Growing a digital agency is tough.
Most agency founders launched them out of necessity, having skills that could be turned into a career, or relevant marketing experience. Most agency founders aren’t natural business owners. Whereas, knowing how to grow a digital agency requires business and sales skills that not every founder has naturally.
Agency founders are often creative professionals, in some way. Creative skills are either self-taught or increasingly learned in the traditional sense, through education than practical experience. Whether those skills are design or copy-based. SEO or video. Social media or web design and development.
Digital agencies are often established based on a core set of skills. Usually, these are the founder’s skills, and they are expanded as other team members join, either in a co-founder capacity, or working with freelancers, other agencies, or recruiting staff.
Digital agency growth is rarely linear either. But ultimately, that’s what most founders want. Linear, stable and profitable growth. No more revenue roller coasters.
How to grow a digital agency
- Pick a niche
- Establish partnerships
- Drive sales through partners
- Ask clients for referrals
- Account manage, up-sell and cross-sell
- Launch a targeted B2B outbound sales campaign
- Scale service delivery, without losing quality
1: Pick a niche
To start with, it’s tempting to pick up whatever work you can. From anyone. Any company with whatever kind of budget you can grab.
But over time, it’s useful and can prove far more profitable to specialise. Focus on a particular niche.
And this is usually possible depending on the experience you’ve had before founding an agency, or the sort of clients you’ve worked with since launching. It also means your digital agency fee structure can usually increase. Making every client project more profitable.
Say you’ve worked with dozens of SaaS and tech companies, then make that your niche. Focus on those clients in particular. Charge more, if you can. Seek out and find those with more funding, already generating a profit, instead of always focusing on early-stage seed-funded startups.
Whatever you’ve specialized in, or want to specialize in, use your experience to demonstrate expertise, showcase client projects, and pick up more in that sector or niche.
See our article on How to pitch digital marketing services to businesses.
2: Establish partnerships
Partnerships can be incredibly useful.
When it comes to agencies, some of the best partnerships could be other agencies.
Consider agencies that offer services you don’t. At the same time, you offer services they don’t. Support one another. Design agencies often need copy and content writers.
SEO, PPC, PR, website design and development, video and social media, are all specialist areas. All working with a wide range of clients, and providing partnerships are reciprocal, this could prove a lucrative sales avenue for you.
3: Drive sales through partners
Partnerships need to be proactive.
Both parties need to benefit and support one another. That’s one of the most effective ways for marketing a digital agency, when you are both marketing and promoting one another.
Create materials to support partners. Sales emails. Pitch and proposal, or presentation documents. So that if a partner has a screen sharing sales call, they’ve got material for that call to present your service offerings at the same time.
At the same time, ensure you’ve got materials from them so you can actively promote your partners too.
When it comes to potential partners, try to think outside of the box too. Consultants and professional service companies, such as accountants, solicitors, and financial advisors are all avenues to generating new revenues.
4: Ask clients for referrals
Another way to generate sales leads is to ask for referrals from clients.
As long as they are happy with your work, then there’s a good chance they are going to be happy to refer other clients your way. If you don’t ask, then they might not think to do so.
Ask every client, maybe a few times a year, and even create emails or social media content they can use. See what work comes your way. It won’t always. But could be profitable when it does.
5: Account manage, up-sell and cross-sell
One of the best ways to generate revenue is from the clients you already have. Providing you are working on a retainer model, you would benefit from proactively looking at what they need, and offering the relevant solutions.
Up-sell additional services, and if they would benefit from services partner agencies offer, then cross-sell those. Account management is one of the best ways to grow a digital agency, and not every agency founder uses this enough. Use the right digital marketing agency software to manage your accounts.
Even agencies that only mainly offer one-off services, such as a video or developing a website, could provide retainer services, such as content marketing or social media. All you need to do is partner with an agency that can deliver, or bring on board a suitable freelancer or freelancers.
6: Launch a targeted B2B outbound sales campaign
Once you can, launch a targeted B2B outbound sales campaign. Focus on the same niche you’ve already picked, and at the same time, continue to scale a partner network.
Outbound lead generation often means having a database of prospects to focus on, a CRM, sales materials (such as a presentation), pitch documents, and case studies.
Make sure you have a strategy and process for your salesperson to work from.
7: Scale service delivery, without losing quality
And finally, when it comes to scaling an agency, make sure you can deliver. This would need to be a whole other article in itself. But it helps to have a talent pool of freelancers or know where to find them, to deliver as your client list grows.
Have processes and systems to manage this too. Make sure you know who is responsible for managing this growing team, and at the same time, ensuring clients are happy. If clients aren’t, then growth is going to falter and go backward.
No one wants that. Once you’ve got a steady pipeline, then you need to ensure this keeps flowing in the right direction. Keep growing the client list through outbound and partner sales, and then in time, generate more leads through inbound marketing too.
CrankWheel: Cut your sales cycle in half with instant screen-sharing. Go from two or more sales calls to one: Become a one call close sales team.