Twelve thousand. That's the number of digital marketing agencies in the U.S. alone.
Demand has never been greater for businesses to have their marketing outsourced, managed and multiplied by experts. As a result of the surge in brand outsourcing, some agencies have leveled up, exploded their growth and gone on to achieve incredible things. Others, not so much.
What differentiates successful agencies from defeated ones? You might think it comes down to things like luck, talent or "good timing," but the truth is that these are simply not enough.
Agencies that have grown, scaled and tapped into a whole new level of success tend to have three qualities in common. These qualities are what have moved them forward and helped the entrepreneurs behind the agencies reach their most ambitious goals. The good news is any agency looking to build and grow can implement them quickly and in a straightforward manner.
1. A core competency
In its simplest form, a business exists to solve a customer's problem.
Supermarkets were created when people no longer had the time to grow their own food. Car manufacturers were born out of people's frustration of not being able to travel farther and faster. Ad agencies were created to handle and help businesses with their marketing and advertising efforts.
But for an agency to be successful and stand out from the crowd, it needs to go one step further. Unlike a supermarket, the problems your clients are facing aren't so black and white (they might not even know what problems they have yet).
That's why you need to define your core competency to draw the problem out. At adQuadrant, we began by specializing in Facebook and Instagram Ads. We promised our clients measurable, scalable outcomes that they could go on to use to grow their business.
In this highly crowded, competitive industry, being any old agency or an agency that does anything and everything won't help you grow. In fact, it's likely to achieve the exact opposite.
2. Not reliant on referrals
Whether it's out of complacency, lack of confidence or cost concerns, a heavy reliance on referrals is a trap many agencies unwillingly fall into. It's not hard to see why because referrals are, by nature, an easy sell. They often cost absolutely nothing, and all of the grind is done by current clients and word of mouth.
Now, don't get me wrong; referrals are great and a huge part of any successful ad agency's reputation. But people tend to refer themselves. By that, I mean those they talk to about your agency are likely going to be in the same kind of business.
A successful agency should be able to show that it can get results for all kinds of people, companies and passions to attract the best clients. So, if you're looking to grow your agency and reach those big goals, relying on referrals -- although low-cost -- is extremely limiting.
Instead, focus on diversifying your marketing strategies. Great agencies are everywhere. They co-invest in sales, marketing and lead generation to cover all corners of the digital landscape and reach as many different kinds of people and businesses as possible. In doing so, they're also leading by example to potential customers, stating, "This is what we can do, and this is what we can do for you."
3. Brutal honesty
The biggest strength any business can have is recognizing and addressing its weaknesses.
For example, when we first launched adQuadrant, we weren’t process-minded enough. Like many bootstrapped startups, it wasn't in our immediate purview to think about systems, scalability and repeatability.
By nature, entrepreneurs are tornados of ideas that leave everything else in their wake as they hurtle toward changing the world. The problem is that, while that approach is enough to get an idea off the ground, you need to find a way to sustain and scale it to truly make it fly.
That’s why radical candor is so important. If we hadn't been totally honest with ourselves about our shortcomings with the likes of agency operations and project management, we wouldn't have achieved the level of success we’ve been able to reach. But it didn’t stop there. We built our entire hiring thesis on the areas we knew were going to be critical to offset the strength of our small founding team.
The same goes for everything in your agency. One thing we see over and over from agency owners is that they hit a certain point and suddenly stop growing. Instead of looking outward, it can be helpful to look inward, be brutally honest and ask questions like:
1. Are our sales and marketing still relevant? Do we need to try a different approach? Do we look weak compared to our competition?
2. Is our customer retention good enough, or could we be doing better to get repeat sales? Are we letting our existing customers down?
3. Should we move away from our core product or offer and create different upsells around it to bolster our bottom line? Are we giving people enough?
If you ask those questions of yourself and your team, you may get that big breakthrough that could kick-start your growth.