How do you scale a digital agency safely? So that you actually enjoy it, because it doesn’t mentally and emotionally kick the life out of you.
I’m going to show you my Perfect Agency Framework, a process that you follow and repeat until you go from a budding agency ($5-10K a month) to $100K a month (and more).
How do I know all of this and how do I know it works?
I’ve been doing this for 13 years or so now, and I make more money than most agencies. I’m exceptionally happy, because I get to work the hours that I choose, when I choose, doing stuff that I want to. I’m in a very enviable position.
But you don’t have to take 13 years to get there.
It’s going to take you a few, but here are the shortcuts. This is my framework — my perfect process — to be a bit more like me. Sure, I’m only worth seven figures; most gurus will tell you that’s chump change.
But back on planet earth (a.k.a. reality), I think most of us would be quite happy with that.
So let me explain to you step by step, in great detail, how you go from foundation and value to acquisition, operations, and then ascension.
The Agency Foundation
I can tell that you’re looking at this as mumbo jumbo. “I can skip it,” you think. That’s where the majority of budding and small agencies go wrong. They skip the mindset, the capability assessment, the vision, and the goals. Running a business is not for everyone. That’s why a lot of businesses fail, sadly.
Mindset is all about committing and looking after yourself, first and foremost. Exercise. Eat healthy. Get sleep. Get those fundamentals in so you can actually run a business.
If you’re not doing the basics and maintaining yourself, you will not physically and emotionally be able to run an agency. It is a high-stress environment, and this process helps you reduce that. You’re going to get some punches along the way and have to pick yourself up. You’ve got to be fit to take the punches.
Do you know what you’re doing? Don’t start an agency for SEO, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or whatever if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve got a budget available to hire someone who knows what they’re doing, perfectly fine. But don’t just buy some backyard training and think you’re a guru tomorrow. Don’t start an agency if you don’t have capabilities; it will cause you stress.
Does that mean you can’t start freelancing or consulting with very little experience? Of course it doesn’t, but do a bit more pro bono work. Approach people and say that you don’t know what you’re doing, but that you’ll do it for free. Get some experience under your belt. Or just be honest about it and see what people are prepared to pay you. You’ll have to work for less.
The best companies in the world have a mission, vision, and values. You streamline your vision into two parts: your personal vision and the agency vision. Personal vision is where you want to be in the years ahead (don’t think short-term—that’s for goal setting):
- What do you want out of this financially? Money is not a bad thing. It’s probably why most of us are in this.
- What do you want from your life?
- Where do you want to be?
- Who do you want to be with?
- Are there material things you want?
If you really want that pink Lamborghini, fair enough. Write it down. Put your visions to paper and be honest about why you’re in this.
Then comes your agency vision. Don’t run a dictatorship. Write down what the vision means for you.
- Who are you going to serve?
- What are you going to do for them?
- What services will you offer?
- What problems are you trying to fix?
- What’s the vision for the agency?
- What’s the purpose?
It’s the “where we’re going”, not “how we get there”. Some of these will be obvious and clear, but you still need to document them. Having laser focus is a success multiplier, and just writing this stuff down will focus you.
So you take your long-term vision—your big picture—and you slice it up into goals. I love setting 60- or 90-day goals; high-frequency stuff.
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Is it a certain volume of sales?
- Is it a volume of new clients or new accounts?
- Is it a retention number?
Write it down, then reverse engineer it.
- How do you get there?
- How many leads do you get at the minute?
- How many sales do you get out of that? It’s pretty straightforward stuff.
In documenting this, you can say, “I’m at nine grand a month in turnover and want to get to 15 in three months.” If you’ve got no idea, start with some guesswork and see how you go. It’s better to have some orientation than zero perspective of where you’re headed.
This basic process will help you with time management, prioritising stuff, and getting to your goals. And it’s so simple. Most people don’t do it because it’s probably too simple and they think it’s mumbo jumbo. They fail.
Your Agency Value
Specialism, positioning, and offer moulds your agency from the perspective of your prospective clients.
Specialism is the way to go. This could mean you’re a Google Ads specialist or a LinkedIn Ads specialist. You pick a niche or vertical; you start narrow, you go wider. Everyone says pick a niche, but how do you pick a niche that works well?
- One that’s big enough
- One that you’re interested in
- One you have experience of
- One where you’ve got case studies or a single, solid case study you can show off
- One that you know you can serve
So you pick a niche and a specialism that you want to lean into. I like Google Ads, so we do a lot of Google Ads. Does that mean that you have to stick with that service? It doesn’t mean you can’t layer services, but they’ve got to have synergy. Think about YouTube Ads and Facebook Ads. There’s synergy there because you can reuse the video content.
And then there are approaches to niching. You can cycle niches, niche in a niche, or layer niches. There’s loads of different things you can do to go down that specialist, super-targeted rabbit hole. You’ll stand out because you’re talking very specifically to an audience that no one else really is.
Then you’ve got to present them with an offer that they want. That’s your value proposition, your positioning. Do you look and sound like every other agency on the market? Nine times out of ten, you will do. “Hey, we do PPC.” Who gives a toss?
What do you actually do and who do you do it for? What’s the outcome? That’s your positioning.
Your offer is more about how you get them there. You can take your service, slice it up, and either productise it or turn it into a foot-in-the-door offer. This is top-level and simple, and that component is your offer. What’s the outcome and what’s the value?
The important thing about this kind of offer is that you give way more value than you take. It gets you in the door; it gets you talking to people. And there are literally hundreds of approaches and channels. You could split it into front- and back-end offers i.e. marketing and sales offers.
Enabling Client Acquisition
So we’ve got our specialism down, we’ve positioned ourselves. Now we’re talking to the right people; the people who consider our offer to be of interest to them and able to get them the result that they need. And then we head on to acquisition, because we’ve now got to present this to people.
Here’s the mistake that everyone makes; I made it too. You don’t pick a channel, you pick every channel. Are you really going to do Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, Reddit, and YouTube? No. Pick one and laser-focus that channel.
What you need to do is saturate it until you cannot get any more blood out of it. If you’re still getting leads from a channel, lean into it and go all in until you hit a brick wall. Most channels are big enough to sustain an agency for a long time, and that goes for niches too. Some niches are worth hundreds of millions of dollars yet people don’t want to go too narrow.
Yeah, you do.
You need a way to capture people’s interest from the channel you prioritise. It could be an opt-in; something as simple as a lead gen form on a Facebook ad. It could be someone replying to a LinkedIn message. It doesn’t have to mean an email capture.
Then you nurture them, and that can mean many different things depending on what you’re presenting them. Is it a front-end or back-end offer?
If it’s a back-end offer, you can often go straight for the kill. “You’ve been interested in this piece of value, and we’re going to deliver it for you.” If it’s more of a marketing offer, you perhaps have to nurture people through email. Show them some case studies and examples; show them the outcome. Most people don’t do that.
But how many times have you responded to someone that sent you 15 follow up emails every day? Who teaches that? Follow up in a systematic, human way. Think about what they’ve just downloaded. What can support that in terms of, say, a case study? And then what can support that case study in terms of a breakdown, like an exploding diagram of specifics? It’s a combination of “there’s the result” and “here’s how you do it”.
What messaging can you lean into after that? “You don’t have the time to do it. We’ll do it for you. Let’s have a call, let’s do a sale.” In fact, you can have a two-step sales pitch without a proposal. Record a video, then talk to them after to answer any questions.
If they sign on the dotted line, have a simple agreement like I do which states what you’re going to do, what they’re responsible for, what they’re going to pay, and service level agreements.
- How will we communicate?
- How frequently will that happen?
- What should you expect in the first week versus the 15th week?
You’re laying out the ground rules so there are no surprises for the client or you.
There’s nothing worse than not specifying these things in a simple document that they sign. Then the first week is carnage because they’re ringing every hour. You don’t want that, so keep it simple. Lay out what you’re going to do, what you expect of them, the communications, and what it looks like to deliver.
Flawless Agency Operations
Next, we come to operations. It’s another part of running an agency that we all screw up because it’s difficult delivering the work.
I have a reverse onboarding methodology that’s quite simple—sort of. What I do is I ask them where they are now and where they want to go. I plumb that information into a spreadsheet, and it gives me the split.
If they’re paying a certain amount for a cost per conversion, or they’re getting a certain ROAS, they tell me their new target and their additional budget. Then I do a calculation based on that difference to see if it’s realistic. It’s pretty straightforward. So if they think they can double their leads by giving me an extra grand when they’re already spending ten…
And before we take their money—before we get them on the sales call—we want to work through the things that screw us up. Here’s an example of a sheet that I use.
- Are they realistic expectations?
- Is this an existing advertiser? Again, this is for Google Ads. It could be for anything like SEO.
- Do we have experience in this industry? By not knowing the industry, you are introducing risk.
- Do we have experience in their CRM?
- Do we know their software? Is it Salesforce or Shopify? Have we worked with that? Again, these are either “yes” or “no”.
- Did the tracking audit raise any concerns? Yes, we are auditing the tracking pre-sale, not post sale. You don’t take the money and then screw yourself over to find 20 things you’ve got to fix.
- Any concerns over competition? Is this business positioned to compete, or have they got a wonky offer? If they’re struggling, that comes down to potential growth issues as well.
- What’s going on in the wider market?
This is my pre onboarding checklist to understand all these risk factors, because I want an easy life working with clients that we can serve, we can help, and we can get results for. It’s why I say specialising and niching is the preference, because then you can avoid this risk.
If you don’t do these things, you are literally gambling.
Deliver, Communicate, Retain
So they’ve signed, they’ve paid your setup fee for your first month, and now you’ve got to deliver. You’ve got to be good at what you do, but you also need a framework for doing the work.
I’ve got a product called God Tier Ads. It’s a framework for Google Ads built off our own understanding of it over the past several years. But the purpose of that is to connect the dots, follow the steps, and deliver. This is a very deep subject because we can’t spitball in two minutes how to deliver Google Ads, social media management, or whatever it may be. But you’ve got to be able to deliver. So have a framework in place, and document what you expect.
And this is the beauty of specialising, because it greatly reduces the amount of delivery you do. If you’re trying to deliver 10 services and you’re just starting out—website, SEO, PPC, content, etc—I know this pain because I’ve been there. It’s hell on earth, and it forces you to hire a thinly spread team when you probably can’t afford to.
And then retention comes down to not just getting the results, but a cadence of communication and the appropriate reporting, and setting the agenda with your reporting as well.
Too many times, I see agencies over-reporting, trying to over-deliver because they over-promised at the start. And then they just get churned up in emails, phone calls, and multi-page reports. Most clients, if you’re delivering, are happy with a single-page report. What have I spent? What’s the outcome? Give me a running commentary but in a couple of minutes, not 20.
Many of my mentor members will send a video once a month just to say, “This is a check-in. Here’s how we’re progressing, this is what’s going on.” And if they need anything from the client, they can ask it in the video. Most clients don’t read reports, and really complicated ones generally create more questions than they answer. Agencies keep doing it and there are whole products on the market that sell you these complex, convoluted reports to send to clients. Why?
You’ve sorted the retention out because you know what you’re doing now. But can you safely scale? You want to take on more clients—you’ve got the leads coming in. The value column in the framework is going to plan. So how do you safely scale?
Take your vision and add values to it, so you understand your culture. I was hiring PPC managers, but were they a good fit? I don’t know. They could do the job. Is that the only thing they need to do? Not really.
They need to fit your culture, your personality, your weak spots, the things that you want to build in the agency, in the team.
- Do they mesh? Do they gel?
- Should they be senior or junior?
- What type of junior person do you want to attract?
- Will they work well with the senior that you’ve hired?
All these things are defined in the values and culture of your agency, but you should be aware of them. You should understand them; only then do you get to answer if you can safely scale. Do you have the capacity to deliver? That’s the ultimate thing. You don’t take on work if you can’t deliver, and you don’t get greedy and don’t hire.
The hiring point is a crossroads and another mistake that a lot of people make—including myself. That’s no disrespect to my past, long-gone employees. But hiring juniors is probably not the right approach. You’re better off hiring someone senior and experienced versus three junior members of the team, because they can be a self-starter. They can take the work, deliver, and probably communicate with the client as well.
Pause… Gut Check
You’ve got that first hire and they’re good, which means you can safely scale. That means you hop back on the framework and go back to the start. You’re probably thinking, “Well, hold on, I want to get to ascension. I want to get into leadership, partnerships, offloading, and investing.”
Easy, tiger. You’ve still got to go back and check your mindset, check the fundamentals.
- Are we still capable?
- What are our capabilities?
- Have they shifted because I’ve hired someone?
- Has my vision changed because we’re six months down the road?
- Does the vision still make sense?
Vision is an organic thing, and can be adapted and changed and updated. So don’t think that your vision can’t change. Things change every six months, three months—one week, if you’re really screwing up daily. We do work in a fluid environment running an agency.
Your goals: Did you hit them the past quarter? Do you need to recalculate the numbers and your projections? But having that vision tightened up, adjusted, and then refreshing your goals for the next push—that next step is super critical. Having this vision and goals also will separate you from the also-rans. It prioritises the mindset.
If you’re struggling with time management, then this is the process that you should go through to really prioritise stuff because it dumps everything else to one side, and you go after that ultimate goal. It’s what separates the winners from the also-rans.
Now we can talk about ascension and this is for bigger agencies. You’ve hit a point where you’ve got enough team on board. You’ve got an agency that’s running like clockwork, where you’ve removed yourself from the operations side. You are now essentially the sales and marketing side.
And then we move to leadership. You’re now thinking about hiring someone to be your head of ops or head of sales. Essentially, you hire to remove the stuff that you no longer like. You might love sales—it’s perfectly okay being the salesperson of an agency. You might, like me, enjoy the marketing side. That’s my job, I want the marketing job. The rest of it, I don’t want anymore.
Partnerships are a big factor because you will start to get itchy. You’ll be attracting clients that want more than your core disciplines and competencies, and you’ll start to look at having enough money in the bank as a reason to hire someone to do that. No, don’t. Find yourself a reliable partner.
If you do PPC and they do SEO, beautiful. But have boundaries in place. Agree that they won’t send us PPC stuff that doesn’t fit in our core competency. If it doesn’t fit in where we want to go—if it doesn’t match our vision and our positioning and our values—we can’t take that on. So you might have to have more than one partnership.
It’s all optional, anyway.
And then you’re offloading, which is stripping all the work away that you don’t want because you’ve got this machine that’s ticking over. It’s humming, it’s well oiled. You’ve got responsible team members who are aligned to your values and vision, and the world’s perfect. That’s a misnomer, it’s never going to be perfect—but it’s pretty good at this stage. And you should be making, at the very least, multiple six figures profit.
So what do you do with the money? Do what I do: Invest it.
I’ve got AdEvolver, which is a software product for Google Ads professionals and agencies (boring Google Ads guy, sorry). I invest in the markets and many other different things. The beautiful thing is I also have an investment business, because that takes the money from all the other businesses that I’ve invested in, thanks to the agency and the training product. So then that starts to compound, and you build more, and you have more options.
You build your money and your “f*ck you” money, and then you build confidence and you control. No one can touch you because you’ve got enough under you, and that means you can weather the storm.
And even when you hit that point, you then have a choice. Do you go back to foundations? Yes, you probably should, because you still need to sort those visions and goals out. You need to avoid getting complacent and letting the ship hit the rocks… and the loop starts again.
Eventually, you might get to the point where you want to sell your agency.
You might get to the point where you want to hire a director to take it on entirely, and you go off and do something completely different. That comes down to your personal vision, which will update and change as you go.
If this has been useful or interesting; if this is going to motivate you and propel you forwards in growing your agency, scaling your agency, making your agency more efficient, but you want to understand in great detail what’s under each of these components and have someone help you along the way, guess what?
I offer mentoring in Agency Forge. So if you want the whole kit and caboodle — all the training, all the materials, the community with like-minded agency owners, mentoring from me on a weekly basis — apply for your membership today.