Creating an agency is hard. Anyone that tells you different hasn’t done it. During this journey to building an agency, one thing that helped at times of difficulty is knowing that many of our challenges are more common than not. Recent conversations with local agency owners have verified that we are not alone in our struggles and successes.
At any given moment, there are at least three or four critically important things to do that can determine the future success of the agency. Usually, I don’t have time to do any of those things. Picking the one thing I can do now, knowing other things are going to slip (or at least get delayed) is a massive challenge. This list includes ensuring a constant pipeline of new work is coming in the door, keeping my projects on course, making sure clients are happy, making sure employees are happy, and making sure my team is supporting each other. Each of these things was way harder than I thought it would be when I first started Subtext.
The Biggest Challenge
The biggest challenge for Subtext has been to create and maintain a stable pipeline of work. The constant grind of acquiring new projects while keeping existing projects running smoothly is a delicate balance. In my experience, it’s a challenge for agencies of all sizes, but for a small agency, this problem is much more acute. The following are a few things that have helped me in managing a stable pipeline of work.
Win by Losing
Losing work keeps us humble. One thing that has been a surprising source of confidence is losing work. At a basic level, losing helps us understand what’s not working in our sales process more precisely than winning. This optimizes our future sales process. Losing keeps us humble, which keeps us honest and focused on selling the most appropriate services to our clients. Understanding why we lose has helped us refine our process and ultimately sell better the next time around. I always try to ask a lost opportunity what we could have done differently to win the work. We don’t always get an answer, but there is no harm in asking and when we do get feedback it’s invaluable.
Each company is different. The size of your projects will change what your pipeline should look like. When Subtext first started, our idea of stability was completely unrealistic. A healthy dose of realism and years of practice have taught us better lessons on how to manage stress and uncertainty. Now, three months of confirmed bookings and a healthy pipeline of prospects is pretty comfortable for us. I would never have found that comfortable in the beginning.
We’ve grown Subtext without a formal sales person on staff and a team largely consisting of introverts. Not exactly normal fodder for agency sales, but for us, this is a win. Utilizing our existing team, we share the responsibilities of winning new business. We don’t win them all, but we win enough and are getting better all the time. For us, this means two things, perseverance and challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones. And it’s paid off!
Some time ago, Summer Lamson, Subtext co-founder, and I were sitting at Peet’s Coffee on Broadway running through our list of business tasks. A man next to us leaned over and remarked he was impressed by the quality of dialog we’d been having and how we worked through challenging topics quickly and made decisions. He said this was a great foundation to build our company from and gave us several tips for growing our business. It was a great conversation that inspired us both at a time we needed it most. This man’s name was Greg Bell and we later found he had written this great book about perseverance that we keep close to us at all times now.
Good luck on your endeavors. If you’d like to chat with me more about agency life, from an agency or client perspective, I’m happy to talk! Let’s grab a coffee!