The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Agency During These Challenging Times

agency growth

Why on earth would I be writing a blog post about growing your agency during these challenging times when many agencies are just struggling to survive? 

Am I just not in touch with the current environment or what is going on in the agency world right now?

The truth of it is for every one agency that is struggling to survive, another agency is doing well and able to focus on growth.

I’ve seen two types of company during this crisis:

1

The first kind has decided to sit it out, furlough their staff and hope they can weather the storm. 

2

The second kind has been galvanised into action, pivoted their business or suggested to the client how they can pivot their business and supported them through the process.

You need to be the second type of company.  And to do this you need to speak to your clients frequently (whether they’re working with you currently or they have put you on pause) and make sure you are listening and serving them.

So let’s explore some practical steps you can be taking:

Use this time to learn more about your client’s wants and needs

We all like to think that we know our target audience well and armed with this knowledge we create our sales & marketing content.  But how well do we really understand our clients?

You might have done some work on defining your ideal target customer or customer avatar, but if you want to take it to the next level you need to talk to your clients and learn more about their pains and gains.  Right now there has never been a better time to talk to your clients because they’re more likely to have the time and inclination to spend 30 minutes discussing their business. During this interview, you want to identify the PAINS that they have, that they are trying to move away from and the GAINS that they want to achieve - that they are trying to move towards.  You are looking for the repeating patterns here and if you can interview between 7 and 10 clients then you’ll be able to identify these patterns. Use the recurring themes to inform the content that you create and the products/services that you deliver.

This is exactly what I do and it ensures that the content I am creating will be of value to my audience rather than just things I want to write about.  That is one of the key outcomes of doing this exercise (the other is producing products and services that your audience wants and needs – more on that later).


Have a plan

agency planning

I get it! A lot of us have been in survival mode and can’t think beyond the end of the month let alone six months, a year or even further but it’s a fine balance between reacting to ever-changing needs of today and trying to survive versus having half an eye on the future and having a longer-term plan (albeit one that you need to frequently revisit as this new world unfolds) for growing your agency.

I normally work with my clients on a long, medium and short-term plan. A long-term plan is usually 2 to 5 years (this is your vision).  The mid-term plan is usually one year and includes a quarterly breakdown (your strategies) and then from there, we have a monthly plan (your ‘to-do list’ for your business).  This is the document that you will use to run your monthly management meetings to ensure you’re focused on working on the business as opposed to operational discussions about the business.

I appreciate during this current period we need even more granular than I outlined above so I have created a weekly plan with measures, and you can grab your copy of that here.

Pivot where necessary

Agency growth

“Pivot” is one of those annoying words that we are hearing a lot in the business world right now but what exactly does it mean for you?

It means finding new ways to service your existing audience or finding a new audience.  For you, that looks like refining, amending or creating a new product or service or looking for a slightly different audience to your traditional audience and most likely, it is a combination of those two.

Don’t make the mistakes that many have made (and indeed I’ve made in the past) and that is assuming that you know what your audience wants and needs. So you invest a lot of time, energy and money in turning this new idea into a product/service to only launch it to crickets.

If ever there were a time to use my favourite expression of slow down to speed up then this is it! You need to first of all test your idea and validate it with your audience BEFORE you start marketing and selling it in earnest. This is a process of refinement. To do this you create three target groups and test you’re offering with group 1.  Using their feedback, refine it and then rinse and repeat with groups two and three. If at the end of this process you have had positive feedback and pre-sold some of your product then you know your product has been validated.

This is such an important topic that I’ve created a new e-book guide that takes you step-by-step through this process including templates for questionnaires and for letters you can grab a copy of that here.

Become a good listener

Being a good listener is an art and one that perhaps we all think we are good at but if there were ever a time to listen to your audience and hear the clues that they tell you about what they need from you, then now is that time.

Clients all have ‘jobs to be done’ and they have certain pains about those jobs that you can solve and gains that they are looking to achieve by getting that job completed.  If you can identify these jobs to be done and the pains and gains and market your business against that you’re much more likely to win new client business. Listening to your audience means marketing yourself against what your audience needs rather than what you have to offer so consider if your website and your outbound communications are they resonating with those pains and gains, and jobs to be done or are they just telling them what a great company you are, what your products & services are and who you’ve done it for before - because if you’re taking this old approach you’re not going to be winning new business.

This is a topic in itself for a future blog post but I felt it was important to include a reference to it in this post.

Get the balance of your time right

I’ve written quite a lot in the past about how leaders of agencies need to be allocating their time effectively and perhaps this is more important than ever right now, whilst we are working remotely from home which probably means working longer hours and/or having distractions such as kids at home, so we need to get even more disciplined and structured with all time.

If you want to continue growing your agency during these challenging times then you need to make sure you are allocating enough time to working on the strategy for your agency. This includes everything to do with how you are going to earn money in the future.

Time management

Learn more about allocating you time (click on the image)

A quick reminder: we can split our time across three ‘pots’

1. Revenue: (how are you earning money today) so this is all the client projects and retainer work you currently have on your books s

2. Strategy: (how you to earn money in the future): business development, sales and marketing

3. Admin: everything you do to run your business.  The ‘lifeblood’ tasks that keep your business afloat (finance, HR etc.)

No matter what kind of complicated labels we try to apply to our work, pretty much everything we do falls into one of these three categories. But while each of these areas matters, they don’t all matter equally. Particularly not for you: as the agency owner, your time needs to be spent in a deliberate manner for maximum impact.

You want to be making sure you’re allocating the right balance of your time across these three ‘pots’. There is a tendency right now to be doing as much as we possibly can to keep our clients so we are investing a greater percentage of our time in revenue but those agencies who are going to flourish and grow are also allocating equal amounts of time into strategy and strategy today might look different to what it did a few months ago. 

My advice here is to get structured with your day and schedule time across these three areas and create a list of things you do in each of these three areas.  I have created a simple tool you can use to help with this.

The second really important thing is to get good boundaries because when we are working at home the boundaries can easily get blurred between your working day and your personal time.  One approach that helps me is having morning and evening rituals (link?).

Focus on marketing your agency

Marketing plan

I have had lots of questions from my audience asking whether they should be marketing in this current climate. You see they are worried that if they send out content it could be seen in bad taste and feels inappropriate.

My response to this is a resounding YES YOU SHOULD marketing to your audience provided you are continuing to serve them and one of the ways you will achieve this is by applying the points I’ve made earlier in this article.  LISTEN and produce content that is truly adding value (as I am attempting to do in this blog!).

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of building your email list.  Consider this:

Do you know why eBay bought SKYPE?

Do you know why Facebook bought Instagram?

It's not for the reasons most people think....  

It was for their subscriber lists. eBay wanted SKYPE's 54 million members across 225 countries. Facebook wanted Instagram's 30 million users.

Why?  Well for every email subscriber you have on your list you can potentially earn £1 per month from them. Have a list of 100? That's £100/month. 10,000 in your list? £10k per month (or £120k/year!).

Also, consider that you OWN your list where you 'BORROW' your contacts on platforms such as LinkedIn. There are always new marketing fads that come and go but email marketing has always been one of the most cost-effective ways of generating new business.

I have been discussing the power of the email list for a long while and I encourage all my clients to make building their email list of potential buyers a central part of their marketing strategy. And I encourage you to do the same.

If you don’t have a list today then start one and set a goal of having 50 people on the list by the end of the month.

I have written about HOW to go about this and WHAT to send you list in this FREE guide.

OK so that’s your mail list but what else should you be doing? 

You can’t go to networking events, but you can get online – and the key here is to hang out in places that your ideal target customer hangs out and your research will tell you that. Also, think about how you can use LinkedIn to make connections and build empathy with those connections this is particularly true if you work in the B2B space.  Don’t be one of those annoying people who send out a connection request with a generic message and then send a sales message immediately you accept them.  That is a sure-fire way of being blacklisted! Instead, provide value to your audience.  Remember your goal (as with all your marketing) is to focus 80% of your time providing value and 20% selling. 

In conclusion

When times are tough we have to work extra hard and extra smart to find and win business. I have run my business through 2 recessions and now this current pandemic and have lived by that belief and it has served me well.

The key to growing your agency is to use your time smartly and get the balance right and have a consistent focus on sales & marketing – whilst communicating with your audience in an empathetic way do this consistently and you will be filling your pipeline with eager potential customers.

If you want more details on how to continue growing your agency in this challenging time, then grab a copy of my FREE guide on agency growth.

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    Rob Da Costa

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