Many agency leaders think the path to success is through growth. Grow bigger, grow faster, and don't look back.
But do they have the right business practices in place to actually achieve this? And are they prepared for the inevitable changes that occur as a company gets larger?
6 Questions to Ask Before Your Agency Grows
1) How do you want to grow?
What do you want your agency to look like in a few years? There are two main approaches to growth, and they look very different.
For one type of firm, you can grow through increased sales -- or growing by volume. You bring on lots of clients, and hire more people to service those clients. Client accounts will most likely be smaller, and the firm will be more concerned with productivity and the profitability of projects.
You can also grow through the size of your accounts, taking on fewer clients and focusing on longer engagements and less tactical or project-based work. For this type of growth to occur, the agency needs to be committed to a strong positioning as well as be able to showcase its value to obtain more revenue from clients. The agency may only need to win a few key accounts each year to replace leaving clients.
2) Are your current hiring practices in line with your future agency?
As you grow, your agency changes. Your clients' needs evolve. And you need more people to manage, train, and lead different teams. While some might rely on hiring for the role when they reach that size, most owners want to develop leadership skills in the people who have been with them when the team could easily fit in one room for a meeting. A key external hire -- someone with a specific skill set and experience -- can benefit the agency's growth; however, you'll have a hard time retaining people in the long-run if you fail to create a path of advancement for your current employees.
That means that you need to begin developing a bench of future leaders, and that requires a different approach to hiring and training. In the past, you might have simply been concerned about whether or not the candidate can do the job or be trained to complete the work. Now, you need to consider other qualities in top performers, such as emotional intelligence, interest in long-term career growth and management, and if the person has skills that challenge the team. You're looking for someone who will add to the overall talent of the team, rather than simply fit into a vacant seat.
3) How will you attract the right type of clients?
When you're just starting out, your agency could thrive on word-of-mouth, referrals, and projects from local companies. But if you want to grow, you'll need to tap a new group of prospects -- and do so in a sustainable way.
And it means you need to think differently about your company. Why would someone located 1,000 miles away want to work with your agency? What facts would make a prospect say, "I only want to work with your firm"? What do you need to change about the way you market your agency? Or do you need to actually start building your brand?
4) What does your sales process look like?
A lot of time is wasted on lunch meetings, calls with "prospects" who simply want to learn a few marketing tips, and proposals that never even reach a decision-maker.
This wasted time could be better spent with prospects that actually want to work with your agency and that your agency wants to work with -- you know you can provide value to the client, the account will be profitable, and your team members will enjoy working with the client.
But without a sales process, it's easy to get distracted by this prospect or that project. Without a goal, you'll always be running towards a finish line, yet the line will keep moving.
By defining your sales process with steps and processes for qualifying clients, prospecting, closing, and upselling, you'll be able to more quickly and efficiently grow.
5) How will your role change?
As the company grows, many agency owners struggle with the fact that they can't be everywhere and do everything. In the beginning, they were involved in every client account, approved all the creative, tracked financials, and made the final decision for all hires.
This isn't possible as your agency grows -- leaders have to make themselves irrelevant. And you need to take some time to figure out if this is really what you want. Do you want to be able to scale your influence on a larger team and client base? Or do you more enjoy the day-to-day management and involvement in your clients' accounts? These are two different types of businesses, and it's worth considering what type of company you actually want to build, rather than growing for growth's sake.
6) Is your approach to creating work repeatable and consistent?
Finally, to scale you need to create, document, and train people on your processes. Without a way to create and deliver work on time and profitably, you can't scale. To retain clients, you can't miss deadlines or deliver poor quality work. New employees need to be properly trained and onboarded to deliver a consistent experience to clients. While it might be fun to "figure things out as you go," it doesn't lead to creating a growing and stable company.
Originally published Jul 5, 2016 5:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017