How to Scale a Digital Agency & Add Value to Clients
Published 12 February 2024
We welcome back digital agency coach, Chris Simmance, to get his insights into how agencies can scale while simultaneously adding more value to their clients. This is the second part in this article series. Read the first part now: How agencies can embrace change in order to grow
- The blueprint for scaling your agency
- Adding value to client services
- The art of truly knowing your clients
- Managing growth without compromising quality
- The role of leadership
- Final thoughts
How to scale a digital agency: The blueprint
Growth is a very nuanced and strategic journey and not all agencies will follow the same exact steps or plan. It's not merely a push for size but the pursuit of enhanced capabilities, resources, and a broader or clearer market reach.
However, the following stages are pivotal in effectively guiding your agency through this transformation.
1. Strategic planning: setting scalable goals
As discussed in my previous article with the organizational chart planning, successful scaling is rooted in strategic planning and pacing. This crucial step involves setting clear, measurable, and attainable goals.
Agencies should articulate both short-term and long-term objectives, taking into account market trends, internal capabilities, and financial resources. Ambitious yet realistic goals are key, propelling the agency towards growth while ensuring sustainable expansion.
There is a key thing here to make clear. The objectives need to be goal focused but not a mission statement for marketing. We almost all fall foul of making these goal-statements sound like something that would go on a website header or social post. If it sounds like something you’d put in a pitch deck, it’s probably too marketing-y (yes that is not a real word, I know…).
2. Investing in technology and tools for efficiency
You know, the right technology is a cornerstone of growth. You’re probably a super smart Sitebulb user, so you get it!
Agencies should invest in technologies and tools that not only streamline operations but also enhance productivity and provide deeper insights into client campaigns. This could include everything from advanced analytics tools to marketing automation, project management software to a cloud crawler. Automating routine tasks and bolstering operational efficiency allows agencies to manage a larger workload without sacrificing quality.
3. Building a strong agency culture for sustained growth
A factor often sidelined in the scaling conversation is the agency's culture. Yeah yeah, every agency ever touts a brilliant culture, but I call BS on most of that. Pizza on a Friday and a “duvet day” each month or gym membership is not a good culture.
A robust, positive culture underpins employee engagement, creativity, and loyalty – all vital for long-term growth. Agencies should foster an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas, celebrates achievements, and collaboratively tackles challenges. Cultivating a culture of continuous learning and adaptability ensures the agency remains dynamic and responsive to the ever-changing market.
4. Developing a robust client acquisition strategy
To scale, agencies must also focus on expanding their client base through a well-thought-out acquisition strategy. This involves leveraging your niche specialization to create targeted marketing campaigns, utilizing content marketing to showcase expertise, and engaging in networking and partnerships. A strong online presence and effective use of social media are also crucial in drawing new clients.
This is an entire thing in itself. A great webinar with a handsome guy in it can help kick you off:
5. Optimizing internal processes for scalability
Growth necessitates an evolution in internal processes. As agencies expand, their workflows, communication channels, and project management practices must be streamlined and refined to support increased workloads. Regularly reviewing and optimizing these processes ensures scalability and maintains service quality.
Good ops allows for consistency of delivery, clearer internal communication, better client reporting, less “questioning” of value by clients and much much lower churn over time.
Adding value to client services
Enhancing the value provided to clients is a pivotal aspect of scaling your digital marketing agency.
Say it with me out loud:
“RETENTION IS BETTER VALUE THAN ACQUISITION.”
Obviously getting more clients is essential to growth but retaining the ones you have is the real secret sauce.
Identifying and understanding client needs
The first step in adding value is to thoroughly understand your clients' needs. This requires more than just surface-level knowledge of their business objectives; it involves delving into their industry, understanding their target audience, and grasping the challenges they face. Agencies should conduct regular client consultations and market research to stay informed and responsive to these needs.
Client management or account managers absolutely need real business acumen. This will separate an agency from others and allow your reporting and comms to mean something tangible.
"Give a 💩": The art of truly knowing your clients
Genuine client relationships can sometimes fall by the wayside. Yet, the art of truly knowing your clients – not just their business needs, but them as individuals – can be a game-changer for retention and acquisition.
The power of personal touch
Building a relationship with your clients that goes beyond the professional sphere can significantly enhance trust and loyalty. It's about showing that you care not just about their business but about them as people. This involves actively listening during conversations and remembering personal details they share.
In my own experience running a digital agency, we placed great emphasis on personal client relationships. We maintained a file for each person we spoke with, jotting down personal tidbits they mentioned – be it a child's birthday, an upcoming holiday, or even their favourite sports team.
This information wasn't just for record-keeping; it was used to build a deeper connection.
For instance, if a client mentioned their child’s birthday, we’d make a note to ask about it the following year or send a card on their company's anniversary. It was these small, thoughtful gestures that often made a big impact, showing our clients that we genuinely cared and listened.
Implementing a personal approach
- Active listening: Pay close attention during client conversations and pick up on personal details. This shows that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. “Seek to understand, in order to be understood”.
- Maintaining records: Keep a record of personal information shared by clients. This could be as simple as a note in their file or a more structured system within your CRM.
- Proactive engagement: Use the information you’ve gathered to engage with your clients proactively. Wish them the best on special occasions, enquire about events they mentioned, or simply share something you remember them being interested in.
- Personalization in communication: Tailor your communication to reflect what you know about them. For instance, if a client is a football fan, mentioning a recent match in passing can add a personal touch to your conversations.
- Thoughtful gestures: Small gestures like sending a card on their company’s anniversary, or a congratulatory note for a personal milestone can make a big difference. It’s these details that show you truly value and remember your interactions with them.
Building long-term relationships
Always remember, businesses are run by people, and people value relationships where they feel heard and appreciated. By adding this personal layer to your client interactions, you’re not just building a business relationship; you’re creating a partnership based on mutual respect and understanding. This sells to and retains clients.
Managing growth without compromising quality
As your digital agency scales, maintaining the quality of your service becomes as important as the growth itself. Neglecting this will impact churn-rates, which will kill the cash flow and value of an agency, regardless of how great the sales are.
Balancing rapid growth with quality control
Rapid expansion is exciting, but it can often lead to a compromise in service quality if not managed carefully. To avoid this, implement regular quality checks and client feedback mechanisms. This will help you to keep a pulse on the quality of your services and make improvements where necessary.
To keep a finger on the pulse, run a quarterly client NPS. It’s quick to set up, easy to collate the results and easy to understand. If it’s declining, it needs looking at. Balance that with client management issues like complaints and additional unexpected questions, and you have a sense of where quality sits in relation to growth.
Keep the score above 61 and you’re laughing… probably.
Staff training and development in line with growth
Your staff play a crucial role in maintaining service quality. As your agency grows, invest in their training and professional development. Ensure they are equipped with the latest skills and knowledge to handle the increasing demands of their roles. A well-trained team is essential for delivering consistent quality as your agency expands.
ASK them what they need. If they don’t know, when you ask them, ask them some “curious” questions to coach them into the insight you need.
Give them what you can, based on what they need and follow up with them afterwards.
The role of leadership in scaling your agency
Your leadership plays a pivotal role in the scaling process of any agency.
I always remind myself of this quote:
“Management does things right. Leadership does right things.”
Peter DruckerShare this quote on X
Proper visionary leadership, team empowerment, and networking can drive successful agency growth.
Visionary leadership and decision-making
Effective leadership is about setting a clear vision and making strategic decisions that guide the agency towards this vision. As a leader, be proactive in anticipating market trends, identifying growth opportunities, and making decisions that align with your agency’s long-term goals.
Chris’ nautical analogy: The leader is the ship captain and the vision is the destination
Yes, I use this one a lot, but humour me…
Imagine the leader of a digital marketing agency as the captain of a ship, navigating through the vast and sometimes unpredictable ocean of the business world. The vision for the agency is akin to the distant, desirable destination that the captain has set course for.
The captain and the destination
Just as a ship's captain must have a clear destination in mind, an effective leader must have a clear vision for the agency. This vision is the guiding star, providing direction and purpose. It's not just any port in a storm, but a carefully chosen haven, promising growth and success.
Navigating through storms and dangers
The journey towards this destination is seldom smooth. Just like the sea, the business environment is replete with storms, hidden dangers, and unpredictable elements. These can manifest as rapid market changes, competitive pressures, or internal challenges. A visionary leader, like a seasoned captain, must anticipate these challenges and steer the ship safely through these rough waters.
Crew morale and unity of purpose
The crew of the ship, much like the team members in an agency, look to their captain for guidance and reassurance. When the destination is clear, and the path is set, the crew finds it easier to face difficulties. They understand the purpose of their journey, which boosts morale and fosters unity. Similarly, in an agency, when team members know the vision and understand their role in achieving it, they are more motivated, cohesive, and effective in their roles.
Solving problems with the destination in mind
Every challenge faced along the way, be it stormy weather or a navigational obstacle, is approached with the destination in mind. The captain assesses each situation, makes strategic decisions, and takes actions that keep the ship on course. Likewise, a visionary leader evaluates each business challenge and makes decisions that align with and advance the agency towards its long-term goals.
The journey and the destination
The journey itself is as important as the destination. The captain’s ability to navigate, adapt to changing conditions, and keep the crew aligned and motivated is crucial. In the same vein, a leader’s ability to adapt to market trends, make strategic decisions, and keep the team engaged and focused is key to reaching the vision set for the agency.
Empowering teams and fostering accountability
A key aspect of leadership is the ability to empower your teams. Encourage a culture of accountability where team members take ownership of their projects. Foster an environment where they feel supported to take initiative and contribute ideas.
Empowered teams are more engaged and productive, which is vital for scaling.
My final thoughts
Scaling a digital marketing agency and adding value to your clients is a multifaceted call of fire that you have to learn to manage and remember to wear gloves when doing so.
It requires strategic planning, a focus on quality, personal client relationships, and effective leadership. As we conclude this discussion, let’s recap the key takeaways:
- Strategic planning: Set clear, scalable goals and invest in the right technology and tools.
- Quality and personalization: Maintain high service standards and personalize your approach to client relationships.
- Leadership and team empowerment: Foster visionary leadership, empower your teams, and build strong industry networks.
I encourage you to implement these strategies in your agency’s growth journey… You know where OMG and our team are if and when you need us too.
Remember, scaling is not just about getting bigger; it’s about getting better—in services, in client relationships, and in operational excellence. Balance that firey-knived juggling set and oil the unicycle wheel!
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Chris is the founder of The OMG Center, a digital agency accelerator business. With 10 years of leadership experience, Chris knows how to get things done. He's worked with clients across all levels and has been exposed to multiple layers in order for him to help you reach your goals as quickly or slowly as is right for YOU!