A CEO’s guide to surviving marketing agency growth
Ian Lurie Nov 1 2011
I love when someone tells me I should ‘manage growth’ at Portent. How, exactly, would I do that? Hire a psychic? Sometimes, the economy tanks, and you get 10 great new clients. Sometimes, the economy grows, and 3 clients leave to sell their toothpaste caps in Superbowl ads.
I guess I could tell 5 great prospective clients to pound sand. I could slice off my pinky toe, too. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna.
If you run an internet marketing agency, then you know from whence I speak: You run your content marketing campaigns, nurture leads and manage as best you can. But you grow when growth is available.
So, you need a plan for those times when you suddenly grow by, I dunno, 120%. Here’s my guide:
Embrace your fear
First, go throw up. It’s OK to be scared poopless if you just tripled your client list. If you aren’t, you’re either a sociopath, or you’re on better drugs than I am.
That said, don’t freeze in panic. There’s a difference between fear and panic. Fear used to make us check the bushes for tigers lest we get eaten. Panic rooted us in place while said feline ate us whole.
Trust, but verify
First, you’ll try to manage all the new business yourself, or with your existing team. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it. You’ll do it anyway. I’ll just remain supportive when it all goes horribly wrong.
After that, though, you’re going to hire some new people. Hire smart, and trust them completely to do the work. But verify, more often than once a month, that it’s getting done. Otherwise, log jams become tidal waves, and the first you hear of a problem is when a client is cursing at you over the phone. Not that that’s ever happened to me.
Set measurable objectives
Whether you commit to them with the client or not, set measurable objectives for your team, for each client: A 50% increase in organic search traffic, or a 20% increase in sales.
Set something you can track. Then make the team responsible for reporting on it. Or, use an automated spreadsheet solution like the one I released 2 weeks ago.
Then look at the data. Look. At. It. Every day. Make it a habit. This is how you keep your finger on the pulse of your accounts, without constantly hovering about.
Put on the teaching hat
Your job just changed. Whatever percentage of it used to be “working with clients” just got cut in half or more. You are now the teacher. Start writing down how you do what you do. Record videos. Organize training. Teach every nuance of your business to every employee who will listen and fire the rest. Repeat as necessary.
Delegate. Just don’t be stupid.
I know a lot of you will say “But Ian, I’m the boss! Why should I stay this involved with day to day business? Business Guru 234 said I should delegate everything!”
Delegate! Absolutely delegate. That’s why I suggest hiring smart people. But if you think you can instantly make a smooth transition from a 1 or 5 person team to a 5 or 50 person team without getting involved on the client side, you’re insane. Or really lucky. At some point, you’re going to have to help your team deal with challenges, failures, or successes. They need to know you’re there for them, even if it’s to sometimes point and say “OK, that was dumb. Can we try again?”
Ups and downs
Growth is hard. Far harder than downsizing. Be ready for some bumps in the road: Bad hires, client disasters and even the occasional IRS audit will slap you in the privates like a mid-size yappy dog. Curl up in a ball. Groan for a while. Then get up and get going again. Every time, your internet marketing agency will be bigger, smarter and more scalable.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More