The Biggest Mistake Growing Agencies Make – And How to Avoid It
Growth. It’s the best worst problem you could have. You’ve done the hard work of acquiring clients, but they’re constantly seeking for faster delivery and more agility. The good news – there’s a tremendous opportunity for driving excellent results. So how can you take the most of this new, exciting, and… scary situation – and keep the quality of your service while doing so?
You need a plan. The single biggest mistake growing agencies make is chasing growth without a plan. Despite how much work you have on your plate, goal setting should be something that you do every year, quarter, and (potentially) month. Goal setting isn’t just a vanity exercise. When purposefully created, goals help serve several basic functions for your team and business:
- They provide direction, guiding employee decision-making towards goal-related activities.
- They facilitate planning to ensure your team strategically thinks through their next projects or areas of focus.
- They motivate and inspire employees to use their collective knowledge to rally towards a centralised cause.
- They help you measure the performance of your team and your business.
How to plan for growth?
Set growth goals
Do you know how much your firm has grown compared to the past year – or even the past quarter? High-achieving agencies set benchmarks and growth goals. They align their sales and marketing teams and know how many leads they need to generate each period to meet their sales targets.
Gain a deeper understanding of your agency’s leads, conversion rate, and targets – and model your traffic and lead targets based on historical conversion rates and growth goals.
Offer a clear value proposition
Can you describe your agency’s value proposition?
The unfortunate truth is that most of us don’t have a very thorough understanding of how our companies create value. You can likely recite your services and products, but these are only the features of your firm, not its benefits. This will become an issue as your company grows.
Economists have long argued that people don’t buy actual products and services, but rather the utility these products and services create in the life of the buyer. As Harvard’s Ted Levitt famously taught his marketing students, “No one ever buys a three-quarter-inch drill; they buy the expectation of a three-quarter-inch hole.”
You have to be clear about what sets you apart from the competition. Offering SEO services or Social Media Marketing services won’t do this, thousands of agencies offer the same thing. Staying niche will help direct your resources to promoting your value proposition.
“You have to be able to look at your business from every angle and understand what makes your business unique. Identifying what you do best will help you focus on creating a system and infrastructure that can support scalability.” – Solomon Thimothy, CEO of OneIMS
Establish your ideal client profile
In theory, all customers are good customers, but in reality, things can sometimes be slightly different. When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to say yes to every client that’s interested in hiring you. More cash flow coming in gives you the opportunity to grow your team, and thus have more hands on deck to tackle new projects.
As you scale, however, it is critical to ensure you’re selecting the right clients. After all, biting off more than you can chew can lead to repercussions that could cost you your reputation.
Focus is the key to growing your client base and the size of your accounts. You need focus in terms of positioning, but you also need to know who your best client is.
- What services do they buy?
- How did they find your agency?
- How much do they invest in marketing each year?
- What size is the company or the marketing team?
- What industry do they work in?
One of the best advice the agency can get is to stick with Pareto principle which says that 20% of your customers are making you 80% of your revenue and vice versa. Keeping that in mind:
- Keeping already satisfied customers happy and upselling to them is approximately 7 times easier than getting a new client on board.
- Ideal customer would be the one that truly loves your company and the one that gives you a referral on regular basis.
Forecast the staffing needs
As your business grows, you either need more people to manage the workload, or you need to increase your current resources’ utilisation rates. Many team leaders look around and see a productive team and incorrectly jump to the assumption they are at capacity. Thus the instant reaction is to hire when new business comes in. Avoid making such rash decisions, and instead, invest in tools and processes that will help provide true visibility into the utilisation of your team.
Of course, teams can also be over-utilised. When revenue justifies the cost, you should be ready to hire. This will help you avoid the flip side of this issue – which is burning your people out.
Various formulas are used to estimate and predict staffing needs, based on the company’s historical and estimated performance data.
Improve your business management processes
While agency owners are in the business of creativity, they are still running a business. It’s difficult to understand the health of the company without understanding gross profit, overhead, per project profit, and profit margins.
Many agencies still manage their projects on Excel spreadsheets – using technology that’s ten years behind ten years ago.
Increasingly, agencies look for business management software that helps to outline every task in the project, collaborate with the team, and get an overview of customers and billing.
Unsurprisingly, having a bloated toolkit is hugely inefficient. It requires you to constantly switch between platforms and capabilities, learn a ton of different conventions and rules, and go through endless onboarding programs.
The solution? Pick one powerful work management solution that’ll do most of the jobs your agency needs. Most importantly, pick a tool that can scale alongside your agency. This will ensure that your services are never interrupted while you’re scrambling to find a new program to suit your quickly expanding list of needs.
To help you find the silver bullet, view this list of the best agency management solutions available.
Track time and improve productivity
Agencies, especially if they bill by the hour, need to be as productive as possible with their time. Most agencies use timesheets for logging their time. The general purpose of timesheets makes a lot of sense: besides giving you information how much to bill which clients, tracking time provides you with great insights on where your team’s time is going. Time is money, and you want to know where your money is going, right?
However, at the age of digital transformation traditional timesheets – and the general method of filling them out manually – seem a little outdated. Timesheets are supposed to help you manage your time better, but filling out the traditional timesheet takes quite some time out of your week. A survey found that filling out timesheets took 3.1 hours/month per employee. That’s 3.1 billable hours lost per employee, every month!
Time tracking and billing software makes the time tracking process much easier and intuitive, gives the users insightful data on team’s time usage, and automates the entire billing process.
Ready to find time tracking software suitable for your agency, and to get paid for every minute of your work? See this list of Top Time Tracking and Billing Software.
Define a sales forecasting process
Implementing a sales forecasting process allows you to make better decisions about the short- and long-term needs of your agency. You can’t do this haphazardly. Develop a predetermined process to clearly see results so you can remove any barriers.
- Introductory calls
- In-person meetings
- Discovery sessions completed
- Proposals sent
- Contracts won
Tracking information consistently is the only way you’ll be able to measure results.
You will see patterns that will help improve your forecast accuracy:
- Intro calls completed
- Demos conducted
- Discovery Questionnaires completed
- Proposals delivered
It is important to have reliable, current, and accurate information, as those are the cornerstones of accurate forecasts.
Work on your client onboarding process
You have clients lining up, now what? Not surprisingly if you’re not there to build good rapport, you are doomed to fail. Without a proper onboarding process, this is precisely what will happen, especially when the company is scaling at a fast pace.
“The onboarding process is beneficial for the agency and the client because it lays a strong foundation for the relationship. Utilizing the checklist internally and externally together sets up an open line of communication at the forefront while also setting expectations, timelines, goals, budget and more for both the agency and the client.”
Client onboarding processes can be very different depending on the agency. Develop processes that work for you specifically. And keep in mind the key element: The client and their needs must be at the center of the process.
Reading this article is the first step in planning for growth – the right mindset and approach. Not ready to get started just yet? Do your research. Take a look at other companies that have seen rapid growth and see how they handled it. Don’t just read about the companies that made it, either. Make sure you look up companies that fell apart when they grew too fast – so you can learn from their mistakes.