Want to start and grow a successful marketing agency? Here’s what our experts suggestBy Courtney Hinz
Challenging times often call for dramatic change. Career and business disruption can be particularly challenging, but there are unique opportunities for those who know what to look for and how to read the market.
Take the prospect of owning your own marketing agency, for example. It can be a great option for those passionate about supporting small businesses through these trying times.
Which agency growth stage do you fit in right now, and are you hitting the right benchmarks to reach the next level? Take the short quiz to find out.
We spoke with two of Vendasta’s executive leaders who’ve built our business to get the lowdown on what it takes to start and accelerate the growth of an agency.
Start with your expertise and value
According to Vendasta Chief Strategy Officer Jacqueline Cook, what makes great marketing agencies stand out is the unique expertise and advice they provide.
“There's a lot of misinformation, a lot of noise,” she says. “People are looking for value amidst that noise. They're looking for expert advice rather than quick tips and tricks.”
She says it’s not about product slinging and feature comparisons, and the basket of goods that you have for clients and their customers. “You need to educate, offer value, get to know your clients and customers, and map solutions or strategies that address their needs.
“Especially with COVID, not all businesses are treated or created equal, and how business was done in the past is now being done in fundamentally different ways,” Cook says. The more clients understand their customers and the industry they're in, and the changes happening, the more valuable a marketing agency becomes.
Brendan King, Chief Executive Officer of Vendasta, and Cook support the idea of explicitly demonstrating your expertise and value upfront.
“You need to focus on the outcome by understanding the problem you can solve for a customer, using your unique expertise. Focus on the value you provide,” King says.
“For instance, the other day I was doing some construction and wanted to buy a hole saw. But, if I think about it, I wasn't trying to buy a hole saw. What I wanted was the hole,” he says, “That’s how to think about how to position your value and expertise. Focus on solving problems and achieving outcomes. It’s not about the tools - it’s about the results.”
Cook echoes this idea, saying that the conversation needs to focus on the results you’re able to help your client achieve, how you will help stay in business and become more successful, and how you will make their lives easier and more manageable.
Find your niche
“The focus here is how to address and solve a problem for a specific group of customers,” King says, “Some people may call this ‘attacking a niche’”
“Start small and go deep. Don't go too big and broad. Select a client, get to know their business, their industry, what's shaping and what's impacting their industry, their business, and their customer segment. Then do a fantastic job and knock it out of the park,” she says, “Don't be a one hit wonder to a single business then simply try to repeat that across multiple categories. You'll spread yourself too thin. You won't gain any expertise and it will be too hard to scale.”
Finding a niche happens organically for some marketing agencies, often through generating success with one or two clients then building off of that with others in the same industry. However, if you’re just starting out, finding your specialty can be a challenge.
“If you don't have current customers then talk to people who you’d like to have as your customers,” King says. “Find out what their problems are, figure out what you can do to help, and what issues you're good at solving.”
Cover all the bases
According to King, agencies need to act almost like general contractors when it comes to those needing help and struggling to survive.
“They really need to bring the whole solution to the business,” he says. “It's that theme of solving the customer's problems - not just by doing one thing, but by bringing a holistic solution that covers the whole customer journey.”
“COVID actually has many businesses busier than ever, with even more considerations for their clients. Clients need agencies to step up and offer more in the way of solutions and services that help them be more efficient, productive, address new demands and requirements, and to scale,” he adds.
King says many agencies are being disqualified from consideration if they can’t offer a complete solution. For example, to pitch a website without ecommerce or remote scheduling and booking just doesn’t interest small business clients anymore.
However, he acknowledges it can be difficult for a new or small agency to offer the complete range of services needed by clients on their own, and suggests some solutions.
The first is to use a digital marketing agency, marketplace, and agency-in-a-box solution.
“Today, if you need a website, you want it to be secure, and for people to be able to book appointments,” King says. “You want scheduling to happen there and for people to find you online.
“You need a website that comes with SEM, SEO, online booking, and ecommerce...all of these things,” he adds. “Often an individual agency or consultant can't supply all of that. At Vendasta - through our comprehensive technologies, solutions and services - we want to make it easy for them to create a complete and customized package, and all they have to sell is their brand to the businesses that already trust them. So these customers don’t need to worry about needing to trust seven different suppliers.”
King also recommends looking to like-minded agencies in your community or niche for opportunities to collaborate. He explains how the Vendasta peer-to-peer network helps connect providers seeking unique skills and offerings they themselves may not have.
“It allows an agency to take its own skill set and build all the other things around it,” King says.
“So just take the thing you're good at, whatever it might be, and look for other agencies that also need that solution.”
“It’s important to be iterative in your approach, says Cook, “What works today might not work tomorrow. There's a lot of change and flux. People are changing, governments are changing, businesses are changing, and the economy is changing around us,” she says. “If we're not continually measuring and testing what's working, we won't be able to adapt quickly enough to that change.”
King emphasizes and expands on the same thought.
“The ideal agency is always learning and isn’t afraid of what's happening in the world,” he says. “They embrace change, look to find the best solutions and bring those to their customers,” says King. “I think the Charles Darwin quote is, ‘It's not the strongest or the smartest that survive, it’s those that are most adaptable to change.’ That’s true with any kind of organization. Change and learning are constant.”