How to Grow a Successful Agency with a Partner

By Jason Swenk on May 21, 2015

It’s not easy being agency stakeholders and close friends but in this episode of these two ladies who have it all figured out. Renee Warren and Heather Carson, co-founders of Onboardly, a demand marketing agency servicing clients in PR, content marketing and social media talk with me about their secrets… Secrets to successful partnership, secrets to their agency growth and the one secret every new startup owner needs to know.

What’s the Secret to a Great Partnership?

I usually tell people, “You either know the bad partner or your are the bad partner.” Not true for Renee and Heather. They get along like besties and they tell me it’s because they have rules for keeping business and friendship separate. They are careful to keep the lines drawn and clear about when they’re wearing their “friend hat” or their “founder hat”. They say this distinction has really made a lot of hard conversations go more smoothly than they might’ve otherwise.

Heather and Renee also told me another key to their successful partnership is trust. Both ladies are totally confident that the other has the company’s best interest at heart when making decisions or representing the business. There’s no control-freak in this duo!

Another thing they’ve found helpful is bringing a mentor or advisor in when they’ve needed some guidance or third-party input. (Not to brag but they did give me some props here.) And, even if it’s not me, I agree that an unbiased opinion from an outsider can really benefit partners and solopreneurs. Learn from the mistakes and successes of those who have been there and done it.

What are the Secrets to Agency Growth?

Onboardly was established in 2011. Throughout those four years, Renee and Heather have learned a few things about growing their agency. Here are their 3 tips for actualizing growth:

Shared Goals

For starters, these partners share the same goals and have a growth mindset. When their company reached a plateau in the third year, they decided to focus on removing the obstacles that were standing in their way. They articulate their goals to each other and their team, and don’t let excuses get in the way.

Laser Focus Target

Not only do they have a specific niche, Heather and Renee are very selective in which clients they will work with inside that niche. These ladies are clear that they will only work with clients that will allow them to produce good work. They won’t spin their wheels on clients that require too much red tape or hand-holding. And over the past few years, Heather has honed her process for vetting clients which saves them a lot of time and energy in the long run.

Say No

They’ve done it. Even when it was hard, Renee and Heather have turned down work from family and friends. They’ve turned away work from clients who couldn’t afford them. They have had those awkward “thanks, but no thanks” conversations that keep the integrity of their business in tact.

What’s One Secret for New Entrepreneurs?

These ladies believe that if you get into business for any reason other than yourself, you’re in it for the wrong reason. Knowing your “why” creates the playbook for your entire organization. It defines your culture, your employees, your clients… it becomes everything. In hindsight, if they’d known and articulated their purpose sooner it may have changed the trajectory of their entire business.  Bottom line: be true to your story and don’t lose sight of it.

So, What Exactly Is ‘Onboardly’?

They are the startup for startups. Now, they’re not in their early stages anymore but they still act like a startup. They model their clients by using the same systems and technology. They want to be able to relate to and provide value to their clients.

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