4 Phases of a Successful Agency Growth Journey

By Jason Swenk on January 17, 2018

Are the unknowns of the agency industry overwhelming? Do you sometimes feel like maybe it’s time to close shop? Learn about the 4 phases of successful agency growth from an owner with over two decades of experience. Hear all his ups and downs plus learn what to expect as you scale and grow.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • 4 phases of successful agency growth.
  • How to manage a growing agency.
  • Deciding whether to bring on a partner or not.

Today I talked with Chris Emergui, CEO of BAM Strategy, the agency he founded in 1996. With over 20 years of agency ownership experience he’s seen his agency grow, deplete and grow again. He learned a couple things along the way and shares with us some of those nuggets of knowledge as well as the 4 phases his agency went through to get to reach the success they enjoy today. Sometimes just knowing what other agency owners have gone through can provide the encouragement and support we need in this lonely entrepreneurial world.

4 Phases of a Successful Agency Journey

So what are the 4 phases that you can go through in a successful agency journey? Let’s break them down for you..

Phase 1: The Start-Up

This is the time when you get things going. You could take this on alone or with a partner (although I don’t recommend partnerships – more on that later). This phase lends itself to being more ambitious and more willing to take some risks. This can be a time of quick prosper and scaling quickly, but can also include a downturn in business and can be messy.

This is when you learn lessons.

Phase 2: Switching It Up

This could be when you and your partner part ways. When you realize you have different visions. It’s a time when a business model change might take place. If you’ve been dealt the hardship of budgets getting slashed, this is when you anchor yourself with your client. Start servicing clients in areas that will not be affected if their marketing budget is cut.

This is when you are getting more experienced at knowing what to offer.

Phase 3: The Romantic Phase

This is the time when you have fun. You are at that 20-25 employee marker and you know them inside and out. You are experiencing growth and have a good, solid culture. You understand the impact you can have on the business.

This is the phase you would stay in if you could.

Phase 4: Continuation of Growth

A lot of agency owners think Phase 3 is ideal and want to stop growth there. But, you can’t stay there forever, no matter how much you’d like to. You don’t have a choice in this industry. You need to constantly go after new business and have a goal to grow. Because in this business, because you’re only one client-decision away from being shattered.

Phase 4 is where you start laying your infrastructure. Bring in the people to start handling the things you might not be so good at and start empowering them for success. In Chris’s case he brought in a new partner at this point.

If you hire the right people, put them in the right role and give them the right systems. Then you can start doing less and focus on growth goals.

This is the phase when you get out of the day-to-day and take on a new role of heading the ship.

How to Manage a Growing Agency

When we empower our agency employees we set them up for success. And that is really our biggest role in agency management – helping our people succeed. If they aren’t coming to you for all the answers, that’s a good thing. It means you are providing them with the right upfront direction so they can make decisions.

It feels good to be needed but you need to remember that being their “hero” isn’t a long-term solution. You want people who can run things on their own; you don’t want your agency to crumble if you get hit by a bus.

The transition from Agency Owner to CEO can be tough. And doing so can create both a freedom and a void. However, as CEO one of your five main roles is to mentor your leadership team, giving them confidence and direction. You are there to help them become more successful and grow. This is when you can really start scaling your agency, because now they are making decisions that are good for the agency and not just for themselves!

Your number one asset is your team. So invest in them, because that is an investment that will pay for itself.

Deciding On A Partner: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

I always advise against bringing on an agency partner because you either know the bad partner, or you are the bad partner.

But, I know it’s pretty typical to bring on a partner when you are looking for a lead person to manage an area of business where your skills are lacking. An agency partnership or part-ownership provides a vested interest for that person while strengthening the agency leadership.

Chris’s advice is to make sure you are hiring someone you can empower, and someone who is smarter than you. Don’t be blinded by their prior experience and large network or influence.

Most importantly, you and your partner have to have the same view/reaction to any given event. While you can complement each other’s weaknesses, your vision needs to be the same.

Key Takeaways:

  • No one has all the answers.
  • Learn as you go is the nature of the business.
  • You’ll make mistakes along the way.
  • It only takes one big client to get on the map.
  • Keep on pushing! You will get that one break.
  • Don’t try to compare yourself to the larger agencies, but have the confidence that you can complete with them and can service the larger brands.

A mindset of perseverance is how you’ll find success for your agency. Things can change on a dime in this industry! You will find the hard stuff is what you’re going to remember, you’ll appreciate it more, when it’s in hindsight. And it will always remind you that you can handle it, you can get through. Let the tough times make you smarter and move on!

Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency?

Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you’re a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits and great service to take care of your team.

For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3-months free once you run your first payroll with them.


Discover the best Digital Agency Strategies today. Get Online Training to help you setup the right systems and strategies to help you grow faster.

More From Jason Swenk

I’ve taken you through the 4 phases of a successful agency journey but are there other issues you’re experiencing? Through my experience in the industry, I have advice on many topics from the struggles you may face with failing economies and recessions to how accepting a speaking opportunity can create business and using social media and Youtube can boost marketing for your agency.

Learn more about me and check out all my tips, tricks and everything you need to know in my blogs. I have covered a wide variety of topics as well as answering your questions in more from my Ask Swenk series.

If videos are more your thing, don’t worry, i’ve got you covered!

You can check out my Ask Swenk series and more of my videos on my Youtube channel for advice from myself and other agency experts.

Would You Like To Get Access To A Proven Agency Framework For Growing Your Agency?