Having started my agency 3.5 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that it would go as well as it has so far, we’ve had some amazing clients, both long and short term, we’ve also had a few that were not so great, we’ve worked on some great projects and expanded the business over time. As the agency owner, I always think towards the end of the year, what will the next year bring?!
It does come with some sleepless nights, a bit of worry if clients will move on and stop working with us for one reason or another. Overriding that worry, is also excitement about what the next year will bring, new clients, new projects, learning new skills, how the landscape will change and focusing on what makes us do a great job for our clients to make them stay. The passion I have for working in digital marketing, how it keeps me on my toes and can bring satisfaction to my working day, keeps me going!
As I approached Q3/4 2021 – I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to scale, bigger than we are now, take on some of the clients that we either didn’t have the bandwidth to take on, or perhaps we may have not been able to service to the high standard that we measure ourselves by.
I decided to drop some thoughts down about what we look out for when attracting new clients to onboard, some areas that made us stand out and somethings we stand by or are wary of… hopefully it helps with anyone reading it.
Areas of Strengths and Focus
Who Are We?
When I started my agency, I had so much great advice from those who had been freelance, running their own agencies, of all sizes for years – which allowed me to try and focus on what we offer and who we are. As I had worked client side for so many years, and a lot of it was in Financial Services – many offered the advice, that I should be focused on that industry. That was the immediate focus, but I quickly found that I really enjoyed working with a wide variety of SME’s from lots of different industries… so we expanded wider.
I had (and still do receive) some great advice off a friend Gareth Hoyle – “that people buy from people”. There is always the element of trust, chemistry (although I really don’t like to use that phrase) and understanding that people work with people. Being yourself, not trying to sell too hard and explaining what you do, is a quick way to get your message over and that human touch, goes a long way.
I believe, being able to convey your niche, message, what your USP is, whether you are a freelancer or an agency quickly, is a strong attribute – but also, conveying what you don’t do is equally important. This transparency works in your favour, as any prospective client knows what you do and what you don’t do. Here at Digital Thrive, one of the main mantras is “We are straight talking, no marketing hype, acronyms and we say it, as it is”, we’ve had a lot of clients over 3.5 years, who say, “its nice that you are so honest and tell us straight, especially if you think one of our ideas is not going to work”.
We’ve also had people get in touch to ask, “Do you do X or Y?” If we don’t offer it, then we won’t move forward, I won’t take on a client, who is paying us to do something I know isn’t our strong point. Most of the time, I simply explain we don’t offer that service, or may refer them to someone who specialises in it – and will do a better job than us.
Knowledge is for Sharing
I have always been a big advocate of knowledge sharing, its not black box technology, its experience from tried and tested routes over your career. When sharing knowledge and helping others out and “paying it forward”, you can be seen as a trusted source, someone, that people can ask a question or help from. As above, when we refer people to others who are more skilled in areas, services we don’t provide – its that person who becomes a trusted source. That’s the same when others refer to us.
There have been literally 100s of times over the last 3.5 years, where we’ve had an email, phone call, Slack message asking “how to do X” – we’ll happily offer some insight, advice, whether they are a client or not – so sharing the knowledge. We started developing blogs (yes I know, our own content marketing strategy!), to share some of our experience – and share that online with others – its also good for anyone going through our website, to see where our expertise is and what we do.
Over the 3.5 years of the agency, we’ve collaborated with lots of other agencies and freelancers alike – I strongly believe that this has a positive affect on the agency staff (as knowledge is being shared), as it brings with it different opinions, thought processes and ways of working, which can really help. This has helped us in the past, and is also great for getting in front of new prospective clients, and sometimes other industries that we may not have tapped into. We will definitely continue to do this in 2022 and scale that further.
Look Beyond Your Own Skillset for New Opportunities
I had some great advice from a friend and long time SEO Freelancer Steve Morgan, which has stuck with me – don’t just go to SEO, PPC or Content Marketing conferences, talks and Meetups – diversify into others that are adjacent to what you offer. Steve had mentioned how he regularly attended WordPress or Web Dev Meetups as it was a great way to be “seen” and offer advice in related services area. I attended quite a few abstract ones at the start, and ended up landing a client in the fitness industry, simply because the agency who had developed their website, knew that they were going to need a PPC and SEO Agency to help drive traffic and sales. It opened my eyes to so many more opportunities, beyond what I thought we should be attending and be vocal at – thanks Steve, that was great advice and I will continue to do this in 2022 to scale up.
People Move Around – This Can Lead to New Work
We’ve worked with some great clients over the last few years, one thing I hadn’t thought about, was that people are really transient, they swap jobs and brands quite often (if you see my LinkedIn profile, you’ll understand). When you work with great people and give them the results that they are looking to achieve, then sometimes, when that person changes job to another brand – they get in touch with you to help out.
I really hadn’t factored this in at all – but its been a real lifeline too, enabling the agency to grow and take on more work and staff. One client, from a very well known ecommerce brand, moved roles to another brand and within 2 weeks, asked us to come in and put a proposal together. He was impressed by our PPC and SEO work at his previous brand, that he wanted us as his PPC and SEO Agency in his new brand… what’s that old saying.. “success has many fathers” – but hey, if we’re doing a great job, delivering results and the client is impressed, then that’s 100% ok with me and a great way to scale or work with new clients.
Don’t Jump In!
Dangling the Carrot – Free Work Will Lead to Exposure/More Work
This is a hard one, I am staunchly strict on not providing free work to anyone, at the end of the day, I can’t explain to my bank manager that I can’t pay my mortgage because I am working for free – plus, your expertise, experience is what you’ve earned over the years, so it doesn’t come for free yeah? Although on the other side of the coin, providing some insight, a free report, view on a website, SEO, PPC can go a long way in showing that you know what you are doing, how you can help…. so its not easy and I recommend you tread carefully.
Saying that, I recently read a great LinkedIn post by Graham Grieve, where he’ll give a free audit of website to a business owner on where and how to improve their website. He develops a 30-45 minute video and shares it with the business owner. Graham mentions that he has had great successes with this as a tactic, as it informs the leads of what they offer, how they can help and what they can do – which brings a more informed discussion when the business owner wants to have a call/meeting. As much as I like this as a tactic as its helping and informative, for me, there’s no guarantee that the initial time and investment will prove fruitful – maybe this is a tactic I’ll try in 2022, see if we can land clients/scale up and let you know how we get on.
For those who are just starting out, be wary of the “if you do this free/cheaply, it will put you in a good spotlight with the client, or give you good exposure” – for me, this is a red flag that says, do this for FREE! I am all for helping out, but again, you’ve earned expertise and experience that someone else needs, so they do need to compensate for it in some way.
Working With Other Agencies
Working with other agencies can really work for some and not for others – as mentioned above, we are happy to take on any overflow work from other agencies to help out if they don’t have the bandwidth or expertise in a certain area, it does work for us, but its always based on strict guidelines and trust. We will stipulate working hours, time on the account and deliverables, objectives and so on, so we are both clear on what’s expected. We’ve had some great successes in working with others, and of course bringing in expertise when needed from freelancers for our agency, so will be using the same tactic in 2022 to scale up and take on new clients too.
Where it hasn’t worked, and I’ve heard nightmare stories from some freelancers and agencies when working on some accounts – it usually boils down to lack of communication between the two and then the client. Usually, the work gets done by a freelancer, which gets passed to the agency, which then tries to interpret the findings/recommendations to the client – you can see the issue here. It really needs the freelancer to be in front of the client, as a part of the agency to explain the findings/recommendations, as they know the issues directly. Also, you’ll need to be clear of your payment terms, as some agencies will have 30/60 day payment terms with their client, and as a freelancer, you’ll only get paid when they do.
Plus, if you are the freelancer and doing something quite technical/fundamental to the success and performance of the client account, it will usually be “your fault” if performance dips, slows or something goes wrong – so prepare yourself for that and keep any paper trail just incase.
Working as part of a collective or umbrella, when it comes to collaborating to a pitch can also have its pitfalls – we have spent a lot of time in the past, working on collaborative pitches for a project or “big” client, only to have all the time spent disappear if its not successful, with very little feedback as to why. I am wary of allocating any time to these now, as you rarely get a chance to be in front of the client to run the pitch, or usually the decision is being made by a senior stakeholder who doesn’t understand what it is that is being pitched and may default to “the cheapest option”. So, come 2022 I will tread carefully and probably decline getting involved in big collaborative pitches.
The Relationship Goes Both Ways
I am a strong believer that when it comes to new clients, it goes both ways – you need to have the skillset, expertise and experience to deliver what they need, but also, the client needs to fit with you. I mentioned in the first paragraph that we’ve had “some not so nice clients” – this isn’t a slight at them at all, but more around they were not the right fit for us. They may have unrealistic expectations, not implement any of the recommendations we share with them, they may have a completely different working culture to us and it just doesn’t work/fit. You can usually tell this quite quickly, so I recommend hard guidelines on how, when, what you will be doing for them and a bullet proof contract too – just incase you need to fall back on it.
This is a big area for me, when looking to scale up and take on new clients – they have to be the right fit with us as an agency, and tick a lot of boxes as mentioned above – if they don’t, then I will decline sending in a proposal. Working with good people and making sure we are happy is at the core of how we work, its just so important. Will this help me scale and take on more clients, probably not, but we aren’t in it just to chase money, its about happiness, satisfaction and pushing ourselves to be the best.
Well… Lets See What 2022 Brings
I have already set myself and the staff a task of scaling up in 2022 – how we get there, well, we have a few cards up our sleeves already. We have set a few targets of certain clients and industries we want to tap into and see how we get on. Scaling up doesn’t necessarily mean taking on 5 more staff, for us, it means growing slowly with the right kind of clients and then bringing in the right kind of staff to make it work. I am not prepared to go all guns-a-blazing and triple the size of the agency, but if it ends up that size by the end of 2022, then I also know it would have been done using the above information, tactics and processes, to make it work for us.