Smart Agency Podcast: The #1 Digital Agency Podcast for Social Media, SEO, PPC & Creative Agencies

Agency life has always been very dynamic but now more than ever. Today's agency employees have different needs in order to have a work-life balance. Many don't want or need traditional office hours and prefer to work as contractors. Have you ever wondered how to adapt your agency to fit those changing needs? Are you interested in strategies to transform your team? A team full of contractors is a great way to decrease overhead and increase your profits.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • What is the "upside-down" approach to recruiting agency talent?
  • Can an agency be successful with a team full of contractors?
  • How you can keep your employees focused.

Today I chatted with Scott Gillum, the founder of Carbon Design, a marketing services organization. He is also its sole employee. Carbon Design has adapted its agency's services to meet the changing needs of today's economy and today's professionals in a way that provides them with efficiency and positive growth. He's here to share the way his employment strategy reduces overhead, improves function, and leads to greater degrees of team loyalty.

What is the "Upside Down" Approach to Recruiting Agency Talent?

Scott is proud of the "upside-down" approach he has had for finding potential employees. He started by looking for the top talent and hiring them, then built his agency and service offering around their skillset. Instead of filling a specific role at the agency, he hired the right person and then created the job for them.

He when he started, he wasn't just looking for traditional employees.

When Scott's wife was looking to re-enter the workforce, they discovered major challenges--and she wasn't the only one struggling. Today, many people are eager to be stay-at-home workers. They're freelancers. They're people with small children or people working as caregivers for elderly parents. These employees want and need a place to work, but they can't work in a traditional setting.

Carbon Design makes it possible for them to have it all. By providing flexibility, the agency also provides purpose and meaning, allowing people to live their lives while still maintaining a fulfilling career. They set their hours. They choose the projects they can accept. And it works.

Can an Agency Be Successful Without Permanent Employees?

Scott is the only full-time employee at Carbon Design. He has team members. He has a person who runs his operations and two individuals who are taking over specific lines of business. Those team members are responsible for pricing, delivering, and putting teams together. However, all those roles are filled by contractors.

This strategy offers several advantages. First and foremost, the agency carries little overhead. Scott doesn't have countless employees he needs to keep busy. A traditional agency has to "make it up somewhere" when business is slow. Eventually, that means a client will take on some of those costs. At Carbon Design, however, that's not the case. Instead, the team gets paid based on the work they complete: a solid, deliverable model.

The average tenure of people on the Carbon Design team is around 15 years. They're trusted partners. They deliver on time, know the client's business, and have earned the right to represent the company. They're team members--and more importantly, they want to be there.

How You Can Keep Employees Focused

When dealing with contractors, it's important to keep them focused on the agency.  "I worry about it every day," says Scott. He knows his contractors are definitely working with other organizations. Keeping mindshare and building culture is incredibly important. They want to work with the agency, not for them. As a result, it's critical to keep people engaged. What he's doing, however, works. "You're more likely to not have the same people there when you're dealing with an agency than you are dealing with our people," he shares. His team doesn't want to go back to a full-time agency unless they have to. "Our people don't leave because this is the lifestyle they want," Scott points out.

At Carbon Design, they offer mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Reinforcing those factors for the team is critical. They are also well-compensated for the effort they put in. On average, if these contractors were working as full-time employees, they'd be making an average of $200K. They also don't have to feel as though they are in competition with each other. Carbon Design builds projects and teams: the teams who have the right skills to complete the projects and deliver on the clients' expectations.

It's a unique model--but it's also one that is becoming increasingly common. Can your agency grow with this model? There is an increasing number of employees going remote or looking for ways to connect with the office without returning to a traditional work environment.

Looking for a Content Creation Solution?

Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out for 50% off your first month of content.

Direct download: Can_Your_Agency_Grow_Effectively_with_a_Team_of_Contractors_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Have you ever wondered what steps you should take to keep your finger on the pulse of your agency? Are you concerned with finding employees who can help fill open roles and keep your agency running smoothly, all while adapting? Finding, hiring, and retaining agency employees doesn't have to be as hard it as it may seem.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • Characteristics to look for when growing your agency team.
  • How to motivate your agency employees with more than money.
  • How to measure the pulse of the agency.

Melissa Shaw is one of the three partners at ARC Media, which has a very niche market in communications and legislative relations for electric utilities, specifically in rural America. A military spouse herself, she has been through multiple military moves, added three children, and even adopted another dog while helping to grow and scale the ARC Media organization.

Characteristics to Look For When Growing Your Agency Team

The ARC Media headquarters is located in a small town in rural America: a less-than-ideal location for recruiting team members who have the skills and talent needed to help grow and scale the organization. The three partners found themselves wondering how they could find the top talent they needed to fill those vital roles in the business. They wanted employees who were content to relocate to small-town America and who were willing to go the extra mile with the team.

The answer? Military spouses.

Melissa herself is an active duty military spouse. She had just moved back to the United States after being stationed in Germany, and noticed it was difficult to find clients. As a result, she was very aware of that need, and she knew military spouses would help fill those roles.

Employing military spouses offers a number of advantages to the organization.

When you're trying to grow an agency, you need people who are able to adapt to change. They need to be self-starters, to be able to juggle all those tasks. They can handle the challenges at home and get work done at the same time. Military spouses are the ideal solution.

They know change. They're used to functioning in a range of conditions. Their spouse may deploy or have to go on training, but they have to keep going, even when it's not ideal. In a growing agency, you're constantly changing and restructuring. It may look like changing the way teams work or developing new and more competitive products. You're always sharpening your sword. That means you may need to modify positions over time and find ways to use their skillsets differently.

Military spouses are ideally positioned to adapt and grow. For ARC Media, this is one of the keys to success: hiring employees who already have those vital adaptive skills.

How to Motivate Your Agency Employees with More than Money

Retaining employees is a challenge for any organization. One big question many employers have: If we can't offer them more money, what can we offer them? Whether it's a new experience or advancing their skill set, these priceless opportunities often mean more than a raise or a bonus.

You have to identify what your employees are looking for and what's important to them. One key strategy for identifying those needs? Keeping your finger on the pulse of the agency.

How Do You Measure the Pulse of the Agency?

Communication is critical. Agency life is often very fast-paced. It's easy, Melissa says, to decide it's not worth the time to jump on the phone and have a conversation. Those little things, however, can make a big difference.

She also uses Google Hangouts to routinely connect with her employees. They have weekly meetings set up, broken down by the two key subgroups at ARC Media. One key? Team members don't have to dress up. Baseball cap and a hoodie? Cool. Got you sick kid at home? It's fine, as long as you're getting your work done. The hour a week taken to meet with each team, however, can make a big difference.

She also encourages employees to work together and communicate through their regular platforms to address any problems they might have.

Finally, she has a digital open-door policy. "I always invite employees to connect with me one-on-one and schedule those meetings whenever they need to. I keep my calendar open and visible to them," Melissa shares.

A combination of these strategies--hiring the right employees, listening to them, and offering solutions that work for them are the best way to grow your digital agency.

Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster?

If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency.

For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at and get 25% for a limited time.

Direct download: Best_Tips_for_Hiring_and_Retaining_Amazing_Agency_Employees.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Think skillsets are all that matter? Need help building a team aligned around your mission? Skills and experience are important, but it's your culture that will really make or break your agency. It's that culture and your attention to healthy cash flow that can make or break your agency's growth.

In this episode we'll cover:

  • Why your digital agency's culture is so important.
  • What to consider when hiring new team members.
  • How to create a healthy cash flow for your digital agency.

Today I had the chance to talk with Jim Flint of Local Search Group, a Houston-based marketing agency in the automotive industry. Jim began his career working with agencies from the corporate side at brands like Nike and Toyota, before ultimately deciding he wanted to help clients through an agency of his own. He shared what he's learned along the way so you can create a successful agency culture and increase your cash flow.

Why Your Digital Agency's Culture is So Important

Before Jim realized the value of culture, he was hiring smart and capable people who weren't necessarily aligned with him in important areas. This created challenges within his agency, and he quickly learned the importance of building a team of people who are on the same page and headed in the same direction.

"It's not about the company and the person—it's about the company and the person and the client and the job," Jim says. If the fit doesn't go both ways, and if an employee isn't passionate about the purpose of the agency, you'll end up holding each other back.

Poor fits can lead to toxicity, which can take longer to undo than it takes to start. When toxicity takes hold at a company, the good employees will end up leaving, making it even harder to turn the ship around.

What to Consider When Hiring Agency Talent

Creating culture starts with your team, and your team starts with the hiring process. Instead of only looking at a resume, try to learn who the candidate is as a person. Learn what they do outside of work and get a sense of where they are in life. Does it align with where your agency is headed?

Another consideration is whether a candidate has a side-hustle. Side-hustles used to be considered a red flag. However, Jim views them as indicators of ambition and initiative. They also tell you what a candidate is truly passionate about—and, if it's an area related to your marketing agency, it's a good sign they may be a great fit.

How to Create a Healthy Cash Flow

While culture may be the more overlooked aspect of agency success, it's not the only piece of the puzzle. Another important component of digital agency growth? Capital.

Your cash flow is the lifeblood of your agency, and when it's running low your forward momentum can grind to a halt. What are a few ways to boost your agency's cash flow?

  • Change payment terms, so clients pay you pre-month instead of post-month.
  • Beware of "scope creep" on your deliverables.
  • Make sure you're charging enough for what you're providing.
  • Be diligent about getting paid on time.

Another way to benefit your cash flow is to get rid of the high-maintenance clients. They cost you more than you know — and beware of bringing on those clients from the outset. "A high-maintenance skinny deal is a really poor vanity play," Jim says, "and it hurts the company in ways you don't really understand until you come to actually experience it."

By cutting those clients loose, you'll free up your resources for more of the clients that are actually helping your agency turn a profit.

Looking for a Content Creation Solution?

Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out for 50% off your first month of content.

Direct download: Why_Culture_and_Cash_Flow_are_Crucial_for_Agency_Growth.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Want an 8-figure agency? Tired of the hassle and cost of managing employees? Want an entirely new, innovative business model? The answer for one agency owner was in the cloud.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • What is the no-employee model?
  • Why not freelancers?
  • A unique way to compensate your team

Today I talked with Julian Stubbs, co-founder and CEO of Up There, Everywhere. Since our last conversation in 2015, the cloud-based marketing agency has continued to grow and is now approaching 8 figures in revenue.

What is the No-Employee Model?

The problem Julian had with the traditional agency business model is that you can never downsize or upsize as quickly as you need, so you are either missing opportunities or wasting resources. Combined with the high overhead of offices and employees, he knew there had to be a better way.

He and his business partner decided to take advantage of cloud-based tools to build a truly global agency. Instead of employees, they now have a network of members in 20 countries around the world. Members work on projects remotely for clients, and all their work is backed up online.

Why Not Freelancers?

Often, when an agency chooses to go lean, they have a slate of freelancers they work with instead. As Julian says, though, freelancers don't scale and they aren't a long-term solution. Up There, Everywhere needs professionals who work consistently, which is why they opt for the member model.

To make sure it's a good match for both sides, potential members go through a series of interviews before joining the agency and learning how to work with their particular tools and clients. Because it's such a unique model, the agency isn't for everyone—and members need to be able to deliver.

Members don't pay to be a part of the agency, but they do donate their time to the community based on their skills, such as writing for the agency's blog. In addition to the pay they get from projects, members also have a reward system based on their earnings, their engagement, and other charitable endeavors the agency encourages. As with employees, keeping members engaged and motivated is crucial for the agency's success.

While they are free to pursue other work as well, Julian works hard to make sure the agency's projects are the most interesting—preferring members to choose their work rather than forcing it on them.

A Unique Way to Compensate Your Agency Team

One of the most applicable takeaways from Up There, Everywhere's model is its fixed-rate structure. Instead of billing hourly and paying its members per hour of work, it has fixed rates for its clients and its members. Julian points out that when people are working on their own time, they're much more productive—a lesson for any agency owner. Consider how you can structure your team's pay around deliverables rather than time spent.

Other stats from the cloud-based agency's continued success?

  • Networking accounts for approximately 50% of sales, while content marketing brings in the other 50%
  • Churn rate among members is under 5%, while at Julian's previous traditional agency that number was between 10-15%

As in any agency, having a plan and direction is paramount. The various teams get together on a weekly call to talk about clients, members, and the agency. Think about your own agency and what you can do regularly to check-in across your team and make sure you stay aligned on the same goals, whether you're in the same office or fully remote.

Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster?

If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency.

For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at and get 25% for a limited time.

Direct download: How_to_Build_an_8-Figure_Agency_with_Zero_Employees.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Have you ever wondered if the grass is greener for big agencies? Or is it easier to be a small agency that is more nimble? Are you struggling with prioritizing growth strategies? Does size matter when it comes to growth trajectory? It all comes down to perspective. Size only matters in relation to your vision of growing your agency.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • What are the big agencies missing?
  • Hurdles to overcome when growing an agency.
  • 3 ways a small agency can grow faster.

I talked to Steve McCall, a partner in a branded digital strategy agency called Carbon. Formerly, Steve was the general manager of a large agency in Boston. However, as he explains, life happened a few years ago. The death of a loved one gave him clarity on his career goals. So Steve took a risk by partnering with two former colleagues who had already begun Carbon. Steve is here to share the differences between big agencies and small agencies and how Carbon provides the best client experience, best product, and best work-life balance.

What Are the Big Agencies Missing?

"There is a lot to like about big agencies," Steve explains, adding that the benefits of a big agency include:

  • The high level of brands that look to large agencies to deliver their services.
  • The ability to grow your skillsets across different client categories and disciplines.

However, Steve and his partners realized something was missing from their experiences with big agencies. Focus is placed on making sure the client experience is equal to the output, even if it cuts into profitability. "We are not always profit-focused," he says. "It's more about ensuring a great product and developing a relationship with the client. In a larger holding company model, that is challenging to do."

Hurdles to Overcome When Growing An Agency

Growing an agency that offers a work-life balance and is devoted to delivering quality products and client experiences isn't easy. The primary challenge was finding out where their product and level of service needed to be in order to be successful. Other challenges included:

  • Profitability without sacrificing service. "There are a lot of investments you have to make when you start an agency." Even while the agency was determining what products to offer and how to satisfy clients, they also had to learn how to be profitable.
  • Creating forward momentum. Growth takes momentum and it's easy to become complacent or get bogged down in the trenches. Carbon built momentum through providing as many in-house services as possible.

3 Ways a Small Agency Can Grow Faster

Carbon places emphasis well-roundedness and Steve attributes their rapid growth to these 3 tactics:

  1. Cross-train. Steve said the ability to provide multiple services in-house with a small team requires each member of the team to have a base level skill set on as many tools as possible. This eliminates the bottleneck when only one person has the ability to perform a certain task.
  2. Use your client's data. Data will not only manage expectations but also help identify additional services to meet specific needs the client might not even know they have. This provides new revenue opportunities for you but also new business opportunities for them.
  3. Keep exploring what is possible. Just as you analyze your client's data, analyze your own data. Develop a grounded path forward in the firm understanding of where you are now as well as what it will take to get where you want to be.

Looking for a Content Creation Solution?

Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out for 50% off your first month of content.

Direct download: Does_Size_Matter_When_It_Comes_to_Agency_Growth_Potential_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Are you feeling overwhelmed by client demands? Struggling to choose the ideal clients who are right for your agency? Have you lost a major client and you don't understand why? There are a lot of factors involved in growing your digital agency. But the most important factor is how well you serve your clients.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • Why determining and communicating agency focus is important.
  • Setting goals and making sure your agency is on the right track.
  • 3 ways to use communication as a catalyst for growing your agency.

On this episode, I talked to Tyler Dolph, the President, and Partner at the Wisconsin-based digital advertising and marketing agency, Rocket Clicks. Tyler joined the agency in a business development role about 6 years ago, after a chance meeting with the agency owner on an airplane flight. Shortly after joining the team there, the President of the agency resigned and Tyler stepped into the role. Since then, the agency has grown from a team of 12 to 39, and the client list has grown from about 15 to 85. Tyler is here to offer some insights about the emphasis his agency places on client services, and how it has helped them grow.

Why Determining and Communicating Agency Focus is Important

"We're not a full-service agency, we're not everything to everyone," Tyler says of Rocket Clicks. Once the agency was financially stable, they discovered it was OK not to take on every client. Instead, they learned to focus the agency's service offering and narrow down to what they're best at.

Another important part of this process is determining who the right client is. The best way to accomplish this is identifying your ideal clients' service needs and the necessary budget. By establishing these parameters, you can target potential clients and quickly detect the ones that aren't right for you.

Developing the agency's focus is only part of the challenge, however. The other part was in letting everyone -- including the clients and the team -- know what that focus is. Tyler compared this to navigating a boat. When you communicate the focus it allows others to decide if they want to stay in the boat, jump off, or alter the course of the boat just a little bit and still reach the destination.

Setting Goals and Making Sure Your Agency Is on the Right Track

Once you've developed the focus of your agency and distilled your offerings down to a few specialties that you do really well, it is important to set goals to ensure you are keeping focus. This isn't a one-shot deal. Goals should be set and revisited on a frequent basis. Each goal needs to be measurable. Rocket Clicks uses software that enables the process of setting these goals and gathering data needed to measure progress efficiently and with little effort required.

3 Ways to Use Communication as a Catalyst for Growing Your Agency

The key is communication in order to provide superior client service. Tyler recommends the following steps in using communication as a catalyst for agency growth:

  1. Avoid FOMO, fear of missing out. Many agency owners are honestly afraid of saying no to a client because they don't want to miss out on the opportunity and the profit the client has to offer. Unfortunately, this often provides the hard lesson of taking on a client you can't handle and subsequently losing that client. By clearly communicating with potential clients what services you are able to offer rather than approaching the relationship thinking about what you can get from the client, you build stronger relationships.
  2. Remember clients are people too. "At the end of the day, clients just want to feel like they matter. They want to know they're being taken care of." Rocket Clicks enforces this realization by eliminating the client services management role. Instead, the team member doing the work are the ones to communicate with the client.
  3. Empower your team from day one. Tyler prefers hiring new employees from other agencies. Every new hire undergoes a two-month training period. During this time they learn the Rocket Clicks way. However, right from the start, they're encouraged to question everything. Feedback on processes and suggesting new methods are encouraged. This not only allows team members to play an important role but it gives the whole agency an opportunity to learn and grow from their experience.

Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster?

If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency.

For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at and get 25% for a limited time.

Direct download: Why_Client_Service_is_a_Big_Factor_in_Growing_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Are you searching for more ways to attract new agency clients? Have you considered starting a podcast for your agency? Are you searching for new ways to spread the word about the services you offer? Are you wondering how to encourage your own team to be thought leaders? Now more than every, content creation options are endless. Take advantage of them all by asking for help so you can focus on growing your agency.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • How content marketing is changing with the times.
  • When should content be written vs spoken?
  • 3 things to turn your team into thought leaders.

I talked with Steve Pockross, the CEO of the content creation marketplace, Verblio. Verblio currently has 3,000 writers who create 70,000 pieces of unique content each year, with a focus on delivering content to more than 500 digital agencies who count on the company to supply content for their clients. Steve is here to talk about how content creation is changing with the times and how agencies can keep up with these changes. Today, Verblio's writers need to go beyond writing simple blog posts to transforming audio and video content into written work and refreshing old content into something new.

How Content Marketing Is Changing With the Times

At the beginning of 2020, Steve noted the trend in content creation was long-form content creation. Clients were seeking content that was 1,000 words long or more. Additionally, clients were beginning to ask for written content created from video. However, when the pandemic hit in March, the requests for content changed again. "Since the pandemic, we have seen a move toward instant impact content," Steve says. "We are getting requests for content refreshers. We are re-purposing audio content as written content." Additionally, Steve adds, there is a micro content trend in which larger pieces of content are broken up into smaller pieces that provide a quick, easy read for the client's audience.

With all of the changes experienced through technological advances and world events, one thing Steve has noticed is clients are going bigger. Verblio has experienced a 25% increase in content requests since April.

When Should Content Be Written vs Spoken?

Digital agencies are looking for a way to reach their clients in a world that offers many different channels and platforms. Steve says to use them all. "Podcasts are a DVR for audio," he says. "They're so accessible, you can listen anytime you want." He adds that there is a natural viral aspect to podcasts: they're interactive, they're engaging, and they are a way to build your audience.

On the flip side, though, Steve stresses making a podcast involves preparation. You can't ask every guest the same questions, and with 800,000 podcasts available, it's important to know what you're trying to create and who you're trying to reach. As effective as a podcast can be in reaching your clients, "many people still love to read," Steve said. Providing your podcast content in written form is a more complete way to present the content and reach different listeners as well as readers.

Writing is time-consuming and not everyone is confident in their ability to do it. Steve encourages agency owners to perform the work they're strong in seek help from outside sources or others on your team in order to provide content in other formats to reach a larger audience.

3 Things to Turn Your Team Into Thought Leaders

Being a thought leader is difficult to manage when you still have a day job, Steve notes. This is one of the reasons that encouraging your team to be thought leaders can provide you with advantages. Some of the things you can do to encourage this thought leadership in your team include:

  1. If you do a podcast, include your team. One way to start this process is to ask team members what questions they are repeatedly asked by clients. Then create a podcast around those commonly asked questions. This extends to everyone from operations to creatives to the account team. Getting the team involved not only takes the burden off of you in creating all of your agency's content but also opens the doors to their own ideas on how to create fresh content. "Great content isn't written, it's assembled," Steve says.
  2. Commit to the process. If you want to offer a company blog, commit to a schedule that allows you to create blog posts. If you aren't a writer, commit to finding a writer who will work with you. Instead of stressing about creating 100% of the content for your agency, have someone else create 80%.
  3. Be clear with your expectations. Commit to sharing your thoughts about content creation and getting feedback in return. Remember, your thoughts are not going to telepathically transfer to your team or to your outside content creator. They have to be clearly communicated.

Looking for a Content Creation Solution?

Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendors we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out for 50% off your first month of content.

AND... if you want to provide input about what works and what doesn't take a minute to participate in Verblio's agency survey.

Direct download: How_Is_Content_Creation_Changing_with_the_Times_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Do you feel like you've made so many mistakes at your agency you may never be successful? Do you find yourself trying to be someone else for your clients? Are you willing to accept any client and any project out of desperation for cash flow? Truth is, you can learn from your mistakes and grow your agency because of those experiences.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • Why bigger clients aren't always better clients.
  • How relationship-building helps retain clients.
  • 3 tips for healthy agency growth.

I talked to Theo Fanning, the Executive Creative Director and President of Traction, a digital marketing agency in San Francisco. Traction was started in the ruins of the dot com bomb of 2001. At that time, faced with few opportunities, Theo and three friends decided to start an agency of their own. "It was blind fury," he recalls. "We had no idea what we were doing. Many of us had not had management or operational roles. We just assumed everything would come our way and we made a lot of mistakes. We are an agency built on failure, but we're always failing up." Theo shares some of those mistakes and lessons learned so he could grow his agency to a team of 50.

Why Bigger Clients Aren't Always Better Clients

Traction was built on a freelance-based model, "because we had a lot of friends who were freelancers," Theo explained. However, this business model led to some of the agency's earliest mistakes: "Freelancers are flaky and you can't build a business off the backs of friends."

What followed were several years of a truly organic agency experience that began without operational tools and timesheets. Along the way, however, the agency managed to break even and the team began to grow. In 2005, after having just relocated to new office space and with a team of 12-15, Traction lucked into the opportunity to pitch Apple. "We sort of jumped into it with no true strategy," Theo explained. "All we had was grit and good nature, and some good relationships that we had built."

Theo points out that landing this first big client taught the team something very important. "When you're the smallest agency working for the largest client, you really don't get to run your business the way you'd like." He said the experience with Apple helped them learn to focus on clients of all sizes. Traction still works with Apple 15 years later but has a greater appreciation for fostering relationships with decision-makers of all-sized clients.

How Relationship-Building Helps Retain Clients

One of the most important things an agency can do is build relationships. Traction's relationships with the business owners they work with has taught the team to better articulate their value. Gaining the trust of the client through the relationship opens the door to offering additional services to help the client succeed. Traction prides itself on being able to show clients "new ways to do old things," -- which can include the adoption of new technologies as well as new ways to look at their business.

Theo says the relationships you build with your team also go a long way. The agency started by friends focused on doing quality work and providing the ability for staff to have a good quality of life, as well. What they got in return was a team that is both strong as well as loyal.

3 Tips for Healthy Agency Growth

Theo embraces the learning process that comes from making mistakes. Some of the tips he offers to other agencies who are struggling to find their place in a competitive industry include:

  1. Stop trying to be what you're not. In the beginning, Theo notes, Traction tried to position itself as a full-service agency. "We wanted to play with the big kids," he says. What happened instead was the team couldn't compete. While they looked like they were able to provide the same level of service as larger agencies, they did not have the resources to back it up.
  2. Let go of the fluff. Standard agency models offer a lot of unnecessary things, such as customer journey maps and the development of an overall strategy for every potential client. A better way to operate is to distill your offerings into something the client can actually use.
  3. Use being small to your advantage. One of the benefits of being a small agency is the opportunity to develop relationships with your clients. This establishes trust and authority as well as nurtures forgiveness for the mistakes you make along the way.
Direct download: The_Key_to_Growing_Your_Agency_in_Spite_of_Mistakes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT