Many of us had that entrepreneurial moment or opportunity to start our digital marketing agency. In the first year, we are just trying to survive and prove we can make the business work and pay ourselves.
However, operating by ‘the seat of your pants’ isn’t going to sustain your agency for the long term, so we need to take a more strategic approach to consciously controlling the direction and growth of our agency.
A growth-oriented mindset allows digital marketing agencies to continuously improve their strategies, expand their client base, and increase their revenues.
In this article, I will outline 8 key strategies to focus on if you want to create sustainable growth. These include:
- Picking a clear niche to give you differentiation and competitive advantage
- Defining your offer and market position
- Developing a clear, exciting dynamic growth plan
- Building your team
- Creating a repeatable sales and marketing system
- Building Your Email List
- Investing in automation
- Streamline your client delivery processes
We will also discuss the challenges that come with growth and how to overcome them to ensure sustained success in the long term.
1. Pick a Niche
In today's competitive landscape, it is important for marketing agencies to establish a profitable niche. Picking a niche will allow you to focus on a specific set of skills, services, and target markets, enabling you to differentiate yourself from your competitors and establish yourself as THE expert in your chosen field. This not only helps to attract potential clients but also increases the likelihood of retaining them.
When picking a niche, agencies should first conduct market research to identify gaps and opportunities in the industry. They should analyse the needs and preferences of their target audience and identify the services that are in demand but are currently underserved. This will help them to identify their strengths and unique selling points and enable them to tailor their services to meet the needs of their target market.
Once a niche has been identified, agencies should establish themselves as experts in that field by creating high-quality content, participating in relevant forums, and collaborating with other industry experts. This will help to build their reputation and increase their visibility, making it easier for potential clients to find them.
To ensure profitability, digital agencies should also consider the pricing and profitability of their chosen niche. They should determine the market rates for their services and ensure that their pricing is competitive while also considering their costs and profit margins.
Picking a profitable niche is crucial for a digital agency looking to succeed in the industry. Trying to be a generalist and all things to all people might seem like an easy option, but you will end up racing to the bottom (i.e., differentiating yourself by being cheaper than the competition) and ultimately failing!
By identifying a niche, establishing themselves as experts, and pricing their services correctly, digital marketing agencies can differentiate themselves from their competitors and attract and retain clients and staff in their chosen field.
I’ve written about niching before (in fact, you can download my FREE guide on niching your marketing agency here).
2. Defining Your Offer and Market Position
Once you have decided on a clear niche, you need to define your offer (i.e., your products and services) and where you sit in the market (i.e., are you premium, mid-market or low cost?)
If you are not already clear about your marketing services and position (and you might well be after doing the work on defining your niche), then start by conducting a thorough analysis of your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This analysis will help you identify your unique selling points and determine how to position yourself in the market.
To define your offer/digital marketing services, an agency should first identify the services it wants to provide/skills it has and determine how these services can add value to its target audience. For example, suppose the agency specialises in social media marketing. In that case, it should identify the specific skills and expertise that it brings to the table, such as creating engaging content, building brand awareness, and driving traffic to websites.
The agency should also consider its target audience and identify its specific needs and pain points. This will help you tailor your services to meet the needs of your target market and position yourself as THE solution to their problems.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!
We need to know our audience and what ‘keeps them awake at night’ and ensure our service is solving this pain point.
You can learn more about defining your audience here.
To define its market position, a digital marketing agency should analyse its competitors and identify the gaps in the market that it can fill and overlap that with the skills it already has. It should also consider its pricing strategy, as this will impact its perceived value in the market (i.e., don’t choose to be a mid-level agency with low-level pricing. Alignment is key).
Once the agency has defined its offer and market position, it should communicate this to its target audience through branding, messaging, and marketing channels. This will help to establish the agency's reputation and increase its visibility, making it easier for potential clients to find and engage with the agency. More on this in section 5.
3. Develop a clear, exciting dynamic growth plan
After that first year of proving you can make your digital marketing agency a success, you now need to create a clear exciting, dynamic, living plan that maps out the road ahead.
An agency growth plan is critical to your future success. It helps your agency focus on its core values, objectives, and long-term goals and outlines a roadmap for growth. A clear and actionable growth plan enables you to understand your target audience, develop effective marketing strategies, and improve overall performance.
Here are some of the reasons why a digital marketing agency should have a clear and actionable growth plan:
A growth plan ensures that the agency's efforts are focused on specific goals and objectives. This helps to avoid wasting resources on activities that do not contribute to the agency's growth.
A growth plan provides a framework for decision-making. It helps the agency to make informed decisions about its operations, investments, and marketing strategies.
Better resource allocation
A growth plan helps the agency to allocate its resources effectively. It enables the agency to prioritise its activities, allocate resources to the most critical areas, and avoid overspending.
How To set achievable goals for a growth plan
1. Identify your agency's key performance indicators (KPIs)
KPIs are measurable metrics that are used to evaluate the agency's performance. Examples of KPIs include website traffic, lead generation, social media engagement, and revenue.
2. Set specific and measurable goals
The agency should set specific goals that are aligned with its growth plan. The goals should be measurable and have a deadline for achieving them and be reviewed regularly.
3. Develop a strategy to achieve the goals
The agency should develop a clear and actionable strategy to achieve its goals. The strategy should outline the steps that the agency needs to take to achieve its objectives.
4. Assign responsibilities
Each goal should have a person or team responsible for achieving it. This helps to ensure accountability and ensures that the goals are achieved.
5. Monitor and measure progress
The agency should regularly monitor and measure its progress toward achieving its goals. This enables the agency to identify areas that require improvement and adjust its strategy accordingly. One of the key reasons why many business plans fail is because they are created at the start of the year, cast in stone, and never changed! But of course, we exist in a very dynamic, ever-changing market and we need to update the plan monthly to reflect what we know today that we didn’t know last month.
How To Measure the Achievement of Goals Set for a Digital Marketing Agency’s Growth Plan
1. Website traffic
The number of visitors to the agency's website can be used to measure the effectiveness of its digital marketing campaigns and strategies.
2. Lead generation
The number of leads generated from the agency's marketing efforts can be used to measure its effectiveness in generating new business.
3. Social media engagement
The level of engagement on the agency's social media platforms can be used to measure the effectiveness of its social media marketing strategies.
The agency's revenue can be used to measure the overall success of its growth plan.
4. Build Your Team
Growing a team is a critical step in expanding the business and serving clients more effectively and ultimately getting work off your plate to enable you to focus on strategic activities such as planning for the future. But it’s easy to get wrong so follow this guidance!
There are several ways to go about building your team, including internal hires and outsourcing/using freelancers.
Best Practices For Growing Your Digital Agency Team
1. Define your hiring needs
Start by identifying the specific roles and responsibilities that need to be filled. This could include account managers. content creators, designers, web developers, social media specialists, and more. Clearly defining your hiring needs will help you identify the best candidates for each position.
2. Hire the best people you can afford
There is a temptation to hire low-cost people who will obviously be cheaper and less challenging to you.
In the early days, you need to get some of the admin tasks off your plate so you are likely to hire a VA or assistants but the next hire should be someone who helps you create more capacity for client service, so start looking for account managers or project managers.
3. Leverage your network
Consider reaching out to your professional network to identify potential candidates or referrals. This could include former colleagues, industry contacts, and social media groups.
4. Post job listings
Utilise online job boards and social media platforms to post job listings and reach a wider audience. Be sure to clearly outline the job responsibilities, requirements, and any other relevant details to attract qualified candidates.
5. Partner with freelancers or outsourcing firms
Consider partnering with freelance professionals or outsourcing firms to supplement your internal team. This can provide additional expertise and resources on an as-needed basis without the commitment of a full-time hire.
6. Prioritise cultural fit
When building your team, it's important to prioritise cultural fit in addition to technical skills and experience. Look for candidates who share your agency's values and are passionate about the work you do.
7. Offer competitive compensation and benefits
To attract top talent, it's important to offer competitive compensation and benefits packages. This can include health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and other perks.
Have a considered and detailed onboarding process for all new staff, including a probation period with KPIs so both you and the new team member know what ‘good’ looks like.
Once the role is filled, it doesn’t stop there because you need to consider your team's professional development. So training is a critical aspect of developing talent.
Best Practices For Training Your Team
1. Develop a training plan
Start by developing a training plan for each member of your team that outlines the skills that need to be developed, as well as the training methods and resources that will be utilised.
2. Use a variety of training methods
Consider using a variety of training methods to appeal to different learning styles. This could include on-the-job training, classroom-based training, online courses, mentoring, and coaching. You could also sign up for corporate marketing training where the course provider will assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team and create a personalised program.
3. Prioritise ongoing training
Learning is an ongoing process, so prioritise ongoing training to keep your team up to date on the latest trends, tools, and techniques in the industry and set this as one of their KPIs. This is especially true in the fast-paced and ever-changing digital marketing industry.
4. Provide feedback and coaching
Provide regular feedback and coaching to help team members identify areas for improvement and develop their skills. This can help create a culture of continuous learning and growth.
5. Encourage cross-functional collaboration
Encourage team members to work together and share their knowledge and expertise. This can help build a more collaborative and innovative culture and foster new ideas and approaches.
6. Measure training effectiveness
Measure the effectiveness of your training program by tracking performance metrics, such as client satisfaction, project success rates, and employee retention. This will help identify areas for improvement and demonstrate the value of your training program.
5. Create A Repeatable Sales And Marketing System
If you want a constant flow of new clients coming into your agency, then you need to have a robust repeatable business development plan in place - something that you focus on every day.
Let’s look at some sales and marketing strategies that a small digital agency can focus on to attract a consistent flow of new clients:
1. Develop a strong brand
Your agency's brand is your identity, and it's important to establish a strong brand that conveys your unique value proposition and differentiates you from competitors.
2. Build a website that converts
Your digital marketing agency website is often the first impression potential clients will have of your agency. It needs to be more than just ‘brochureware’ so make sure it is professional, easy to navigate, and optimised for conversions (focus on your search engine optimisation). It should be a central way to build your email list (more on that below).
3. Leverage content marketing
At the heart of any successful digital marketing strategy is a strong focus on creating high-quality content that resonates with your target audience, and the content marketing world is constantly evolving to meet these needs.
Create high-quality content that showcases your expertise and provides value to your target audience. Share your content on your website, social media, through partners and other channels to attract and engage potential clients.
4. Utilise paid advertising
If you have the budget, then consider investing in paid advertising on platforms like Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and LinkedIn Ads. This can help you reach your target audience and drive traffic to your website.
5. Network and build relationships
Attend industry events, join online communities, and participate in relevant discussions to build relationships with potential clients and industry influencers.
6. Offer free consultations or audits
Offer potential clients a free consultation or audit to help them identify areas for improvement in their digital marketing strategies. This can help build trust and establish your agency as an expert in the field and the place to solve their problems.
7. Develop case studies and testimonials
Your successful clients are the best form of advertising. Showcase your success stories and client testimonials to demonstrate the value of your services and build credibility with potential clients.
8. Seek referrals
Provide excellent customer service to existing clients to foster loyalty and positive word-of-mouth referrals and proactively ask for them!
6. Build Your Email List
This is one non-negotiable strategy so deserves a section of its own! Building an email list and nurturing it to conversion is a highly effective strategy for digital agencies to attract new ideal target leads and nurture them until they become clients.
Here are some tips on how to build and nurture an email list:
Offer valuable content/lead magnets
Create high-quality content, such as eBooks, templates, or webinars, that provides value to your target audience. Offer this content as a free download in exchange for an email address. This is how you build a list of highly engaged subscribers.
Segment your list
Segment your email list based on the interests and needs of your subscribers. This allows you to tailor your messaging and offers to each group, improving engagement and conversion rates.
Personalise your emails
Use personalised messaging via email automation systems (such as MailChimp or ConvertKit) to make your subscribers feel valued and appreciated.
Send regular emails
Send regular emails to your list to stay top-of-mind and build a relationship with your subscribers. Your goal is to stay front of mind until the point the subscriber KNOWS, LIKES & TRUSTS you. Only then will they buy from you.
Test and optimise
Test different subject lines, messaging, and calls to action to optimise your email campaigns. Use A/B testing to see what resonates with your subscribers and drives the most engagement and conversions.
Monitor your metrics
Monitor your email metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversions, to track the effectiveness of your campaigns and identify areas for improvement.
By building and nurturing an email list, digital agencies can establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry, stay top-of-mind with potential clients, and drive conversions and revenue.
If you want to read more about email marketing, then grab a copy of my free guide.
7. Invest in Automation
As you start to develop and document your internal and external processes you can start to consider how you can automate them.
Automation can be a powerful tool for agencies to streamline their operations and improve client management. Here are some ways that digital marketing agencies can use automation:
As already mentioned, use automation software to send automated emails to clients and leads, such as welcome emails, follow-up emails, and nurturing emails.
Social media automation
Use social media scheduling tools to schedule and publish social media posts in advance. This saves time and ensures consistent content distribution.
Use automation software to track websites and social media analytics, such as website traffic, engagement rates, and conversion rates. This helps agencies to identify trends and optimise their campaigns for better results.
Client management automation
Use client management software to automate processes such as project management, task assignments, and invoicing. This improves efficiency and reduces the likelihood of errors or oversights.
Use reporting software to automatically generate regular marketing reports for clients, detailing campaign performance, analytics, and ROI. This saves time and ensures that clients have access to up-to-date information on their campaigns.
Use chatbots to automate customer service interactions, such as answering common questions, scheduling appointments, and providing information about products or services. This saves time and frees up staff to focus on more complex tasks.
Overall, automation can help digital marketing agencies to improve their efficiency, accuracy, and productivity, while also providing better service to clients. By automating repetitive tasks, agencies can free up staff time to focus on higher-level tasks such as strategy development, client relationships, and business growth.
8. Streamline Your Client Service Processes
We want to make sure all clients have the same experience of working with your agency, no matter who is running their account. So, documenting Standard Operating Procedures and streamlining the onboarding process is crucial.
Here are some ways that you can achieve this:
Use a client onboarding checklist
Develop a comprehensive onboarding checklist that includes all the necessary steps for onboarding a new client. This helps to ensure that nothing is missed and that the process is consistent for each new client.
Use a client onboarding platform
Use a client onboarding platform or software to automate the onboarding process. This can include sending welcome emails, collecting client information, and assigning tasks to team members.
Provide a welcome kit
Provide a welcome kit that includes information about the agency, onboarding and project management processes, and what the client can expect during the first few weeks. This helps to set expectations and build trust with the client.
Schedule a kick-off meeting
Schedule a kick-off meeting with the client to introduce the team, discuss goals and objectives, and establish a communication plan. This helps to align expectations and establish a strong relationship with the client.
Assign a dedicated account manager
Assign a dedicated account manager to each new client. This helps to ensure that the client has a single point of contact and that communication is consistent and efficient. This is important since one of the key reasons why agencies lose clients is because of a constant change of personnel working on their account!
Use templates and standardised processes
Use templates and standardised processes for documents such as contracts, proposals, and reports. This saves time and ensures consistency across clients.
Provide regular updates
Provide regular updates to the client on progress and results. This helps to build trust and demonstrates the agency's commitment to the client's success.
By streamlining the client onboarding process, agencies can improve client satisfaction, reduce churn, and increase efficiency. By providing a smooth and efficient onboarding experience, agencies can set the stage for a successful and long-lasting client relationship.
There is a lot more to starting and running a successful digital marketing agency than just having a good idea or being good at digital marketing. If you focus on the eight areas I’ve outlined above then you are giving yourself the best chance of not only staying around for the long term but finding your niche and charging a fair price for the services that you deliver.
If you want to chat further please book a FREE strategy call.