Gini Dietrich

How to Scale Your Agency During Good Times and Bad

By: Gini Dietrich | June 25, 2020 | 
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Scale Your Agency With These Two Tips

Many of the conversations I’m having with business owners right now is around how much to charge for services and how assertive one can be in business development or sales.

Three months ago, the advice I gave was: be helpful, tread carefully, offer solutions that keep you top-of-mind.

While that advice works no matter what—and you should continue to do that—we have come to a point where you can begin selling again.

Sure, you may not have stopped, but I’m willing to bet it’s been curtailed or you’ve been ghosted or the pipeline has dried up.

But if the agencies of our clients, and my own agency, are any indication, it’s time to get back to business.

Two Ways to Scale Your Agency Beyond the Norm

About nine years ago, I had an idea that would revolutionize the PR industry.

I just knew if communicators had professional development at their fingertips, they would buy in droves.

So, in 2011, we launched Spin Sucks Pro in an effort to help all of you stay ahead of the trends and evolve the industry together.

It flopped. Majorly.

It turns out, we weren’t so great at the marketing part of it. At all. Which is completely and totally ironic, isn’t it?

And yet…we launched and when we were met with crickets, we couldn’t figure out why.

In fact, only one friend bought a membership and I ended up giving her her money back because I felt bad that she was the only one.

So we had to go back to the drawing board.

I still believed there was an opportunity there in front of us, but maybe it wasn’t with an online and guided professional development membership.

I HAD to believe because I just knew it was easier to scale “products” than people.

There were a couple of years that I spent licking my wounds.

I wrote a couple of books (Marketing in the Round and Spin Sucks), I went on the international speaking tour, and I grew our agency.

As a team, we launched a two-day strategy session that we require all clients to buy before we’ll even consider executing their communications program for them.

We were starting to “productize” our work, while also doing what we do best—providing client service.

Then, in 2015, we decided to give Spin Sucks Pro another go when we launched the Modern Blogging Masterclass.

And this time, it didn’t flop.

In fact, we had nearly 200 students for our first time out and we were well off to the races.

We had finally figured out how to scale without competitive pitches, writing proposals, or responding to RFPs.

It all came down to our required two-day strategy session and products made from our intellectual property.

Let’s take a look at both.

The Two-Day Strategy Session

Just like nearly every agency owner (there are a lucky few who’ve never had this experience), we went through a bout where we had a string of bad clients.

In some cases, it was because we overpromised and then had to overservice to get results. In others, the clients were just jerks.

We didn’t have a list of qualifications of our ideal client, nor did we have the confidence to turn anyone away.

And we paid for it. Dearly.

We decided there had a to be a way we could date before getting married AND get paid for our ideas.

No more writing proposals based on what they told us in a meeting or two, only to get in to do the work and find out only half of it was true—and the other half was embellished.

We also decided we weren’t going to spend time writing proposals and to never hear from the prospect again.

(Not to mention the “you tell me what it’s going to cost” comment and then them having sticker shock when we did exactly that.)

We had to have a process that allowed us to get out of it and still win the business.

Enter the two-day strategy session.

It has three costs:

  • A virtual meeting (which isn’t nearly as effective, but doesn’t cost nearly as much and is sort of the only option right now)
  • A two-day meeting with my team
  • A two-day meeting with my team and me

And, while we don’t write a proposal for this, we do have a document that describes what it is, the agenda, and the deliverable at the end.

It takes us 15 minutes to produce that versus the days it took to write proposals—and the conversion rate is 95 percent.

As well, we’ve had only two clients not hire us to execute the plan we created together.

The first was because, when we dug into their financials together, we realized their entire marketing budget was spent on the two-day strategy session.

We couldn’t, in good faith, ask them to spend more

When we learned that, we worked with them to craft a program they could execute on their own.

The second? Well, the CEO was a living nightmare.

Halfway through the first day, he asked to see me outside, and he proceeded to use the F word every, other word while he dressed me down.

All because I asked him about their financials and he didn’t want his team to have that kind of insight.

(I learned I should ask that question BEFORE the strategy session.)

I walked back inside, packed my stuff up, pulled my checkbook out of my purse, wrote him a check and left it on the conference room table.

Outside of those two instances, the strategy session works brilliantly.

And it, or some version of it, is one way you can scale your agency.

Create Informational Products

The other way you can scale your agency is to create informational products.

I often speak with agency owners who tell me they don’t have the expertise or knowledge to do this.

Baloney.

If your agency is just you or you have 300+ employees, you have the expertise and knowledge to do this.

You might lack confidence or time, but you have the expertise and knowledge.

Sit down and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is our process? Can it be taught?
  • In our best case studies, what have been the results?
  • What do our clients tell others about the experience in working with us?
  • Are they underlying themes to your testimonials?
  • What is my favorite thing to do?
  • (If you have a team), what is my team really great at doing?

In the answers to these questions is an informational product you will use to scale your agency.

It might be a series of webinars or an online course or a live webinar coupled with a live Q&A or an in-person workshop (you know, when we can go back to doing those).

Whichever delivery method you choose, make sure it’s scalable and can eventually become passive.

Add One Revenue Source Each Year

When you combine these two with the client service you’re already doing, you’ll do two things:

  1. Find more clients without having to write another proposal again; and
  2. Create an additional revenue stream that works for you while you sleep.

It has always been my goal to maintain seven different streams of revenue as I grow my business.

That way, when we lose a client or a product launch goes sideways or I decide I don’t want to be on a plane every week anymore or a global pandemic forces all inside our homes, we can make up the loss in other ways.

If you take these two ideas and figure out how to add one new revenue source every year, you will scale your agency in ways you’ve never before imagined.

Some of it will be passive and some of it will be client service, but you’ll never again write a proposal or go to another competitive pitch.

Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.