Growing your agency requires a delicate balancing act. You have to gain new customers. You have to keep the customers you have. And you have to keep as much of your money in the bank as possible.
To make things even harder, you have to do it all around the daily grind of getting the work done in a demanding industry.
Small wonder that many agency owners are still at their keyboards well after midnight on most nights. But if you're making these 5 subtle mistakes, you could end up working longer and harder than you have to.
Common Sense Insight #1: Educate, Prescribe, and Deliver. Don't Oversell!
Your potential clients hear from dozens of agencies every month. They're saturated and they're tired.
They've had enough of salespeople. Even if the salesperson is you, the owner or CEO of the agency.
Instead, act like a physician, or a professor. Or both. And teach your employees to do the same.
Andres Tovar | co-founder of Noetic Marketer
"Ask all the questions, then prescribe a solution," says Andres Tovar, co-founder of Noetic Marketer. "And don't let businesses tell you what to do. We're the experts in the field, not them. When you do not position yourself as an expert, and you do not prescribe the solutions, the client does not respect you."
It's advice that helps you both earn new business and keep the business you've got.
Tovar also recommends teaching clients what you're doing as you're doing it. Sure, in theory this means they could eventually live without you. But in practice, if you're bringing in the leads and building their business, they won't want to.
It's the formula for a relationship of trust.
Common Sense Insight #2: Treat Your Clients Like People, Not Transactions!
It's not enough to be an expert. Even experts have plenty of competition. Just think of all the big names in the SEO and digital marketing space you can name off the top of your head.
With a little research, your clients can name all those people too.
What's going to set you apart?
The relationship you've built with them.
"Our team becomes an extension of their team," says Matthew Berman, CEO of Ember Networks. "The best clients become our friends. We get drinks, we spend time together, we are available for them and their business at the drop of a hat."
Matthew Berman | CEO of Ember Networks
But be aware.
Building the relationship depends on you caring as much about your client's business as your client does. All the evening drinks in the world won't help you if you aren't truly invested in seeing your clients succeed.
Common Sense Insight #3: Know where your money is going. Don't let overhead skyrocket!
It's hard to treat customers right when costs get out of control.
When that happens, you're either:
1. Too stressed and distracted to get the job done right.
2. Going to load up on more business than you can serve well so you can keep the lights on, resulting in angry, underserved customers.
3. Will be forced to raise prices to the point where your services are no longer competitive; or...
4. Will be forced to lower prices to get people through the door fast. This can make you look like a "bargain basement" marketing company, making it harder to grow in the future.
What does your company really need?
A shiny physical office might provide a nice ego boost. It could be great if your management style demands having all your employees in one place, or if you serve clients in a single geographic region. But it may not be worthwhile if you can communicate with your team via Slack and all your clients are remote.
There are thousands of MarTech tools out there. But if you get infected with Shiny New Object syndrome, you could end up with lots of monthly payments for very little gain.
Ideally, when you spend money you'll do it to make money. For some great insights on the balance between overhead and growth, check out this podcast episode from Jason Swenk.
Common Sense Insight #4: Know your goals. Don't lose track of your client's ROI!
Retaining an agency should be an investment for your clients. Eventually, you should help them make back every dime they pay you, and then some.
If you aren't producing a return on investment none of the other myriad of metrics and KPIs we marketers like to talk about matter.
Is the phone ringing? Are you producing leads? Are they good, solid leads the client's sales team can close on? How much does your client make for every dollar spent with your agency?
You need to know. And if your client isn't making money then turning that situation around needs to become your top priority.
Common Sense Insight #5: Make friends with other agencies. Don't leave your professional community behind!
It's easy to think of all other agencies as your competitors. But reaching out and forming connections with other marketers is one of the smartest things you can do.
Just ask J. Brad Wilke of Smarthouse Creative. Quite a bit of Smarthouse's opportunities come his way because they've made it a point to network with other marketing agencies.
"Instead of looking at this person, or that agency, as straight up competition to vanquish, think about how that person may well offer complimentary strategies or services. Then you can collaborate. Sometimes we've got so many plates spinning it's good to let someone else spin them. It's good for everyone."
Think about it. Lawyers have used this strategy for years. They refer clients to each other as often as they take them. They work together on complex cases. And everyone wins.
So don't be closed off. If you do PPC but not social media then find a social media marketer to befriend. When you're asked about social media marketing don't scramble to teach yourself how to provide a service you don't love. Instead, reach out to the other agency and let them take it. When they encounter a PPC job, you'll be the first person you call. And you'll both look more professional for this synergy.
If you happen to meet another PPC guy or gal, befriend that person too. The two of you might team up on something later. You'll have someone to pass a referral to if you're too sick or overloaded to take on a new client. And since people change industries and careers all the time, you might just get a new client when your friend takes his or her next career step.
It's About the 3 Ps
Boil all this down to the basics, and you get 3 Ps:
You have to look out for the people. You have to care what happens to them. That's your employees, your clients, and your fellow industry professionals.
You have to forge partnerships. You need to be a partner to your client, and you need to create ties with other industry professionals who can help you when you have large projects or have a request you can't handle.
Finally, the profits. You can't just watch your own. You've got to help your clients with theirs.
Watching all three Ps means growing your agency on a firm foundation of integrity and results. An agency like that can't help but grow...even if you make a few more minor mistakes along the way.