The Agency Growth Blog - For Owners Who Want Growth

30 Owners of Small Agencies Shared Their Top 5 Challenges AND The Advice I Gave Them

Posted by Mike Lieberman on Oct 7, 2020 6:15:00 PM

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I Bet Most Of You Have Similar Questions, Challenges and Issues

A few weeks ago, I posted an offer to the HubSpot Solutions Partners Group on Facebook. I offered 30 minutes to any agency owner who wanted to pick my brain and talk about their challenges.

Over the past few weeks, I've chatted with 30 owners just like you. I took some notes and was surprised to hear they ALL have very similar issues.

Here are the top five challenges as identified by the people I’ve chatted with and the advice I gave them so you all can benefit from our conversations.


I’m On My Own, With Some Contractors, How Do I Grow?

I hear this more and more. There are now many agencies that are made up of a single owner and a small band of contractors.

In fact, many of the agencies in my Cohorts and my Mastermind Group look just like these folks. We’ve been working on helping these agency owners grow their shops every month for the past few years.

This type of agency team does present some unique challenges, but growth is definitely possible.

What I shared with these people is that their growth is limited by the number of hours they can work. As sole practitioners, wearing multiple hats and jumping around to different roles all day does present some specific issues.

First, I suggested they pick a lane. No one can be amazing at all aspects of agency operations. Most of the owners I’ve met either love getting new clients or taking care of current clients. Very few people are passionate about both.

Both getting and keeping clients are full-time jobs and if you do both part-time, you won’t grow. This means honestly picking an aspect of the agency that you are passionate about and then really digging in and doing this job with everything you have.

This means finding someone else to help by finding someone to lead the client services and delivery parts of your agency or finding someone to lead the sales and marketing efforts.

This move alone is going to help you get more new clients, more consistently and it's going to help you keep more clients longer, expand their engagements, and roll out new services. This move is going to help you grow.

If this sounds like you, click here and let’s talk about your specific agency challenges.

I Need A More Regular Stream of Leads. How Do I Get That?

Almost all the owners I talked to have a single stream of new business opportunities—referrals. Referrals are great and usually mean you’re doing a good job, but they are unpredictable and not scalable.

To get more leads, there is only one answer to that question. You have to double down, focus and put the time into building your own agency marketing machine that produces a steady stream of leads for you to sift through looking for new clients.

Unfortunately (and this is why I gave the advice I did around the previous challenge), this means you need to invest roughly 20% of your week to work on your own agency’s marketing.

You need to create content, such as thought leadership content. You need to work on your website, promote content on social, and make sure your site is ranking.  You need to work with partners running webinars, you need video, and you should be emailing your database on at least a monthly basis. Turn on chat and regularly review the data associated with your marketing so that it continues to improve month over month.

You need to work on your own marketing and lead generation every day. You need to practice inbound marketing for your agency not only to generate leads, but to give you and your team the confidence that they know how to generate leads.

Treat your agency like a lab. Run experiments designed to generate more leads. Try new tactics like advanced chat tactics, email personalization, CTA design, landing page design, lead nurturing tactics and more. The better you get at Inbound for your own agency, the more leads you’ll have, the faster you’ll grow and the better you’ll be at this when it comes to client engagements.

If this sounds like you, click here and let’s talk about your specific agency challenges.

Who Do I Hire Next? And When Do I Hire Them?

Growing an agency does usually mean adding more team members. Who to hire and when to hire them did come up often.

The answer has two parts. The first has a bit to do with entrepreneurial operating systems, which is either EOS or the Gazelles Scaling Up System. Both walk you through a similar accountability chart exercise. This shows you the different roles in the agency and how many roles are being filled by the same person.

If you’ve never done this, consider doing it today. It takes minutes and is enlightening.

I like to suggest agency clients take this exercise to the next level and design an org chart for the agency today, then one for six months from now and another for 18 months from now. This clearly shows a road map for growth and identifies the missing people in the key roles you identified.

This is going to uncover another underlying issue I see that holds agencies back—mixed roles. When you have a consultant who also writes, manages projects and does HubSpot work and designs, this will not work. You have a person who can’t possibly be completely successful at any of those roles because they are doing so many different roles.

You have to start splitting those roles out and getting people who are amazing at one of those roles.

An amazing writer paired with an amazing project manager paired with an amazing consultant will produce amazing results.

I want to emphasize that this doesn’t mean you need to hire three full time team members. It means you need to find people for these roles that fit into your delivery configuration, agency culture, and your agency team model.

It might mean that you have a handful of part-time contractors who work with you until your agency is large enough to afford adding them full-time. It might mean hiring one this month and then one in six months and another in 12 months.

Your journey is yours, but the plan behind your growth has to be thought out and solid.

If this sounds like you, click here and let’s talk about your specific agency challenges.

How Do I Add Process To Our Agency?

If I’ve learned one thing, it's that process enables you to scale. Process allows you to know what your team is doing when you’re not in every meeting. Process empowers you to continually improve how you deliver and then know your new processes are working across the agency.

But without process, you’re building everything from scratch every time. It’s highly inefficient, definitely not scalable, and produces very unpredictable results.

There is only one way to build process inside an agency. You have to do it from the beginning.

There are a couple of shortcuts you can take.

First, make it everyone’s job, not just yours. Assign processes to individuals and work with them to design a playbook that documents each process. Have your team build the playbook while they implement for clients. This is going to allow you to quickly and without taking people away from client work get these playbooks created.

Define a list of processes that are important to you and assign them. Some of them are tactical, and others should be operational.

Here is a partial list.

  • Onboarding new clients
  • Reporting for current clients
  • Monthly communication and meetings for current clients
  • Building a website
  • Planning and launching an email campaign
  • Implementing, configuring, testing, and tracking chat
  • Ongoing conversion rate optimization
  • HubSpot Audits
  • HubSpot Configuration
  • HubSpot Optimization

You should get the idea. We have over 200 playbooks and processes at Square 2.

Once you assign them and start getting them created, then you’ll need to reinforce using them across your agency, regardless of whether someone is full time, part-time or a contractor. You’ll also have to make sure they stay updated and current.

You're going to change how you deliver, and you're going to keep updating and upgrading your processes. The playbooks have to get updated and upgraded too.

If this sounds like you, click her and let’s talk about your specific agency challenges.

How Do I Close More Of The Opportunities I Do Have?

This is, by far, is one of the most important conversations and one of the challenges I see agencies struggling with.

What makes your agency different from ALL other agencies? If you can’t answer this, you’re not going to grow. There are thousands of agencies out there and they all sound, act, work and deliver in exactly the same way.

You have to stand out. You have to be a purple cow. You have to be remarkable in some way. Ask yourself this question right now.

What makes your agency different? It’s not HubSpot, it's not about results, it's not about being data-driven, and it's not your people or your team.  It's not any of that. Everyone says something like that.

You have to find some way to clearly be remarkable or you won’t grow.

Unfortunately, I can’t do that for you. It’s something you’ll have to think about, work on and make sure that you can deliver on.

It’s also something that might require constant cultivating. What is remarkable today, might not be remarkable tomorrow. If you do it well, your competitors will likely try to copy it.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

While this might be frustrating, it's going to happen and you should be prepared to deal with it. At Square 2, we look at what makes us remarkable every single quarter and make sure that what we’re saying is still, in fact, remarkable.

If this sounds like you, click here and let's talk about your specific agency challenges. 

Here’s the other insight you absolutely need to know.

You have to do ALL of this at the same time if you want to grow. You have to get leads, you have to add process, you have to split roles, you have to hire, and you have to be remarkable.

Growing your agency is going to be one of the hardest challenges you’ll face professionally, and these five areas are key to growth.

One of the best ways to consider tackling these challenges is to NOT go it alone and to work with someone who has done it before. While your journey will be unique, there are similar nuances to the challenges that are consistent from agency to agency.

New Cohort for 2020 - The "Next Normal" Agency Cohort

Start Today Tip – There is no easy answer here. You have to jump in and get started. My advice to you is to pick one of the five challenges and start working on this immediately. Carve out time every week to work on at least one of these items, but hopefully ALL of these challenges. If I had to pick one for you to focus on, it would be what makes you remarkable. That will also feed your marketing activities and in some cases, what process you work on installing. As your story comes together and you can clearly get prospects to feel like there is something unique at your shop, you’ll close more new clients and be able to hire more people. You should be able to see how these five challenges are intertwined and interconnected. But I hope what you take away is that these challenges need to be tackled and solved before you can expect any significant growth.

Agencies 2 Inbound – Helping You Grow Your Agency Beyond Your Expectations!

Topics: inbound marketing agency challenges, inbound marketing agency owner support

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