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SCALING YOUR AGENCY – the leap from £50k to £250k

What does it really take to grow your revenue from £50k to £250k in turnover? 

SPOILER ALERT – IT’S NOT JUST SALES AND MARKETING!

So many focus purely on what is coming in through the door, whereas sustainable growth for a digital agency (or any business) is so much more than just winning new clients. To go from £50k to £250k means changing from it being just you, to you plus a team.  There are many factors to explore including: mindset shifts, leadership priority changes and also the practical stuff you need to do in order to successfully make the jump. 

What happens when your firm grows from £50k to £250k?

You need to rethink where you spend your time as you have run out of time.  You need to work ON the business, instead of IN the business.

Generally speaking your time will be taken up with:

  • DEVELOPMENT / Working ON the business– looking to the future
  • PRODUCTION / Front Office – client facing work
  • ADMIN / Back office – non-client facing work

DEVELOPMENT

It’s where you do strategic type activities or stuff which will help your business in the long term, such as:

  • business planning
  • rethinking your marketing strategy
  • going on a course to build a new skill to allow you to offer more services to clients 
  • process mapping or optimising your processes and systems. 

PRODUCTION

This is where you are earning money to service your clients. Some of your short-term business development type activities will also come into this area. 

ADMIN

This is the cost of being in business and every business owner needs to do this. For example, bookkeeping, taking the time to renew your insurance, measuring and monitoring your KPIs. 

When you get much beyond £50k in turnover (or before), you run out of time.  Client work fills your day, and typically you do the admin evenings/weekends and business development happens “tomorrow”.  You find yourself wondering why you gave up your demanding day job and its long hours for another demanding day job, much longer hours, and a not-guaranteed salary at the end of the month. 

Initially freelancer / apprentices / trainees / virtual assistants can be bought in to ease some of the burden to free up the owners time to take on more clients (and/or work fewer hours).  The sooner you can move the lower value client facing activities onto a team member, the more time you have to focus on what you need to do to move your agency forward.

  1. You are now responsible for a team

Ironically by the very nature of having people to manage you suddenly have more demands on your time. One of the key leadership shifts, when you have a team, is to now recognise that your first priority is to help your team members perform to the standard you require from them. This takes time – and often time you don’t have – particularly if you are struggling to afford more resources in your business.

Outsourcing your client facing work, is a great way to increase your capacity without the costs of a full or part-time member of staff.  From what we have seen, you can actually grow your business to ~£300k with just you, an outsourced team and admin support. 

Many agency owners have a strongly held desire to not offshore or outsource their work. It’s not for this article to say whether this is right or wrong. Instead of outsourcing, many firms will look to find cheap labour by employing an apprentice. Taking on an apprentice as your first employee if you have run out of time is often the wrong decision. Just because their wages are cheap, doesn’t mean to say that they are a cost-effective hire.  They are going to need 6-12 months of experience before they start to add value. 

You’ve now got to find the time to recruit, develop and retain your team. This means that there is a major shift in what you spend your time on. For example:

  • Communicating regularly with your team
  • Ensuring that team members are communicating with you and each other
  • Setting the culture and how people are expected to behave in your business
  • Performance reviews and 1:2:1 time with your team

Fail to prioritise your time with the team and you will sadly find one or all of these things will happen:

  • You have a revolving door of staff members and struggle to retain good members of staff (or have to exit lots of poor performers)
  • You get frustrated that your staff wouldn’t take initiative
  • You find you are running a holiday camp for staff where they do as little or as much work as they like
  • Staff will become your biggest headache and frustration
  • You will find you become very unlucky and keep hiring ‘duds’ 

  1. You have to learn to trust your team to get things done

Going from doing all the client work by yourself to your team doing a large amount of work is not easy. Some never quite make this transition. It’s much easier to trust your team if they are sitting in the same office as you. Sadly post Covid-19 pandemic more and more employees are opting to work from home for some or part of their week.  To find this level of trust often requires time, communication and the right technology. Use workflow management tools, to update each other on progress with your firm’s workload

  • Insist that your team members update the software at the end of the day. In particular, what has been completed and can now be billed, plus any notes from client calls or meetings they have had.
  • Set up dashboards and reports so you can see at a glance what stuff is falling behind
  • Reminder yourself that it is about deliverables and outcomes, not time spent at the desk. (Difficult if you are used to a culture where time spent at the desk was what mattered.)
  • Run the daily, weekly and monthly Rhythm Team meetings. 

  1. Your profit margin gets painfully squeezed

When your cost base was limited to software, insurance and what you needed to fund your lifestyle you could afford to keep your prices low. In fact, these low prices may have been what helped you attract your first clients. But these low prices will be slowly choking your business growth. 

After all, by adding in staff members to do work on your behalf your fixed costs and cost of sales increases. For example, deciding to take an office or a bigger office to house you and your team. If you don’t actively change your agencies efficiency by raising your prices or doing things differently, you will find that as your firm revenue grows your net profit margin reduces.  It will often reduce to the point where, you the owner, are the lowest-paid member of the business. Or even worse you are, what feels like, working day and night to pay your team rather than pay yourself. From personal experience, this is often the point where you look at the cashiers at your local supermarket and ponder whether you would be better off having their job. 

  1. You will often need to reprice your existing clients’ fees

One of the quickest ways to increase your firm’s revenue so you can pay yourself enough to live on is to increase your existing clients’ fees. Even though this move makes fiscal sense, it can be incredibly daunting. After all the clients who really need a fee increase are often your first clients. The ones who supported you in the early days of your agency. Plus you will find that the loud voice of fear in your head will be yelling at you to not commit commercial suicide by putting your fees up. 

If you are still pricing at the same level as when you started now is the time to revisit those fees. We have often seen that the clients that go because of price are often the most needy, and the ones you don’t mind losing.

  1. You will invest in additional software to increase your efficiency

If you are to increase your profit margin to have enough to live on, increasing your efficiency is now a leadership priority for you. Most of our agencies will use project management software to track tasks and deadlines. 

  1. Marketing and sales are still important: But the focus is more on keeping existing clients happy

In the early stages of your agency, it was all about how you were going to win more clients. To go from £50-250k in turnover you are still going to need to win more work. But the likelihood is that if you look after your current clients well, you will generate a reasonable amount of new business from your existing clients. This could be your existing clients wanting more services from you or recommending you to others in their network. 

As well as the standard tax returns and compliance, many of our clients take up one of our advisory packages – which involve monthly meetings to track and discuss the growth of our agency.  Get in touch to discuss.

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