How To Scale Your Agency In 2021
If you’re running a successful agency, sooner or later the question of how to scale will come up. Whether you’re struggling to handle all your leads and clients and inquiries or you’re looking for new ways to grow your business, the question is how to scale your agency effectively.
It might seem obvious; just keep doing more of what you’re already doing, right? After all, that’s how you got here in the first place. Unfortunately, scaling your agency requires a different approach and a whole new mindset. Specifically, you need to look at three key areas:
Building your team for growth
When you first start an agency, it’s simple to keep track of how your team is doing, whether a new hire is working out or not, and whether you need to make any changes. As it’s usually just you and a handful of trusted team members, you can easily see what’s going on and quickly address any issues before they become serious problems. But then your agency grows and keeping that same level of involvement will eventually become impossible. As a result, it’s essential to put the procedures and policies in place that’ll keep your team performing at their very best as you scale.
In most cases, the first thing agencies looking to scale try is bringing on new staff. It makes sense; the more people you have, the more work you can do and the more you can grow. However, effective scaling has to involve more than just throwing more people at the work. The right hire can help you offer better service and more value to your clients, but the wrong hire can damage your culture and destroy your client relationships.
The first step is identifying your requirements. Rather than just hiring for the sake of hiring, take a look at your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Of course, if you’re struggling to meet demand, you should hire more people to do the same work. However, that’s not your only option. We’ll take a closer look at how you can offer more value to your core service later on, but it’s important to consider how your hiring decisions could affect your ability to deliver new and improved services. While it’s usually beneficial for agencies in their early stages to specialize in one particular niche, maybe you can bring on experts in complementary services.
Once you’ve identified which roles you need to fill and their specific responsibilities, you need to determine how you’ll find the right people for those roles. What kind of qualifications will you be looking for? What skills and qualities are essential, and what are the nice-to-haves? Who will be responsible for carrying out interviews? Who will need to sign off on any hiring decisions?
It’s also good to find people who are the right culture fit for your agency, who share your values and will help you to continue providing the same level of service that your clients are used to. However, according to Patty McCord, a human resources consultant and former chief talent officer at Netflix, it’s important to define what culture fit really means. She explains, “What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with. You end up with this big, homogenous culture where everybody looks alike, everybody thinks alike, and everybody likes drinking beer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon with the bros.”
Rather than trying to create a team of clones with the same background, go deeper and look for those who share the same purpose and can complement your existing team. At the same time, you should also keep an eye out for anything that indicates a potential hire could hurt your company culture. Even if they look good on paper, that doesn’t mean they’ll be a
good fit for your agency. Heidi Lynne Kurter, a workplace culture consultant, recommends looking out for potential red flags and toxic behaviors during the interview, such as negativity, avoiding certain questions, and poor communication skills.
Still, it doesn’t matter how many superstar employees you bring on if you’re not looking after your existing team. You might feel like you need some fresh talent, but it could be that you already have great potential on your current team. To unleash that potential, identify anything that might be blocking performance. For example, many have struggled with changing expectations and work-life balance over the last year. Others may need more training and coaching to reach the next level.
If you need more staff to keep up with demand and you’re not sure whether or not you’re ready to invest in another employee, consider whether or not outsourcing would be a better use of your resources. If you’re facing a sharp rise in demand and need to scale up quickly, outsourcing allows you to take advantage of talented individuals without committing to a full-time salary. However, it’s usually not a good idea to outsource work that is central to your agency, as that’s likely something that you’re better off handling in-house with your established expertise.
Creating a more valuable service
Effectively scaling your agency involves more than just being able to take on additional work. In many cases, you might be able to increase your profit margins by offering an improved service or by branching out into other, related fields.
When you first start an agency, the normal path is to niche down on a specific offer. For example, you might start by specializing in LinkedIn ads. By establishing your expertise and building a strong reputation for high-performing LinkedIn ads, it’s often easier to gain traction and attract your first clients. Once you’re ready to scale though, you can use that foundation to expand your services by offering, among other possibilities:
- Different LinkedIn ad packages
- Ads on different platforms
- Services for other parts of the marketing funnel
There are plenty of different ways to expand your services. However, that doesn’t mean you should just start offering new services randomly or based on what your competition is doing. Introducing a new service that you’re unfamiliar with or are unable to offer at a sufficiently high standard could lead to poor results that hurt your brand and ruin any chance of scaling.
First, find out what kind of additional services your existing clients would be most interested in. Jump on a call with them and have a chat to get a better understanding of how they use your agency. This means more than just asking what other services they’d like (although you can definitely do that). Rather, use that call to get a full picture of the problems they’re facing – then use your expertise to brainstorm potential solutions.
Once you have a few ideas, you should also look at your existing strengths and weaknesses. If you can, base this on solid data and metrics, rather than just a gut feeling. Maybe there is a particular part of the process that you excel at that gets great results for your clients, something that could easily be replicated on other platforms. Likewise, are there steps that you struggle with, areas that are time-consuming and don’t generate the desired results?
With a better understanding of your clients’ challenges as well as your abilities, you’re now in a position to brainstorm potential new solutions, as well as ways to strengthen your existing services. Are there any areas in which you can offer added value? What additional services could you offer while maintaining the same high quality? What changes could you make to your current solutions that would get better results for your clients?
After considering these questions, you might discover that, rather than changing or adding services, streamlining your processes and eliminating any unnecessary steps can help you standardize your service and maintain quality as you bring on new staff. For example, automating your outreach could help you spend less time sending emails and more time personalizing your touchpoints.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make these changes overnight. In most cases, you’ll need to bring on new staff, arrange for additional training, and/or invest in new technology. In some cases, it might make more sense to go into a partnership program with someone else who can readily offer the desired solutions to your clients, but this also has to be done with caution and plenty of planning. The best partnerships offer complementary services, but if you provide competing services the partnership will struggle and could hurt your growth.
Finding better clients
Having an all-star team and a top-quality service is great, but if you’re not attracting the right kind of clients it’ll be impossible to scale. Note that it isn’t just a case of getting more clients; when you’re trying to scale your agency, the quality of clients is more important than how many of them there are.
In Book Yourself Solid, Michael Port introduced the idea of having a “red velvet rope” policy, where you outline the kind of clients you want to work with. If a potential client doesn’t match the criteria, then you don’t take them on. The idea is that by working exclusively with this
type of client, not only will you enjoy the work more, but you’ll also be able to do your best work and get them the best results. Everyone wins.
However, when you’re trying to scale, it’s tempting to say yes to everyone. More clients, more money, more growth, right? Unfortunately, not every client will be good for your business. Even if the money might look good, the wrong kind of client can end up taking up time that would be better spent with more suitable clients. Even worse, you’re more likely to get poor results resulting in potential damage to your reputation.
Start by defining your ideal client. If you don’t already have a buyer persona, create one now. Look at your existing client base and see what your favorite accounts have in common. What industry do they work in? What size are they? What are their challenges, pain points, and goals? If you do have an ideal customer profile, make sure that it’s still relevant and in line with your goals as you attempt to scale. Does each client require a 100% tailored approach, or can you create repeatable processes that cover the majority of tasks? Can they afford your services?
Once you know who you should be working with, work out how best to attract them. While you might have been able to grow to your current size by relying on word of mouth and referrals, building and expanding your marketing channels is a good way to ensure you have a consistent pipeline of new clients to grow your agency. This might be through inbound methods (such as content marketing with case studies and blog posts) or outbound sales (such as email outreach and social selling).
Of course, it’s no good if you’re generating great leads only for them to churn soon after. It’s important to maintain close relationships with your clients, even as you scale, and ensure they have everything they need to be successful. This starts from your first contact with the potential client and continues through every interaction. This means that you should have a clearly defined onboarding process that helps your clients get the maximum value from your service. Even when a client does decide to stop using your agency, you should have a proper cancelation process in place that allows you to learn why they’ve churned, allowing you to put any necessary changes in place to retain more of your existing clients.
Starting an agency isn’t easy but attempting to scale that agency means you’ll be facing a whole new set of challenges. Rather than just doing more of the same, effective scaling means taking a step back and reevaluating many of the fundamental ways you run your agency.
By ensuring you have the right processes in place for hiring new staff while caring for your existing team, by expanding your services while streamlining your processes, and by reviewing your marketing and customer retention, you can grow your agency to new levels.
Looking for more ways to scale your agency? Check out our exclusive webinar on using automation to grow your agency.
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