How to Grow a Multimillion-Dollar Agency By Staying In Your Own Lane
Are your wondering how to get bigger clients and grow into a multi-million dollar agency? Mary Ann Pruitt has a background working in media and was unsure about starting her own agency. Now at her agency, Mosaic Media, she works hand-in-hand with other agency owners, business owners, marketing departments, and media buyers to provide a multi-pronged strategy supporting clients’ marketing goals. On the show, Mary Ann talks about the early days of having a full-service integrated media agency and how things changed once she took the step to niche down. She also shares why agency owners should trust their team and stay in their lane to focus on business development and growth.
3 Golden Nuggets
- Focusing on what you do best. Like most agencies, Mary Ann’s started being a full-service integrated media agency. It worked for a while, but she says she was constantly banging her head against the wall feeling frustrated. She felt like they could never land a big brand or were not able to make it. That all changed once she started asking herself how she would build the agency into what it needed to be. She figured out what they’re the best at and what’s a business model they could build. Niching down was a scary step, but after getting the first client in their niche, Mosaic Media saw significant growth in a 12-month period.
- Focus on your own marketing. Too many people think they need to hire a sales hunter right off the bat but don’t give them a clear call to action. Mary Ann works with many agencies and something she says is an unpopular, but necessary tip is there is no magic salesperson to grow your business. You need to be building your own brand and build your own funnels. It’s your job as the agency owner. As you’re scaling and as you’re growing, 50% of your day should be spent on business development.
- Stay in your lane. Agency owners can sometimes get caught in growth mode. They keep going and pushing. But when your team doesn’t need you for the little things anymore, it’s a great moment. That is when you know you have transitioned from agency owner to agency CEO. You may feel your team no longer needs you but actually, there’s a lot for you to do. Like figuring out what new offerings should you be researching and how can you take this to the next level and continue to grow. Grow your team and nurture your team to the point that you can trust their judgment. “We just need to know where our strengths are and our lane is and stay in that lane and not get in the way of everybody else doing the work,” Mary Ann assures.
Sponsors and Resources
Gusto: Today’s episode is sponsored by Gusto, an all-in-one people platform for payroll, benefits, HR where you can unify your data. Gusto automatically applies your payroll taxes and directly deposits your team’s paychecks, freeing you up to work on your business. Head over to gusto.com/agency to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.
Growing To a Multimillion-Dollar Agency By Focusing on What You Do Best and Staying on Your Lane
Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I am excited, I have another amazing woman that owns an amazing agency on today’s podcast. And we’re going to talk about how she’s grown to a multimillion-dollar agency in the past decade, what she’s learned, what you can learn and learn it faster, right?
So let’s go ahead and get into the episode.
All right, Mary Ann. Welcome to the show.
Mary Ann: [00:00:31] Thanks, Jason. It’s so great to be on.
Jason: [00:00:33] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what you do?
Mary Ann: [00:00:37] Yeah. My name is Mary Ann Pruitt and I’m with Mosaic Media. We are a media firm that partners with agencies in the paid media space, uh, anything with traditional, digital, and even in the PR and crisis comms space. So that’s what we do.
Jason: [00:00:52] Awesome. And so how did you get started? I always like to ask people why they got into this industry.
Mary Ann: [00:00:59] My background. I mean, it’s so funny. My background was in media, actually. I was in media sales for many years as a top sales agent for some of the largest media firms in the nation. And frankly, I fought going agency side for a long time, just because there was an image that went with that, and a…
Jason: [00:01:17] What image is that?
Mary Ann: [00:01:20] Yeah, is that you go from that side just because, and you’re never going to be actually a successful agency. So, yeah. So I fought that for a while and frankly it, I realized, okay, you’ve reached your peak. You’re still young. You can keep making great money for the rest of your career and stay comfortable, but you’ll never be challenged. You’ll never feel excitement like the new sale and the next sale, everything. It’s just gonna be the same thing over and over and over again.
So I took that leap of faith in myself and started an agency. Uh, we started really small. We started, like most agencies, we started full service where we were very broad and we’re the full service integrated media agency.
Jason: [00:01:58] We don’t want to seclude anybody.
Mary Ann: [00:02:00] Yeah. We don’t, no, we’re going to… We serve everybody. And then we realized, really honestly about six years ago is when we made a huge shift and focusing on what we were good at. It’s an amazing thing. Focus really on the one thing you’re good at. And we started to see our revenue, frankly, start to double year over year.
Jason: [00:02:19] So before you got the focus, where were you at in revenue, headspace, and number of people?
Mary Ann: [00:02:28] We were at, in a very, very good year we were having a million like year over year. You know, when you first start, it’s pretty easy to double your revenue because your first year’s revenue is 250, 300. Then you’re going out 300 to 600. That’s such an easy, easy jump. And then really, truly, probably in 2016, we were hitting just at a million. And now we are projected eight times that.
So where was my head space in that? I felt like I was banging my head against the wall constantly. It was this… why do I feel like we can’t ever land the big brand? Or why can’t we ever do this? Or why, you know, it’s that frustration. And in our team, there was five of us? And actually, the wonderful, amazing thing about that, it would, we still have to have those employees with us today.
They were with me from the beginning and now they’re our senior VP team. And it’s amazing to see how they have grown as we’ve evolved as an agency. Uh, so yeah, so the headspace, the revenue, it was frustrating. It was, uh, you felt like, okay, how do we break through?
And then frankly, I had, I called them come to Jesus moments where I was just like, look, what are we going to do? How, how, how am I going to build this agency to what it needs to be? And I frankly locked myself in a room for a couple of days. And what are you good at? What are you the best at? And what’s a business model you can build.
That’s where we went and it was a leap of faith. It was scary to niche down, but we did it. And now we’ve seen that revenue just multiply every year.
Jason: [00:04:05] How long did it start until you… When you committed to that decision, when did you feel that you started getting momentum?
Mary Ann: [00:04:13] It really takes a good, well, almost right out of the gate within the first three months we caught one client that was, all right, this is part of our niche. And I was like, all right, this is great. It’s going to work. Then I started testing it with other people of how I was using that language and how I was using that elevators speech and all of a sudden things started to happen more and more.
I’d go to a conference and I test something and… more and more. And really that first year is where we saw it grow significantly, probably that 12 month period. And I think that’s one thing for agency owners is patience is a good thing, and we have to have faith that we know what we’re doing. We’re planting the seeds. Things are happening. Decisions are not made overnight.
And we have to continue to cultivate that. Probably within… so the first year and two years, it’s then refining the systems. You’re going from being small mom and pop to now, okay, I’ve got decent sized revenue. How am I growing the team? How are we building our efficiencies and building the processes a whole new level of challenges come.
And then when the pandemic hit, actually, we grew even more. Part of that was our inbound and our thought leadership was pretty strong going into the pandemic and people were looking for answers. And frankly, that’s where we started to just evolve from there and get more and more out of it.
But really I’m a big believer in helping people and when you have that mindset and you’re not going in for the pitch all the time, but you’re there for the relationship and to help… That makes a big difference.
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I’m so glad that you said that because people have such an angle of going, well, I want to scale. Well, first they don’t know why they want to scale, and there’s no reason, I guess it’s just a brag. I mean, I remember, when I had the first agency, I remember we would brag by how many employees we would have.
And then if someone was like, I have 50 employees. Oh, fifty. I have a hundred. And then you’re like, what’s wrong with me? Or, you know, like when you were at 10 or 20 and, uh… So I’m glad you mentioned that because that’s, you gotta have a direction, but I’m glad too, that you started focusing on the brand and doing your own marketing.
I think too many people think that they need to hire a sales hunter right off the bat. They don’t give them a clear call to action of who to contact, but I’m like if you build the brand and you build a brand that’s helpful for a particular market, you can create all this business that a closer can come in and close and it makes it so much easier.
Mary Ann: [00:07:54] That’s exactly right. And frankly, a lot of agency owners and we primarily work in the agency space. That is what we do. We help agencies. So we help you build your media team, we help assess your media team. We help be the relieve pressure for a big agencies and their media. But then also helps supplement anything that you can’t offer currently and actually become a revenue source for you.
That’s what we do. So I’m in contact with agency owners every day, and a big thing that I say regularly that they know they need to hear, but probably isn’t too popular is business development falls on us as the agency owners. And we can try all day long to go get that magic salesperson or go get somebody to go get the sales for us. We need to be building our own brand and we need to be building our own funnels.
And frankly, it’s the expertise that we offer. That’s our job as the business owner and as the agency owner. Um, frankly, we shouldn’t be in the weeds all day long of doing the actual work. We need to be, if you’re, as you’re scaling and as you’re growing. 50% of your day should be going towards business development.
That is how you grow. And that is how you focus and get your company back onto a growth path, frankly. So I’m with you on that of you have to be patient and you have to cultivate those seeds. Uh, but also don’t look for a magic bullet.
Know what you’re good at. Niche down to that. And don’t be scared to niche down to that and focus. I mean, I live in Anchorage, Alaska. Okay. We’re a small. 95% of our work is not in Anchorage, Alaska. We are in all 50 states doing work. How are we doing that? Because I didn’t get caught in the market that I live in. I didn’t get caught into a small mindset.
I got, I let myself and the company then evolve to think bigger than where we lived or where we operated out of. Now I have employees all over the place. I live in Alaska. It’s amazing how, honestly, frankly, the last 18 months have taught us all a lot of you don’t have to be in a brick and mortar anymore. And we all knew that, but now we’re so much more comfortable with it.
So there’s all these different elements as an agency owner that we have to be honest with ourselves and we have to know what’s holding us back. And sometimes it’s us. That’s the bottleneck.
Jason: [00:10:17] Truth be told we’re always the bottleneck until, until you realize you’re the bottleneck and you get out of your way, you know, like we had, um, a couple of weeks back, we had our agency experience where we had 25 of the best agency owners come out to Colorado.
And a lot of us were taught like a lot of the takeaways were, man. We, we have the best like they’re multi-million dollar agencies. We’ve done this over the years and the owner is still crippling their team for making decisions. And they’re like the toll booth that everything’s flowing through them. And we’re like…
I literally stole the computer of one of our members so she couldn’t be emailing all day and like hid it. I was like, no, like your team will be fine. Like go, go on vacation. And that’s a lot of advice I give to people a lot is, hey, go wait for a week or two weeks and come back.
Mary Ann: [00:11:15] Yep. And honestly, so if we look at it and we realize and recognize where we’re holding things up or what we’re not doing on our end, we need to question, why are we doing that? What control am I trying to gain back from my team or from the product? What am I afraid of? What’s holding me back? What anchor is holding me back there and what anchor do I need to cut?
I often say this and is that anchor serves a purpose. They are things that are supposed to keep us grounded. There are things they’re supposed to keep us steady, but anchors also can hold us back. So what is it that I need to work on that I need to cut back because we are the bottlenecks.
So before COVID, I had this rule that I’d actually work out of the office one day a week. And what I found was that was the most productive day for my team because I wasn’t there and they got so much done and they knew exactly what they were doing. And like, you know, this is a true testament to let them be, let them do their job. They’ll come to you when they need things.
So when we feel like we need to control, or we feel like we need to be on top of everything, is there a trust factor there? We hired them, we trust them. We know our executive team, so we know that we can trust them in that element. I’m not saying be completely hands-off. That is not what I’m saying in any way. We just need to know where our strengths are and our lane is, and stay in that lane and not get in the way of everybody else doing the work.
Jason: [00:12:41] Yeah. And, and when you start getting out of the way, and I always warn people on this… When the agency doesn’t need you for the small things that you used to do, it’s all pretty hard thing to swallow because you’re like, oh, crap business doesn’t need me anymore, but I want you to remember it needs you for something else.
So you’re transitioning from an owner to a true CEO. Then that’s when you can scale. That’s when you can sell it, if you want, or you can take long vacations. I’ve had clients that have come to me in the past that never took vacations. And I’m like, that’s the number one thing we’re going to work on. Like, why the F are you working so hard if you can’t enjoy it?
Like, this is crazy.
Mary Ann: [00:13:32] Well, and I think… We also get caught in our growth mode of where we want to be, right? So we’re on that trajectory. We keep going, we keep pushing and, you know, it’s the, it’s the oxygen mask. We have to take care of ourselves first, we have to put the oxygen mask on first and then put it on the others. So we’re building this team in order for us to be able to then transition, like you said, transition into something else.
So when, when they no longer need us for the little things it’s actually a great moment of we’ve grown as a company. I’m now a CEO. I’m no longer just a small business owner. Now I’m a CEO working at an executive level, thinking visionary thoughts of where I need to go with the company. What do I need to do next? What new offerings do I need to be researching? How can I then take this to the next level and continue to grow?
So it actually opens up so much more opportunity for us as agency owners to have that growth trajectory and mindset. It’s a total mindset shift.
Jason: [00:14:32] It is, it is. Well, this has all been amazing Mary Ann. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Mary Ann: [00:14:38] You know, I think we always just have to be honest with ourselves of how are we getting in the way for our own good, but for others and our team. And making sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to just grow our team, but nurture our team and take care of ourselves in the process, as well as grow the company and stay into the, and get out of the way mentally, physically get out of the way. It’s fine.
And now I’ve heard about it. Don’t worry about it.
Jason: [00:15:08] Awesome. What’s the agency website people can go and check out?
Mary Ann: [00:15:12] You can go to mosaic.agency/contact that comes straight to me.
Jason: [00:15:16] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Mary Ann, for coming on the show. Lots of amazing information for all of us to take in. Hopefully, you guys go start executing it.
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