Small agencies looking for growth but believing the best strategy is to “fly under the radar” are headed for failure, two senior agency business growth advisors have warned.
William and Sangeeta Leach: Agencies reach a point where the founders need to be in market promoting the agency not bogged down in administrative tasks
Sangeeta and William Leach, founders of The Leach Partnership, told guests at the Secrets of Agency Excellence conference (SAGE) on October 12, there were a number of inflection points in the growth of an agency, often simply based on size, and agency leaders needed to focus on some clear steps if they wanted their businesses to make the transition through each level.
But the pair warned that the often adopted strategy of flying under the radar and not attracting the attention of rivals was self-defeating.
Sangeeta Leach said agencies often reached an inflection point where the founders needed to be out in the market promoting the agency rather than being bogged down handling administrative tasks.
“It’s building the agency profile by getting out there and telling people what you do,” Leach said.
“We meet a lot of businesses who say ‘ we do all this amazing stuff but we’re flying under the radar’. It doesn’t work. Because if you are flying under the radar nobody knows about you.”
Leach said there were a number of critical success factors that agencies needed to meet in order to break through to each stage of growth.
“It isn’t an exact science, but what we have found over the past 15 years or so is that there is a great degree of consistency, not just across creative businesses, ad agencies and marketing communications companies but also many other creative firms and professional services businesses.”
In the early stages of development when companies were growing from a single founder up to 12 people, companies were largely personality-driven, but they warned that businesses needed to find a focus early.
“If you are going to grow we want you to be thinking about running towards something rather than running away from something,” William Leach said.
He said initial hires for agencies at the smaller level should include a bookkeeper and an office manager.
As agencies grew bigger, moving from 10 to 25 people, founders needed to be aware that the staff who enjoyed the culture of the very small agency may not necessarily want to work with an agency as it grows. At the same time leaders need to learn how to delegate.
The pair also warned that as agencies grow, they needed to beware of offering services that turned them into a commodity, and minimise them.
“There is no point in providing commoditised services,” Sangeeta Leach said.
‘Think of all the things that maximise you as a brand and really get behind those.”
She also warned that as agencies grow bigger they need to seek out “more consistent clients” that can be relied upon to pay on time.
Throughout the growth of an agency they said founders must revisit constantly how big they wanted to be and what they wanted to achieve, and not be scared of admitting they had reached a point where they were comfortable with the size they had reached and cap their growth.
“For your business to grow you need to grow,” she said.
“And always in all these phases treat that business as an entity that is separate from you. When you get so inextricably linked with the business it’s really hard for the business to grow and it’s really hard for you to grow.”