Last week, we started our journey on agency growth without creating more content.
If you missed the first part, you can find it here.
As I said to a client earlier this week, if growing an agency were easy everyone would do it.
Couple that with the challenge of scaling a business built on people’s time with industry standards that are done because “that’s the way it works”, and we have our work cut out for us.
To truly have agency growth and to do so without creating more content and continually spinning our wheels, there are some mindset shifts we need to make.
The first shift was you don’t need brand cachet.
If you missed it, check out the link above and be sure to read the comments. I thought Shane Carpenter’s analogy was great.
I’ve addressed the second and third shifts below and will address the fourth and fifth next Thursday.
That will give you time to absorb it all, think about it, and create your action plan (versus trying to read a 4,000 word blog post that you then have to mull).
Here we go!
If You Build It, They Will Not Come
A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner before a conference sitting with some of the industry’s biggest influencers.
They were kibitzing about online courses and how, even though the trend shows that’s where things are going, they just didn’t work as revenue streams for their businesses.
I listened pretty intently because I wanted to know what they had done that wasn’t working.
It wasn’t the same experience we’d had so I asked some questions and continued to listen.
One person said he had spent $100,0000 to build an online course from the material from his book.
When it was ready, he emailed his list…and sold three.
Another said he had done the same, but never got it launched because he couldn’t figure out how to sell it.
The truth is, less than 10% of online course launches work and that was pretty apparent as I continued to ask and listen, ask and listen.
Finally, Andy Crestodina (god bless his soul), said, “Gini, why don’t you tell everyone about your experience with online courses.”
I started with the result:
We launched a beta of the Modern Blogging Masterclass and made $239,000.
But I did something different.
I didn’t create and expect anyone to come. I asked the Spin Sucks community what they wanted and then built what they asked for.
Some of you may remember this: I sent a survey with one question, “If you could spend an hour with me, what would we discuss?”
We got all sorts of answers, ranging from, “We’d eat cupcakes and drink wine” (you know me well) to really well thought-out responses.
Then we took that data and started to bucket the responses.
We found that most wanted to learn how to integrate earned and owned media for best results.
That was the start of a PESO model program so we knew there was something there.
We sent an email—Betsy Decillis was our first buyer and did so within seconds—and we sold out.
It was built with the community, not for the community.
Build Additional Streams of Revenue
It’s human nature to sit in our offices and churn out content we think people want, but we never ask.
As I listened to the influencers talk about their online courses, I realized that’s what they had done.
They built something they thought their communities wanted—and discovered they were wrong.
When you think about adding additional revenue streams to your agency, that’s the absolute wrong way to go about it.
We have a client who told me earlier this week that they keep getting asked for digital services.
She wanted to know if I thought she should build that offering.
The people are telling you that’s what they want.
But don’t build just additional services offerings—they’re really hard to scale because they rely on people’s time.
Think about building and selling:
- Content (eBooks, webinar series)
- Paid speaking
- A published book (which doesn’t really make you passive income, but allows you to increase your fees)
- Online courses built from your intellectual property
- A membership community
- A mastermind group
- Consulting, in the form or directing but not doing
The advantage to having passive income in your agency is you’re not selling your time.
You’e not even selling your knowledge.
You are selling the result you deliver.
And you’re doing it at a premium price.
Read “Built to Sell”
That’s what your clients want.
When you charge a premium price, you are reassuring your clients that you are the best of the best.
And, buying the best really feels good.
People who pay more get more results than people who don’t.
They have skin in the game so it makes them want to be more successful.
And, of course, when you charge a premium price, it’s far easier to scale.
It’s easier to hit your income goals in $5,000 chunks than in $500 chunks.
There are only two reasons you’re not charging high prices…either you think your expertise isn’t worth it or you think it is worth it, but you believe that if you charge more, no one will pay for it.
To get past that hurdle, read “Built to Sell” (and keep me in your head, where I am whispering,”You can charge more.”).
Don’t read the book with the intent of building something you can sell (though you’ll certainly get that out of it).
Read it to understand how to “productize” your intellectual property.
It’s a really easy read.
It follows the story of an ad agency owner so it’ll be relatable—and it reads more like fiction than a business book.
Once you have a passive income plan, ask clients, prospects and, industry friends what they want/need.
Then set a goal to have your first passive income product launched a year from now…and get to work!
Business Development Stinks
The third shift you need to make in your mindset is to stop relying on referrals and word-of-mouth.
That’s a really easy way to have agency growth because most of us don’t really enjoy sales.
So we ignore it and rest on our referrals and word-of-mouth laurels.
Until we need a new client or two—and then we panic and start cold calling and reaching out to prospects we know better than to work with.
And then it doesn’t work, more because we’re desperate, not because prospects don’t find us valuable.
So we give up.
We maintain the status quo and have agency growth only when someone sends us some business.
That strategy works, as long as the economy is good and unemployment is down and people are making money.
But as soon as the economy takes a turn or a new chief marketing officer is hired or the CEO leaves, the work we do is at risk.
Suddenly you’re looking at a business that’s down 50% and you don’t have anything to put in its place.
The Chase Without a Win
If you get this wrong and you continue to rely on referrals and word-of-mouth, you already know what that life looks like.
You go to meeting after meeting.
And have coffees and lunches and drinks.
You take phone call after phone call.
And every one of those meetings is exciting.
Prospects want to work with you.
You go back to the office and you write your best customized proposal, based on the conversation you had with your prospect.
You have it edited and you make it pretty, and then you send it off.
Then you wait.
And you wait.
And you wait some more.
Without wanting to seem desperate, you send a quick “checking in” email.
And you wait some more.
Finally, after several weeks of not hearing from the prospect, you take them off your list.
Why not create your own destiny instead?
Stop Relying on Referrals and WOM
But what if you stop relying on referrals and word-of-mouth for agency growth?
What if you figured out a way to control your pipeline, add new clients without writing proposals or responding to RFPs, and stop overservicing so you’re paid for the value you bring versus a minimum wage hourly rate?
You can predict cash flow and turn on the spigot during the slow summer months—or plan to take time off because you’re making enough money to be able to do so.
You have more than one revenue source so, when you lose a client, you rebound much more quickly.
And, if you stop relying on referrals and word-of-mouth—and you stop writing proposals and responding to RFPs.
If you create multiple revenue streams, starting with one premium-priced product based on the result you deliver (and then, of course, growing from there), your agency suddenly becomes recession-proof, it becomes crazy client-proof, and you get to work with ONLY your ideal clients.
I had a managing director who would call that F you money.
You now have enough revenue streams that you can fire a bad client and not lose any sleep over it.
Build First Date Packages
I’m a big, big believer in dating clients before we marry them.
It’s saved us a lot of time, angst, and lost revenue.
Some of you may have already heard this story, so bear with me (or just skip ahead).
A couple of years ago, a company that fit our ideal client profile called us.
I met with the chief marketing officer, took a tour of the plant, and soaked as much out of her brain as I could in a couple of hours.
She checked all of our ideal client boxes—she was a dream.
So I put together a quick proposal that talked through our process and recommended we start with a two-day strategy session.
She signed off, we set some dates, and I got myself north of Wrigley (waaaaaay out in the suburbs) for the meetings.
It was a little rough—the CEO didn’t seem interested in the process and wouldn’t give us direct answers.
You know, such as, what are your goals for 2019?
He was on his phone the entire time and it was incredibly distracting to try to work with the rest of the team to craft a communications plan.
At the end of day one, I presented both him and the CMO a signed copy of Spin Sucks.
He took it, turned it over once, and then handed it back to me. He said, “I don’t really read books. Give this to someone else.”
I was floored. He wasn’t even courteous enough to accept I book I had signed for him (which meant I couldn’t give it to someone else).
We finished our two-day strategy session and we delivered a plan—and then we walked away.
I remember the CMO saying, “I feel like we’re breaking up.”
The first date package—our two-day strategy session—saved us.
I’m convinced nothing we would have done with them would have impressed them.
Several months later, an investor called me to say he represented a company that was looking for a strategic communications firm.
I asked a few questions and quickly figured out it was this company. They still hadn’t found a partner.
We got paid to craft the plan and build them something that was customized for them—and we discovered major red flags along the way.
Figure Our Your Package(s) and Pricing
This is one of the major projects we work with our agency owner clients on.
We figure out what their first date package(s) is and how to price it.
Almost everyone feels comfortable starting at $5,000 (and quickly realizes that’s too low), so we always recommend crafting three levels:
(For comparison, we start at $40,000 for a two-day strategy session and go up from there.)
As an aside, it’s one of the most rewarding things for me when a client sells a first date package for $5,000 and quickly realizes they could have asked for double or even triple and the client would have paid it.
Refer to the section above under “Read ‘Built to Sell'” if you’re about to undervalue yourself or not charge what you’re worth.
Want to Learn More About Agency Growth?
I’ll be back next week with tips four and five (and we’ll finally get to not needing more content).
In the meantime, if you want to learn more, the Close More Clients Masterclass will give you the fodder you need for all five of the mindset shifts you need for agency growth.
As you think about this for your agency’s growth, let me know what questions you have or if you need help brainstorming.
The comments are yours.
Or, if you prefer something private, join the agency owner channel in the Spin Sucks community and you can DM me there.