Why You Need To Fire Yourself To Grow Your Agency

By Jason Swenk on October 1, 2015

In this episode we’ll discuss:
  • Why you should fire yourself, and when
  • 2 challenges most agencies face early on & how to overcome them
  • 1 super smart tip about knowing your clients’ clients

Take it from a guy who has started and grown multiple multi-million dollar businesses, you must “give your job away at least once per year.” That’s exactly what my guest, J Cornelius, has been doing for much of his 20 years in digital space. From his startup software company to his startup agency, J shares with us philosophies and strategies that will help you scale and grow your business.

A serial entrepreneur, J started his first business in 1996 when he founded and grew an international web design software company. When his entrepreneurial spirit got the 13 year itch, he began web-design consulting on the side. He eventually founded Nine Labs, a user experience and brand strategy agency, in 2012. Within those first couple years, he was partnering often with Brad Weaver at Suckerpunch Studios. The two realized they possessed complementary skills and were the missing piece to one another’s agencies. They merged in 2014 and today have 11 employees.

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It depends on the relationship between the partners, but #1 is TRUST. You have to belief that both partners have the same vision, goals and growth mindset. You also have to take the time to talk about all the worst case scenarios and write those into an Operating Agreement – this covers everything from injury or death, to buyouts or selling the agency. It’s your insurance policy and a way to create a backup plan so the organization can survive without one of you.

Fire Yourself!

J says the best way to move your business forward is to concentrate on the large impact items that will allow your business to grow. Figure out which low impact items are holding you back, fire yourself from doing those things and delegate them to someone else. Quoting Jim Collins, J says “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” (From Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”.)

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1. Not knowing who you are:   J says you have to find your identity and be able to tell a clear and compelling story about it. Promote who you are, what you do and why you’re the best at it. He says the best way to get past this challenge is by having a narrowly focus specialization. Go after a very specific target right away.

2. Associating size with success:   A lot of agency owners think they need to model the behavior of bigger agencies so they can grow and secure bigger clients. Not true! Often times it’s the smaller clients that are easier to land, easier to work with and have the budgets. Also, more employees usually means more problems, which changes the leader’s focus. J is always careful about who and how he hires, using a skill matrix to determine which skills sets are in-house and which might be missing. He says today, more than ever before, you can scale a business without necessarily having more people – and that’s a good thing! Think about it… Would you rather have a $20 million business with 10 employees or a $10 million business with 20 employees?

Best advice for a young agency

Study businesses adjacent to those of your clients. After you figure out who your ideal client is, learn about their ideal client. You have to fully understand your client’s business, who they serve and what their client’s expect. When you understand how to help your clients’ clients you are innately helping your client as well.  

If you love all J’s advice you can connect with him or read more on his blog here.

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