How To Recover from Rapid Agency Growth By Getting Hyper Focused
Are you an accidental agency owner trying to grow fast? Rapid agency growth isn’t necessarily the best way to grow. When you’re going through the ups and downs you want to get to the other side quickly. But slow and steady wins the race and for one agency, hitting the one million dollar mark changed everything. He went from running a “mom and pop shop” to growing a 10-person agency. He shares how he recovered from rapid growth by getting focused and his lessons on the importance of branding while growing his agency.
Robert Giovanni is the CEO and co-founder of IronPlane, an agency dedicated to designing, building, and optimizing exceptional eCommerce experiences. Robert says he’s made mistakes and learned a lot in the process of growing his agency. He experienced the awkward stage of an agency’s growth of being in no man’s land. He now offers a perspective on how to get your agency past that awkward growth stage with lessons he’s learned over the years.
In this episode, we’ll discuss:
- Getting over $1 million in revenue.
- Choosing ideal clients and firing ones that aren’t.
- Getting comfortable hiring in advance of need.
- Branding your agency and your team.
Sponsors and Resources
E2M Solutions: Today’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.
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Discovering the Opportunities in eCommerce
Robert discovered opportunities in selling online back in 1988 when he sold a chess set. He built a website to sell this set purchased in Russia and sold it for around $8,000. He quickly started to buy and sell products online, which eventually led to requests to build websites for other people’s product sales. And with that, an accidental agency was born.
Step by step they started to build a relationship with clients, many of which he retained for several years. Before he knew it, he was operating a digital agency that started to grow. Robert’s perspective always focuses on helping clients figure out what they wanted for their business (drive revenue, improve their bottom line.) By 2012, he knew it was time to get serious with its branding to further it’s his agency’s growth.
Getting Over the Million Dollar Mark
According to Robert, reaching that milestone took about three to four years. In the beginning, he had about two big clients and, as he describes it, he was a “glorified consultant.” He hired another person to help him with daily tasks when the agency was near one million and felt content. This was until one of his clients decided to end their contract abruptly. It was a big blow for the agency and Robert knew in order to prevent something similar from ever happening again he needed to make things more official.
He worked on defining the agency’s purpose and branding. He hired more people and really prioritized getting out of operations so the agency was not a one-man show. It took another three years, but after these changes, the agency finally got past one million.
Choosing Your Ideal Clients and Firing Clients That Don’t Fit
After getting past the point of being a “mom and pop” agency with only 2-3 big clients, there was still much to learn. At the start, the agency was taking any client that came their way. They were trying to grow and it seemed foolish to turn away any client at that point.
This is a normal part of any agency’s growth process. You feel afraid of turning down any business opportunity; even if you know a client is not a good fit. However, it’s important to recognize the importance of choosing clients that are a good fit for your agency so you can wasting time on the ones that aren’t.
For Robert, it was when the agency had grown to about 10 employees. He was no longer part of every sales call and had a number of good clients. There was a particular client that was never a good fit and the team knew it from day one. However, it was a big project and they signed the contract anyway. What proceeded was weeks of Saturday calls and nightmare meetings until Robert decided to end the relationship. It was the first client he had to fire and it turned out to be the point where he sat down with his team to talk about being pickier with potential clients.
From this moment on, they worked to better define the agency’s values and make sure they were clearly stated on their website. He knew his agency could bring tremendous value to any client. But the client’s values needed to match the agency’s or they just wouldn’t be a good culture fit.
Failing to define these values will leave you directionless in your agency journey.
Rapid Agency Growth and Losing the Human Touch
In early 2020, Robert felt the agency was really hitting it when it came to marketing and bringing in new clients. However, the team was failing in terms of building relationships with clients and understanding their needs. One of Robert’s top priorities is building solid client relationships and offering more than just mechanics. By that time, their churn rate started to increase and Robert got worried.
Robert believes the agency should always continue to have a human touch as one of its core values. When a client did not renew their contract and the team could not pinpoint the reason, it indicated a disconnect between client and agency. It was time to re-assess and re-evaluate their client relationships.
Should Your Agency Hire Talent Before There Is A Need?
Robert’s agency has a longer sales cycle, which makes it easier to predict resource needs a few months in advance. Because of this, he is comfortable hiring today for what they will need a few months down the road. When it comes to their clients, they do a review that gives them a pretty good idea of whether that project will turn into a long-term contract. Their shortest contracts are generally about a year.
This is not the case for every agency. Having a long sales cycle provides confidence and a sense of certainty. It’s really all about your sales cycle and forecasting the need of bringing in-house talent versus whitelabeling.
On the flipside, hiring before bringing on clients, you may feel pressured to take on clients that are not a good fit just to pay the bills. This is a sure way to end up with clients that abuse your team and disregard your value.
Branding the Agency or Branding Your Team?
Robert’s agency has a brand voice and clear values to help attract the right clients. And by the time they got branding down, he started thinking about his team. Many of the people on his team have been with the agency for a long time and are all-stars in their area of expertise. So, they launched YouTube videos and podcasts showcasing team members talking about what they know best. Doing this has done more for the agency’s credibility and authority than anything else they had previously done.
If you’re thinking about taking similar steps, know that you can go even further. Highlighting your team is great of course, but what about starting a podcast (it’s easier than you think!) and highlighting your ideal clients?
#1 Lesson in Agency Growth
The most important thing Robert has learned over the years has been to stay focused. It can be hard when you’re starting out and you want to try everything. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to be ahead of the curve. However, he recalls that the agency was really at its best once they got focused and avoided distractions. He’s also not afraid to give away expertise. He’s gotten more traction from talking with prospects and giving them the advice more than anything else.
Remember people want to see that you really understand their needs and are an authority in your field. This is what establishing yourself as a trusted advisor is all about. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you know or give away too much information. At the end of the day, they won’t be able to get better results with that information, they’ll still need you to execute.
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