3 Reasons Big Agency Clients Won’t Help Grow Your Agency with Jesse Witham

By Jason Swenk on October 9, 2019

Are you struggling to find the right clients? Wish your agency was working with bigger clients? Finding the right clients isn’t easy — especially if you’re trying to grow from freelance to agency owner. The secret is having the right qualification process and knowing who to say yes (and no) to.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • How to go from freelancer to digital agency owner.
  • 3 reasons you might steer clear of big agency clients.
  • #1 way to choose the right agency clients.

Today’s interview is with Jesse Witham, the Co-Founder and CMO of Search Marketing Agency. Jesse has been doing SEO since he was young (like 14!), way back when keyword stuffing and digital directories were “SEO” so he knows the complicated evolution of the field. Jesse went from freelancing to owning an agency handling over $300 million in client SEO spend. He’s here to share his story about agency growth and finding the right clients.

How to Go From Freelancer to Agency Owner

Going from freelancer to digital agency owner is natural. As a freelancer, you already have some clients— you just need to scale. So, why not start a business, hire a few people, and start serving more clients, right? While everyone has unique reasons for making the jump, they all share one thing in common — they’re ready to go big or go home.

So how do you actually do make the leap? The biggest thing is making the first hire. Sure, setting up an LLC, creating a brand and logo are all important steps. But, the symbolic moment for the transition from “freelancer” to “agency owner” is that first hire. That’s when you know you’ve gone from being solo to being a team.

And that’s a lot of responsibility — suddenly you have someone relying on you. That’s the magic line you cross when you go from freelancer to agency.

Your first hire doesn’t have to be another creative or a salesperson. You should always hire for your weakness. You don’t want a clone of yourself, you want someone who can fill the gaps you leave. Like the ying to your yang 🙂

Jesse’s first hire was someone who could keep him organized; I usually suggest a first hire be a project manager.

3 Reasons You Should Steer Clear of Big Agency Clients

Big clients with their big budgets always seem appealing. Don’t be fooled!  Here’s the problem with big clients — they can make or break your agency.

Whether you’re a new agency owner or have decades of experience under your belt, one thing never gets easier — turning down big budgets. Sure, big clients have tons to spend on marketing. But that doesn’t mean those big clients are the best way to scale your agency.

There are 3 issues with big clients.

  1. Inhibited growth: Having 5 huge clients can mean major revenue, but at what cost? When you have 5 clients that absorb all your time, it’s tough to grow. You can’t test new concepts on a multi-million dollar account. With smaller clients, you can more easily research, test, and develop new strategies and tactics. It’s much harder with clients that are make-or-break accounts.
  2. Lack of diversity: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And when they fall, it can really impact your agency (but not necessarily a bad thing!). Having a few key clients is stressful. You’re constantly in fear of losing them.
  3. Big egos: When clients know they’re your biggest, they may act like it. This leaves the client with the upper hand, and you without leverage. Big clients can also come with big egos. As an agency owner, your team expects you to handle those egos. That’s tough to do when losing a single client can tank the agency. Having a bunch of similar sized clients allows you to be more selective.

#1 Way to Choose the Right Clients

It’s important to know when to say no to clients, but the real question is — when do you say yes? The easiest way is to create some criteria. If they fit it, they’re in. If they don’t, they’re gone. Easier said than done, I know. But letting a few rotten apples slip through can spoil the whole bunch. You have to create crystal clear criteria and stick to it.

What does this mean? It means saying no more often than you’re comfortable with at first. But in the long run, you’ll only be working with the ideal clients who you can really help be successful. That’s a WIN!

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