Small agencies are not immune to big challenges. They often don’t have a well-known name to rely on to back their reputation, nor large budgets or a team with diverse skillsets. Professionals on small agency teams, or solopreneurs need to be savvy, have a reliable toolset and stay in tuned with what the market wants. Not only do they need to be good at marketing, but often they are managing new business, operations, HR and more.
Many of our Sprout All Stars come from small or single person teams. They shared their advice for running a boutique agency, along with recommendations for tools and why this kind of job is so rewarding.
What are some tactics to ensure you have a solid list of clients?
Nicholas Scalice: One of the tactics that has served us well over the past two years has been partnership and certification opportunities. For instance, we’re involved with the Unbounce Partner program and the ActiveCampaign Certified Consultants program. By partnering with the platforms that your potential clients are already using, you can become much more proficient in using them, while generating leads at the same time.
Keri Jaehnig: The key is having the RIGHT clients. Not every client is the right one, and we’ve learned that over time. The right client list comes from targeting the type of client that is in the position to pay for services, can can also benefit from what we offer. From there, communication is of utmost importance. We keep our clients updated with changes in the social media industry.
And, we’re always training them on something that will benefit them and our partnership. In turn, we see referrals. However, a business must always be planting seeds by networking, advertising, etc. IMPORTANT: A social media marketing agency should be doing for themselves what they promise they can do for others, or they are not leading by example.
Rebekah Radice: Invest in a solid Inbound marketing strategy. While it might be a low cost option, the results can be huge when done right. And don’t forget the role email plays in Inbound. It’s still the best way to control your message and nurture client relationships through segmentation and personalization.
What resources do you rely on the most?
Nicholas Scalice: We try to specialize in just a few tools, but to get really, really good at them. For us, that mostly consists of Unbounce (for landing page design), ActiveCampaign (for email marketing and automation), Hotjar (for qualitative analytics and feedback), Drift (for on-site chat), and of course, Sprout Social (our social media command center). We also love productivity tools such as Slack, Zapier, Trello, and Asana.
Keri Jaehnig: We use a proprietary combination of both free and paid tools. Among our favorites are Sprout Social, Canva, ManageFlitter, LeadPages, MailChimp and several mobile apps. For our own website, we use managed hosting and a trusted web developer. Those two things we would not give up for the world!
Rebekah Radice: Project Manager – Atlassian JIRA
- Social Media Tools – Sprout Social and Post Planner
- Productivity – Slack, Google for Work
- CRM – Hubspot
- Customer Management – Intercom
What are some initiatives or protocol you follow to ensure fast growth?
Nicholas Scalice: We try to have a detailed process for everything, and a system for tracking what we’re working on. For us, accountability, responsibility, and trust are three of our most important values, so our processes are built around that. For instance, we use Asana as our project management software. Every task in Asana needs to be assigned to just one person. This helps track the accountability of a task down to a single person.
What does your marketing strategy look like? Is content marketing a must for agencies?
Keri Jaehnig: Fluid. Always open to change to reflect dynamics of the industry. Content marketing is a backbone to any strategy for any agency, I believe. As I’ve told many, “when the blog stops, so does everything else.” In turn, social media content can be repurposed, and should lead back to the website and blog.
Rebekah Radice: If you want to connect with the right people and build a system that supports continuous growth, investing in content marketing is a must. And you don’t have to start big to make it effective. Begin by defining how content will support your business goals. Run an audit and review how it’s currently performing–from type to message to channel–review it all.
Now determine where you’re receiving the biggest results. What could you do better or provide more of? Next you’ll choose your channels. Which ones will you focus on, double down on, and go all in on in 2017? The biggest mistake I see so many marketers make is a scattershot approach. Commit to the process, not the tactics and you will succeed.
How can you partner with other agencies or businesses for a mutually beneficial outcome?
Keri Jaehnig: An ideal partnership is a project where agencies can come together and offer stellar service in a complementary way. For example, maybe one agency offers great social media marketing and another offers more expertise in traditional marketing. Together, their customer gets the best of both worlds by utilizing both agencies. Other possibilities might be working together to host a summit-type event, partnering on a series of webinars, or even pulling in an expert as a consultant for a type of training while the social media marketing agency handles the rest of the project. The key is pulling together different strengths in a way that offers a win for all.
David Pride: We have found that partnerships for us are pretty beneficial, especially because we only do social media for our clients. Since we have one sole focus we do not present a threat to other “full service” agencies. They feel pretty comfortable partnering with us as their social partner knowing that we have no interest or competency in web development or other traditional agency roles.
Is it better to focus on one or two industries or focus on one or two core competencies?
Keri Jaehnig: Here, we have tried both tactics. An agency needs to decide, and work the plan. However, I will say that it usually works out that an agency will serve a select group of niches and be strong in a couple of key competencies.
Does physical location often play into whether or not you win Business? Is it always beneficial to be local?
Keri Jaehnig: Being local to customers does have it’s advantages, but it is not necessary. We have clients all over the world! They key is to really research your client, their competition, their brand voice, and their location. If done well, it is easy to capture the brand voice and make it seem like we’re right on site!
David Pride: I live up in Maine, a state that some folks don’t even know exists. I have found that my location doesn’t matter too much to my clients – we serve companies around the world. I think location is important if you plan on having a massive corporate infrastructure, though…but that is not my goal.
Name some agencies you look up or have learned from.
Nicholas Scalice: The first agency I ever worked at was Ten Golden Rules, based right here in Boca Raton, Florida. I learned so much from that role, and from their founder, Jay Berkowitz. His team continues to innovate in the performance-driven marketing space. Above all else, Jay taught me to constantly be on the lookout for new trends, and he showed me the power of testing and optimizing every aspect of a campaign. Another agency I really admire is KlientBoost, founded by Johnathan Dane. They are super-focused on being the absolute best at a few things, rather than being moderately good at a bunch of things. You can learn so much from this approach. It’s all about focus!
Keri Jaehnig: Marketing Nutz. I’ll also say that Sprout Social has developed their tool, brand, and business model quite well.
What makes agency life so rewarding?
Nicholas Scalice: Variety! The best part of working with multiple clients in an agency environment is that you get to work on a wide range of projects, of all different types. Even if your agency is focused on just one niche, no two projects are ever the same. For those of us who like to have variety in our day, it’s rewarding to be able to work on a Facebook lead generation campaign in the morning, and a landing page optimization project in the afternoon for instance.
Sarah Nagel: Sarah is the Senior Manager, Brand Advocacy and Community at Sprout Social and a Twitter queen. She runs the weekly #SproutChat and is a champion for our incredible community. Outside of work, she spends her time taking on DIY projects and petting her two rescue pups.