Agency business development can be difficult for new owners, but it doesn’t have to be.
When you’re in the early stages of building an agency, it’s tempting to put business development aside. You wear an endless amount of hats: from lead generator, financial planner, head salesperson. It becomes easier to sweep business development under the rug than manage it.
But the truth is: agency business development is the key to success. Done right, you can scale and grow with better clients, engaged employees, and most of all, more money to your bottom line.
Although it’s not the reason you got into business — which is to make a good living and do what you love — you can turn it into something fun and exciting for everyone.
In this article, we’ll walk you through 7 tips to help develop and scale your agency.
Table of Contents
7 top agency business development tips
1. Choose one flagship service
If you want to capture new business as an agency, the first thing you need to do is choose one flagship service.
Your flagship service will be what catches a potential client’s interest right away. It explains the problem you solve and why a client should work with you, so it can make all the difference.
“For any new agency starting out, sit down and see what services you can provide. Then make a hard decision. Choose what you really want to be known for. This could be one you’re most experienced in delivering, or the most in-demand service, or even your most profitable one. Success lies in what flagship service you commit to over the next six to twelve months.”
When it comes to business development, avoid being the “all in one” agency. Make your service valuable to one specific group instead of being an “OK” provider for everyone.
Take note that you don’t have to focus on one industry. You can solve a common problem a group of businesses has such as optimizing Facebook ads.
If you only run Facebook ads, you can work with several different industries from local businesses to eCommerce or professional services, and help them pull in more revenue with this one tactic.
2. Focus on the right internal metrics
There are three hidden metrics you also want to focus on to improve business development in your agency:
- Project write-ups and write-offs. Track how much you go over or under for each client. How much do you write off for the job? How much are you not able to bill the client? What projects come in under? This will help you realize which clients you are over-servicing and not recouping costs on.
- Profitability by client. If you’re tracking overall profitability, that’s a good start. Now it’s time to drill down into each client. Aim to track client profitability on a monthly or quarterly basis. Keep a minimum profitability percentage in mind, which for most agencies is 10%. Ideally, you want to stay in a 30% profit range.
- Minimum engagement for clients. Determine what the minimum yearly billings you will take on per client. This can be $5,000, $10,000, or $100,000 — whatever works best for your business. Know where your sweet spot is for the size clients you can win, delight, and deliver excellent results to, so you can produce a better profit for your agency.
3. Think outside the box
If you want to win new business, you don’t want to run the same playbook as everyone else. You need to think out of the box.
It gives you an edge over the competition because it shows that you’re a problem solver. You approach things in innovative ways and can help clients get results through your creativity.
It’s a strategy that Joan Westenberg, Founder of marketing and ad agency studio self, uses to generate new leads for their agency.
Joan Westenberg, Founder of studio self
“One of the best business development tools for Studio Self was a mental health tips and tricks email community called Tiny Spells — built entirely around self-care. It had nothing to do with marketing work, but it demonstrated how good we were at building traction and the quality of our content. It got us a foot in the door with folks who were excited to talk about how and why we built it – who would never have picked up a Zoom call to talk marketing.”
Start by questioning the status quo. Challenge your team to approach problems by asking:
- What if …
- How might we…
Encourage team members to challenge the ways you do things today as an agency. It’ll help you create new thinking and drive agency business development with fresh, innovative ideas.
4. Build credibility by podcasting
Content will always be your best friend when doing any kind of marketing for a business, and this holds up for your agency. Ultimately, there’s no telling what your ideal client will respond to early on, but you can build agency credibility by becoming a podcast host.
Podcasting helps you reach a brand new audience, those who may never find you in search and read long-form content because they prefer audio. It’s a tactic that Kevin Geary, CEO at Atlanta-based marketing agency Digital Gravy, recommends as a key business development tip for agencies.
“Go all-in on being a guest for industry-related podcasts, especially if you have a specific niche you serve. The ability to speak directly to your target market for 20-60 minutes on someone else’s platform, build your authority, have the host vouch for you, pitch at the end, and earn a backlink to your site all at the same time is second to none.”
To find podcast guest opportunities, start by identifying the audience you want to reach. Do you want to talk to pet store owners? Restaurant owners? Marketing managers?
Once you have a better idea, use the following steps to find relevant podcasts to guest host on:
- Search in iTunes for specific keywords
- Browse Apple’s iTunes Podcast Directory by category
- Search on Google for podcasts that your target market might listen to
- Browse online podcast directories such as cast.market
No matter which route you take, create a list of 10 to 20 podcasts you want to become a host on. And start reaching out to them by email, Twitter, etc.
5. Create a referral program
The most valuable reason for having a referral program is that referrals are trusted. Anyone can read up on recommendations and reviews online, but most people value the personal opinion of a friend, family member, or colleague.
“My #1 strategy for attracting new clients is to ask for referrals. We typically wait until after two or three months of results. However, this is the highest converting channel and it works without fail. ”
There’s no match for a solid referral from a trustworthy friend—make the most of that by rewarding those who recommend your business. “Setting up internal sales teams, doing cold outreach, etc. is a waste of time in my opinion,” Kevin adds, “and not a path I’d suggest going down, particularly as an agency owner.”
The best part about referrals? You get to excel at what you do best. Do great work and people won’t think twice before recommending you to others who they think will benefit from your service.
6. Build a community around your personal brand
If you want to succeed in business development as an agency, you want to build a community of trusted colleagues.
Networking with other agency owners — whether they are in marketing, design, UX, advertising, etc. — is an excellent opportunity to develop and gain knowledge from your peers, get new business, and spread the word about your agency. It also helps you learn from their experiences and mistakes.
Start by jumping on social media and chatting with people on Twitter or LinkedIn. For example, this thread from Matthew Kobach, Former Head of Social Media at Nasdaq, describes his journey through building a community on Twitter.
One year ago today I decided to see if I could build a community from scratch.— Matthew Kobach (@mkobach) April 27, 2020
Mostly I wanted prove to myself that I could do it. So I decided to take what I knew about community building and apply it to my personal Twitter handle.
“I have met dozens of remarkable people (some of which I now get to call my friends). I have learned more about marketing this past 12 months than ever before. And somehow thousands of people are willing to read what I tweet.
I still find it all hard to believe.”
When people have a place to express themselves, they feel more loyal toward your brand. If you set out to meet new friends and make a positive impact on the community, you can impress existing clients, reach your target audience, and build a successful agency.
7. Clearly communicate client metrics
Agency leaders can all agree on one thing: how you communicate metrics is key to successful agency business. Making a client’s progress easy to understand saves them time and energy. Plus, they don’t have to sort through endless spreadsheets of data and decode the data.
You can build a dashboard in Cyfe to show many mission-critical KPIs, including:
- Pay-per-click costs, clicks, impressions, and conversions through Facebook Ads and Google Adwords
- Social media analytics from all your channels
- Call logs through Marchex
- Email marketing effectiveness through any email marketing software provider including MailChimp and Klaviyo
- Search engine optimization progress through tools like Moz or Ahrefs.
You can better track a marketing strategy’s effectiveness and return on investment when you better communicate metrics with your clients. Plus, you can also determine what’s working and what’s not, so you can lead your clients towards better business decisions and improve their overall business performance.
Becoming a more reliable agency business today
Whether you’re putting together your first business plan, or have been an agency owner for years, these tips above will help you become a stronger business. So you can scale and grow with better clients, hire better employees, and add more money to your bottom line.