As a successful digital agency founder, you rightly focus the vast majority of your time and energy on growth. Winning new business is critical, as is making sure all of your clients are delighted by the work your agency is doing.
But it’s all too easy for your growth plan to be completely derailed if you don’t dedicate some of your attention to a range of factors that can trip you up, if you’re not aware of them ahead of time.
Here are five things you should keep in mind as you grow your digital agency…
1. Protecting your cashflow will become ever more important
You might think you’ll be able to worry less about cash as you grow, but actually the opposite is true. The bigger you get and the faster you’re growing, the more cash your agency needs at hand. You should always aim to have at least three months of outgoings in the bank.
Having a solid cashflow forecast is critical here, covering at least the next three months. There are lots of tools you can use to help with this, including plugins to finance systems like Xero or FreeAgent. Or just use a good old spreadsheet. Don’t forget to include income from your new business pipeline and additional outgoings you’ll face, e.g. new hires. You’ll likely want to create a few different cashflow scenarios based on whether or not you win those potential new clients.
If your forecast highlights any issues, the earlier you take action the better. Do you need to reduce your outgoings? Or perhaps you can improve your cashflow in other ways, such as tackling late payers, improving your payment terms or just sending your invoices sooner, e.g. invoicing for 50% of projects upfront.
2. You need to learn to let go
As an agency founder, you’re used to doing pretty much everything in the early stages. Even when you’ve grown to have a small team around you, you’ll still be heavily involved in all of the details. It’s your agency, after all – and each and every client has been hard-won.
But this diligence and intense focus will turn against you at a certain point in the growth journey. There’ll just be too much to stay across, and too many demands on your time and energy. If you try to continue on the same path, everything will suffer – your client work, your employees and, perhaps most importantly, your own health.
The only solution is to learn to let go, and this is some of the hardest work you’ll do as an agency founder. Understanding what good delegation looks like will be critical, as will building a picture of all of the tasks you currently do and a plan for who could take each one on. Then you need to trust your senior team and employees to do the work!
3. You’re going to need to implement robust workflows before too long
This is certainly one that’s better tackled sooner rather than later. Your workflows – the processes and systems that underpin how work actually gets done in your agency – have probably evolved fairly organically up to now. Maybe it’s all done by email, with the odd spreadsheet thrown in.
There’ll come a time when the amount of work is simply too much for these workflows to properly handle. And this point can be reached quite suddenly. Work starts getting lost, deadlines are missed, and your employees are stressed.
It’s much better to act now and take control of your workflows, rather than wait to reach that stage. You can map out how work currently flows around your agency and ask yourself how it would best happen if there was twice as much. Could you introduce a simple project management system to handle task assignment etc.? You’d also benefit from having a single person managing the flow of work. This can be a part of someone’s wider role in the early stages.
4. Unconscious blockers are your biggest enemy
Most of us understand the principle of unconscious behaviours. We all have them. They’re the things we do that are caused by what’s going on beneath the surface, which we aren’t fully aware of (for whatever reason).
These behaviours can cause problems in all parts of our lives, and that certainly includes work. In fact, they can be really destructive and ruin even the best-laid plans – which is when they become unconscious blockers. And these blockers can come from you, the founder, just as much as from your employees.
For you, the blocker might be around control. You might understand the need to let go as you grow your agency (as per point 2, above) on one level, but actually relinquishing control is a whole different story. For your employees, the blockers might be around change, which we humans generally don’t like, and have a tendency to resist.
Needless to say, managing these blockers should be done with care and respect. Bringing the behaviour into awareness is generally a good starting point.
5. You need to start thinking about the structure of your agency
You probably haven’t given much thought to how your agency is structured. In the early days, everyone does a bit of everything, and the team just “knows” how things work and who’s in charge.
But imagine your agency with twice, three times or even four times as much work. Would your current structure still be appropriate? Even without too much thought, you can probably see some of the problems you’d face if nothing changed.
It’s important to spend some time on this thinking, even if you don’t actually implement anything for a while. What teams will you have? What will each be responsible for? What will your senior team look like? Having an idea of what your future structure could look like will help shape all sorts of decisions in the here and now – for example around recruitment, promotions, role outlines etc.
If you’re able to spend enough time on these five areas alongside your work on winning new clients, you’ll stand a much greater chance of keeping your growth plan on track and achieving your agency objectives.