Sometimes after starting and growing a digital agency, it is indeed an awesome experience to call yourself as an entrepreneur but ain’t easy the same as it sounds. So at this moment, I thought I would shed some light on my lessons learned so far in this exciting journey. In no way do I feel that I have got it right. But for anyone thinking about starting their own business – It can be of interest to hear my thoughts.
1. Be prepared
For me, it took 9 years of deciding before I took the leap and quit my job. Maybe I waited too long. But the reason why I hesitated earlier was that I did not feel that I was ready. All these years of struggling in my head made me very prepared, cause I spent them working with the sort of business I’m now in. This means that not only do you grow your knowledge, but also your network. Knowing how to win accounts, keep them and make them buy more is something a lot of startups are struggling with. For me – I was prepared and knew how to do this.
It was also fairly easy to write down the needed funds, for me 6 months of expenses based on earlier experience. For the first time, I felt prepared and then the decision was easy.
So don’t rush things like this, not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur at 25. Those extra 5-10 years of working in your industry will probably increase your success rate later.
2. Know what your client needs and recruit thereafter.
You always hear people complaining about how hard talent is to find. For a startup its probably even harder, cause you don’t have big budgets to spend on salaries or recruitment agencies, and also every head counts so much more. For us, it was 2 guys to start with, meaning that each of us represented 50% of the productivity of the business. If one of us has a bad day, it has an enormous impact on the business.
I interviewed tons of people. Many of them were brilliant. But what I decided on later was to go with the person that complimented me the best in terms of what needs he could fulfil for our potential future clients. So make sure you know what your clients want, then recruit thereafter. Best case scenario its someone better and smarter than yourself, and has a toolkit of skills you lack.
3. Focus on driving fast value and service at all cost – Revenues and profit will come thereafter.
Even if your business model is important, and you need to make sure that you don’t spend more than you earn. For an agency, I would say that in the first year, profit is not the most important part. When setting up a small scale agency, most probably 100% of your business will come from referrals, these will only come if other people recommend you. Our core added value is our fast response time and our will to always go the extra mile for the client, something that is very difficult for a big agency to accommodate. Also, since the main part of your revenues will be on retaining basis. You need to make sure that people are happy and buy more.
Selling is very easy if you focus on driving value. It’s very hard if you focus on selling. Make sure to keep in touch a minimum one time per week with your client, give them more than they ask for, be proactive and try to see yourself as a partner instead of a supplier.
4. Scale with the right tech stack and great consultants
Salary costs will always be your highest expense as an agency. For me, the right way to be as efficient as possible, and to be able to deliver a variety of services at a high level with scarce human resources have been tools and consultants.
There are many tools out there to support you, and at the end of the day, it depends on your offering. But my experience is that to much time in an agency goes to the wrong things. We should be spending time on strategy rather than execution, and try to automate as much as possible of the execution. Reporting is another task that easily eats up hours of labour, and can be streamlined and automated.
I invested early in tools for SEM and SEO management, and Dashboard tools to easily integrate with my client’s data sources. I make sure only to go for white label solutions, which makes me look like the big agencies, but will small manpower. Even if the cost for each tool costs me thousands of dollars every month, it easily represents 4-5 peoples work. And I and my small team can control everything, ensuring that everything looks the same, but customized for each client.
The same goes with consultants. Its never been easier than today to outsource via different platforms. The hard part is finding the right people (as always) and to make sure that their work, has the same brand identity as yours.
Find a pool of talent that works, and keep using them. Don’t go for the cheapest solution if it doesn’t work change. Give them simples tasks in the beginning, and as they provide you with great work keep enhancing the level.
5. Have fun
Might seem like an odd part of this. But for me its the only reason why I am in the game. I have never felt a day when I don’t want to go to work. I need the same for my team, cause otherwise, the level of our work would decline.
We spend more time with our colleagues than with our family, and we need to make every day count. Not just in terms of reaching our goals and making money. But also in terms of feeling appreciated, having fun and have worked as something we look forward to.
So how do we have fun at work?
1. Make everyone’s work important, give people reasonable goals that they reach and exceed. When the goals are met, celebrate them.
2. Sit down with the team daily to talk about struggles, successes and what they are doing for the weekend.
3. Show appreciation daily minimum 3 times, if someone is behind on tasks, tell them they are doing great work, and ask them how you can help. Don’t tell them to work faster.
4. Pay people good salaries.
- All of the above create a narrative of accountability. When people feel accountable they will be happy, Why? Because it means they are important – and everyone wants to be important.
This is my take. For other people, it might not work. For me, it has, so far:) I’m not saying I’m experienced in building a business, on the contrary, I’m a novice. But every day I’m learning, and every day I’m appreciating that I got to a place where I could do this.