3 Big Mistakes a 20 Year Veteran Agency Owner Made That You Don’t Have To with Jeff Hilimire

By Jason Swenk on June 28, 2017

What can you do to stand out from your competition? How can you avoid costly business mistakes that make it harder to grow and scale your agency? In this episode, you’ll get some great advice on this and more from an amazing pro who’s owned three successful agencies over the past two decades.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • How the agency space has evolved over time.
  • How to avoid costly business mistakes in your agency.
  • Why specializing is more profitable for agencies.
  • What is 48in48? So get this!

Today’s guest is Jeff Hilimire who also happened to be my guest on episode #2 of The Smart Agency Master Class more than three years ago! With nearly 20 years of experience owning 3 different agencies, he says his worst mistakes were made over the past 3 years. He’s back on the show this time to tell us how you can avoid those mistakes to successfully grow, scale and enjoy your agency.

Jeff started his first agency in 1998 and sold it 10 years later. He stayed with the acquiring agency until it sold again another 5 years later. In 2014 Jeff started Dragon Army, a mobile gaming and app studio. A couple years later, he added an agency component to it. Today, Jeff and his team of 25 employees work with some amazing brands such as Coca-Cola, Red Bull and The Home Depot.

How Has the Agency Space Changed Over the Years?

There’s been an evolution in the industry. Full service agencies just aren’t a thing anymore (except the really huge ones who truly can offer a full range of services). Due to differing client needs and new technologies, there’s a larger demand for specialty shops. Most brands are moving away from having one agency manage everything.

The real opportunity lies innovation. I always tell my clients to make decisions based on the future, not just what’s happening today. That means always trying new things and not being afraid of making a mistake.

As Wayne Gretzky put it… “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

How to Avoid Costly Business Mistakes

Jeff has made plenty of mistakes over the years, but the 3 biggest came within the last 3 years owning Dragon Army. It all boils down to clarity and having a long term vision for your agency… In hindsight, that’s what was lacking and lead to these big business mistakes:

Mistake #1 – Upon entering a new industry, Jeff didn’t do enough research. If he could do it all over again he would have started the agency side at the same time as the studio. His prior experience is with the agency model and he knows how to operate and scale an agency. Jeff estimates this decision set Dragon Army back about 2 years.

Mistake #2 – Dragon Army took on a project (a new mobile game) that took 3X longer than he expected. This means all their resources were tied into one huge engagement. Looking back, Jeff realizes he didn’t do his due diligence on what would be involved in completing the project and how much it would tie up his team.

Mistake #3 – Jeff acquired a partner agency as a means to grow but didn’t dig enough into their financial and operational systems. He says he trusted his gut without the purchase with a business mindset.

What’s the common theme here? It’s lack of clarity and vision. Jeff’s advice – take your time to and look at decisions from all angles. Entrepreneurs can be impulsive (i.e. like chasing the next shiny red object!) but it’s important to hold back a little, research a ton and understand the impact your big decisions have on the long term vision and goals.

And, once you have a vision the values, principles and beliefs fall right into place – consider Zappos.com. They operationalize their core values and use them to set company culture.

Why Specializing is More Profitable

Dragon Army is super specialized and it’s working. Jeff says the best way to separate yourself from the other “me too” agencies is to be the very best at one thing. Know your strength and only sell that service. A lot of agencies are so afraid of turning off potential clients or turning down a potential sale they end up saying yes to things that aren’t in their wheelhouse.

If you’re saying ‘yes’ to the wrong things, you won’t have time for the right ones. And if you don’t have time for the right things – you can’t grow or scale your agency.

Can you use your professional skills to do good for the community?

In addition to his agency, Jeff is also the co-founder of 48in48. The premise of the organization is building 48 non-profit websites in 48 hours in a hack-athon style event. In 2015 the team of volunteers built 48 sites in 48 hours in Atlanta. In 2017 it’s grown to 4 U.S. cities and by 2018 it’ll be an international event! And, the ultimate goal is to eventually growing to 48 cities worldwide, 48 websites in 48 hours.

It literally takes thousands of designers, developers, content writers and other marketing professionals. If you’re interested in learning more, sponsoring or volunteering check out 48in48.org.

Need Guidance and Support to Grow Your Agency Faster?

Most agency owners struggle to scale. We’ve developed an amazing mastermind to guide you through the journey of implementing the right systems so you can scale your agency — instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

We do this by bringing together successful agency leaders to share strategies, offer advice, and reveal what’s working (and what’s not working) in their agency. The truth is, whatever you want to accomplish in life, nothing will help you go further, faster than getting the right adviser in the context of motivated peers. If you want to GROW fast and smart, Digital Agency Elite mastermind will help.

Become a Better Agency Owner

Business mistakes can be costly to not only your profits but your reputation. I hope this insight into Jeff’s experience as well as my own helps you avoid making these business mistakes within your agency moving forward. However, you should also be evaluating other areas of weakness within your agency. No matter what challenges your agency is facing, I can help you get through all of it.

There are many topics I can give advice on from what to do when you want to speed up sales processes, ways to increase your business profit, or how you can build authority for your agency.

Growing your agency can be a major struggle for any agency owner and I can show you the different phases of growth you will experience, how placing a process for performance-based pricing can be the best pricing strategy for your business and the three questions you need to ask yourself to sell more!

Want more? Learn about my career and different experiences as well as tips, tricks, and insights by checking out my blogs that cover a wide variety of topics.

Check out more from my Ask Swenk series and more of my videos on my Youtube channel. There you will find advice from myself and other agency experts.

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