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

Are you considering starting an agency but feel like it might be too late to do so? Our featured guest today had a thriving career in PR and successfully managed an agency for nearly two decades before deciding the missing piece in that career was building and growing her own agency. With an extensive client network who already knew and trusted her work, her agency reached seven figures in just one year! Now, she contemplates the next steps for her and her team. Listen to discover how she achieved rapid agency growth and valuable tips for retaining key employees.

Amy Littleton is the owner of Stretch PR, a full-service creative public relations agency that stretches to deliver results beyond expectations. Amy shares her journey of building a seven-figure agency in just one year, the lessons learned, and insights into why she decided to leave a long career in the industry successfully running a different agency to start her own.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Agency structuring for sustainable success.

  • Building a seven-figure agency in one year.

  • Setting ambitious revenue goals.

  • Three questions to ask before exiting your business.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Why Trust is the Foundation of a Great Team Leader

Amy's introduction to the world of public relations began with an internship at General Mills in Minneapolis, where she embarked on a nationwide media tour promoting Columbo yogurt. This initial experience in creating events and generating newsworthy moments paved the way for her subsequent role in Chicago, where she led an agency for several years.

Given the reins to manage the agency and make decisions on behalf of the owners, Amy was entrusted with a high level of autonomy, allowing her to hone her skills in agency management. The owners recognized Amy's capabilities and confidently relied on her to drive financial results and effectively lead the team. This level of trust empowered Amy to exercise her decision-making freedom, take calculated risks, and ultimately steer the agency toward success.

One of the key lessons Amy learned during that time was the importance of trust in managing people. She learned to look at each team member beyond their functions at the agency and to support them as people during significant transitions such as starting a family or sick parents. Trust is the foundation of any successful team and is essential for fostering collaboration, communication, and accountability.

However, as the years went by she started to think about the next chapter in her career and realized she needed to build something of her own before the end of her career. It was the one thing she felt she hadn’t done in business, so she took the leap and made it happen.

Laying the Foundation: Structuring for Sustainable Agency Success

The hardest part of agency ownership for Amy in this first year has been client management. As the owner, she feels the weight of ensuring that clients are well-served and remain long-term partners, all while focusing on establishing a sustainable business model, team development, and policies. While these were tasks she had undertaken before, it is now her responsibility to create a cohesive structure for all these elements to function effectively.

When it came to expanding her team, Amy faced a significant decision: transitioning from relying on independent contractors to seeking full-time hires. While some may view full-time hires as unnecessary or risky in the first year of business, Amy believed it was the right move for her agency.

She chose to initially build her senior team, bringing on board a senior vice president and a vice president whom she had previously worked with and trusted to deliver. Now, she is gearing up to make additional mid-level hires to provide further support for the senior team.

Building a 7-Figure Agency by Leveraging Connections

Amy had already established a solid footing in the business world when she launched her agency in 2023, having cultivated strong connections within the industry. She attributes her agency's rapid growth to these relationships. In addition to capitalizing on her existing network, Amy differentiated her agency by offering a unique blend of services, merging business communications expertise with sports communications and brand activation. This allowed her agency to appeal to a diverse range of clients and offer a comprehensive suite of services, secure business quickly, and establish a solid foundation for growth.

Most people would be hesitant to leverage those connections and maybe doubt approaching them. In this sense, Amy emphasizes the importance of using LinkedIn to stay connected with past clients and colleagues, showcasing expertise, and leveraging relationships to drive business growth.

As today's Rolodex, LinkedIn played an important role in building a network of people Amy had worked with in the past, met on new business pitches, and connected with over the years. It’s the platform she used to reach out to people and let them know about her agency and where she was able to generate new business opportunities, secure referrals from vendors, and grow her client base organically.

Navigating the Agency's "No Man's Land" by Setting Ambitious Revenue Goals

After a year of incredible growth, Amy highlights is focusing on setting clear goals and objectives for business growth. One million dollars in revenue still seems unsteady for her, so she has the short-term goal of reaching $3 million in revenue and building a more sustainable operation.

In addition, Amy is focused on evolving the agency’s services as they continue to move forward. The point between $1 million and $4 million in revenue can feel like a no man’s land where the agency owner is growing their agency but continues to be at the center of the operation. To get past that, owners need to gradually step away from day-to-day operations to focus on being the face of the organization, coaching the senior leadership, and setting the agency’s goal and direction.

Ultimately, agency ownership will always present different challenges at each stage. It’ll never feel like the storm has passed and you can now relax. But as you move forward and seek to delegate part of the load, you’ll find it gets easier.

3 Questions Every Agency Owner Needs to Answer Before Exiting

At the end of your career, with all the crazier days of building the agency behind you, the thing you’ll probably remember the most is the relationships you built. Working through challenges with a team, facing difficult situations together, and coming out stronger on the other side will be some of the most memorable parts of the journey, even more so than the wins.

It’s during these times when you find out what your team is made of and also who’s willing to ride out the tough times with you and your agency. There are also good moments to see how well your team manages a crisis without having to run to you. Can they make the key decisions following the roadmap you created?

This is when you’ll know you can step back and enjoy more of your time. Is this necessarily the time to sell your agency and retire? It really depends on the person, but no one should even consider that option without a clear vision of what comes after the sale. In her case, Amy has learned entrepreneurs need to answer three questions:

  1. Have you done enough?

  2. Do you have enough?

  3. Will you have enough to do?

If you have an answer for all — especially #3, then you are ready for the next stage of your life.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Amy_Littleton_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

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