The growth of a creative agency is in many ways the toughest kind. Being resourceful and clever will take you only so far. It takes more than just hard work – it also takes planning and careful execution.
What you need is a plan to scale your agency.
You might be thinking: \”I\’m just getting started. I don\’t have a team or an office yet, so why do I need a growth plan?\”
Luckily for us creatives, it\’s all about the art. Fortunately for our clients, there\’s a science to it, too.
Creative agencies are the new marketing departments. We\’ve stepped in where others have failed. Gone are the days when success was measured by an invoice at the end of each month and the number of email subscribers. Today\’s world is much more complex than that.
Instead, your work will be judged by how well it reflects each company\’s values, and your agency\’s business will grow when you prove to them that you can deliver.
Everything we do conveys a message about the client – whether that is intentional or not. Their brand identity is at stake, and they rely on us to get it right every time because reputation matters more than ever before.
We can\’t be perfect, but we can strive for it.
Therefore, creative output is split into five stages: strategy, planning, execution, measurement, and refinement. This is where growth comes in. If you can follow this process with your clients effectively (and there\’s a lot more depth to it than I\’m covering here), you can grow your business.
(I have to say, though: I\’ve never liked the word \”process\”. It makes me think of cubicles, IT problems, and people in suits. I prefer to call it an \”approach\” or a \”methodology\”, but that\’s just my personal opinion.)
The Business of Ideas
It\’s straightforward to get caught up in the creative side of things. We love creativity, and we\’re proud of our artistic skills, but we should never forget that with great ideas come responsibilities. Our job is not finished at the end of a briefing or when a project goes live. Instead, those are just small steps in a much bigger picture.
Understanding this is the first step to success.
We have to realize that our clients aren\’t just some faceless individuals in a marketing department on the creative side. They\’re people with dreams, hopes, ambitions, and emotions. We need to be able to connect with them emotionally if we want them to connect back with us – that\’s why it\’s part of my approach for success.
(This is another area where creatives struggle: we are not always good at dealing with people, but it\’s all about managing expectations and building relationships.)
It means a lot more work than you might think because, beyond the creative output, there are other departments to consider working with as well. Marketing, admin, and sales, for example, and that might be a whole different ball game.
Any business worth it\’s salt will have people working in these departments, so it\’s important to get to know them too, or at least make sure you understand how best to approach them.
It means we have more connections to nurture with our clients – and creative agencies are all about nurturing. We need to stay in touch with our clients at every step of the process and adapt accordingly.
If you can\’t do this, then it might be worth reconsidering whether you\’re the right person for the job. Because if you want a sustainable creative agency, it needs a strong business foundation – and that means finding ways to please your clients by working with them effectively. Part of that is by being a good listener, and part of it is about understanding how your clients are measured to help you get the best results.
The five stages of creative output are what I call \”the foundations,\” – and if any one of those gets overlooked or isn\’t implemented effectively, your business will fail. But when each aspect is done well – from strategy to refinement – you get a much better result.
And at this point, I know some of you are thinking: \”Yeah yeah, we\’ve got it covered.\” But how do you know? Are these things really in place? And if so, are they working with your clients effectively? This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.
The Five Foundations
Stage one is what I call the \” Strategy Foundation, \”which starts with defining your identity through an idea (see this article on brand strategy ). It\’s about analyzing who you are and what you want to achieve. You have to know exactly who you are, where you\’re going, and what you\’re doing; otherwise, confusion will reign. I don\’t want to happen for someone to work at my company one day, only to find out that we don\’t do what they thought we did – because then it\’s a waste of their time and ours.
Stage two is the \” Design Foundation, \”which covers everything from visual identity and tone of voice (including a style guide for writing) to layout. It\’s the part that everyone sees, but it has to be right from the beginning, or you\’re wasting your time – and more than likely losing out on a potential client.
The \” Digital Foundation \” is stage three, covering all digital assets, including websites, email marketing, the online store, and social media. It\’s a separate stage because it works in conjunction with everything else – not as part of the overall design concept but as something that sits alongside it. You can\’t create an outstanding brand image without creating equally outstanding digital assets to support it.
The final section is about \” Content Foundation,\” which is all about positioning ourselves against our competitors. Content strategy includes everything from the company brochure to the social media content, newsletters, and promotional literature. It\’s about making sure what we do looks good alongside what our competitors are doing: it\’s about finding that fine line between being different and getting noticed, but not so much that you alienate your target audience.
In particular, content strategy is critical to how we work, especially with smaller businesses that might not have the resources of larger firms (although many larger companies don\’t either). Rather than creating 20 pieces of content for a client across all their different social media accounts and websites, we need to ensure that what we\’re creating is right for them.
When people start an agency, they\’re often fuelled by a genuine desire to make the world a better place through their work. It\’s about doing work that matters and having an effect on our clients\’ business. However, if you don\’t keep in mind that you\’re ultimately running a business, you can find yourself slipping into the trap of creating work that doesn\’t deliver results.
In an ideal world, clients would pay us to do what they want just because it\’s great – but the reality is that they expect to get something back in return. They expect us to make their business grow. It\’s about finding ways for our clients to grow so that their businesses become more successful. And here\’s the thing: the agency needs to grow too, hence the term \” business growth \”.
As a creative agency, you have to demonstrate your worth in hard numbers and show why clients should choose you over someone else – or even better, why they should keep working with you.
The last thing we want to do is create a beautiful website that does nothing for the business – unless we\’re willing to give it away for free, our clients will expect results. Growth should be built into every part of what you do. For example, if you\’re working on a redesign and know that the new site will help the business grow, add that into your pricing structure.
For us, most growth comes from creating content and strategic direction for our clients. It\’s not enough to create a full suite of digital assets – you have to position them correctly so that they are easy to find, search for and use. And it\’s even better if you can solve a problem or answer a question that your clients didn\’t even realize they had.
The thing is, growth doesn\’t come automatically – you have to be able to measure it and show it (you might not like the fact that this is easier said than done, but there it is). When talking about business growth, you need to ask yourself a few questions: How do you measure success? What have clients bought that they didn\’t know they needed?
Let\’s be clear – growth isn\’t just about the money. It\’s not always about creating microsites or social media campaigns with huge budgets and short deadlines. A growing business has its customers\’ interests at heart, and it\’s willing to adapt, learn and change as time goes on.
It\’s about finding strategies and opportunities for clients that nobody else is providing – it takes hard work, but if you can dream up something new, then your clients will thank you. It doesn\’t matter whether it\’s a simple email or a bespoke digital brochure, as long as it meets their needs and allows them to grow.