Taking a marketing agency from zero to hero takes a ton of hard work and creativity. As marketers, we should know the basics at least. Competitor analysis, branding, PR, and a strong social media presence are the obvious ones.
But how do you grow your agency? In this article, I’m sharing agency growth secrets that I learned while establishing Contentworks Agency almost five years ago.
Agency Growth Secrets: 1. Strategize for Growth
Strategy is key when starting your marketing agency. I’m not just talking about a content and social media strategy. You need to implement a growth strategy for the first year that you can then build on and adapt.
Of course, it’s important to be adaptable. Circumstances change, budgets shift, and, in the early stages, you might not be completely sure of the behaviors of your target audience.
All that is fine. But you still need marketing strategies, especially for growth.
Create a growth strategy that actually works
- Set high-level goals. Yes, you need to set social media KPIs, but you need business KPIs, too. What are your high-level goals in terms of clients, profit, and company growth?
- Work with strategic partners. Choosing partners to work with is a great growth strategy that really works. Partners could be other agencies, complimentary agencies (e.g., translation), or referrers and affiliates. Setting a commission that you pay to your partners is a great incentive for them to refer business to you.
- Run growth experiments. A growth experiment is a systematic method for testing a strategy to scale your digital marketing agency. In simple terms, you could put $500 into Google AdWords, Facebook, and PR, and see which brings you the most (and best) clients. Understanding what works (e.g., paid ads and Facebook ads) and what doesn’t will enable you to better spend your budget for growth moving forward.
- Identify your financial inputs and outputs. When you set up an agency, you need to be on top of your finances. Failure to manage outputs can set your growth back and leave you struggling. Failure to realistically anticipate earnings can also leave you floundering.
- Foster accountability. When you’re growing your agency, it’s important to foster accountability. It’s likely that you have several partners or a core team when you start. Each of these individuals needs to be accountable for growth in their key area. This is not a blame game. This is a way of ensuring you are all aligned and focused on the business KPIs.
- Organic or rapid. There are two types of business growth. Organic business growth is slower but safer. You’re not borrowing money, onboarding angel investors or taking loans. Rapid business growth can be very profitable but, at the same time, it involves certain risks and challenges. Your growth strategy will predominantly focus on one of these two directions but whichever you take, you will learn to manage your finances effectively.
Agency Growth Secrets: 2. Predict Customer Churn
Like it or not, your customers aren’t going to stay with you forever. This is a lesson we learned early on and had not factored into our initial planning.
Churn prediction is essentially predicting which clients are most likely to cancel a contract with you.
From an agency standpoint, it’s essential to start gathering this data. Acquiring new clients is more expensive than retaining the old ones. Predicting churn allows you to budget better, focus on different client types, and fix any problems that might be causing clients to leave you.
Some of the reasons a client might leave you
- They built their own internal team and don’t need an agency.
- They lost funding, need to downsize, or even close the business.
- They are reallocating funds (from content marketing to events for example).
- They have a new CEO who wants to change direction.
- They aren’t happy with your services. (I put this one last as it’s very rare) but it could be that they are not seeing the results they wanted.
Predicting the exact churn rate of your customers when you first start out is tough. But if you’re monitoring your invoicing, then after 18 months, you will start to see patterns forming.
- Certain months will be quieter for customer acquisition. For my digital agency, that’s December–February. Similarly other months will be busy, so you may need to plan additional resources to manage them.
- Certain events might trigger customer loss. For some, it was economic issues associated with lockdowns. For others, it might be a change in industry regulation.
- Specific types of clients have a better LTV (lifetime value), will spend more, and stay with you longer.
Some agency services will retain your customers for longer than others. A PR campaign might last 6 months whilst ongoing blog content can be much longer.
- Product updates from your side or changes to pricing and contracts can cause churn. Similarly, contracts that don’t stipulate notice terms can be problematic.
Agency growth secret
In addition to monitoring the churn of your client base, you should also monitor the churn and outcomes of your leads.
Logging information accurately in a CRM can help you to understand why leads were lost.
Agency Growth Secrets: 3. Become Your Own Rockstar Client
When we started Contentworks Agency, we made the decision to treat the agency client as a rockstar client.
Our Rockstar solution is the ultimate monthly package with full social media management, blogs, PRs, strategy, and consulting. That means we dedicate time and resources to pumping out fresh content on all our channels consistently, placing guest posts, publishing press releases, and creating videos, interviews, and campaigns.
So why have we done that and how did it help us grow?
By providing the best possible marketing services to your own marketing agency, you are promoting your business.
Actively promoting yourself requires strategy and requires that you follow trends, understand your customer demographic, and provide content that they want to read.
It also means staying alert and excited about new opportunities in the same way that you would for a client.
Skimping on marketing for your own agency is a sure-fire way to slow your growth down.
Demonstrate your expertise
Practice what you preach, right? If your marketing agency is top of Google organically and getting great engagement on social media posts and blogs, then you’re showing you can do the job.
Potential customers do notice.
As a financial marketing agency, we focus on key areas impacting our clients (fintechs, banks, investment companies, and FX).
In doing so, we are demonstrating that we have a deep knowledge of the space and its challenges.
Have a working knowledge of your own products
It might sound crazy, but we produce monthly Agorapulse reports for our own channels and analyze them. This is what we would do for our own clients.
By understanding how your own services work, you can fine-tune them, simplify the customer experience and create add-on experiences.
It also allows you to benchmark your marketing performance against your KPIs and any competitors you are monitoring.
Agency Growth Secrets: 4. Utilize Automation
On average, 51% of companies are currently using automation.
According to Gartner’s latest annual CMO Spend Survey, 68% of CMOs expect their martech budget to increase.
Automation is in my top five agency growth secrets because it saves you time, money, and resources and allows you to scale quicker.
Understanding where to invest in automation will vary based on your agency and budget.
Let’s look at some ways you can automate your processes.
List your agency in as many marketing hubs as you can
While not strictly automation, doing this will help you to generate SEO traffic and leads without actively trying. It’s several days’ work to set up, but you will see the rewards.
If you want to stand out for your own marketing and streamline client management then you need to invest in social media automation.
Agorapulse is the natural choice because it offers a range of automated options. These include social media scheduling, automated rules you can create, reports that are generated automatically, and templates for replies. Those are huge time-savers and can help you to grow your agency without spending all your budget.
Setting up automated activities for your channels can help you, as an agency owner, grow your agency.
Creating RSS feeds to your social media using a tool like DLVR allows you to pump out popular content that populates your channels.
You can set rules, automate your feeds and select several channels including Google My Business.
Chatbots were the leading automation trend in 2020 and since then they are growing in popularity.
Chatbots play a critical role in enhancing customer service and engagement while also allowing you to grow your agency with fewer team members.
Don’t automate the whole process, just the initial responses and popular questions.
This allows you to stay updated with what customers want and ways you can improve your services.
Automate your email funnel
With automated email funnels, you can follow your customers journey with the right content at the right touch points.
For example, onboarding emails that tell them everything they need to know about working with you. Checking-in emails that encourage them to give feedback and suggestions. And you can also win back lapsed clients with automated win-back emails.
Send automated emails to your past customers to see if you can encourage them to restart with you.
The Agorapulse scheduling system allows me to program my content into multiple dates in the future. I can choose the channels, dates and times and then sit back and relax knowing my content will be published. (Just kidding, agency directors never sit back and relax, we just find something else to do!)
Agency Growth Secrets: 5. Refuse Clients (Yes, Really)
I saved the best ’til last here. One of my top agency hacks is to refuse clients.
There, I said it. Politely turn them away, refer them elsewhere, or let them find another agency.
Does that go against growing your agency? But refusing (and even firing) clients can help you to grow.
- Unhappy clients won’t recommend you. In fact, they will do the opposite. Word of mouth is incredibly important when growing your marketing agency, so you want to strive for happiness. We showcase all our super-happy clients in our portfolio which is a great growth strategy.
- A mismatch between an agency and its clients can be incredibly time-consuming. This means you’re absorbed with one client and neglecting the others. You’re also neglecting agency growth.
- Taking on clients outside your realm of expertise won’t showcase your best work. You might make a quick buck, but over time, you will be out of your depth. That means stress for you and the client.
Here’s when I would refuse (or fire) a client
- If a potential client talks badly about every other agency they worked with. I will probably refuse them. We are all allowed to be dissatisfied with a service. But if you’re dissatisfied with every service then it’s a “you problem.” Taking on clients that are unhappy with everything is unlikely to end well!
- If a client is rude to your employees. Protect your team and don’t allow a client to speak badly to them. Incidentally, you will probably find that they always do this with junior members of your team and not with you! Explain that they need to treat your team respectfully or ship out. Clients shouting at team members is terrible for morale and won’t help your agency grow.
- If the client wants something unrealistic, you can tell them straight that it isn’t possible. We recently had a client that expected qualified finance leads from London for 3 GBP each. First, that’s never going to happen. Second, we are not an agency focused on delivering spreadsheets of leads. You can team up with another agency that can serve the client or simply turn down the work.
- It just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Perhaps the client’s communication skills are lacking, they aren’t sure what they want, or they have unrealistic expectations. If it doesn’t feel right, politely turn it down and go after the business you want.
While you’re turning down clients, you should be actively acquiring new ones. If you find that you’re getting the wrong kind of clients from a particular site or channel, then stop advertising there.
Agency Growth Secrets: Conclusion
Growing your marketing agency is a challenge but with the right strategy and techniques you will enjoy seeing positive results and can reap the rewards.
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