Are you constantly putting out fires, in dire need of a vacation but have no time to spare, and lost in terms of long-term business goals because you're too busy trying to survive each day?
If this sounds like you, you’re probably in the early stages of growth at your agency, what Teamwork CEO Peter Coppinger has coined the “Deliver” stage in his eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Agency.
In the Deliver stage, you may have a few employees but your agency is likely just getting off the ground and laying the foundation for success. You’re working on building your business and establishing your reputation while delivering client work on time.
Sound easy? It’s not!
When you’re struggling so hard to stay above water, taking each day as it comes, the very notion of scaling your agency seems like a fantasy. But with the right mindset, and tools, it is possible.
Earlier this year we caught up with Peter and two other agency experts, Sarah Mead (Associate VP, Client Solutions at SmartBug Media) and Clodagh Higgins (Agency Business Coach & Mentor), for The Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Agency Roundtable. Here are some of their tried-and-true tips from the live event to help you move from managing to leading your business so you can get out of survival mode once and for all.
Watch on-demand: The Ultimate Guide To Scaling Your Agency Roundtable
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Tip 1: Have a growth mindset
It makes sense that the way you think plays such an important role in the things you do.
When you have a growth mindset, your focus is on learning, acquiring new knowledge, and improving what you do. People who have a growth mindset and who believe that they can grow often have a higher success rate in reaching goals than someone with a fixed mindset would.
Someone with a fixed mindset tends to believe that they or a situation cannot change, they are more likely to avoid risks.
If you want your agency to grow, you have to be open to the possibility of growth, right?
As Sarah Mead, Associate VP, Client Services at SmartBug Media, puts it: "It's important to stay true to what your agency is, but you should always be there thinking and wondering "what else"? Is my agency exactly what it was five years ago? Because it's probably not."
Here are just a few positive effects of having a growth mindset:
It can help you to become a better leader: According to research, leaders with a growth mindset understand and recognize that people can change and improve and that one's abilities are not predetermined. This means that you can see the potential in your team even if they struggle to see it themselves.
You’ll be more likely to embrace challenges – and change: Growth is all about getting uncomfortable with the unknown and stepping outside of your comfort zone. When you develop a growth mindset you’ll be more likely to embrace the challenges that emerge without letting those challenges consume you or stop you from reaching your goals.
The takeaway: As an agency owner, you have a huge impact on your team, too, since your ideas and approach will trickle down to everyone who works for you. If you want your team to have a growth mindset, make sure that you are setting an example first.
Tip 2: Spend time working on your business
“I really believe the solution to stop being a busy fool is to move from managing the work to leading the business. You have to spend time on the business.” Wise words from Peter Coppinger who talked about his experience running a software development agency during our expert roundtable.
It’s true – when your agency is just starting off, we know that you often need to wear many different hats.
Clodagh Higgins, Agency Business Coach & Mentor, shared this idea on how to get into the right mode:
“Once you've had a few projects down the track, once you've had some results for clients, or some failures (because those are needed as well), you should sit down with the team and have a conversation, like a brainstorming session or a workshop, where you dissect your previous successful client relationships, results, projects, and retainers, and ask yourself some questions: What did we do really, really well? How did we do it? Can we productize that again, like was it repeatable or not? Do you love doing that work? Are you really good at doing it?”
Here are some other questions to ask as you spend time working on your business:
What type of agency do you want to be: You need to pay particular attention to the work that excites you. If you’re passionate about the work you’re delivering, this will shine through with your clients. Clodagh explains, “You want to be all in, you want to be picking trends, you want to be excited about it so that you can bring that energy [to your clients] and bring opportunities to them.”
What type of work do you want to do: During the early days of your agency, you’re going to say yes to everything and that's ok at the beginning because you're trying to get off the ground. But as you scale, it's important to revisit and refine the work you want to do. By sitting down with your team and analyzing the profitability of past projects, you'll uncover which type of work was successful and which wasn't, and which you enjoyed the most and this will help you niche down and get specific.
Is this type of work repeatable: When you’ve identified the work that you enjoy doing, and that you are good at, it's important to ask yourself: Is this type of work repeatable? How can you put processes and systems together so that you can repeat this type of work?
The takeaway: As your agency grows, you have to take a step back from the day-to-day and make room for your long-term vision and strategy.
Tip 3: Take a look at your pricing
Most agency owners can remember a time when they were working day and night, and had plenty of customers and employees, yet money was slipping through the cracks and it seemed impossible to break even.
Peter Coppinger describes this moment in his agency, saying, “Despite being busier than ever, having more clients and staff than ever, we just weren't getting ahead so at the end of the year, the profits just weren't there.” This cycle can be difficult to break and is more common than you’d think in the early days.
Peter's advice for any agencies struggling to stay afloat: Evaluate your pricing and consider making some changes.
“We looked at the data to see what type of work is the most profitable. For us when we looked at the big picture, we realized that we had more work than we could handle. We were just being too cheap, we were always offering extras for free, we were way too nice, and we never said no.” Although these are all characteristics that helped the agency get started in the early days, they had begun to stunt its growth.
The takeaway: Look at your pricing strategy regularly and don't be afraid to make some bold moves. For example, a decision Peter made was to double the cost of the work they enjoyed doing the most and triple the cost of everything else. "This was the key decision that helped us, resulting in 30% less work coming in but 100% more profit –doing more of the work we enjoyed the most."
Tip 4: Bring in a project manager
“Bringing order to the chaos,” as Peter puts it, is vital as you start to grow. The best way to do this is by hiring an experienced project manager.
11.4% of resources are wasted due to poor project management. A good project manager can help you make the most of your resources and focus on growing your agency.
Benefits to bringing in a project manager:
When you make the move and bring in a talented project manager, you’ll start seeing an immediate return on investment. They will help with managing client communications, deadlines, resources, and quality levels. Taking small steps such as hiring a project manager to organize your agency will make a huge difference in the long run as you focus on growing.
The takeaway: If you haven’t already implemented a project management tool, this can be a great first step for your new project manager to tackle when they join the team. It’s important that they consider a project management tool that is specifically built for agency work, with outstanding time tracking and reporting as these functions will be essential for scaling your agency.
Tip 5: Eliminate as much time-sucking work as possible
“If you're not tracking time in your business already, you have to start.” This is a point Peter drove home during our agency roundtable, and other agency owners agree.
A Zapier 2021 report found that 94% of employees work on repetitive, time-consuming tasks within their role. If you’re not accurately tracking your employees’ time, you won’t be able to minimize the repetitive tasks that are eating into your agency’s productivity. Peter’s tips for doing less time-sucking work:
Start time tracking everything: As you start to scale your agency, you need to make sure you're tracking everything and putting estimates on your tasks to measure your efficiency going forward.
Ensure your team is spending their time where it matters most: Make sure your front-line staff is spending 75% of their time on billable client work.
Give your workers the time to focus on creative work: Peter highlighted the importance of developing some simple policies around giving your workers the time and space to get in the zone and ensure that they are not interrupted when they’re doing their most valuable work.
The takeaway: Tracking your team's time will help you understand how long work really takes, so can better manage timelines and pricing, and then use those insights to fuel projects that may be similar in scope.
Experiencing growing pains? We got you!
At Teamwork, we work with thousands of agencies of all sizes and intimately understand the challenges that come with scaling and growing. We compiled all of our learnings into one invaluable (free!) resource, The Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Agency. Download your copy of the go-to growth resource for agencies.