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Does Your Agency Size Matter? It's Time to Challenge Your Assumptions A nimble model offers more flexibility while losing none of the practical knowledge and strategic thinking.

By Tripp Westbrook Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Meeting a client's needs, regardless of size, is less about the number of employees an agency has and more about their expertise and adaptability.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a small marketing agency, we recently submitted a request for information (RFI) for an account that was almost perfect for us. We had the category experience, we had the intellectual capital in the building, and we ticked all the boxes except for one thing — size. Certainly, if you look at us on paper, we are not the right size for this account because the client wanted us to have a field presence in all their major markets.

When we saw the account profile, our first reaction was, "Oh my gosh, we're a tiny fish." But we pitched anyway because our core team has a depth of knowledge and experience at a very high level. Whether or not we get to the next stage, it left us wondering how to get over the hump of size insecurity

It's not a new question: Does size matter? If you are a brand marketer, let me challenge your assumptions. Meeting a client's needs, regardless of your size, is less about the number of bodies an agency has in the bullpen and more about their expertise and flexibility. Here's how to judge if a small agency fits your needs.

Related: 4 Things to Consider When Choosing a Marketing Agency

Keep strategic thinking in-house

As we drafted our RFI, we were worried the client would think they would swamp the boat if they put an account of that size and scale into our organization. But we have a ton of practical knowledge, which gave us the confidence to pitch, even if it looked like a long shot. Staffing has also evolved significantly since COVID-19, allowing for much more flexibility. Small agencies with a network of remote staffing and contractors have arms and legs all over the place. Meaning they can scale up very quickly, even if the contractors are a bridge to full-time hires in another location.

The most critical component is what good small agencies don't outsource. Our org chart is very top-heavy because we have chosen to invest in the intellectual capital and experience in our home base. That allows us to fill roles and expand at the lower levels. When sending out those RFIs, I advise clients to consider what they need from an agency.

Think of it like the difference between buying a suit off the rack and one expertly tailored just for you. Now, in this analogy, the tailor is super smart and good at their job. It may take a smidge more time to customize, but you get exactly what you need — versus taking the suit home and then finding somebody else to fit it properly. It makes sense to get the suit right in the first place.

Related: How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Agency for Your Business

Build a strong, nimble core

To clients with concerns about an agency's size, look at the core of the people who will be in charge of the business. Assess their experience because they are the ones who will make the big decisions and lead the creative strategy. Everything else is the arms and legs — the doing — and what clients need these days is the thinking.

Compare that expertise's value to an agency with all these folks sitting idle. Their leaders will then feel a lot of pressure to take on bigger and bigger pieces of business to fill their plates. They end up selling their capabilities to clients instead of building what is right and bespoke. In other words, everything starts to look like a nail when all you have is a hammer.

A small agency with a really strong core of strategic and creative thinkers offers a more nimble model. As a client, if you come in from the side with a different need, look for an agency that can build a bespoke staffing platform alongside their resident knowledge. A nimble model also offers agencies incredible flexibility in selecting what accounts to go after that are in alignment with your values. Then, you won't need a mindset of trying to make money on every single piece of business.

Embed flexibility into your model

If an agency is already fully staffed and set up to work with a client one way, it is much harder to adapt when they pivot. Meanwhile, nimble agencies are able to "turn on" and "turn off" capabilities and fill gaps according to need. For instance, our client in the restaurant industry needed help managing the back end of their website platform and asked that we handle it. We took that on even though that's not something we ordinarily do.

We were very clear that we would manage the job through contractors, and the client could pay them through us. But as quickly as we turned that capacity on when this client brought the work back in-house, we turned it off. It made for a seamless transition.

Pivots are common, especially when a client changes its traditional and social media marketing mix. My advice to small agencies is to make money in the places where you have deep expertise — and either pass through or introduce other players that best meet the client's needs where you don't. To clients, recognize an agency's ability to flex because that can be the foundation of a true partnership.

When small is beautiful

We gave ourselves the best chance to land that big account because we know where our expertise lies. We were upfront in our pitch that the day-to-day doing — the easily commoditized bit — can be readily found. In today's market, there are many solutions for doing so, but there are far fewer solutions for strategic thinking. Without access to that intellectual capital, clients risk an agency taking a generic approach and putting execution in the hands of mid-level folks. This is where small agencies stand out. They can scale up and down on demand while freeing their strategists to do what they do best — craft bespoke solutions.

So, does size matter? Absolutely.

Tripp Westbrook

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President & Chief Creative Officer of Firehouse

Innovative and a convention-breaking agency leader, Tripp Westbrook is President/Chief Creative Officer of Firehouse. His creativity and expertise have been recognized by virtually every major advertising award show and his work includes one of USA Today’s top 100 Super Bowl commercials of all time.

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