Launching an agency means challenges are bound to arise, and these challenges often revolve around money and perspective. When the two collide, that’s when most brave agencies stumble a bit.
As soon as the words “revenue” and “loss” appear in the same sentence, many brave agencies understandably freeze with fear. It’s easy to lose objectivity and the ability to stay focused on the big picture. That often leads to an agency scrambling to take on new clients, regardless of their suitability. This “any port in a storm” mentality can really jeopardize an agency’s ability to create stability and profitability.
It also leads to brave agencies being less willing to stand their ground and advocate for what they know is the best solution for their clients. It’s easy to capitulate when you’re worried about making payroll.
But when clients search for brave agencies, they’re looking for that outside perspective. They don’t need a “yes” man; they need objectivity and an outside viewpoint they can’t find internally. This difference in opinion won’t always have you seeing eye to eye, but that’s usually what sparks the big idea—that collaborative, 360-degree viewpoint.
If you’re challenging one another, ideas get better. And it’s the co-creation of those ideas where trust is earned.
The bottom line: Your agency must have the confidence—or dare I say, the bravery—to find your voice and speak up. That’s the value you bring to your clients, which in turn is what creates value for you as a business.
How you go about finding your voice and solidifying those bonds with clients is entirely up to you, but it often starts with mustering the courage to do the following:
1. Hold Strong Opinions
To be treated as a partner, do what partners do: poke, prod, and push with your opinions. Ask harder questions, both of yourself and your client. Differentiate your agency by being willing to question everything and then take a firm stand. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but you’re doing clients a disservice when you tell them only what they want to hear.
Take my colleague, Sam Mallikarjunan. When working as an onboarding consultant at a software company, his manager overheard a conversation he was having with a prospect, pulled him aside, and said, “You can’t talk to people that way.”
Oh, how wrong she was.
You see, Sam had adapted his communication style to the customer. This prospect was a gregarious fellow and wanted to feel like he was talking to a confident, competent person—a person willing to tell him what he needed to hear to drive change.
As long as your opinions or advice add value, your agency can begin to build stronger relationships with your clients. In turn, your clients will feel more comfortable being open and honest with you, making your job that much easier.
2. Accept Revenue Loss
For brave agencies, sustainability is key to keeping clients, but to sustain, you have to evolve. And to evolve, you can’t be held back or thrown off course by short-term revenue loss.
In fact, we’ve all had our fair share of customers who cost more than what our brave agencies bring in. But we only have to look at Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to recognize you can drive real company growth without necessarily paying a ton of dividends.
For the longest time, Amazon was unprofitable, largely due to Bezos’s disinterest in short-term gains. He’d rather focus on the actual or true value of the company: free cash flow and revenue, not stock price and dividends.
Can an agency adopt that same attitude? Yes, but not for years like Bezos did. You need to chase smart, right-sized revenue, and sometimes that means leaving room on your plate so when you find it, you can grab it.
If you want to scale and build a sustainable business, avoid getting stuck in a cycle where you bring in revenue for the sake of it. That’s just “make-do” thinking, and it will generate the wrong kinds of leads (in turn, generating the wrong kinds of sales).
Instead, it’s best to monetize recurring revenue with your existing client base or invest additional resources into securing retainer clients. By devoting time and money to these sources of revenue, you may take a loss initially, but it’s more sustainable long-term.
3. Educate Clients
Owning an agency calls for the courage and confidence to recognize the value you offer. Part of this value, naturally, comes from results. But an even larger portion is owed to your knowledge.
Tap into this knowledge to educate your clients. Share information in an instructive yet conversational fashion. That way, clients never feel like you’re talking down to them, and they’ll glean a better understanding of what your agency can do for their business.
According to a recent study by Conductor, consumers are 131% more likely to buy immediately after reading or hearing educational content. Thus, see every customer interaction as an opportunity to educate.
We all know it costs significantly less to keep existing customers than to gain new ones; it’s also easier to get someone who has already given you money to give you more. Educate clients you already have so they make more informed decisions, and these decisions could lead to more revenue—sustainable revenue, at that.
Recently my colleague, Sam, helped a friend remove an agency. It wasn’t because that agency was necessarily bad; it was more about the effort—or lack thereof, really—that it put into proactively helping the company understand.
You need to find your bravado—you know, the one that inspired you to launch an agency in the first place. Get your swagger back and embrace your knowledge. Share it even when it feels a bit uncomfortable. Your clients will thank you for it.
As a marketer, these are the values to look for when you’re choosing an agency. Look for those who hold strong opinions, those who are not afraid to accept revenue loss, and those who are striving to educate their clients. Are there any other values brave agencies should strive for? Tell me about them in the comments.
This article originally appeared in Marketo.