How to go from a one man show to an agency

You’re good at what you do. Clients wouldn’t hire you if you weren’t. But you’re afraid that by hiring more people, you’ll lose the personal touch and the quality of your services will go down. At the same time, your business is growing and you’re not going to be able sustain this current effort level.

So something has to give: scale up (what you’d like to do), decline business (not smart in the long run), or work harder (impossible). Clients come to you because of your expertise and relationships. When you’re small, you are the face of your business, so your personal brand and company brand are synonymous.

To survive in the world of business, you have to find ways to start working ON your business instead of IN your business.

First, start documenting how to do the simple things. Billing clients, weekly performance reporting, and other simple stuff should be driven by checklists. You can have junior folks do these things so you can focus on the 10% of stuff that is truly high impact.

Do you know what items are highest impact?

Probably those that are strategic in nature, leaving tactical stuff to be competently handled by the rest of your team. Your documentation should be step-by-step checklists, assisted with video training snippets to make it easier to digest.

Use this same training to qualify your prospective staff as a real-life litmus test of what to expect. In doing so, you’ve also solved the burden of having to interview and qualify people one at a time– a real time suck. Tools like Infusionsoft and ClassMarker let you run people through self-serve training and quizzes which you can use in the qualification process.

Boil down your offering to just the essentials. Make a package that you can reliably and consistently execute. Then you know that your training and agency offering are in alignment. Clients don’t want custom, as much as you think– they want results.

Before you argue that this sounds cookie-cutter or eliminates thinking, would you say that a Tesla is low quality?

Even movie studios have a process for how they create films– a framework that enables creativity versus no structure leading to chaos. If you seek to do things differently for the sake of doing it differently, be prepared to fail a lot. You want to use proven techniques, especially if you’re doing something that can have standards, such as advertising, website building, or anything in digital.

Get out of the day-to-day. Hire a project manager if you need to.

Ironically, if you truly want to help your clients, you’ll focus more on troubleshooting than on administrative details you can delegate. This requires that you trust the people you’ve been training.

We look at three criteria for success:

People: Good character, since that can’t be trained.

Process: Do they know what to do?

Platform: Have you trained them on how to do it?

If you have these three, then you can attend every other meeting instead of all meetings (alternating tactical versus strategic).

One effective strategy to initially wean clients off you personally is to say that you’ll show up mid-way through the meeting. They’ll later find that you didn’t have to be there the whole time, giving your people a chance to shine. Don’t worry about “cutting out” of meetings — if you’re really that good at what you do, clients would expect that you are delegating to handle the workload.

Ideally, you should just review the work instead of doing it all yourself. If your process is solid (checklists with training videos), you should have consistent delivery.

Follow the Content>Checklist>Software process to scale up.

You can share your training publicly.

Don’t be afraid of your “competitors” stealing your know-how or clients deciding they don’t need you. If that were to happen, then you don’t know enough or have enough depth to deserve serving clients. What happens in most cases is that prospective clients appreciate your sophistication and this INCREASES your new client growth. So engage in “content marketing” with no fear.

Fire the bottom third or more of your clients — the ones that are a big headache or make your staff unhappy. The clients that treat you best are usually the ones that pay the most and demand the least.

You should keep the kind of clients you want more of– handing the rest to “competitors”. This way, you have consistency across what you offer and can double down on process bits instead of trying to do everything.

The corollary to focusing on the ONE thing you do well– then doing it over and over– is to say what you DON’T do.

We like to say we don’t make creatives, don’t do SEO, don’t do community management, and don’t do strategy. What we do is implementation– drive traffic and conversions on existing assets that are already converting. The marketplace will believe you when you demonstrate you’re world class at doing one thing repeatedly well.

A good test for a great client is to raise prices– gasp, I said it. If you’re truly delivering value, they’ll have no problem paying more. Even I often struggle with mustering the courage to do this, but if you’re proving your value, then making the case should be easy.

You don’t want to be the cheapest and you do want a few clients to balk at your price. If nobody ever balks at your price, you’re undercharging for most deals and those who are paying less will often think you’re not as good, since your prices are low– a double whammy.

Avoid bad hires. Elevate your team. As these junior staff move their way through your checklists and up your leveling system, encourage and praise them. Build their personal brands and give credit where it’s due, publicly where possible.

The sum of the personal branding efforts of your teammates is your content marketing at the company level. This way, it’s not about you, unless you mistakenly named the company after you– change it, if you’ve made that mistake. At this point, you’ve gone through the steps to grow your business versus just being another employee working in your business. I think you’ll find that developing others is more rewarding than trying to micromanage every bit yourself.

You’ll have to be patient and tolerate some level of work that is worse than what you’d do personally, but if you have rapid iteration, mistakes are small and adjustments are quick.

We call this “trial and error” process MAA for Metrics>Analysis>Action, and it’s fundamental to marketing.

If your training content is solid, you’ll have produced checklists for execution. These checklists repeated at scale create opportunities for automation– so you’d build or hire this out.

When you have a repeatable process, you effectively have a franchise, with you as the first franchisee. And when you have your franchise you can prepare to supercharge your agency’s revenue.

You’re blazing the path for others to follow, so they can learn in your footsteps, do according to your checklists, and teach others who are a couple levels below them.  We call this LDT for Learn>Do>Teach:

If you find these principles powerful, check out all nine triangles and discover how they fit together.

Have you implemented any of these processes in your business?

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Dennis Yu

About the Author

Dennis Yu

Dennis Yu is the Chief Executive Officer of BlitzMetrics, a digital marketing company that partners with schools to train young adults. Dennis’s program centers around mentorship, helping students grow their expertise to manage social campaigns for enterprise clients like the Golden State Warriors, Nike, and Rosetta Stone.

He’s an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook Marketing and has spoken in 17 countries, spanning 5 continents, including keynotes at L2E, Gultaggen, and Marketo Summit. Dennis has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, National Public Radio, TechCrunch, CNN, Fox News, and CBS Evening News.

He’s a regular contributor for Adweek’s SocialTimes column and has published in Social Media Examiner, Social Media Club, Tweak Your Biz, B2C, Social Fresh, and Heyo. He held leadership positions at Yahoo! and American Airlines and studied Finance and Economics at Southern Methodist University as well as the London School of Economics. He ran collegiate cross-country at SMU and has competed in over 20 marathons including a 70-mile ultramarathon.

Besides being a Facebook data and ad geek, you can find him eating chicken wings or playing Ultimate Frisbee in a city near you.

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