The Path to Sustainable Agency Growth

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Agency owners are often tricked into believing that there is a secret path to scalable agency growth. They think it’s some deep, dark, hidden piece of wisdom available only to a few “chosen” entrepreneurs. In reality, the path to 7-figure+ agency growth is much less like a juicy Dan Brown novel than many imagine.

STOP THINKING LIKE A MARKETER

Marketers often expect that the secret path to scalable agency growth needs to involve some “new way” of thinking. They believe they have to uncover this elusive “new opportunity”. Unfortunately, this leads them astray. When agency owners find themselves chasing shiny objects and tactics, they end up focusing too much of their attention on activities that won’t actually solve their underlying problems.

Agency owners think that they simply need more leads in order to grow their businesses. “If only I had more leads, I could hit my revenue goals.” Sound familiar?

The truth is that revenue growth hinges on a lot more than merely bringing in MORE leads. The correct solution to growth is to return to the 6 core fundamentals of any successful business and focus on solving the right problems, in the right order. No gimmicks. No silver bullets. No fad tactics.

Let’s look at these 6 core fundamentals in more detail.

THE 6 SUSTAINABLE AGENCY GROWTH FUNDAMENTALS

Scalable Agency Growth Fundamental #1 – UNDERSTAND YOUR MARKET

It is essential to have a clear understanding of your target market and the value you bring to your market.

Being a Generalist vs a Specialist

In your agency beginnings, it’s likely that you said “yes” to pretty much any kind of project that your clients wanted. Can you run my ads? YES. Can you handle my SEO? YES. Can you help me with email marketing? YES. 

Anything that generated revenue was on the table. All you needed was to do it yourself, learn how to do it, or find someone else that you could pay to do it.

The result was an agency that lacks clarity and focus. When an agency tries to be too many things to too many different kinds of clients, it’s nearly impossible to scale it up.

Think about Amazon. In the early days, Bezos knew he wanted to grow an “everything” store, but he didn’t try to sell everything right out of the gate. He started with books only. Had he tried to grow an “everything” store from day one, his fulfillment requirements would have been too complex, and growth would have stalled. In this way, he was able to optimize the process from start to finish with one kind of product. With streamlined systems now in place, it was easier for him to add new product lines in a profitable way.

Bringing our focus back to your agency, once you’re generating at least $10k in revenue each month, it’s time to have a look at your clients and market(s). You’ll need to assess which markets you’re successful in, which ones you enjoy serving, and the value you bring to each. You’ll also need to determine which client attributes stand out in defining your “perfect fit” client. This will help you make the transition from generalist to sought-after specialist.

Specializing in one market with one core product will enable you to operate more efficiently as you develop repeatable processes. Over time, your service delivery and customer care will run like clockwork because you no longer have to reinvent the wheel for each new client and project.

Make Your Agency Referrable

Narrowing your focus to one market with one core service offering has another added benefit. Not only will your fulfillment systems and workflows become easier to streamline, you will become easily referrable.

When you are known as THE “Go-To” service provider for solving a specific problem for a specific kind of client, it’s easier for people to remember what you do. Additionally, other similar companies in that market will want someone who is experienced and who understands their unique challenges. By becoming a specialist in that area, you’ll position yourself as the natural choice in the marketplace.

Once you have clarity in your market, your ideal client, and your core service offering, you’ll have the most essential foundation in place for growth.

Scalable Agency Growth Fundamental #2 – Develop Your Sales Skills

Selling isn’t something that a lot of agency owners think about. Most think that because they can drive prospects around a FB ads report, they know how to sell. So, many agencies focus on lead gen BEFORE they have a solid understanding of their target market AND BEFORE they’ve developed their ability to actually sell their service. This is a waste of time and effort, and if you’re spending media dollars to get sales appointments – holy moly- you’ve just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Without understanding what the buying triggers are for your audience and without knowing how to sell to those, you are wasting time, effort and MONEY. Ugh. Guess how well that works?

Developing Your Sales Process

When selling to companies that have the budget for high-quality agency services, it’s highly unlikely (or even desirable) to have a “one call close” (OCC) sales process. In fact, you shouldn’t even aim for an OCC because it doesn’t give you or your prospective client enough time to determine if there is a good fit between their needs and what you can (and want to) offer.

It’s much more desirable to have a sales process that results in a confident investment decision on the side of the client and an opportunity for you to cherry pick only the clients that are a great match and who truly align with your company values.

There are no “right“ or “wrong” sales processes. You may have 6 or 9 or even more steps in your process – from the point of first introduction to client onboarding. The point is that process design itself may vary from business to business, but what matters is the OUTCOME of the sales process.

A large part of the success of your sales process is how well you qualify your leads. 

Qualifying Your Opportunities

Thoroughly qualifying leads is essential before actually pitching your services. All too often, we see the desperation of a business trying to sell their service to ANYONE who will pay them for it.

There’s nothing worse than having to fulfill a service for someone who isn’t a good fit for what you do. It often results in a misalignment of expectations and unsatisfied customers. Instead, with a good understanding of your target market and what makes a perfect fit client, you can develop a prospect scorecard. This is where you align the criteria of your ideal client with the attributes and needs of your prospects. The outcome of this process is a qualification score.

Objectively ranking the quality of your leads based on mutual fit allows you to know exactly where to focus your sales efforts to increase the likelihood of achieving a positive outcome for both you and your prospective clients. As an added bonus, you’ll never feel like a “slimy” salesperson because you’ll know that you aren’t pitching your service to companies that are not a good fit. You can effectively flip that script and approach your sales prospects with confidence.

Understanding The Value Of Your Offer

As a general rule, it’s helpful to understand that people can only perceive value in relation to themselves. Your service offering is not about YOU. It’s about solving your client’s problems. When your prospects view you as an expert who can help them solve their problems, the value of your solution is no longer tied to the amount of time you will put in, but rather to the value to the business of having their problem solved.

Before a business invests in you, they have an unfulfilled need. What they want is to solve a problem, or achieve an “after” state. The elimination of the problem, or the achievement of this “after” state is what they are willing to pay for. The larger the delta is between their starting point and their desired goal, the more valuable the solution becomes.

Being Of Service vs Selling

Your offer encompasses your ability to help clients achieve their goal – whether through your experience solving similar problems, acquired expertise, unique approach, and/or your refined process to get them there.

Sales IS NOT about having the perfect script or formula that tricks or manipulates your prospective clients into saying “yes”. When done well, sales IS built on honesty and about developing genuine relationships and finding the right fit between what the client needs and what you offer. Sales is really about serving. 

Positioning the results of what you do as a solution to your clients’ problems is being of service to your client. The more clearly you can communicate with your prospective “right fit” clients to help them see and understand the value of what you can offer them, the easier it is to be of service.

Achieving Sales Goals

When your offer is designed to help your perfect fit client, and the price is based on the value of the outcome of your solution, you’ve laid the groundwork for an effective sales process. Throughout the sales cycle, each stage contributes to your overall success rate. When you base your price on value, you can typically charge more.

The higher your price, the fewer sales you need to achieve your financial goals. The more clearly you can communicate the value of the problem you solve, the easier it will be for people to say “YES” to your offer. The better you qualify your prospects, the fewer sales calls you need to make a sale. Let’s look at two different scenarios.

In both scenarios, your goal is to achieve $50,000/month in new client revenue.

Scenario 1:

 Your service is priced at $2,500. You are able to “close” 20% of your sales calls.

In order to achieve $50,000 in new client revenue, you would need to get 20 new clients per month. 

Because you close 20% of your sales calls, you would need to generate 100 sales calls per month. That’s about 25 sales calls each and every week.

In order to generate enough new leads so that every month 100 are qualified enough to get on a sales call, you’d need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on lead gen.

Scenario 2:

Your service is priced at $6,000. You’re able to close 40% of your sales calls. 

In order to achieve $50,000 in new client revenue, you would need to get 9 new clients per month.

Because you close 40% of your sales calls, you would need to generate 23 sales calls per month. That’s about 5 calls per week.

Which option is more desirable? Of course, Scenario 2 is much more achievable. By better qualifying your prospects and improving your sales skills to better communicate your value, you can increase your success rate substantially. This makes it possible to achieve your agency growth goals without working harder than you need to.

Scalable Agency Growth Fundamental #3 – Generate Consistent Leads

In order to achieve sustainable growth as an agency, you need to diversify your channels, but simplify the funnel through which you bring your prospects into your sales process.

The goal is to get in front of enough new people in your target market to have enough “outputs” to feed your sales engine. Using a portfolio approach to marketing channels allows you to do this in a way that minimizes risk.

You can’t rely on one single channel to generate your leads. Putting all your eggs in one basket is too risky. You have NO control over these marketing channels, (social media platforms, search engine algorithms…) so you need to spread out your efforts. If one channel were to completely disappear, you should still have enough other traffic sources in place to ensure that your sales pipeline doesn’t dry up. 

The goal is CONSISTENCY and PREDICTABILITY, so you can plan better and increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.

Smoothing out your lead flow and knowing that you can actually turn those leads into customers, will put you well on your way to hitting your revenue targets.

Generating Leads In Your Target Market

One of the added benefits of choosing a target market and developing a core offer specifically for that market, is more effective messaging.

By narrowing your focus to a specific target market, you can speak their language. You can clearly communicate your understanding of their unique challenges. When you can convey these messages in your marketing content, on the channels where your target contacts hang out, you will be able to effectively capture your market’s attention.

You choose your channels based on your target market. You might ask – Where do the people that I need to connect with in my sales process like to hang out (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, industry magazines, certain podcasts, blogs, events…)? Which formats of content do they like to consume? 

Once you know these preferences about your target market, you can start to get in front of them in the right places.

Now that you’ve gotten their attention, you can draw them further into your world by adding value, and creating engaging content. Ultimately, your goal is to get them to raise their hand and give off signals indicating that they’re interested in learning more about how you can help them.

You can do this most effectively once they’ve joined your email list. At that point, you can use segmentation based on their characteristics and actions. The right segmentation makes it easier to see who might be ready to engage with you in the discovery and sales process.

Scalable Agency Growth Fundamental #4 – Efficient Operations

Your operations as an agency generating $10k/month are most likely not very robust. And that’s been ok so far, but as you get more serious about growing your revenue and serving more clients, you’ll need to put more emphasis into your operational systems.

One of the most important systems you’ll need to have in place, is a smooth process to onboard new clients. You don’t want to put effort into optimizing your sales process and investing in lead generation, only to end up making a terrible first impression during onboarding.

The onboarding process is an opportunity to really build trust and set your client up for success. Leveraging some automation in this process can help you create a consistent experience, even as you begin to bring on more clients more quickly.

Documenting Workflows

I recommend setting up the foundation for systems that can grow. Begin documenting your workflows. You can do this in different ways, such as recording your screen as you complete tasks, explaining it on the video as you go. As your process documentation becomes more sophisticated, we recommend using a project management tool where you can easily populate your company’s checklists and templates from an “Ops Library”.

If you have communications that are needed regularly, start to gather your “canned responses” that can lay the foundation for your communications and quickly be modified as needed. Most email platforms let you save these canned responses as email templates to make it really quick and simple to use them (instead of having to dig around and find them on your drive).

Identify which tasks need to be completed when – do you have weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks? Set these up on your project management tool as auto-recurring tasks. The more you can take the need to try and “remember” things out of the equation, the more headspace you can free up to think about the things that matter.

Scalable Agency Growth Fundamental #5 – Building a Team

The greatest achievement as an agency owner, as you make the transition from $10k to $40k per month, is to progress from thinking ”I don’t know if we can do this” to “We can do this!” This really comes down to one essential requirement: understanding that your job, as the agency owner, is NOT to make happy clients, but rather to build the team and systems to make happy clients.

You Are A Business Owner

This requires a huge shift in thinking. You most likely launched your agency because YOU had a skill or area of expertise and experience, and you knew you could monetize it. Essentially, you created a job for yourself. But owning a job is a lot different than owning a business.

As your business grows, you need to navigate this shift from being the “doer” of the work to being the “designer” of the business. You will gradually reduce the amount of fulfillment work YOU do for your clients and replace that work with running the company. The void you leave as you remove yourself from doing the work is filled by your team.

Your success as a business owner will hinge on your ability to build a team of people who align with your company values, so you can feel confident that they will live and breathe those values as they work with your clients.

Your Company Values

Your company values act as the lighthouse for every interaction in your business. They also help you make hiring (and firing) decisions. Your entire team becomes an extension of you and your vision for the business. As an agency owner, your values comprise part of what will set you apart from other agencies in your market.

Scalable Agency Growth Fundamental #6 – Leadership

The final agency growth fundamental is leadership. You, as the agency owner, will have to overcome some challenges along the way. They say “heavy is the head that wears the crown”. In our context, as the owner of the agency, you’ll carry a lot of responsibility. And sometimes, you’ll have to make the hard decisions and have the hard conversations.

As your agency grows, you’ll be forced to develop better and better leadership skills. You’ll need to learn how to manage your time. Even knowing what activities to prioritize can be a challenge when you’re so close to it all.

Many agency owners benefit from getting some outside support. Whether that comes from having an experienced mentor, developing an advisory board, hiring consultants, having a coach, what matters is that you don’t let yourself get stuck.

Lay The Foundation For A Thriving Agency

Your agency will only ever be as strong as the foundation upon which it is built. Whether your goal is to achieve $50k, $100k, $200k or more per month, the 6 fundamental needs won’t change. You need a validated offer for your market, a solid sales process, a consistent and predictable way to generate leads, efficient operations, a trustworthy team, and leadership skills to drive the growth of the business in the direction of your vision.

We have two ways that we help agency owners build this foundation.

Agency Breakout is a group program specifically crafted to help agency owners install these 6 foundations with a strong emphasis on market, sales, and lead gen. It includes video and written content, resources, weekly group coaching, and specialty sessions each month in the areas of sales, lead gen, ops and systems. This 16-week program is focused on helping you achieve clarity and confidence in your offer and discovering exactly what it is you need to do to consistently generate $40k or more per month.

Agency Accelerator is the next step and is designed for agency owners earning $40-$200k per month. This is NOT a cookie-cutter course. With the 6 foundations now in place, we understand that each agency of this size may need to focus on different obstacles at different times. That’s where the power of 1-1 coaching comes in. Working with a coach in a private setting enables you to get laser targeted support EXACTLY where you need it. With a combination of 1-1 and group elements, this program is as agile as you need it to be. Our coaches will keep you focused on the right things, so you don’t get caught spinning your wheels.

If you’d like to speak with one of our agency experts to discover more about how we can help you implement and optimize these 6 foundations in your agency, please get in touch today. 

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