Why Ditching the Competition Mentality Leads to Real Agency Growth

By Jason Swenk on April 27, 2022

Are you a proactive or reactive agency owner? It’s common to come into the business not having a full understanding of what it takes to grow your agency or the type of issues you could face. Today’s guest tells us about the process of growing his agency, ditching the competition mentality, and how he wants to help agency owners prepare to grow their businesses.

Bear Newman founded his agency Bear Fox Marketing with the belief that running a digital marketing agency specializing in SEO wouldn’t be as difficult as it actually was. Years later, he says it was one of the best things he ever did but admits he wasn’t quite prepared for some of the challenges. He has overcome a lot of obstacles, including losing clients that accounted for more than 50% of revenue. Now, with a full staff of employees and as he starts to step away from day-to-day operations, he crafted The Bear Fox Principle, a book to help prepare agency owners for what they should expect in the path of growing their business.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Running an agency is more than just knowing how to do the work.
  • Why one client shouldn’t be more than 20% of total revenue.
  • Why winning doesn’t mean crushing every other agency.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today’s episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency’s financial needs and how he can help you.


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Running an Agency Is More Than Just Doing the Work

Bear was doing SEO work as a freelancer when he decided to open his own agency. “I may not have fully thought through that career move,” he jokes. At the time, his reasoning was just, why not? How difficult can it be? He soon realized there’s a lot more to running an agency than just being able to do the work.

For starters, he had no idea what he should charge clients in order to run a successful business. For his first SEO account, he planned to bill $750 a month. That has definitely changed by now.

He also had to figure out every side of the business, from sales to servicing and marketing. Now his agency has great client reviews and is the #1 rated agency in Idaho. He has employees that are much better at selling the agency’s products and work on marketing, ads, and creative content to keep the pipeline full.

There’s a Lesson in Every Experience While Growing Your Agency

A lot of agency owners live by the words “if you fail to plan you plan to fail.” Bear does believe in the importance of planning, but he also knows that you can’t plan for everything and tries to figure it out whenever he can’t. For example, he once got a meeting to pitch for the largest pest control company in the Valley. The marketing director quickly let him know he was just meeting with him as a courtesy because he was never getting that account.

Instead of feeling bad, he decided the experience of pitching the project would be enough. With that in mind, he went ahead with the pitch, trusting it would at the very least help him improve. In the end, he ended up winning the account.

Once he did get the account, however, he had no idea what to charge. Some people may say he should have anticipated that, but for him, the beauty of the agency world is also having the confidence to say “whatever comes at me, I’ll figure it out.”

Stages of Starting to Build Your Digital Agency Team

For Bear, his search for an agency team really began when he realized he was unable to keep up with the workload. He wanted to maintain the quality of work and didn’t want to be everything to everybody.

Like many agency owners, he focused on specific challenges. Bear knew needed a team of specialists who were really good at what they did so he could start to delegate tasks.

When he started his search for employees, the most important quality for him was having the right attitude towards hard work and never choosing to do the minimum.

Candidates were offered a client brief and the opportunity to create 2-3 Facebook ads and landing pages. If they only did two, he knew it wasn’t a right fit for him. It was important to find people who always strive to do everything above and beyond for clients and the agency.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Worst Thing His Agency Overcame

The first year of Covid was the hardest for his agency. Two of his clients were making the transition to handling their marketing in-house and they accounted for about 53% of his total revenue. It was a really hard time, but he had to come up with a solution. He could either downsize and prepare for the loss in revenue or he could face the problem head-on.

He decided to hire a sales team to get that revenue replaced. Of course, the team was going to need time to set in and build the funnel. Bear made the bold move of hiring two salespeople, just in case one of them failed. If this didn’t work, he would lose the cost of both of them, but it proved to be the right decision. By the end of the year, they grew by 70% and now one of those salespeople is his VP of Operations.

Lesson learned: As Jason tells his Mastermind members, having one client account for 50% or even 20% of your revenue is definitely too risky and just not smart. Bear realized this and was already thinking about the options by the time the clients pulled out. However, he learned he needed to be more proactive than reactive in these types of situations.

Agency Owner Transitioning Out of Day-To-Day Operations

After hiring the right team to keep the agency’s momentum going, Bear is trying to extricate himself from day-to-day operations. At some point, every owner reaches a point where they need to spend more time working on the business rather than in it.

Bear now oversees staff training and overall tries to keep an eye on their metrics, clients, and set the course for the future of the agency.

With the right systems in place, the agency is getting all the pieces together to really accelerate its growth. For Bear, it’s like building an engine. The more expertise you have the better engine you can build, which will be your foundation to really move forward to the next stage of your growth.

Why You Need to Ditch the Competition Mentality

After all the ups and downs experienced with his agency, it was really important for Bear to create a guide for agency owners who are just starting in the industry. The Bear Fox Principle is a book about what it takes to build a successful digital marketing agency.

A lot of agency owners don’t know what they need to understand in order to grow their business. The book goes over the metrics you should know and what you need to understand to make a campaign successful. It also touches on integrity and how you can do what’s best for your client as well as your company. Both parties have to win and not because you win somebody else has to lose.

The “crushing your competition” mentality is a pervasive attitude in the agency world. Even Jason used to think that making it in his market meant crushing every other agency. That’s not true. You can learn a lot from people in your industry if you open up your mind.

Remember that success is created, not taken from someone else. Even if you don’t get a particular account, that doesn’t mean you won’t get another one. You just have to be resourceful.

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