Scaling your business is no joke.
This is well-known in the startup and tech world, now that the industry’s scaling problems are covered by mainstream news. Case in point: media coverage of the Facebook and Instagram outage last month lasted days longer than the outage itself.
But scaling a digital agency might be even more difficult than scaling the products your clients create.
When you’re growing a service-based business, there are more parts involved in your growth engine than there are with products. Call it a more complex car.
You’re not just perfecting a product and finding ways to sell more of it. With each client you take on and project you start, your workflows for monitoring and reporting, and maybe even team structure needs to shift.
Especially when you first hit the growth stage and things start changing…too fast, too furious. (I’m sorry, that joke was calling to me.)
So how can you start hitting the accelerator on your marketing agency’s growth engine without the fear of driving the whole car into a brick wall?
To keep your growing pains as minor and manageable as possible, make sure you keep the following in mind…
1. Solve one specific problem
Saying “yes” to anything you could possibly do is a great way to get your first few clients. Monitoring? Sure! Social media management? Sure! Influencer outreach? You’d be happy to!
But the more your agency grows, the more things you need to say “no” to. That’s right, friends! We’re talking about niching down.
It takes too many resources to try to be everything to everyone.
Trying to scale this way, you’d either need to build a team of employees who are all “meh” at everything, or work with lots of specialized experts, in which case you’d need more people and have less work for each of them.
Neither option sounds too appealing, does it?
But don’t get scared off by the thought of niching your agency. It doesn’t have to be the boring task you’re imagining.
Niching down doesn’t mean you only need to provide a single service and do the same specific thing for every client day in and day out, over and over and over.
For example, you don’t need to narrow your positioning all the way from “digital marketing agency” to “Instagram stories agency”, or from ‘mobile marketing agency‘ to ‘Twitter ads agency’ (although I’m sure there are plenty of clients looking for that).
It just means you’re choosing one problem to solve, even if you’re addressing it from multiple angles.
So you might choose to go from all digital marketing to a focus on social media content. Your target clients want to focus their content marketing on organic social media and blogging. Your agency’s job is to solve that problem, which will take a variety of strategies and activities, depending on their goals and audience..
Image source: self
In addition to going to wide, make sure you’re not thinking too small. Instead of thinking about providing services, look at the larger problems you solve for your customers. This might show you ways to scale that don’t even involve new clients!
For example, Checkdomain started off as a domain registrar. But once they started considering the larger problem they were helping their clients with (launching an online business), they found additional services to offer their existing clients. They now help their clients register domains, build websites, encrypt them, and optimize them for search engines.
The difference between solving a problem with multiple activities, and offering everything and anything, is that your services are still organized into a natural customer journey, which helps processes organically form.
2. Create processes before you need them
Another must-have for scaling is clear and organized processes for everything, especially client-facing activities like reporting.
Part of why offering anything and everything is so ineffective, is because it doesn’t let your team find a groove. They end up doing different things every day, constantly trying to learn new skills and software based on what clients are asking for.
If you want to scale your agency smoothly, your teams need to be able to find focus and flow. You can assist them with this by defining and documenting the important processes in your agency.
From onboarding new clients to tracking the results of their marketing campaigns, the more repetitive and systemized you can make the step-by-step process, the easier it will be for your team to complete with increasing frequency as you scale.
Make things as easy as possible for your team to serve clients well. This is one of the major keys to being able to scale and increase your team’s productivity without stressing them out in the process.
Agency-friendly tools will help you with this. For example, Mention always makes it easy to share important monitoring data and reports with clients. Marketing automation tools also let you template proprietary email funnels and marketing campaigns to use with multiple clients.
Or your agency offers web design, create shared libraries of design elements that your team can pull from and customize on a per-project basis.With the website builder Duda, this type of design library is easy to set up, update and share internally.
But one of the biggest mistakes with systems and processes is waiting until it’s too late to create them. If you wait to define or write down a process until you have multiple clients at a time who need it, you’ve probably already waited until employees are stressed and your clients are confused.
No one wants that, so the sooner you get clear on things with everyone, the better. Put info on your process on your website and in your client onboarding info. Load the steps into a project management tool like Process Street for your team to follow.
3. Track time and productivity
Honing the agency’s positioning and processes will get your agency ready to scale as a whole. On the individual level, an important step to follow is implementing time and project tracking.
Yes, “time is money” may be one of the worst business cliches out there. I mean, it’s really bad. But it’s still a fact in service-based businesses.
And in order to scale your agency quickly, you need to have a crystal clear idea of where resources and energy are going. Tracking time and projects will give you that.
A tool like Toggl will help you track time in order to more accurately plan project timelines, set project rates or retainers, and make sure work is moving along on pace. All of which are essential for taking on more work, bigger projects, or any other scaling method out there.
4. Know when to step back
Finally, as your agency grows, your own role as a leader will shift and evolve. That can be one of the hardest changes to deal with, since it’s all in your head, but it’s also one of the most important. As you’re building a scalable marketing machine, it needs someone driving it.
That’s your job, not marketing strategy or sales or account management.
Your role, and that of any team managers or leaders, needs to shift from being the “doer” to managing and leading the “doers.” That requires more project managing, mentoring, and teaching than activities like website design or content creation.
It’s something you might not be used to, but when it’s tough just remember this: You can help so many more clients in the long run by teaching your team to serve them instead.
Instead of micromanaging client relationships, show them how you communicate with clients and bring them into the loop. Take the time to teach your team a new tactic or strategy to use with clients instead of doing the work yourself.
Because the quicker you can get out of your own way, the quicker true scaling can really start.
Get your engine ready
Are you ready for an agency that scales quickly and consistently? Get your positioning and processes in order, then step back and let it run.
Need some help improving and scaling your agency’s results? Sign up for Agency Optimization Day!