How to Grow Your Agency Without Hiring More Employees

By Jason Swenk on July 13, 2020

Are you looking for a way to scale up without adding new employees? Do you want to get back to enjoying what you do? When you try providing everything to everyone, you’re likely to get burnt out fast. But when you find what you’re good at and focus just on that, you’ll find freedom and enjoyment in owning your agency.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • #1 pitfall of full-service agencies.
  • 2 steps to grow your agency without hiring excess staff.
  • The only 5 roles you should fill as an agency CEO.

Today I sat down with Chris Kneeland, CEO of Cult Ideas, a digital marketing agency. Just over 7 years ago, Chris made the jump from a large, publicly-traded US agency to a smaller firm based out of Canada. He’s here to discuss what he’s learned from the transition and how you can get to a point where you can do what you love.

#1 Pitfall of Full Service Agencies

It’s no secret, I’m not a fan of full-service agencies. In fact, you’ll find this to be a common feeling among many agency owners. Why? After working for a very large, publicly-traded agency, Chris says there is one thing that stood out. The agency was constantly over-leveraged with staff. It got to a point where Chris began to wonder, “When did my job become keeping our bloated staff billable?”

When you try to provide everything for everyone, you tend to hire a bunch of different people to fill all those roles. But if you’re not getting the business to support your staff, you’ll end up working just to pay your team.

2 Steps to Grow Your Agency Without Hiring Excess Staff

“But Jason, don’t I need to expand my team if I expect to grow?” Not at all. Chris uses a strategy that’s similar to the one I would use if I could do things differently. He says there are two steps to growing your agency without bringing on a ton of new employees:

  1. Figure out what you’re good at. Chris says, think of it this way: If you were called on to deliver a TED Talk tomorrow, what would you be able to talk about? Better yet, what would you want to talk about?  Only do that. Niche down and you’re naturally able to reduce the number of people you need. Then you will be able to really leverage the people you choose to keep around.
  2. Only staff what you have work for. Having a larger team makes you feel like a big agency, but it eats into your profits when they aren’t fully utilized. Focus on the essentials and outsource the rest. If I were to do it over, my key leadership, PM, and account managers would be the only full-time employees.

When you keep a full staff, you put yourself in a position where you have to focus on payroll. You’ll end up taking on a bad client or billing out something your client doesn’t actually need. This is not a fun way to work. When you focus on being properly sized, not only will you improve your finances, but you’ll also see an improvement in your quality of life.

The Only 5 Roles You Should Fill as an Agency CEO

Think about why you originally started your agency. If you’re like me, it wasn’t to see how fast you could grow it was about having the freedom to do what you love. Unfortunately, far too often we manage to get lost somewhere along the way. If you want to get to a point where you love your job and enjoy what you do, there are only 5 roles you should be responsible for as an agency CEO:

  1. Set the vision and communicate it to the team.
  2. Be the face of the organization.
  3. Understand the financials.
  4. Coach and mentor the team.
  5. Assist with sales.

Don’t worry, your agency and team still need you! When you focus on these 5 roles and let key leadership take care of the rest, your agency won’t need you for what you used to do, they’ll need you for what only you can do.

It’s never a good idea to focus on growth over doing what you love. When you narrow in on what you want to do and surround yourself with people who support you, you’ll begin to have the freedom to pick and choose what you love.

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