by Kyle Sanders
Bootstrapping an agency can be an incredibly difficult process regardless of how much experience you have in the industry. Competing against well-established firms with impressive client rosters is certainly an end-goal for any agency, but as I learned, it’s not the best strategy when scaling your business. If you’ve found yourself struggling to break out of a client acquisition plateau, try implementing the following suggestions:
Know Your Potential Profit Centers
Both boutique and full-service agencies have a tendency to offer more than they’re capable of handling, especially in the startup phase. Typically, small agencies have one or two core competencies from which they can truly deliver massive value to clients, while still making great money. Unfortunately, they also tend to think they can cover all associated service bases and miss out on referral business that can come from sending that work to other firms via white-label arrangements (their work, your firm’s name on the report).
Establish Partnerships Early
Even in smaller cities, you’re bound to find a litany of small agencies that specialize in services outside of your general scope of business. These people should be your best friends. Chances are they have one or more clients that are either asking for the services you offer or need your services and are somewhat unaware. I’ve learned the best way to establish relationships with other agencies is through a casual phone call to arrange lunch or drinks. Trying to pitch a relationship in a single communication tends to come off as desperate and slimy. Don’t be afraid to hide your intentions, but trying to close an agreement over the phone is unlikely to happen.
Befriend Your Largest Competitors
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, you will have competitors. If you’re primarily operating in a local market, befriend the decision marker at the top agency in town. While this may seem counterintuitive, it opens up opportunities to exchange conflicted leads in exchange for a small commission. This tactic alone increased our monthly billings by ~30% over the course of the last year. Having a great case study in your back pocket significantly helps lubricate this process.
Never Skimp on Service Theater
Even the top firms on Madison Avenue have a client attribution rate. Unfortunately, delivering massive value to clients doesn’t always mean they’ll stay forever. Ensuring every client account is handled with a personal touch is incredibly important and something that many massive agencies tend to overlook, even if there’s a dedicated account manager.
Service theater isn’t just about ensuring the client has someone to talk to when they call or have questions. It’s the continual process of addressing any question/concern/issue they have and delivering exceptional value with a gold ribbon on top. Here’s 5 facets of service theater most agencies miss:
- Mailing bound, physical copies of reports;
- Periodic, unexpected calls to check on their leads/business;
- Consistently address and solve the pain points that sealed the deal in the first place;
- Be as involved as the owner of the company;
- Ensure your regular reporting pre-dates and exceeds what the client expects.
Bootstrapping any business is tough; scaling a bootstrapping agency is brutal. Regardless if you’re competing with local or legendary firms, implementing some or all of the above can make the process substantially more manageable and inject even more fun into the process.
Do you run an agency or services firm? Share your startup experiences with fellow readers in the comments below!
Kyle Sanders is a co-founder at Complete Web Resources, a website optimization firm based in Austin, Texas. With over 20 years of collective experience, his firm handles digital marketing for an array of interesting clients, locally & nationally. You can connect with Kyle via Google+ or through email.