6 Stages to Scaling Your Digital Agency Faster

By Jason Swenk on February 15, 2022

6 Stages to Scaling Your Digital Agency Faster

Where are you on your digital agency growth journey? Do you know what you need to do next in order to scale to the next level? Oftentimes digital agency owners get to a certain level of success and then plateau because they aren’t sure what move will help them climb up farther toward success. I have found there are six stages to scaling your digital agency faster.

Here are the 6 stages to climbing the mountain to agency success. There are no shortcuts (and anyone who tells you there are, is full of it). However, when you have a clear, detailed map the journey is much easier.

1. Staging

Staging the climb refers to the foundation at the base of the mountain. It’s the most basic and most important part of the journey because, without a solid foundation, you can’t start ascending the mountain.

In the Staging phase, you must work to find clarity on your niche and offering. This takes dedication, self-awareness, and lots of patience. Ultimately, the goal is to define your digital agency’s ideal client and core offering. Rather than being a “me too” agency you want to establish authority in a specific niche and be the best at a specific core offering. When you try to be a jack of all trades, you end up the master of none.

Common issues are: lack of clarity and offering. You find yourself not saying ‘no’ and therefore inefficient because you’re not doing repeatable work. Everything is customized because you haven’t defined an avatar and offering. It takes time and lots of trial and error to find clarity in these two areas.

The best way to get really clear about niche and offering is to look at your success stories. Which clients have you: (1) enjoyed working with and (2) achieved amazing results?

You’re ready to climb to the next stage when:

You have defined a specific niche, you speak their language, and know exactly what pain points you solve for them. You have a very specific offering and turn away work outside of those core services.

2. Basecamp

In mountain climbing, basecamp is (obviously) camp at the base of the mountain. They are used by mountain climbers during their ascent for acclimatization to the altitude. Some hikers spend a short time here, some spend much more. How long will you spend in Basecamp?

At the Basecamp stage, you’re focused on building a lead generation system that provides steady leads and helps avoid the ebb and flows of inconsistent workflow and the resulting cash flow issues. You’re focused on getting good leads into your pipeline and closing them at a high rate.

Common issues are: relying on referrals (which is not scalable) and a lead generation system that is not capturing the right clients (so you’re wasting time).

To create a successful lead generation system, take a 3-pronged approach. That way if one channel dries up, you still have leads coming from the other two sources. When you have consistent leads, your pipeline will be consistently full of the right prospects.

The 3 lead generation channels are:

  1. Inbound: create rich media content that is engaging and builds your authority and trust within your niche. Build relationships by speaking their language and giving away valuable information for free. When you do, it’s a much easier decision for them to choose to work with you.
  2. Outbound: pick up the phone. Start with low-hanging fruit and as you get comfortable broaden your outreach. Customize your outbound or you’ll blend in with everyone else who copy/pastes generic LinkedIn messages to all their contacts. People want to do business with people, so be personable. Create a “Top 100 List” and then work the list.
  3. Strategic Partnerships: find partners that are in tangential businesses who are going after the same audience. Don’t be confused with “referral partners” who just refer business back and forth. What you want are strategic partners that you can work with for mutual benefit.

You’re ready to climb to the next stage when:

Your pipeline is consistently full with leads from all three channels and you’re converting prospects at a good rate. When you reach the point where you’re not struggling for leads and sales, then you know you’ve started ascending to the next level.

3. Climb

Mountain climbing, by definition, is the sport of attaining or attempting to attain, high points in mountainous regions — mainly for the pleasure of the climb. How pleasurable is your Climb so far?

Are you still very much IN the business? Are you wearing too many hats; involved in operations, sales, and deliverables? If you’ve answered yes to these questions then you’re in the Climb stage.

Common issues are: not closing the right accounts and having the owner being pulled in too many directions. When the owner is doing all or most of the sales and/or account management she/he cannot focus on growing the agency.

The only way to ascend higher and grow your digital agency is to get the owner out of every aspect of the business. It is hard but ultimately, you will gain credibility and authority when you’re not as involved in the business.

Think about it this way. When you need to see a doctor, there’s someone who has you fill out the paperwork, someone else takes your vitals, another person comes in and asks about your symptoms. The doctor comes into the picture at the very end — that’s your place. When you’re doing everything and you’re too accessible to the clients, you lose credibility.

What can you do to move forward and get yourself off this plateau? Build a sales system and hire a sales team. Create a process for qualifying leads, following up, tracking, and then train the right people to take on that role.

You’re ready to climb to the next stage when:

The owner is not doing all the selling. The owner is adding color as needed and can help with closing, but there is a sales system that is easily repeatable and being managed by someone else.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

4. Crux

The most difficult part of a climb is the Crux. In mountain hiking, the Crux is the section of the route where the greatest danger exists. But it doesn’t have to be your greatest struggle when you find the right team to assist with the climb.

Common issues are: inconsistent delivery and inability to keep up with demand. Your lead gen efforts are working and sales are cranking but now you’re so busy you can’t service clients efficiently. You feel delivery suffering so you’re working more and more in the business. That’s the problem.

You need to hire the right people and get them in the right seats. In order to ascend from the Crux you have to build the right team that will get your digital agency higher in the climb. The goal is to get the owner out of the daily aspects of the agency so they can transition from owner to CEO. Finding, training, and managing the right people for your digital agency team is difficult and there will be stumbles along the way. But remember, every mountain has switchbacks where you have to zig-zag in order to reach new elevations. Your Crux journey will, too.

You’re ready to climb to the next stage when:

You have built an amazing team and are no longer involved in the daily operations of the business. Delivery is a well-oiled machine because you have processes in place to help your team be effective and efficient. You are working on transitioning yourself from owner to CEO, keeping in mind the 5 roles of the Agency CEO.

5. Crest

The Crest is the peak of a mountain. What does it take to get to the peak of the mountain? Well, up until now you are the one leading the climb and when you’re at the Crest you need to find and empower some other sherpas to blaze the trail.

Common issues are: defining and filling leadership roles within your team. It’s not about how you get to the next level, but rather who can get you there. You need leaders that help make your digital agency team better. In turn, that amazing leadership team will also make you better too. A solid leadership team will help your agency scale because they have specific skill sets and are experts in managing parts of the business better than you. (YES! Better than you.)

You want to make it so your team is no longer dependent on you. You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. Get an operations whiz in charge of ops. Finance, HR, Sales, all the things that pull you in different directions are the things you’re delegating to a team of experts.

Warning: You. Will. Get. Depressed.

Typically, our significance is tied up in how much the agency needs us. When it runs without you, there is a feeling of loss. You may sometimes resent agency life, but it also gives you meaning. You might feel like you’ve lost your purpose. That’s not true — your significance has just shifted. And your responsibilities lie within the five roles of the Agency CEO.

You’re ready to climb to the next stage when:

You’re only serving as the Agency CEO in these five roles…

  1. Set and communicate the agency’s vision.
  2. Coach and mentor the leadership team.
  3. Be the face of the agency.
  4. Build key relationships.
  5. Understand the finances.

6. Summit

The top of the mountain. The apex. The highest point, topmost level attainable. This is end game for most people. Have you thought about your exit plans? It’s ok to have a plan in mind and then shift things when goals change.

The core issue is: scaling the leadership system. You’re at the Summit but it’s your job to pull the leadership team up with you.

The biggest challenge in the Summit stage is getting your digital agency to a point where it can run without you. You’re a creator and you’re ready to build something else which you can’t do until the agency is self-sustaining.

The goal is to scale your leadership team and prepare for an acquisition or public offering. That’s a big, scary proposition. How will you know when it’s time to sell your agency? It’s entirely up to you what that looks like, and when.

My advice is: build your business to sell, but treat it like you never will.

When you’ve reached the Summit — that’s it. End game.

The digital agency climb is not for everyone but when you have a map of where you’re at and where you’re going it’s a lot easier to plan the journey.

If you’ve hit a plateau and are not sure how to climb to the next level, you want to check out the Agency Playbook. It’s the 8 system framework I used when I grew and eventually sold my digital agency. Since then, thousands of agencies have used it to navigate the climb and reach new heights to become a smart agency.


6 Stages of Scaling Your Digital Agency Faster

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