People start their own agencies or become independent consultants for all sorts of reasons.
There are a bunch of common ones. Sick of the 9-to-5 grind. Sick of making money for someone else when you can make a lot more for yourself. Sick of not having control.
Sometimes it's passion for the work that just sort of leads marketers to where they're supposed to be.
But sometimes the story is a little more intriguing
Though common threads still run throughout the more interesting stories, they're each pretty fascinating in their own right.
New ways of thinking about things that can take you to places you might not have gotten to on your own.
Here are some of these stories, with my takeaways attached.
Because you're sick of watching them do it wrong
A whole lot of agencies start because someone got really, really frustrated. Maybe even downright pissed.
Sick of Slick Salespeople
"I started Beanstalk because I noticed a pattern in the industry of companies overselling their solutions to business owners without thoroughly explaining the why and the how. They were taking advantage of the lack of common knowledge regarding digital marketing best practices and how it all worked, without taking into account the potential ROI of the different services they were proposing. I wanted to do better."
The Takeaway: What is your competition doing that feels unethical? Figure out how you can approach the problem with more integrity. You can do this whether you've been in business 5 minutes or 5 years.
Sick of Deceptive Practices
"The idea around the formation of Vizion Interactive was that I'd seen numerous agencies involving their high-end talent in the business development of projects, but then, once the agreements were signed and the checks deposited, the work was being performed by junior-level individuals, interns, or, in some cases, offshored. There was little in the way of transparency as well. I wanted to ensure our clients would speak directly to the individuals doing the work, rather than to account managers who may not be able to provide the level of transparency I felt clients deserved."
The Takeaway: Second, what is your competition doing that just really kind of drives you crazy? What's giving the industry a bad name, or contributing to a lack of trust? Your agency might be the one to make the entire industry better.
"I started an SEO agency because I hated SEO. There are many things I hate about SEO. Most agencies don't know what they're doing. A lot of people are shady, and technical SEO is boring. After getting burnt by over 20 services which I ordered on marketplaces, many of which guaranteed first place rankings, I started doing it myself. I became a freelancer, and I found great success.
I outsourced the boring technical SEO and did the link building myself. It's easy to find a good technical SEO guy, but a good link builder is extremely rare. I also wrote most of the content at the start since I didn't have a big enough budget. Later, my friend introduced me to the crypto industry and said there was a lack of talent. I checked the industry and sure enough, the competition is weak. So I hopped right in to take advantage of this opportunity."
The Takeaway: For the most part, I personally wouldn't recommend doing something you hate for a living. Still, if you can't get something done right, just do it yourself. If you find out you're good at it, it just might be your next opportunity.
Adaptational superpower change
TV Tropes and Idioms defines an Adaptational Superpower Change as an instance where the hero had one set of powers in the original work but ends up with another set of powers on the television show or movie, either for production reasons or story reasons. Some of these stories seemed like real-world equivalents.
Superpowers Which Are Early Manifestations of Something More Powerful
"We started a small ecommerce garden furniture in 1999. We started to experiment with self-taught SEO techniques and within 3 months we were ranking number 1 and 2 for very competitive key terms. The orders flew in way above expectation, and our stock soon ran out. 6 months in, we created and modified some techniques that propelled our small family-run website to rank above every other nationwide furniture retailer, including big brands like Ikea and Habitat.
When we received a rather irate call from the John Lewis marketing manager asking us point-blank who our SEO company was, we knew we were starting to rattle some cages. And big ones at that! Our furniture business ran successfully for many years and was later sold. We started Reboot Online Marketing Ltd. from our home office in 2012 and have gradually grown into a vibrant digital marketing agency with a staff of 20."
The Takeaway: As I've said before, where you start isn't always where you land. If you start kicking butt somewhere unexpected it might be a good idea to own it.
Superpowers That Stop Working
"I co-founded Precision Brands, an SEO and digital marketing agency in New York City, last year, as a sister branch of an older direct mail firm. I started the agency because direct mail is a dying channel, and we needed to pivot the firm in a new direction."
The Takeaway: Today's marketing method might not be here tomorrow. Changes happen so rapidly you can bet many of us will be doing something completely different 20 years from now. Don't be afraid to learn new skills, and don't be afraid to pivot into figuring out how to offer those services to clients. The mission, helping good companies develop a solid stream of great leads, hasn't changed, and probably never will.
Sudden Onset Superpowers
"As a special needs Mom, I struggled with carving a career path that used my passions and skills while working well with the extra responsibilities required of me. After accidentally ending up in the global spotlight for my unique identical twins, I was forced to build a brand on the fly and discover a way to share our story while maintaining privacy.
By combining my formal education in Mass Communications and Journalism with the real world knowledge I gained using my story to shape my career, I developed a roadmap to help others pull together branding and publicity to clearly communicate their message, increase their reach effectively, and reduce the chaos experienced in the journey of being known. Thus, my boutique agency was born. I focus primarily on entertainers, public figures, medium-sized businesses and students who are working to define their brand now for the career they want to have in the future."
The Takeaway: When the unexpected happens, roll with it, find out what you can learn from it, and use it to help others. It may just give you the perspective that makes you unique in a Me-Too world.
Filling a Need
Some agencies got started just because a need presented itself.
They Just Keep Asking For It
"Coming from financial services, I saw companies defaulting to an extremely conservative approach to social media. The most we were allowed to do was share compliance pre-approved posts to networks on LinkedIn. We couldn't use social media for what I saw as its greatest power: getting people thinking about you more often than not. In 2015, I gave up my securities licenses and started consulting. Consulting was great, but clients would tell me: Spence, everything you suggest could work. We just don't have the capacity to execute on the strategy. Can you do it for us?
Being a single-shingle consultant, I wasn't able to do the execution, so after putting off these clients for two years, I finally started AmpliPhi and began adding staff to do the work on our client's behalf. Many of our clients are now in the highly-regulated areas of financial services, law, and banking. In sum, I saw an arising need in regulated industries for practical social media, and we've been off to the races since then."
The Takeaway: What needs are you seeing that aren't being met? What are your clients asking you to do, only for you to regretfully say, "I can't really do that for you?" It might just be time to find a way to make it happen.
Give the People What They Want
"It wasn't planned at all. The agency became a side gig that overtook the main project I was working on. In 2014, I partnered up with a friend to start a web-based recruitment agency in the oil and gas industry. The timing was terrible, and the latter part of 2014 saw an oil industry crash that was the worst since at least the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs.
When I was networking and pitching our services, people kept asking about web design. I was talking about recruitment in a crashing human resources market, and my prospects were thinking about updating their online presence. So, I gave them what they wanted, not what I wanted to sell them."
The Takeaway: In this case, I can't give you a better takeaway than the one I got from the horse's mouth. Jason adds: "In every market, it's so much easier to service a need, than to create a demand that isn't there. Every business that's struggling might benefit from some extreme candour from clients. Be vulnerable. Tell them you're struggling. Ask them what they would pay you to do."
These stories provide insights that can help you make your own agency even better, even if you've been in business awhile.
These are the great self-evaluation questions that you can ask yourself to see if you're really giving your clients your all and providing them with the services that you aim to.