Running a marketing agency always sounds like a good idea – until it's not.
Hustle bros on Instagram are selling programs to start a SMMA agency (short for Social Media Marketing Agency), and magically have a $70,000 per month business while traveling the world.
Truth is, there's no free lunch.
Nothing good comes easy. If you're going to start a marketing agency, I hope you start one for a good reason – to provide your clients value. And providing great value requires work.
If you're a freelancer trying to become an agency, I want to share a lesson that will help you not lose money.
What's more valuable than money?
A freelancer trades his time for money.
Being a freelancer is great. You're technically your own boss. You call the shots. You have good margins. You take 100% profit.
But you're bounded by time.
Those I know who decided to upgrade to an agency, are people who suddenly realize that they want something more valuable than time.
- Peace of mind
I'm not saying that you shouldn't be a freelancer. What I'm saying is you need to choose – the projects in which you'll be a freelancer, and the projects, in which you'll be a business owner.
But what's dangerous is trying to become an agency owner with a freelancer's mindset. Because freelancers are trained to do everything themselves.
The hidden cost of client servicing.
When you manage a team of people as an agency, there will be a hidden cost that you will overlook – that will make you lose money, I promise.
Let me know if these sound familiar to you:
"I am so sorry to bother you on a public holiday, but could you quickly work on this design?"
"It's late, but I need this by 10pm tonight!"
Receiving texts like this can disrupt your entire team workflow. It scrambles everyone to drop all tasks to deliver on this so-called urgent request.
I had an ex-boss who once told me:
"Reuben, deal with it. All clients want things, yesterday."
In short, dealing with client emergencies.
Stressful. But an agency gotta do it for its customers, right? Actually no, and before you defend your customers, hear me out.
You're paying for your client's bad time management.
Sure, emergencies do happen – but they are usually rare. Most of the time, it's because your client did not factor in the time needed on your end to complete the task.
Of course, it's your responsibility to educate your client on realistic timelines too.
The problem is if you continue giving in to your client's urgent requests, you are training them to think that you'll always do what they request, no matter how last-minute or absurd the requests are.
Tending to urgent requests will cost you money.
According to psychologist, David Meyer shifting between tasks can cost us up to 40% of our productive time.
With assigned tasks all set out, your team members have their schedules filled up to complete them before the deadline.
But when you throw them a curveball in the form of urgent requests, they will need to multitask and juggle their work to complete both in time.
An even bigger cost to that - switching tasks affects the quality of work.
Imagine losing a client because your team produced bad work. All because of a client's sudden urgent task that seemed innocent at the time.
Is it really worth it? You do the math.
You'll end up killing your team.
Many business owners choose to side with clients. After all, they are the ones paying. I've been there. Clients ask for ridiculous requests, and I'll push my team to try fulfill them.
If you say yes to every client emergency, it'll soon eat into your team's sanity – their work-life balance, their stress levels, and of course the frustration that the agency does not value them.
And soon enough, they'll leave.
Okay, okay. What can I do?
Here are some tips that have helped:
Set clear timelines
If you're a creative like me, you want to get to work immediately. Leave the planning to the suckers!
But I've been burnt countless times, taking that approach. Your first task should be planning proper, realistic timelines and setting deadlines. Communicate this to the client early on.
Most tasks are not urgent. Clarify the importance of the task, and negotiate a manageable timeframe for you and the team to work with.
An agency owner must know how to set clear boundaries.
Set clear expectations.
Let your clients know your team's turnover time for each deliverable, your working hours, and off days.
Don't discuss on off days. Instead, reply with a polite confirmation that you will tend to their request as soon as you are back at work.
The best clients will usually respect this. If your client doesn't, fire them.
Set a buffer in your price.
If client emergencies truly cannot be avoided, make sure to set a buffer into your agreed project cost – so you can use it to hire more help.
Set an emergency rate.
Here's a little hack.
Before signing off on a project, be clear on the turnover time needed, and mention that you will need to incur a specific charge for last-minute requests. Your client will try their best to avoid this outcome.
Don't let your client's urgent requests throw your team's workload off. It is up to you to manage your client's expectations in a way that can guarantee you deliver your best work every single time.