It’s been a challenging year for many agencies and for some we are just starting to come out the other side.
But how have agencies coped and how are they getting ready to take advantage of the world opening up again?
The truth of it is for every agency that has struggled to survive, another is doing well and able to focus on growth.
I’ve seen two types of company during this crisis:
The first has decided to sit it out, furlough their staff, and hope they can weather the storm.
The second kind has been galvanised into action, pivoted their business, or suggested to the client how they can pivot their business and supported them through the process.
You need to be the second type of company. And to do this you need to speak to your clients frequently (whether they’re working with you or they have put you on pause), and make sure that you are listening and serving them.
So let’s explore some practical steps you can take:
Use this time to learn more about your clients’ wants and needs
We all like to think that we know our target audience well, and armed with this knowledge we create our own sales & marketing content. But how well do we really understand our clients?
You might have done some work on defining your ideal target customer or customer avatar, but if you want to take it to the next level you need to talk to your clients and learn more about their pains and gains. Right now there has never been a better time to talk to your clients because they’re more likely to have the time and inclination to spend 30 minutes discussing their business. During this interview, you want to identify the PAINS that they have, that they are trying to move away from, and the GAINS that they want to achieve which they are trying to move towards. You need to look for the repeating patterns, and if you can interview between 7 and 10 clients then you’ll be able to identify these patterns. Use the recurring themes to inform the content that you create and the products/services that you deliver.
This is exactly what I do, and it ensures that the content I am creating will be of value to my audience rather than just things I want to write about. That is one of the key outcomes of doing this exercise (the other is producing products and services that your audience wants and needs – more on that later).
Have a plan
I get it! A lot of us have been in survival mode and can’t think beyond the end of the month let alone six months, a year or even further but it’s a fine balance between reacting to ever-changing needs of today, and trying to survive versus having half an eye on the future, then having a longer-term plan (albeit one that you need to frequently revisit as this new world unfolds) for growing your agency.
I normally work with my clients on a long, medium, and short-term plan. A long-term plan is usually 2 to 5 years (this is your vision). The mid-term plan is usually one year, and includes a quarterly breakdown (your strategies). Then from there, we have a monthly plan (your ‘to-do list’ for your business). This is the document that you will use to run your monthly management meetings ensuring you’re focused on working on the business as opposed to operational discussions about the business.
I appreciate during this current period we need even more granularity than I outlined above so I have created a weekly plan with measures, and you can grab your copy of that here.
Pivot where necessary
“Pivot” is one of those annoying words that we hear from a lot in the business world right now, but what exactly does it mean for you?
It means finding new ways to service your existing audience or finding a new audience. For you, that looks like refining, amending or creating a new product or service or looking for a slightly different audience to your traditional audience. And most likely, it is a combination of those two.
Don’t make the same mistakes that I have made in the past - assuming that you know what your audience wants and needs. So you invest a lot of time, energy, and money in turning this new idea into a product/service to only launch it to crickets.
If ever there were a time to use my favourite expression of ‘Slow down to Speed up’ then this is it! You need to first of all test your idea and validate it with your audience BEFORE you start marketing and selling it in earnest. This is a process of refinement. To do this, you should create three target groups, and test you’re offering with group: 1. Using their feedback, refine, rinse, and repeat with groups two and three. If at the end of this process you have had positive feedback, and pre-sold some of your product then you know your product has been validated.
This is such an important topic that I’ve created a new e-book guide which takes you step-by-step through this process including templates for questionnaires, and for letters you can grab a copy of that here.
Become a good listener
Being a good listener is an art, and one that perhaps we all think we are good at but if there were ever a time to listen to your audience, and hear the clues that they tell you about what they need from you, then now is that time.
Clients all have ‘jobs to be done,’ certain pains about those jobs that you can solve and gains which they look for-getting that job done. If you can identify these jobs to be done, the pains, and gains, then you can market your business against that you’re much more likely to win new client business. Listening to your audience means marketing yourself with their needs, rather than what you have to offer. So, consider if your website and your outbound communications are resonating with those pains, gains, and jobs to be done; or are they just telling them what a great company you are, what your products & services are, and who you’ve done it for before. Because if you’re taking this old approach, you’re not going to be winning new business.
This is a topic in itself for a future blog post but I felt it was important to include a reference on this post.
Get the balance of your time right
I’ve written quite a lot in the past about how leaders of agencies need to be allocating their time effectively. Perhaps, this is more important than ever right now, whilst we are working remotely from home which probably means working longer hours, and/or having distractions such as kids at home, so we need to get even more disciplined and structured with all time.
If you want to continue growing your agency during these challenging times, you need to make sure you are allocating enough time to work on your strategy. This includes everything to do with the best ways to earn money in the future.
A quick reminder: we can split our time across three ‘pots:’
1. Revenue: - How are you earning money today? - So, these are all the client projects and retainer works you currently have on your books.
2. Strategy: How do you want to earn in the future? These pertain to your business development, sales, and marketing processes.
3. Admin: This is everything you do to run your business. The ‘lifeblood’ tasks that keep your business afloat, such as Finance, HR, and other departments. No matter what kind of complicated labels we try to apply to our work, pretty much everything we do falls into one of these three categories. But while each of these areas matters, they don’t all matter equally. Particularly not for you: as the agency owner, your time needs to be spent in a deliberate manner for maximum impact.
You want to be making sure you’re allocating the right balance of your time across these three ‘pots’. There is a tendency right now to be doing as much as we possibly can to keep our clients so we are investing a greater percentage of our time in revenue but those agencies who are going to flourish and grow are also allocating equal amounts of time into strategy and strategy today might look different to what it did a few months ago.
My advice here is to get structured with your day and schedule time across these three areas, and create a list of things you do for each area. I have created a simple tool you can use to help with this.
The second really important thing is to get good boundaries, because when we are working at home the boundaries can easily get blurred between your working day and your personal time. One approach that helps me is having morning and evening rituals
Focus on marketing your agency
I received a lot of questions from my audience asking whether they should be marketing in this current climate or not. You see they are worried, that if they send out content it could be seen in bad taste and feels inappropriate.
My response to this is a resounding ‘YES! YOU SHOULD!’ marketing to your audience, provided you are continuing to serve them. One of the ways you will achieve this is by applying the points I’ve made earlier in this article. LISTEN and produce content that is truly adding value (as I am attempting to do in this blog!).
I cannot emphasise enough about the importance of building your email list. Consider this:
Do you know why eBay bought SKYPE?
Do you know why Facebook bought Instagram?
It's not for the reasons most people can think of ....
It was for their subscriber lists. eBay wanted SKYPE's 54 million members across 225 countries, while Facebook wanted Instagram's 30 million users.
Why? Well for every email subscriber you have on your list you can potentially earn £1 per month from them. Have a list of 100? That's £100/month. 10,000 in your list? £10k per month (or £120k/year!).
Also, consider that you OWN your list where you 'BORROW' your contacts on platforms such as LinkedIn. There are always new marketing fads that come and go, but email marketing has always been one of the most cost-effective ways to generate new business.
I have been discussing the power of the email list for a long while, and I encourage all my clients to build their email list of potential buyers, which can serve as a central part of their marketing strategy. And I encourage you to do the same.
If you don’t have a list today then start building one, then set a goal of having 50 people on the list by the end of the month.
I have written about HOW to go about this and WHAT to send you a list in this FREE guide.
OK, so that’s your mail list but what else should you be doing?
You can’t go to networking events, but you can get online – and the key here is to hang out in places where your ideal target customer hangs out, and your research will tell you that. Also, think about how you can use LinkedIn to make connections, and build empathy with those connections. This is particularly true if you work in the B2B space. Don’t be one of those annoying people who send out a connection request with a generic message and then send a sales message immediately you accept them. That is a sure-fire way of being blacklisted! Instead, provide value to your audience. Remember your goal (as with all your marketing) is to focus 80% of your time providing value and 20% selling.
When times are tough we have to work extra hard and extra smart to find and win business. I have run my business through 2 recessions, and now this current pandemic has lived by that belief and it has served me well.
The key to growing your agency is to use your time smartly, then get the balance right, and have a consistent focus on sales & marketing – whilst communicating with your audience in an empathetic way, do this consistently and you will be filling your pipeline with eager potential customers.
If you want more details on how to continue growing your agency in this challenging time, then grab a copy of my FREE guide on agency growth.