2017 was a record-breaking year for agencies. Total US ad agency revenues increased by 3.6% to hit $185B, according to Magna. The forecast looks the same for 2018 with global ad revenues expected to increase by $23Bn to hit $558Bn.
The growth rate is even more spectacular in niche marketing fields. Content marketing, for instance, is expected to be a $300Bn industry by 2019.
All of this makes 2018 appear to be a great year for creative agencies. The stock market is booming, businesses are investing more in their marketing, and the growth of digital means smaller agencies have a shot at snatching clients from larger competitors.
In the competitive agency market, however, you can’t take growth for granted. There are a number of things you need to do to ensure rapid growth in 2018 – and beyond. I’ll share some of these things below.
1. Develop a Scalable Lead Generation System
Few agencies have a scalable lead generation system in place. As this survey found that, most depend on a combination of referrals, networking and cold outreach to land new leads. While effective, this is neither scalable nor predictable.
Resolve to rectify this problem in 2018 by developing a scalable lead generation system. Here are a few things you can do to create a lead generation system:
- Research your target customers: Understand your ideal clients’ core issues and how you can help them. Use demographic data to map their likes, dislikes, tone of voice and preferred distribution channels.
- Create offers: Use the data you gathered above to create highly-targeted offers. Distribute them on channels frequented by your target market. This will give you ‘raw’ traffic that can be later converted into leads.
- Create high-converting landing pages: Once you have recurring (and thus, predictable) traffic to your content offer, divert visitors to a high-converting landing page. Alternatively, use an opt-in form. Your goal should be to turn visitors into leads by giving away some sort of value (such as a report, study or guide).
Most importantly, document everything. Only 32% of marketers have a documented content marketing strategy. A well-documented strategy will help you analyze your performance subjectively and make improvements to your lead-gen system.
2. Improve hiring practices
As a creative agency, you’re only as good as your people. Your competence – in design, development, or marketing – is essentially the mean of your talent pool.
It doesn’t help that the competition for quality talent is incredibly high and continues to heat up. Not only are you competing against other creative agencies, you also have to contend with tech companies and consultancies throwing hefty offers at your would-be hires.
You can gauge the intensity of the competition when you look at the shift in hiring trends for large tech companies. IBM, for example, increased its designer to developer hiring ratio from 1:72 to 1:8.
One way to win this war for talent is to improve your hiring practices. Some steps you can take include:
- Hire more remote workers: People want to work remotely for better work-life balance. Large companies, however, are often unwilling to let their workers do that. Undercut your competition (and your office costs) by hiring more remote workers. Look beyond conventional avenues to find quality talent in different countries.
- Develop better managerial practices: Strong communication, clearly defined roles and collaborative workspaces are crucial for getting the most out of creative talent. Set up clear communication protocols, run some team building exercises, and emphasize collaboration across teams to make your workers happy.
- Focus on culture: Establish yourself as more than “just” a workplace by creating a truly inclusive culture. Make diversity a core part of your hiring (diverse teams are 35% more likely to outperform non-diverse teams). At the same time, emphasize your values and vision to retain employees.
- Align hiring with sales projections: To ensure that your hiring keeps pace with demand, align it with sales. Work with your sales team to figure out future projections. Hire new resources based on these demand projections.
- Advance people faster and improve compensation: In a 4A and LinkedIn survey, 54% of people who left advertising said they did it because of slow advancement. Another 50% said that they want more challenging work. Keep these things in mind and give your employees faster advancement and stimulating work. Better compensation doesn’t hurt either, of course.
3. Change business practices
To grow faster in 2018, it isn’t enough to simply change your hiring and marketing practices. You must strive to change your business itself.
By this, I mean that you should strive to move towards more retainer-based work. Project-based work, while lucrative, doesn’t have the predictability of retainer work. This is one reason why 66% of independent agencies in a survey said that they want more retainer work.
Of course, switching to a retainer model isn’t something you can do overnight. You’ll have to analyze your hourly rates and translate them into a fixed recurring cost to maintain the same level of profitability. You’ll also have to change hiring practices to accommodate the more flexible nature of retainer work.
This is the business side of the transformation. To be successful 2018, you also need to change your operational practices. If you haven’t done so already, implement a project management solution, preferably something aligned to a creative agency’s requirements. Set up robust communication systems (in terms of protocols and tools) to streamline operations.
Lastly, complement your marketing with a CRM and sales forecasting. As HubSpot’s internal survey found out, 37% of its top-performing Gold-tier members used sales forecasting, vs. only 17% of untiered members.
Over to You
As a creative agency, scaling your growth in 2018 means changing a number of things. You have to develop better hiring practices, create a culture that helps retain employees, and set up a lead generation system for predictable revenue. This transformation isn’t easy, but it is necessary to thrive in 2018, and beyond.