Unleash Your Agency Leadership Potential by Overcoming Self-Doubt

By Jason Swenk on August 30, 2023

Do you sometimes doubt your ability as an agency owner? Are you constantly comparing yourself and feeling like you have imposter syndrome? Setbacks make every agency owner nervous about their ability to push through. Today’s guest has been successfully running an agency in an unconventional niche for years. They have experienced their share of setbacks and she was forced to come to terms with the fact that hard times shape her business as much as successes. Our guest shares how she learned to separate her identity from her role as agency owner and the importance of looking for outside support. As a result, she’s become much a more effective leader.

Kate Ahl is the owner of Simple Pin Media, a Pinterest marketing agency focused on both organic and ad marketing. They help clients create a multi-layered approach to marketing their products or content on Pinterest. After seeing steady growth for a couple of years, her agency was recently hit by setbacks that shook her confidence.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Second-guessing yourself as agency owner.
  • Not letting the agency define you.
  • Regaining the focus to get through the tough times.


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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.


Finding a Gap in the Market and Building an Agency Around It

In 2010, Kate got her first taste of the digital marketing world by helping a friend who did Facebook marketing for freelance clients. They also dabbled in Pinterest and the potential for this overlooked platform.

Three years later, Kate’s family was hit by the reality of post-recession when her husband lost his job. By then, her friend had learned more about Pinterest and suggested she manage people’s profiles. “It sounded like the dumbest idea,” she recalls, but since she was in a desperate situation, she gave it a try. She bought the Simple Pin Media domain, went through some content creator struggles, and got to work.

Right around that time, Facebook changed its algorithm and businesses were scrambling to find other alternatives. It was the perfect opportunity to give Pinterest a try. After three or four months, her first clients started spreading the word about her work as a Pinterest educator.

Still, the agency remained a side hustle for a while until a referral got her five inquiries at the same time. That was the turning point. Kate hired a business coach and from that point treated the agency as a serious business.

Second-Guessing Yourself as an Agency Owner

Revenue was a particularly tricky goal to set for Kate because of its variable nature. However, as the agency and team started to grow, the million-dollar mark seemed achievable. They did reach that milestone in 2019 and then continued to grow in 2020 and 2021.

Unfortunately, she got hit later by the pandemic and in 2022 started seeing a decrease in revenue after several years of growth. Kate used to think the 7-figure mark was the dream for her agency. In reality, it is just another vanity metric like the number of employees.

In fact, getting past the 7-figure mark came with a sudden awareness of the level of responsibility she had to employees and as the breadwinner. She started to question how clients were getting into their ecosystem and how sustainable it all was. She was suddenly very aware of how improbable it was to get over both a pandemic and a recession unscathed.

The weight of being responsible for a large team – mostly made of working moms – really got to Kate. Suddenly, scaling back to a solopreneur or having a smaller team started to look very appealing. In reality, she can see she was self-sabotaging. Her coach brought this to her attention and helped her see the need to separate her identity from her agency.

Not Letting the Agency Define You

Being an agency owner can’t become your entire identity. At some point, you will exit the business. If you’re too attached to the role as owner and see the agency as your baby, you’ll never be able to delegate. Some people feel selling their business is the equivalent of selling your soul. Instead, if you see yourself as being “entrepreneurial” and not just an entrepreneur, you’ll be able to take that to whatever you take on next.

Agency owners don’t realize how much their identities become entrenched in the business. It makes sense, you put everything into your agency. Many owners believe they won’t be the type to be too engrossed however, one day they wake up to the realization that’s exactly what happened. And it happened to Kate, who admits she thought she’d be the exception to the rule.

At one point, she even thought of selling the agency instead of turning to layoffs to stay afloat. She needed to take a step back and realize everyone would lose if she gave. She needed to step up and make hard decisions.

Focusing on the Right Things to Get Through Tough Times

In order to get through a difficult time, Kate reflected on what had worked before. When they were growing back in 2019, what was the team structure? What were the lessons learned? She now had the added advantage of more experience to help her be a better leader.

It’s easy to become resentful as growth declines but it’s also useless. Instead, Kate chose to get back to the basics and really understand her clients. By doing that, she opened the doors to be more profitable than before. Trusting herself as the leader of the agency was very important for their overall success. In hindsight, she got distracted by what she saw in the marketing space, which led to self-doubt. To get back on track, she stopped focusing on what others were doing and focused on results.

Why Your Agency Team Needs Opportunities to Flex their Idea Muscle

Going back to the basics with your agency means going back to the vision you set in the beginning. It maytake a couple of years, but creating the agency vision provides a timeline for your agency’s growth. Sharing your vision helps elevate your team to believe in it and empowers them to start making decisions without you.

Kate is very proud of having a team very tuned in to her agency vision. They’ve gotten through the most recent setback thanks to the vision. However, getting too deep into implementation modeduring crisis makes it so the team isn’t flexing the idea muscle as much as they should.

Kate’s team had been grinding so much that they hadn’t given themselves the opportunity to get creative. Is that in contradiction to a business going through a setback? Tough times are always an opportunity to look at things in a new way. It can be a chance to think differently.

Give your team an opportunity to think of fun ways to stand out and serve clients. Ultimately, your agency will benefit from having a team that allows themselves to think bigger and dream bigger.

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

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program enables you to take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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