You started your own agency because you wanted a different type of lifestyle — you wanted to build something of your own. You were sick of the lack of creativity in the work at your company, and the singular focus on margins and profits were draining your love for the industry.
But running your own agency — whether it’s just you or you’ve hired a few or more people — is a completely different challenge. Now, you’re responsible for everything, from the work to the happiness of clients to hiring to the state of your bill with the electric company.
And you’ve run into a few too many troublesome situations in your adventure in building an agency — ones you wish you could have avoided.
To prevent making the same mistakes as many others new to ownership, check out these common problems.
5 Common Mistakes New Agency Owners Make
1) Not getting a contract signed before starting work.
Many new agency owners are working on projects from friends or friends of friends. Others are simply too afraid of losing the deal to ask a prospect to sign on the dotted line. And some simply get comfortable after the third or fourth project, and they think a legal document is no longer necessary: The client has paid up before with no problems. What could happen to make that change?
They forgo this step until one day, they get completely burned by a client who won’t answer their calls and definitely won’t pay up.
The key is making the contract a seamless part of the sales process. Whether you are a one-person agency or a 25-person shop, the contract should be an essential step prior to starting any work. It confirms that the client is committed to the project, and it clarifies payment terms and schedules. It should also outline the scope so that it is clear what’s included in the project and what’s not.
It protects both you and your client, and it will help you avoid clients who might take advantage of your status as an inexperienced business owner.
2) Discounting projects from the start.
Many agency owners just starting out are hungry for new business and for clients with whom they can do amazing work.
And so before the client even asks for a discount or says that the price is outside of their budget, they start chipping away at their bid. Or in an effort to make sure they win the project, they slash their rates and come in way under the normal price.
By starting out the relationship and saying “My work is not worth the price I set,” you’re losing credibility with the client from the start. It can also be seen as desperate by a client who knows you’ll do whatever it takes to work with them.
3) Letting emotions get in the way.
You left your day job and convinced your family to trust in you as you pursue your desire to run your own agency. This is your future. And everything is personal to you.
But to most of your clients, it’s not personal. And you need to remember this fact when you become frustrated about a missed client deadline that pushes back the launch — and your payment — by another month or when you feel hurt by the client’s lack of response to your carefully crafted proposal.
It’s far too easy for new agency owners to want to vent these feelings in an email or during a call when business interactions don’t go the way they think they should. However, this is a business where your reputation matters. Burning bridges won’t help you lay a strong foundation for future growth.
4) Not setting realistic timelines.
When trying to sell a client on a project, it’s easy to want to over-promise: “Sure, we can do that website redesign in three weeks. No problem at all.” Unless you and your team skip eating, sleeping, and doing anything else in that timeframe, it’s unlikely you can meet that deadline. But the client wants it in three weeks. You need to do whatever takes to deliver. You’re in the client service business, right?
Wrong. This attitude will only result in you delivering either shoddy work or missing deadlines — two serious problems that will put the relationship at risk.
Get ahead of this curve by telling clients up front the minimum amount of time required to turn around specific projects. Stick to these timelines. If you deliver more quickly, then you’ll have an even happier client. If you can’t meet the deadline with your current workload, maybe it’s time to hire another employee or work with a freelancer, or maybe you just need to say “no” to more client work.
Don’t overwhelm your team by taking on too much and over-promising on the time it takes to create quality, results-oriented work.
5) Never saying “no” to client work.
You want to get your agency’s name out there, and that means it can be difficult to say to a prospect, “I don’t do that,” or “That’s not my area of expertise.”
So you just say “yes” instead and hope that you can find a freelancer who can do the work within the budget you proposed. While outsourcing work is a normal practice, you need to be able to vouch for the freelancer’s quality of work — at the end of the day, it’s ultimately your responsibility. That’s a risky way to begin any new relationship and make a name for your agency.