bail on the crashing industry a lot quicker.
"I keep my eyes open for opportunities to pivot, or to add new products and services based on market need. It's easier to sell to a real pain point than it is to just choose a product or service to sell."
Being too quick to pigeonhole what makes a client a client really can lead to some lost opportunities.
"I found my very first client before I was in business," notes Victoria Nguyen of House of Who, Inc. "If you define 'client' as someone for whom you provide services or a product in exchange for money and value, then finding your first client is easy: just find someone who could benefit from what you offer, and offer it for whatever price they're willing to pay. Sometimes that price is feedback, or opportunity, or a line-item on your resume."
She adds that agencies should just stay open and willing, releasing expectations of what starting a creative agency might look like.
"Have faith that in time, the names of your client, and the rates you charge, will increase. But when you are first starting out, being open and excited about all kinds of ways of working can be the difference between getting that first client or not."
Mistake #5: Allowing your efforts to grind to a halt
When you're still small, it's easy to get so buried under the work that you're already doing that you stop searching for new work.
Next thing you know, the work that you have dries up and you're left to scramble.
"Find a way to keep marketing," stresses Wendy Meyeroff, editor, author, and freelance writer. "You can build an amazing product or service, and if nobody knows about it, you fold."
That's basically the premise of any digital marketer's services. But it's so hard to remember to squeeze in that extra bit of marketing when you're already pushing through 80 and 90 hour weeks.
But just as pain points and technologies change, so, too, do the resources that might be working for you today. Some will dry up and go out of business themselves. Some will become oversaturated to the point of uselessness.
You gotta keep moving, innovating, and trying out new strategies and tactics, if you're going to succeed.
Above all, be proactive
While it's good to take stock of mistakes, it's not a good idea to get too hung up on what you might be missing.
In reality, there are dozens of ways to get the word out. As long as you're marketing faithfully, consistently, and effectively, then, if you're any good at what you do, your business should be growing.
The number one mistake most people make is they sit. They expect business to come to them. They build their website. Maybe that add a social media profile. They add some content. They just kind of wait.
As magical as inbound marketing is, it still doesn't function without some outreach and relationship building. You can always automate some outreach allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business. But as long as you're engaging somewhere consistently, you're on the right track.
Every impression you make or conversation you have buys you the potential for more opportunities down the line.