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How to scale agency operations so you grow your revenue

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Updated on:
February 24, 2024
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If you’re running an agency, the odds are that you’re either struggling to scale or you haven’t managed to scale at all.

This isn’t a scathing indictment of your management abilities. Nor does it mean that your agency isn’t capable of scaling. It’s simply a likelihood – backed by statistics – that most agency owners have to confront at some point during their careers.

In 2021, McKinsey reported on businesses formed over the previous 10 years to see how many had successfully scaled. The result? Just 22% had managed to grow at all, despite scaling being a top-three priority for 52% of them. Stats from The Economic Times don’t make for better reading, as it reports that 92% of companies fail to scale in any serious manner.

So, if you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone.

But also know that the scale-less fate of most businesses doesn’t have to be your agency’s fate. With the right plan in place, you’ll lay the groundwork for scaling, from implementing agency software that scales to developing your growth strategy.

What does it mean to scale digital agency operations?

Before digging into the three keys that can help you scale your agency, it’s important to answer a key question:

What is scaling, really?

On the most basic level, scaling is all about growth. You successfully scale agency operations when you have “more” than what you have now. That could be more clients, more revenue, or more employees – and likely a combination of all three. Furthermore, you’ve managed to achieve this growth without being financially hampered. Finally, every process you have in place – as well as your software – has helped you manage that scaling rather than being a barrier to it.

But that’s not all there is to it.

While scaling seems simple on the surface, there’s a balancing act to conduct if you’re to grow successful. That act comes down to two “Cs:”

Capacity and capability.

Starting with capacity, this is all about the infrastructure you have in place at your agency. Your systems, processes, and your team. Think of that trio as finite resources that you’ll expend as you scale. If you run out of capacity, it won’t matter if you have the capability to grow.

It won’t happen.

As a basic example, assume you have a team of five people in your agency. Collectively, that team has proven that it can oversee projects spread across 20 clients. In your desire to scale, you start by bringing more clients on board, giving you 30. Your people are capable enough to provide the service those clients want. But your team is so small that you run into a capacity issue – you don’t have enough resources to deliver projects for 30 clients.

Then, there’s the capability issue.

Think of this as the reverse of capacity. You could have a massive team – involving dozens of people – but that team may not be capable of the growth you need. For instance, you may operate a digital marketing company. As such, your capabilities revolve around digital services, such as SEO, online advertising, and the like.

As you look for ways to scale, you identify print media as an opportunity.

Your agency has the capacity to take on more clients. Its team is large enough and you can finance the marketing required to attract new work. However, your people aren’t “traditional marketing” focused. They’re all digital experts, meaning they’re not capable of delivering the work your agency offers.

So, you can see how a balance needs to be achieved before you can scale successfully. Your team (and the rest of your resources) don’t just need to provide the capacity for growth. The agency as a whole must also be capable of growing in the direction you’ve decided.

It’s losing the balance between these two “Cs” that causes so many scaling efforts to fail. Many agencies try to do too much too soon or try to offer services for which they don’t have the expertise.

The three keys for scaling

Now that you know the two “Cs” problem, you’re better prepared to scale agency operations properly. In other words – you’re aware of what can go wrong.

Next, let’s make sure everything goes right.

With these three keys to scale agency operations, you’ll discover how to improve your marketing, followed by creating a strategy for growth.

Scale digital marketing

First up, you need to attract more eyes to your agency. After all, your business could have the capacity and the capability, but neither will mean a thing if you don’t have prospects coming in. Digital marketing is the way to draw those eyes to your business.

Why?

Statista isn’t projecting that companies will spend over $1 trillion on digital advertising by 2027 for no reason. The simple fact is that going digital with your marketing works, with these tips ensuring it works for you.

Tip 1 – Get a CRM in place

Let’s imagine that your digital marketing efforts are successful. Your website attracts thousands of visitors every month, with your socials doing similar numbers. And the leads are pouring in. So many leads, in fact, that it’s almost impossible for your sales team to handle them.

The reason – you don’t have customer relationship management (CRM) software in place.

Think of a CRM as a database of every lead and customer that you have. Within that database, you can store important notes about each entry. Is the person a prospect or an existing customer? If they’re the former, where are they on your sales pipeline? You need this information – and more – to keep track of the leads that will come into your business due to your scaled digital marketing.

Remember, capacity is one of the “Cs.”

So, before you focus on how you’re going to scale your digital market, make sure you have a CRM in place. It’ll ensure you don’t lose track of your new leads – causing them to go cold – as you grow.

Tip 2 – Develop workflow automations

Having to do manual work for every client that comes in creates another capacity problem.

Think about it. Every client interaction, such as an email, that somebody sends manually requires time to complete. With dozens – or even hundreds – of leads coming in, the minutes needed for each email add up.

Suddenly, you’re left with a team that isn’t able to handle client communications.

That’s just one example of many workflow bottlenecks that can occur when you scale your digital marketing efforts. Automation through software is the solution. By implementing software that’s capable of creating workflow automation, you do two things:

  1. Free up your people’s time to boost your agency’s capacity.
  2. Ensure clients – new and old – receive consistent standards of work.

Again, you’re dealing with one of the “Cs” that can get in the way when you try to scale agency processes.

Tip 3 – Use data to guide your digital marketing

Here’s a little truth about digital marketing:

Many of the strategies or techniques you try aren’t going to work.

Take digital ads as an example. Some statistics suggest as many as 80% of online advertising campaigns fail. The main reason for this failure is simple. In their rush to try everything, many agencies fail to track outcomes. They don’t see when a keyword linked to a campaign, for example, costs them far more to run than it generates in conversions. Failure to use the data that’s freely available leads to agencies wasting thousands on digital marketing as they try to scale.

Avoid that fate by using the data.

As you scale your digital marketing efforts, track the campaigns that you implement. Keep an eye on the sources of your web traffic through Google Analytics. Track keyword performance – particularly the return on investment into each keyword – to cut those that cost too much. And most importantly of all, don’t be afraid to cut any element of your digital marketing campaign that isn’t working.

You’ll scale faster if you pump more money into the strategies the data tells you are working.

Scale advertising

The above touches on digital advertising, which covers tools like Google Ads and Facebook Ads. Both are ingrained into the research methods people employ to find services.

Take search engines as an example.

According to HubSpot, 88% of people use search engines when they’re looking for an agency. Even socials don’t match up to those figures, with only 31% saying they’ll try social media. But the point is simple – millions of people use search and social to find businesses.

With online ads, you can put your business front and center in search results faster than an organic SEO campaign allows. You likely already know this. You may even have online advertising campaigns running as you read. Now, you need to scale those campaigns to get even more leads coming into your business.

Tip 1 – Optimize your landing pages

Every online ad you create will lead somebody to a landing page.

That page is where you make your “offer” – the thing you provide that makes a prospect want to convert.

The problem is that many agencies underestimate how important optimization of their landing page is to their scaling success. Take Google Ad’s Quality Score as an example. Every ad you create is rated for relevance on a scale of 1 to 10. The lower the rating, the more it costs for you to bid that ad into a top position.

Your landing page is key to getting a high score. If the content in your ad doesn’t align with what a clicker sees when they hit your landing page, your score goes down. That means your bids go up, and your campaigns start costing more.

Not ideal when you’re trying to scale agency marketing.

So, this tip is fairly simple. Go through every landing page you have to optimize it for relevance to the ads leading into it.

Tip 2 – Expand location targeting

Most online advertising platforms allow you to select a target location for your ads.

When you created your campaigns, you likely entered locations that meshed with your capabilities at the time. For instance, a company that offers SEO in Houston will tailor its ads so they only appear to people in Houston.

But as you scale, your capabilities grow.

Maybe our Houston SEO company now provides services in Austin and Dallas, too. If they haven’t tweaked their ads’ location targeting, customers in those cities won’t see their online advertising. Again, that leads to a simple tip for scaling:

Don’t let your ad campaigns stagnate as you scale.

Adjust your location targeting as soon as you branch out into a new area.

Tip 3 – Take advantage of integrations

Let’s face it – trying to track the data from multiple ad platforms is time-consuming. For all of the automation you can create, you could soon find the time saved by your agency swallowed up by data collection.

That’s where integration comes in.

Integrating your chosen ad platforms with your agency software puts your data in one place. Take Bonsai as an example. This software helps you to scale agency marketing because it integrates with Zapier. That software serves as an intermediary by allowing Bonsai users to create integrations between Bonsai and Google Ads.

The result?

Google Ads data is viewable through Bonsai, making it easier to make advertising decisions. These types of integrations save massive amounts of time for agencies that are trying to build capacity for growth.

Scale strategy

So far, you’ve focused primarily on building capacity to deal with new leads from digital marketing and online advertising efforts. You have a CRM in place and you’ve tweaked any campaigns you already have running. You’ve even introduced automation into your agency to save time and increase capacity.

Now, it’s time to look at the big picture.

Moving away from bringing more people in, these are the tips for creating a strategy that allows you to handle your agency’s scaling.

Tip 1 – Always start with a plan

“I want more customers” isn’t the basis for a strategy that can help you scale agency operations successfully. Vague notions of “growth” can’t serve as the bedrock for your scaling strategy.

You need a plan.

One that outlines the specific actions you’re going to take – whether over the next year or several – to achieve sustainable growth. That plan will vary depending on where your agency is right now, though it’ll usually have these key components:

  • The software you need to have in place to scale your agency
  • Indications of how many more people you need to hire – and where – to boost your capacity
  • Allowances for any training that needs to occur for your agency to increase its capability
  • Detailed reporting on your budget and how you’ll assign monetary resources to your growth

Key to all of this is that you stay focused on the plan. Having it and not using it is just as bad as not having it at all.

Tip 2 – Invest in technology

Between three and four hours per day.

That’s how long the average person spends doing “non-productive or manual tasks” in your agency. You lose around half of the working day in which your people aren’t focused on delivering your agency’s service.

Technology is the solution to this problem.

Specifically, any technology that’s capable of automating common tasks can help you as you scale. You saw this earlier with the mention of workflow automation and software integrations. However, you can expand the automation idea throughout your agency to free up more time – i.e., capacity – to fuel your growth.

Key areas for investment include project management, accounting and invoicing, scheduling, and customer relationship management. All are areas that an all-in-one agency management tool, such as Bonsai, can help you to automate.

Tip 3 – Apply the “Six S” framework

In a 2019 article, Harvard Business School outlined six “Ss” that confront the main challenges you’ll face when scaling. Think of these as the counterpoints to the two “Cs” mentioned earlier. Get the “Ss” in place, and you’ll be able to scale agency operations while controlling your growth.

So, what are these “Ss?”

  • Staff – Rather than hiring anybody who comes along, focus on only hiring the best of the bunch. They’ll set the standard for the rest of your agency. Plus, when it comes time to hire again, they’ll be the people recruiting on your behalf.
  • Shared Values – This “S” is all about culture. As the agency owner, your values and personality have the most significant impact on your company’s culture. That’s a good and bad thing. While it’s led you to where you are, those personalized values reflect you, rather than the agency. Focus on developing values that are shared by all in the agency, as well as all that will come in.
  • Structure – The key thing to remember about structure is that you can’t have every decision in your agency flow through you. That leads to a bottleneck. And when there’s a bottleneck, you have a capacity issue. So, structure is all about finding people who can make decisions without your oversight.
  • Speed – Faster is always better, right? Not necessarily. It’s possible to scale too fast, as highlighted earlier in the capacity and capability examples. That’s not to say that you should go slow, either. It’s all about balance – how fast can you scale without growing so much that the agency can’t handle the strain.
  • Scope – This “S” focuses on the opportunities that come with scaling. Broaching into new locations. Offering new services. Ideally, you’ll have a map of growth options, from which you can choose the ones that make the most sense.
  • Series X – The final “S” is all about financing – where will you get the money to fund your growth? For many agencies, especially those on the smaller end of the scale, this money comes from internal sources. The key here is to figure out what’s crucial to “own” and what you can essentially rent through subscriptions.

Build these six “Ss” into your scaling plan and you’ll have a solid groundwork on which to build growth.

Exercise caution as you scale

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement when you have a chance to scale agency operations. And you should be excited – growth means great things for your company.

As long as you handle it well.

Explosive and unrestrained growth will create either capacity or capability issues. You’ll either not have enough resources to handle the growth, or your agency won’t have the skills it needs to keep the growth up.

Neither is a good situation.

As you scale, remember this stat from McKinsey:

Only 20% of your growth will come from expansion into new sectors or secondary industries. The other 80% stems from your agency’s core industry.

The point being to focus internally – on growing your capacity to take on new clients – before moving on to capability improvements. With the tips in this article, you have what you need to temper your excitement and execute the controlled growth your agency needs. The starting point is simple – find all-in-one agency software, such as Bonsai, that scales with you while helping you manage growth.

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