Small agencies are scrappy. They do what’s necessary to meet daily expenses, pay employees and deliver high-quality products to clients, big and small. Small agencies can also spread themselves too thin. We learned this lesson the hard way.
Despite our hard-won accolades, we lost three projects due to a combination of factors including poorly defined project scopes, low budgets and clients who just plain disappeared. This was a blow to our bottom line and morale and made us more cautious about the projects and clients we pursued in the future.
Through experience, we learned to grow our clientele the right way using these eight strategies.
Bust Out The Rolodex
You may think this is a no-brainer, but some small agencies miss the opportunity to leverage their personal networks. Everyone in the company — from the back-end developer to the president — has personal network contacts that can generate leads. Look to everyone in your agency as a source of referrals. Leveraging your current networks is a quick way to land small projects, get revenue in the door and build a portfolio that attracts bigger fish.
Cast A Wide Net
Freelance networks can help small agencies get new clients quickly. There are many to choose from, so take the time to research and find some that work for you. Networks like Upwork help you start new business development projects almost immediately. But be wary! Our experience with Upwork was fraught with unprepared clients and a lot of wasted time. Codeable is another great resource for new-client acquisition. We enjoyed using their effective platform and trusted vetting process. It helped us skyrocket clientele and got our name out to clients we would not have reached otherwise.
Increase Your Traffic
Nothing beats good old traditional search traffic, and it’s surprisingly easy to cultivate. Small agencies can generate search traffic by creating or sharing content on social media. Although you don’t have to shell out cash for ad campaigns, it doesn’t hurt to make small investments toward building your brand.
Play around with platforms that resonate with your agency’s identity and start experimenting with content. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Medium all provide unique features that serve your agency in a variety of ways. But remember to strategize so that you attract the right types of clients.
Our strategy started with research. First, we properly identified our target audience and ideal clients and made sure they were aligned with our business objectives. Once we understood our audience, we experimented with creative ways to reach them within their specific markets. For us, account-based marketing gave our agency the greatest opportunities for growth.
Get On The First Page
Local and organic listings are not difficult to gather. Agencies can see an increase in search traffic by getting ranked on Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. Setting up your agency is easy. All you need is a local phone number, a unique physical address and some basic information.
Organic SEO is more difficult to rank for but is very valuable for small agencies on the hunt for bigger opportunities. Make sure the investment of time and resources that go into targeting organic SEO is only a fraction of what is earned from these searches. Do your research and make sure your ROI is worth it.
Targeted listings on both local and organic searches in our service areas brought us many clients with small budgets. After producing good work for these smaller clients, larger brands with bigger budgets began to notice us. These were the big fish we were hoping for. Although conversions took a lot longer than for smaller clients, the projects we landed were substantial and well worth our time and effort.
Share Your Knowledge
Put yourself out there and help your business community. Trust that you know a thing or two about running a small agency and that some of it may benefit others. Once you have a solid portfolio, consider becoming a guest speaker at relevant events and on conference panels that interest your ideal clients. This win-win strategy helps create content, heightens your agency’s visibility and positions your agency as an industry leader.
Get What You Give
As work gets better and clientele grows, business needs also burgeon. In order to meet the demands of the industry and take care of our team, we had to raise our rates. Raising rates can help agencies cherry-pick worthwhile clients. There’s no point in chasing low, slow-paying clients or high-maintenance ones. Give your agency the padding it needs to be able to embark on new partnerships.
Operate With A Laser Focus
We’ve all been there. In the early days, we stretched ourselves across several industries, worked with eccentric clients and even pitched work to businesses with absentee owners. Although it helped us flex our muscles and pay our dues, we always felt like the lights would be shut off at any second.
Now that we hold some influence in the industry, we target niche brands and serve a diverse clientele that helps build our work. By employing account-based marketing, we focus on deepening our relationships with clients who have the budget, time and authority to make the partnership lucrative for both of us.
Keep Getting Better
There are always things you can do better. Make it a priority to analyze the time spent, cost, labor and any sticky points you encounter within projects so that your agency can become more efficient.
We are no exception to this rule and continually improve our research and scouting methods so we have the best shot at partnering with new clients. We take this a step further by asking our team leaders to provide information at every stage of a project. This helps us keep costs low and increase our profit margins.
Take on projects that make your agency better so you can deliver on time and under budget. Once you can position your agency as a reputable contender, you’ll cultivate the clients you want with the right resources.