When companies start out, their number one priority is making just enough money to stay afloat. This startup stage is highly stressful and can last years to grow out of. But if you’re finally making a consistent source of income and consistently acquiring new customers, you’re on to the next stressful stage of the business lifecycle – growth and establishment.
Let’s be real. If your business isn’t growing, it’s probably stagnant. A consistent number of new clients is great, but clients can be as fickle as the weather. You need to do everything you can to ensure your growth is scalable without compromising your interests or that of your clients.
How do you do that? How do you balance keeping your current clients and employees happy, all while growing at a quick and steady rate?
We don’t have all the secrets, but there is a steady pattern in the mistakes made by agencies in the growth stage that we can all learn from. Tons of companies enter this stage ill prepared, thinking they don’t need to adapt in order to grow – and that is just not true! Here, we’re breaking down some of the most common mistakes we see agencies make, so you can learn from them, adjust some of your internal processes, and start growing at a rate that’ll take you to the next level.
You probably got off the ground by specializing. You offered one specific set of services and excelled at them – maybe you were the best PPC agency, or maybe social media marketing was your thing. But as companies grow, their needs grow, as well.
Yes, specializing is important, but so is understanding how the services you offer fit into your clients’ sales funnels. A client that once needed just social media management may now need public relations services, website management, ad campaign management, and more. Adapting what you offer is crucial in helping your clients be as successful as possible.
You need to do everything you can to ensure your growth is scalable without compromising your interests or that of your clients.
Does that mean hiring dozens of new employees in-house to handle a major service expansion? Not at all! But it does mean forming strategic partnerships with other agencies that can help you efficiently offer your clients the services they need.
For instance, a social media marketing agency might post content for a number of different clients, but they might need a partner to help them create branded video on a regular basis – something they can’t afford to do in-house. The right partnership can help them do this quickly and at a low cost.
You’ve got clients who love you. Maybe you’ve formed some great partnerships like the ones mentioned above. But if these relationships aren’t sending referrals your way, you need to create a system that’ll encourage them to do so – and fast.
How do you do that? There’s a few different methods you can try:
Referral Rewards – Offer your clients a reward for sending referrals your way. It can be an upgrade, a coupon, a percentage off their invoice, or any other gift – just make sure the reward makes sense for your relationship and industry.
Partner Referrals – When you form partnerships with other agencies, work out a system for profit sharing, or sharing in the profits an agency makes by offering your referral.
Referral Outreach – Instead of tapping existing relationships for referrals, do some referral outreach first that can help you establish those relationships. Look for agencies in your vertical, industry, or niche and see if they’re interested in taking part in a referral program.
There are plenty of other ways to gather referrals – through speaking engagements, industry conventions, content collaborations, and more. Whichever you choose, make sure your company makes it a priority.
Yes, revenue is important and it’s the one metric everyone can agree is crucial in defining your growth. But it’s not the only metric that matters.
Are your employees happy? If you’re focused so exclusively on revenue that you don’t notice your high employee churn rate, you’re missing a giant clue about your company’s growth trends. What about client feedback? Maybe your revenue is growing, but the number of actual clients you serve is dwindling. Are any industry experts talking about you? What are they saying? If you search your company online and see zero conversations happening, that’s a big red flag. What about your lead-to-client ratio? If you dedicate a large percentage of your revenue to expanding your brand awareness, but not to closing sales, you’re definitely not growing as quickly as you could be.
And these are just a few examples. Yes, revenue is critical. But don’t be so blinded by dollar signs that you miss the warning signs about your growth.
This isn’t something any agency does on purpose. Maybe your core service offering was website design, but the growth of DIY website builders like Shopify and Squarespace has eroded your clientele. Technology is changing quickly, and you have to keep up. But how?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any single answer. Keeping up with industry trends depends on tons of factors, like your specific industry, your available resources, your target audience, and more.
Before you decide to change course in order to maintain your growth, here are a couple of helpful tips:
Invest in knowledge. Supply your employees with the tools they need to grow, whether that’s adopting the latest CRM software, putting money toward conventions or classes, or starting a mentorship program.
Partner up. We know – we’re beating the drum pretty loud here, but that’s because we need you to hear this! If you see another agency killing it with a tangential product or service offering, partner with them! This partnership can pay off monetarily, but also has the potential to teach you about where your industry is going.
Collaborate with industry thought leaders. From hosting a speaker’s panel together to hiring them for a short-term freelance gig, thought leaders have the power to elevate your agency and establish you as an authoritative voice.
Big data means big returns. Data is the key to keeping up with nearly everything – your audience’s behavior, your industry’s trends, innovation and technology, and more. Make sure you’ve got not only a system in place for monitoring your important data, but a dedicated team member who can provide the insight required to use that data effectively.
You’ve gotten where you are with your team, but that doesn’t mean your team as it currently stands is optimized for your agency’s growth. Maybe you need some internal reorganization. Maybe you need to add a few manager-level hires. Maybe you’ve got a few extra hands that, while crucial in helping you get where you are, are not equipped to help you get where you want to be. That’s OK! Part of growing is making tough decisions in the interest of advancing your company.
No matter what you do, make sure to do it with class – if you need to let someone go, give them all the resources they need to succeed, including generous severance, letters of recommendation, connections at other companies, and more – being kind is most important.
If you’re reorganizing your existing team, make sure to share why you’re making the moves you’re making and how you expect these changes to affect the entire company. Let your employees know their strengths and weaknesses and work on growing together.
If you bring in new hires, make sure they’re well-prepared to handle your pain points and struggles head on.
The most important thing here? Be strategic about your team. You can’t grow without the right hands at the helm, so take a long, hard look at who’s on board, what they contribute and how, and if that matches up with what you need to scale your growth.
Supporting your clients is how you grow. Being a thoughtful, listening partner will take you a long way, but if you don’t actively work toward meeting specific growth milestones, you’ll never reach your full potential.
If you’re looking for more agency resources, take a look at a few of our favorite helpful articles:
8 Secrets That’ll Help You Form the Perfect Agency-Client Relationship
5 Ways to Drive Your Digital Marketing Strategy with Video
The Transitioning Role of Agencies
Why Agencies Can’t Ignore Video Marketing Any Longer