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Has your agency struggled through tough times? Could you pivot quickly if necessary? Back in 2020 many businesses, including digital agencies, were scrambling to adapt during the covid pandemic. Today’s guest got her agency to the other side and almost back at pre-pandemic revenue. To do that, she put together a series of guiding principles her agency team sticks by as they search for ways to carry on. She shares lessons on why building leaders and leveling up leads to amazing agency growth.

Robin Blanchette is the founder and CEO of Norton Creative, an agency that specializes in the restaurant industry. With a niche like restaurant hospitality, her clients were particularly affected by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Many in her situation tried different approached and found what worked for them. For her, it was 50% about diversifying and 50% digging deeper into her niche.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How the pandemic affected her business.
  • The principles that kept her team afloat.
  • The importance of building leaders.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


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Choosing an Agency Niche Based on Experience and Passion

Robin was not an agency person by nature. She worked for an agency once in her 20s and never wanted to do it again. She had a background on the client side so as CMO and Media Director got to work on all the pieces of running marketing for restaurants and developed a real love for that industry.

Although she really enjoyed this work, she was also a single mother of small children. She was looking for something that would allow her to be more present in her kids’ lives. She naïvely thought running her own company would allow her that time and the agency was born from the idea.

Choosing a niche was a no-brainer because Robin already had a background in the restaurant industry. That’s where her heart is and what she is drawn to. Could she sell other things if necessary? Yes, but that’s where her expertise is and where she shines. Since then, they’ve worked with about 150 restaurant brands whether for projects or partnerships.

Adapting Your Agency Model In a Downturned Economy

In early 2020, most of Robin's clients were in the restaurant business and were closing due to the lockdowns. She had the worst week of her career as many clients couldn’t pay. Many were laying off staff and even she had to let go of some employees. It was a tough time, but one of the things she remembers is everyone's level of compassion and understanding. Even laid-off employees understood the decision and Robin really felt a sense of community in those moments.

Thankfully, not every client had to shut down; many changed their model to drive through and delivery and kept going. A lot of people used creative measures and figured out how to stay in business during those months. This helped Robin and her team stay afloat and keep fighting as well.

Some may think the pandemic proves that choosing a niche could be a negative. And back in 2020, Jason advised mastermind members to dedicate 50% of their efforts to continue to support their industries and 50% of their resources to explore new industries that were thriving with the new events.

For her part, Robin decided to go even deeper into the restaurant industry. They did a lot of pro bono work and provided support to their clients. They also did a ton of branding work for digital businesses, which they now continue to do for bigger brands. All in all, they did some work outside of their niche while also digging even deeper into their industry kept them afloat in these difficult times.

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4 Guiding Principles for Getting the Agency Team Through Tough Times

The pandemic was certainly a hard time for many businesses. Agency owners had to get creative and look for new opportunities to get their agency past these difficulties. Like many, Robin did think of shutting down at some point. After all, she didn’t have to answer to shareholders. However, her team was looking to her for leadership. Inspired by them, she decided to not give up and figure out what was next for the agency.

Everyone had to be focused and working, so she created these 4 guiding principles:

  1. Focus on what you can control. Don't waste time or energy on things you can't control. Instead of worrying about the unknowns, what do you know to be true and how can you use it to your benefit?
  2. Get comfortable getting uncomfortable. Every member of the team needs to be flexible and take on new tasks and truly be a team player, even when something is a little outside their comfort zone.
  3. Assume positive intent. The uncertainty of a health crisis and changing economy is unsettling but international positivity is the only way to get through it.
  4. Don’t waste the crisis. Think about how to leverage the forced changes into ways of leveling up or renewing the business.

Leveling Up & Building Leadership

Robin’s principles for the pandemic are values any agency owner can implement at any time. You don’t need a global crisis for your team to understand the agency’s mission, vision, and values. When you have guiding principles, your team feels empowered to make decisions that meet the guidelines you've established.

Robin believes the measure of success for her guiding principles is the fact that the agency made it through and returned to their pre-pandemic revenue. Those principles helped not only to grow the agency but also to build leaders in the organization.

Coming out of the pandemic also helped her commit to leveling up in every way. It’s something her agency is applying to talent, and partners. She took this opportunity to turn into the best version of herself, which it’s really something we should always strive to do.

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