How do we set up our agency to grow? It’s the most frequently asked question from inbound marketing agency owners.
Once you figure out the sales and marketing aspect of agency operations and you’re getting plenty of leads, closing those leads and keeping your clients happy. No easy task by the way.
Then the questions come around to scale. How do we create a scalable agency structure that allows us to grow in a controlled, low risk way?
If you’re like most agency owners, it probably feels like one step forward two steps back. In some cases, it might even be one step forward and one step back—now your simply treading water. Neither situation is where you want to be.
Scaling your agency requires a few foundational elements to be set up and then it comes down to structure across all the functional areas of delivery.
Here’s how to set your agency up so it scales.
Getting Paid Upfront
As I mentioned earlier there are a few foundational elements that you need in order to scale. Getting paid upfront is one of them. If you’re waiting 30 to 60 days to get paid you can’t grow your agency. You can’t hire ahead of new clients and you’ll always be chasing payments.
This can’t be something you do casually. It has to be that prospects want to work with you so bad, your upfront payment policies are something they happily agree to. Or at least reluctantly agree to.
You can concede on this part of your agreement once or twice a year, when the clients are Fortune 1000 and not changing their payment terms for anyone. Buy beyond that, you can’t bend here, or growth will be challenging.
Be Continuously Hiring
Next if you want to grow you need people. Good people, people who share your core values, people who share your vision of the future and want to be on your journey with you.
You can’t start looking for people like this when your desperate and need someone. You have to be looking long before you need them. This item and the next two are all interconnected.
If you’re under pressure to hire quickly, you’ll make different decisions than if you’re slowly and strategically looking.
When you know your future plans and when you know your six month and 18- month organizational goals, you’ll be looking for different skill sets and making different hiring decisions.
If you’re continuously posting, reviewing resumes, screening candidates, testing candidates and interviewing new potential team members with new clients and the future in mind, you’ll create a bench of potential candidates for your agency that improve the team and put you in the position to grow.
Have A 6 Month And 18 Month Organizational Plan
Here’s a tip I do with all my Cohort Clients. As an agency owner, you should have an org chart for today’s team. You can have the same person in different roles, but make sure you identify those roles.
Then do an org chart that shows what you want your agency to look like in six months and then do another that shows what the agency will look like in 18 months.
You should see people in multiple roles starting to settle into one role over time. This includes you.
This exercise forces you to think ahead.
This gives you a schematic to help shape hiring decisions. This also allows you to move current team members up and into new roles you’ve planned to open up in the short and mid-term.
Once you do this for your agency you’ll see that in six months you think you’re going to need a full-time project manager and in 18 months two full time writers and a Marketing Strategist.
This is going to change your perspective on who you look for today, who you interview today and who you make job offers to today.
This is one of the secret keys to answer the question, “who do I hire next?” The next section answers this question in more detail.
Hire For The Future
When it comes to hiring, when you have a plan you’re hiring into and when you have a collection of highly qualified candidates you can hire for the future.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
If you're currently at capacity for delivery of marketing services, then you’re wondering who do I hire next? If you’re like most agencies under $1million in annual revenue, then you probably also have a handful of people wearing multiple hats.
Maybe you have marketing people writing or a writer who also does project management or consultants who also do project management.
This role sharing is actually holding you back and the agency gets better when you let people focus on one thing and do that one thing well.
But that still doesn’t answer the question who do I hire next? The answer lies in your planning. If you’re planning on adding a higher-level marketing strategist or account director in six months, then bringing on a slightly over qualified and upwardly mobile marketing consultant today, who you might even pay more than you were expecting makes a lot of sense.
But you wouldn’t know to do that if you didn’t have your long-range organizational plans on paper.
If you’re currently having marketing consultants write copy or if you’re outsourcing this and want to bring it inhouse, then knowing this means you might want to hire a professional writer who in the short term takes care of clients.
This foresight and planning gives you insight into who you hire today, what you pay them and how you offer them a career path going forward.
It’s hard to scale any agency, but inbound agencies are especially hard to scale due to the heavy reliance on people. It’s almost impossible to scale it without a delivery methodology.
What Agile brings to the agency is a ton of proven practices. How to organize work. How to move work through the shop. How to align people with the work. How to keep the people on the same page. How to deal with challenges. How to iterate and get better and how to track metrics to analyze your progress.
This is a lot to figure out on your own and using a proven methodology for managing complex projects gives you something to work with.
Now Agile won’t work right out of the box for any agency. It’s going to take energy to adjust it to work for your team, your agency and your clients. But its easier to start with this and tweak it, instead of working with nothing and trying to create something on your own.
Remember, project management software will NOT help you grow. It will ONLY help you better manage how you currently deliver.
Profitability By Client And Project Type
Finally, if you don’t think you can afford to hire who you need to deliver the way you aspire to deliver then you might not be making enough money and you might not have full visibility into your profitability.
Yes, its important that the company be profitable, but you might be hiding this if you’re not getting paid properly, at the right levels or consistently.
If you want to really know how efficient your delivery is then you need to know profitability by client and by project type.
By looking at the financials with this lens, you’ll quickly see clients who are getting too much attention and they’re going to be unprofitable or less profitable and projects that are taking too much time or too many resources.
Now you can address these unprofitable clients (either raise their prices or let them go) and unprofitable projects (look at everything you’re doing and why). The result of this work will free up capacity or put more money in your pocket, either way—the agency is now in a better position to grow.
This isn’t a weekend’s worth of work. This is months of work. But this is the type of work as the agency CEO you should be doing and if you’re spending all your time taking care of clients or working to get new clients you’ll never have time to do this strategic and important work ON the agency.
Start Today Tip – This is a lot of heavy lifting for agency owners. Its especially challenging when your business expertise is website design, PR, technical search engine optimization or even general marketing. These operational challenges are new to almost all of you. Some entrepreneurial operating systems like EOS make doing what I’ve described a bit easier. But most agency owners have trouble knowing where to start, following through and gaining tracking on scaling their shops. To address this, my recommendation, get help. Today there are more people than ever before who have done what you’re trying to do, and a modest investment to gain access to their expertise can help you get there faster, more efficiently and with a lot less pain.
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