From Chaos To $5 Million By Building The Right Agency Systems
Are you driven to grow your digital agency fast? Are there drawbacks to growing your agency too quickly? One agency went from chaos to $5 Million by doubling every year. However, growing too fast without the systems and processes to support it makes agency owners feel like they’re always trying to catch up. Today’s guest is the founder of one of the fastest-growing businesses in Dallas in 2022. Quickly reaching many milestones in a short time made it difficult to build the structure for that growth to continue. She shares some of the aspects she focused on, the roles she sought to fill, and the systems put in place to ensure her agency’s success without growing too fast.
Antonella Pisani is the owner of Eyeful Media, a digital marketing agency focused on paid social, paid search, SEO, copywriting, and digital strategy. Antonella’s agency reached a 1000% growth rate in just one year. Although it was an incredible achievement, it also meant she constantly felt like she was trying to catch up to their growth and couldn’t really focus on setting the agency’s structure.
In this episode, we’ll discuss:
- The chaos of growing too quickly.
- Which agency roles to fill to create the right infrastructure.
- How to avoid scope creep to keep projects within budget.
- Why you need to focus on leadership training.
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Sponsors and Resources
Dot & Co: Today’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Dot & Co, client management specialists that will help digital marketing agencies keep their clients happy. With the help of their knowledgeable account managers, agency owners can step away from the day-to-day and focus on driving results. Check out dotandcompany.co/smartagency and get 20% off your first month working with them.
Overcoming the Chaos of Growing Too Quickly
Antonella’s agency grew very quickly, reaching a 1000% growth rate in just a couple of years. She constantly felt behind because they experienced 10 years’ worth of growth in just one year. Looking back, that level of growth and chaos kept her so busy she failed to implement this structure much sooner. There are some things she wishes she had structured from day 1.
It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to thrive and even get energy from the chaos around them. However, not everyone thrives from chaos. Some people need more structure to be successful in their roles. So it’s important to create a structure to allow employees to onboard quickly and get up to speed.
Three years ago she decided it was time for a “year of infrastructure”. As a first step, she and her team thought about the software pieces they needed in order to grow. They had some things figured out, like the software for billing clients and time tracking.
As she looked at the available solutions, she realized the choice was about what type of business she wanted to build in terms of culture and values. It’s not necessarily something you want to rush. Infrastructure can be created over time as you figure out what you want and what type of business you’re creating.
Who to Hire to Create the Right Agency Infrastructure
After putting the software solutions in place, Antonella knew she needed to find solutions to help the agency scale. Her focus was adding people to the agency in a way it would not end up diluting the quality of work they did for clients. Of course, you have to get to a certain level before you can afford hiring managers. So once they started to grow, it was time to make some hard choices. Instead of hiring someone for SEO, they would focus their efforts on finding a group director or project manager.
For Antonella, setting up the proper infrastructure started with implementing the software, hiring the managers they needed, and going back to check if they needed to make changes to the initial software.
That year she focused even more on hiring people with experience to then build teams underneath them. She knew it was important to create the right hierarchy rather than having too many direct reports herself.
Avoiding Scope Creep In Order to Keep Projects on Budget
Coming from a role as VP of Global eCommerce for a big brand, Antonella had an idea of how much she needed to charge clients. She started charging $250 an hour on their first few projects. The biggest challenge was learning how to charge fixed-rate strategy projects, where she became her worst enemy.
Pro tip: When clients keep coming with requests and it’s not clear to them whether it’s out of scope or not, it’s best you take control of the situation. Say “it’s no problem but this is out of scope.” Clarify this one time you’ll do it for free and send a $0 change order that they have to sign. This way, they’re aware they’re getting something they should be paying for. Next time they come to you for something like that, they’ll know it’s out of scope and expect to pay.
Boosting Efficiency by Focusing on Leadership Training
Right now, Antonella and her team are done with setting up the systems to increase efficiency. The current focus is on automation and giving the team time to analyze and interpret data. Her agency does a lot of training, which is a point of pride for her. They’re trying to lean more into that with a focus on leadership development. Training the next generation of leaders is something that helps the agency be stronger and more efficient.
Sometimes you hear the people who got your agency to a certain point won’t get you to the next level. However, if you invest in leadership and training, this isn’t necessarily true.
Antonella believes in making this kind of training available at every level in order to help create a common language that helps boost efficiency. It hasn’t been easy focusing on these things while growing so fast, but they know it will be critical to continue to scale while maintaining their client and employee experience.
Growing Too Fast and Saying No to the Wrong Clients
Is it necessary to pull the brakes when your agency is growing so fast? For Antonella, her agency grew entirely from word of mouth. For a long time, when they got to the conversation of “should we start to market ourselves?” they decided to put it off. Essentially, they wanted to wait until the agency’s structure was in place and all operations were running smoothly before starting to think about other marketing channels.
As the agency grew, they also learned to get comfortable saying no to the wrong prospects. It was their way of making sure they didn’t implode. Saying no is a very powerful way to set your agency up for success.
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 helps you 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.