5 Tactics for Achieving Real Scale in Your Agency
Every agency owner should be looking to the future, and that means having the ability to scale their business. Yet, many agencies run into some specific and common challenges when trying to do so. There’s a huge difference between keeping your first client happy and keeping 100 or more clients satisfied.
“Should you hire young talent or bring in experienced leaders?" Asks marketing consultant Brian Hughes. "Should you raise another round of capital or opt for an early exit? Suddenly, your early startup struggles seem easy. As the founder of a fledgling startup, you saw the path forward as pretty clear. But, now? You’re in unchartered waters. So, what’s next?
Scaling too quickly, before you have the right systems and platforms in place, can hurt your reputation and dampen your growth potential. When it’s time to make that leap, will you be ready? Let’s look at five specific tactics you can implement now, to ease the path toward real, sustainable scale.
Use scalable platforms
When an agency begins delivering services, they often use a system that is easy to use for one-off projects, but isn’t built to really manage high volume work. Many web development agencies, for example, start creating sites in WordPress, but quickly find that development costs are too unpredictable as clients need widgets, plug-ins, bespoke CSS and other custom solutions.
“When choosing a platform, many of our customers originally started with WordPress,” Itai Sadan, CEO of the responsive website building platform Duda, explained over a Skype call. “However, the popular content management system (CMS) isn’t always the best choice, especially for agencies working with small or medium-size businesses, as it has a way of creating some major scope creep issues.”
For example, now that Google has announced that mobile-first indexing is the next wave in search, many agencies find themselves with massive rework on their existing CMS. Moving production to a platform that is consciously designed to handle these kind of large-scale changes can solve this challenge. This goes for any system your agency uses, whether it’s for planning, production or delivery.
“Not having processes in place to facilitate workflow is like turning on a fire hydrant without connecting the hose — no one knows what’s going on and all you end up with is a big mess,” notes customer retention expert Shaun Buck.
By choosing the right platforms before you try to scale, you’ll be able to better service your customers and keep the work flowing more efficiently.
Pick a niche
Once you’re operating on stable, scalable platforms, picking a niche will allow you to focus on delivering one key product, with a set of tools that you can replicate time and again.
This will also help your marketing scale along with your agency, as Guy Sheetrit, CEO of Over The Top SEO, explains. If you are tapped into a niche, you’ll understand what he calls “crucial micro moments” that are bringing and converting new prospects.
“Streamline your content to fit these moments and also make sure that information is bite-sized, simple to consume and visually inspiring,” Sheetrit advises.
When you make the decision to be the best in one particular niche, all of your decisions -- whether marketing, customer service, creative or otherwise -- become easier to make.
Leverage scope creep
For small agencies, building customer loyalty and lifetime value is often based on doing the little extras -- a free update here, a little added value at no charge there. This can be fine in start-up mode -- and there is a lot to be said about building truly loyal and rabid fans -- but it doesn’t work at scale.
For an agency that truly wants to grow, the focus must be on improving the Lifetime Value (LTV) of your customers. Upselling is useful, but there’s another potential trigger in our project management process that is often overlooked.
When you are faced with scope creep in a project, your agency can take this approach by using scope creep as an opportunity to present new solutions that meet a need that your client has already identified. Rather than cringe at the creep, use it as a legitimate invitation to pitch additional work.
Find trusted fulfillment partners
Successfully scaling your agency model means doing more work in a shorter amount of time. Your growth can be hindered by a simple lack of time to provide the level of service your clients demand. Sadan recommends using fulfillment partners for things you can easily and effectively outsource, like custom widgets, API integration, custom code, migrating sites and more.
“While a fulfillment partner will certainly charge a fee for their service, the ability to free up your time so you can focus on the parts of your business you enjoy or need to handle is well worth it,” Sada noted in our interview.
Careful vetting of third-party vendors is critical, but finding those trusted partners is well worth the effort. Who knows -- maybe you’ll be helping them scale right along with you.
Scale is hard . . . and worth it
When a business can successfully apply economies of scale, the long run average cost of deliverables drops significantly as fixed costs and overhead are spread out over an increasing number of projects.
Achieving this kind of scale is great, but it comes with another challenge, including knowing “when” it will happen and being ready for it.
“Predicting when we would move out of startup mode into scale-up mode and what talent and organizational changes that this shift would require was our biggest challenge,” ad exchange OpenX CEO Tim Cadogan writes. “Any successful startup will go through this transformation as it becomes a fast growing 'emerging company' and the transition is a profound one. Knowing when it will happen and preparing for what’s required are both vital to success.”