Whoever told you the agency business was fun and rewarding probably never managed a small inbound marketing agency.
Yes, it can be extremely rewarding when a client calls you to let you know they just landed their biggest client, and the lead came from one of your inbound marketing campaigns.
But let’s be honest. Most of the time you’re working overtime just to stay ahead of the work and the bills.
This has to change. If you don’t love what you do, you should be doing something else. And if you are passionate about marketing and the future of your agency, you owe it to your clients and your team to make some changes today that will help you to be more successful, more profitable, more satisfied, and more energized than ever before. With just a few adjustments to what you’re already doing, you can see your company grow into an inbound marketing agency that is dominating its chosen market.
The suggestions below are all ones that can be implemented in a single day. It might take you a few more days or weeks to smooth out the rough edges, but for the most part, these don’t require major restructures or strategy shifts. Take one or two, and start there.
1) Hire Someone This Week
It always feels “wrong” to hire someone into your agency. After all, we’re all entrepreneurs. We should be boot strapping it, right? All the experts have drilled it into our heads that you need to make it hurt before you hire your next person.
But there’s something that the experts don’t tell you about hiring. Assuming you hire the right person, as soon as they are trained and start contributing, you are free to work on the most important aspects of your business that, right now, are underserved. By making it hurt, you’re actually performing two roles at an average level of performance instead of one role at a very high level of performance.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure you’re a great marketer. This isn’t about you as an individual. It’s impossible to be great at everything, so inevitably, something else always suffers.
This applies to your team, too. If you have someone writing content and managing clients and analyzing campaign performance, she is only going to be so good at delivering on each of these services. Consider if you took this one role and broke it into three different roles. How effective do you think each of these new people will be at delivering content, client management, and analytics? They answer is better. They each have the time to think about their activities, improve processes, and go above and beyond to ensure client happiness.
While it makes sense on paper to “make it hurt,” it doesn't work from a business perspective, and it definitely doesn’t make sense from a client experience perspective. Every single time we have hired a new person our business grew. The new set of hands allowed everyone to move up and do more of what was required to deliver on our promises to clients and to ourselves.
2) Focus Your Attention on Either Sales Or Service
As the owner, chief bottle washer, and top marketing expert, it’s impossible for you to both sell new clients and lead the delivery of an inbound engagement to those clients.
The way you chose which area to make your own focus has a lot to do with what you enjoy. Ask yourself a series of questions to help you decide which side of the business you're drawn to.
You should be in sales side if...
You’re an individual instead of team player.
You like explaining inbound to people who are just learning about it.
You like quickly evaluating an individual and her business to make sure the client is a good fit for your agency.
You like the negotiation that typically comes during the co-creation phase in an inbound sales process.
You like public speaking, evangelizing, and being the “face” of the company.
You should be on the service side if...
You prefer to work with a team, instead of working solo.
You like running experiments, looking at data, and making decisions to adjust the program on the fly.
You like working with people in an intimate fashion to help them learn how to use inbound to drive leads.
You like nurturing and growing the relationships with people so that you can consider them your friends one day.
You’re a process nut. Everything you do needs to be systematized and operationalized so it can be repeated.
Again, no matter how amazing you are, you just can’t be responsible and accountable for both sales and services if you want to grow. You need to choose. Once you select the area that works for your skill set, immediately promote, hire, or transfer someone to take on the responsibility of the other area.
It won’t be more than a week or two before you start to feel your renewed focus impacting your business in a dramatic way.
3) Tune Up and Turn Up Your Own Inbound Marketing
You should be an expert at running an inbound marketing program for your agency. How can you expect to get leads for your clients -- or sell them on your abilities -- if you can’t get enough leads for your own agency?
It is also worth it for your future growth. If you can generate 200 leads every month and 10% of them are bottom of the funnel sales opportunities, that’s 20 businesses who want to talk to you about their marketing needs and challenges every single month.
When it comes to "who" is actually doing the marketing for you agency, it needs to be you or someone who works for you. One option is that you can treat your agency like a client by assigning a marketing consultant or account manager to your account. Then, your team runs that engagement exactly like you would run a client account. The downside to this is when the account manager has to choose between client work and work for the agency. As you can guess, client work will always come first.
Another option is to hire someone to focus on your agency's marketing. This way, someone is accountable for producing marketing and sales results and has fewer distractions.
Running your own inbound marketing effort for the agency has another set of valuable benefits. Your agency becomes a test client, where you can experiment with marketing ideas. (I don’t like testing tactics on clients. It makes you look uncertain, and uncertainty can kill the trust in an engagement in minutes.) While running tests on the agency has the potential to negatively impact results, you only have to report to your own team. And if you learn something from these tests, you've still done something valuable. It's just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.