Solutions to Staffing Problems Critical for Small Agency Growth [Industry Report]

by Patrick Shea

Date

April 2, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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Today, HubSpot released its first ever State of the Online Marketing Services Industry report. This report provides an in-depth look at the biggest challenges facing marketing agencies today, as well as insights into what business processes are being leveraged by those agencies with the best revenue growth and client retention numbers.

A portion of the report sought to understand the makeup of the industry from an agency-size perspective. Responses depict an industry dominated by smaller-sized agencies, with over 70% of respondents classifying themselves as either an independent marketing consultant or as having a staff of fewer than 5 people. The smallest percentage of respondents identified themselves as 50 people or more. While many of the smaller agencies could in fact be lifestyle companies content with where they are, growth clearly seems to be on the minds of most.

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Service Offerings Enable and Prevent Growth

A large part of the survey is dedicated to understanding which services are being offered most across the industry. Social media (83% of all agencies), email marketing (81% of agencies), web design (81% of agencies), and SEO (75% of agencies) -- all services that map back to inbound marketing -- were cited as current offerings by 75% or more of the 750 marketing agency professionals polled. This shows that, not only are online marketing agencies seeing enough demand for these services, but that they also provide a sufficient return on investment to justify the internal investment needed to adopt these skill sets.

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That being said, some of the most interesting data highlights the services agencies plan to add in the future (represented in orange above), for it is fair to assume that these services represent emerging needs of their clients. The top three services that stand out here are content creation (blogging and premium offers combined to represent a future priority for 22% of all agencies), video production (15% of all agencies), and app development (25% of all agencies). Considering that each of these three offerings represent a serious marketing trend, there's no big surprise here. Expanding service offerings to include capabilities in these areas will allow smaller marketing agencies to capitalize; doing so will allow them to build out more robust service offerings, offer more complete solutions, driver deeper ROI, and increase billings.

But understanding that more than 70% of the industry is comprised of five-person (or fewer) shops, it's likely that agencies that want to ride these ever-strengthening app, content, and video waves will need to figure out a scalable way to provide these services. However, for an agency trying to grow, making business development activities and marketing take a back seat in order to write client blog articles doesn't exactly make sense. Likewise, smaller agencies need people with multiple skill sets on their team to grow their client base, and hiring a developer to create apps or dedicating someone specifically to creating video -- when those functions are not the sole focus of the agency -- is unreasonable.

How to Add Talent in a Way That Scales

Some agencies achieve growth because of their focus on and dedication to a specific vertical -- for example, an agency that has stable client success in the healthcare industry. Other agencies grow by focusing on a specific service -- like a shop that becomes known for world-class SEO services. And other agencies grow by capitalizing on existing trends, as we outline above. But because acquiring talent is so vital to growth, let's broke out the three most scalable ways for agencies to add the talent needed to fill the gaps they have in their service offerings.

1) Forge Partnerships Within Reseller Networks

Software drives the online services industry, and not surprisingly, the State of the Online Marketing Services Industry report finds that over 90% of agencies surveyed use software tools to deliver client work. In addition, 82% of businesses surveyed said they recommend/resell software. These reseller networks bring agencies from all walks of life together under one roof, and likely contain numerous partnership opportunities. The LinkedIn groups and community forums typically sponsored by software providers with channel programs are great places for agencies to post work requests and meet other agencies with complimentary service offerings. The HubSpot Partners Forum group on LinkedIn, for example, boasts over 1,200 members and consists of regular partnering conversations.

2) Find Reputable Contractors in Online Marketplaces

When in doubt, outsource! The web is filled with online marketplaces, brimming with freelancers and project-based guns for hire. Speaking specifically to the emerging needs of agencies identified above, the Zerys content marketplace provides agency-specific tools for purchasing blog articles and premium content. Agencies can also engage with developers on a project by project basis on sites like Project 4 Hire and GetAppQuotes. Ratings and peer reviews are often the lifeblood of these sites, allowing you to protect your precious time and maintain the quality of client deliverables by only engaging with the highest-rated folks. Or on the flip side, agencies can maximize their margins by bargain hunting among the lowest-rated or newer providers.

3) Hire Professionals With Project Management Skills

While hiring a developer or video production expert may not make immediate sense for your agency, outsourcing and partnering (outlined above) are legitimate options. But as your client base grows, so too will the amount of work that gets done outside the walls of your firm. It is entirely likely that a typical client engagement could involve managing multiple freelancers. Therefore, making sure the new team members you hire along the way have deep project management skills will be a necessity. Make sure you emphasize this in the job descriptions you post on your website or marketing job boards for open positions. Hiring folks that have run and managed effective projects in the past will be key as your company determines the most scalable way to add the services it needs most.

Does you agency work with freelancers and/or partner with other agencies to fill gaps in your service offerings? What other steps are crucial in meeting the demand of your clients and prospects?

Download the free State of the Online Marketing Services Industry report and register for our live webinar on April 11, where we'll discuss key findings as well as highlight several best practices and agency success stories.

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