Run Your Agency Like a Startup: 10 Tips from Entrepreneurs

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Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)



run-your-agency-like-a-startupThe following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.


1. Get Small

Historically, successful agencies often strive to be big. Lots of skill sets on staff allow people to hone specific areas of expertise and contribute in certain ways. Acting like a startup means slimming down to the point where every individual has to be a problem solver and contribute in new ways consistently. Creativity, innovation and collaboration will come organically from need.

Emily Eldridge Holdman | The Remarkables

2. Allow Autonomy

Every agency I've worked with has had a fairly rigorous approval process. Since most ad agencies go out of their way to hire great minds, the hoops that must be jumped through are almost insulting. Allowing for more autonomy (and educating clients on why the creative's opinion matters) will make an ad agency a lot more nimble and add some startup characteristics to the mix.

Thursday Bram | Hyper Modern Consulting

3. Don't Act. Do.

Too many agencies want to be like startups and create teams to act like tech startups, but then they prevent them from doing something bold due to a small budget or bureaucratic decision-making processes. Start with a small, dedicated team, and give them the freedom to experiment. You might fail to hit it out of the ballpark in the beginning, but in time you will succeed.

Mike McGee | The Starter League

4. Stimulate Your Talent

If you’re a communications firm with a lot of creative people, you need to stimulate your talent in order to retain them. When people have ideas, don’t shoot them down or let them jump ship to work on them; provide them with resources and funding to work on them internally.

Matt Wilson | Under30Media

5. Trust Employees

It's not enough to have a team that's small and autonomous. That team needs to be trusted (and feel trusted) by the company, or they'll continue to play it safe. Part of the magic of startups is an insane amount of trust: No one wants to let anyone else down because they know they're in this together.

Derek Flanzraich | Greatist

6. Innovation Over Hours

Find a way to focus on innovation as much you do on billable hours. Change the metrics that define success to focus on industry disruption and big, long-term goals.

Robert J. Moore | RJMetrics

7. Embrace Failure

Be willing to fail! Startups are amazing at embracing failure; agencies and larger companies usually are not. Check out Matt Hunt’s blog on failure forums, and it will give you great insight into embracing failure.

John Hall | Digital Talent Agents

8. You're Doing it Wrong

Far too many ad agencies sell their services. Tech companies know that what they should really be selling is their story and benefits. I won't buy a pretty website or a well-designed ad in a magazine. What I will buy is a 25 percent traffic uptick, 10 percent increased revenue or 10,000 new, REAL followers. Numbers matter, and at the end of the day, I want to know how you're going to increase my revenue.

Michael Costigan | Michael Costigan, LLC

9. Let Go

Let go of exhaustive elements in protocol, process, hierarchy. This is the hardest thing for traditional ad agencies to do because it has become hardened into who they think they are. You need to be able to let go of the elements that stifle rapid iteration and personal professional growth to let in the entrepreneurial light.

Azita Ardakani | Love Social

10. Launch Your Own Products

There's nothing that will evolve a culture more than actually practicing what you want a culture to be. For ad agencies that want to be more like tech startups, why not use the expertise in the room to actually launch tech products? The experience of launching your own products gives you credibility in the eyes of prospective clients, makes you different and evolves the culture to be more "tech like."

Brett Farmiloe | Markitors

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