Foundations of Agency Success: Simplifying Operations for Growth

Why do we read books like Traction, Scaling Up, and the E-Myth and still struggle with implementing systems, defining processes, and training people in our agency?

Those are incredibly comprehensive methodologies. And yet digital agencies still suffer from feast or famine months, inconsistent results and timelines on projects, quality control, revisions, and much more. It’s not because they aren’t excellent at what they do. I

t’s not because there isn’t value in their service. It’s often because they haven’t defined the three most important elements of delivery: the how, the when, and the why

Complicating our operations early on can lead to a ton of failure in implementing them. Business owners overcomplicate their own processes, hesitate to write things down, and then there’s a ton of operational drag in the company.

Couple that with split attention and paper-thin resources and you have yourself an agency that spends most of its time putting out fires, reacting to problems with clients, and generally building a culture of “the Founder/Creative Director/Leader will fix it” mentality. 

Before we chat through how truly simple this can all be, let’s first go back to the beginning. 

When we start our companies, we’re told to hustle. And hustle hard. We’re coached that it takes a ton of effort to create momentum, close deals, hire people, and manage projects. And that is all true. There is a ton of work that goes into getting a business up and running.

The challenge is that we all adopt this habit of burning the candle at both ends and the middle all for the sake of growing the business. And we bring that habit into the next stage of growth when our business needs… you guessed it… exactly the opposite. 

In Mike Michalowitz’s book, Profit First he opens by insisting the reader understand and accept a fundamental truth: our business is a cash-eating monster. The truth is, our business is also a time-eating monster. And it’s only when we realize that as long as we keep feeding it our time and our resources, it’ll gobble everything up leaving you with nothing in your pocket and a ton of confusion around why you can’t grow.

Truth is, financial problems are easy compared to operational problems. Money is everywhere. You can go get a loan or go create more revenue by providing value easily. What’s harder is taking that money and creating systems that produce profitably. Next level is taking that money, creating profit and time freedom. 

In my bestselling book, The Sabbatical Method, I teach owners how to fundamentally peel back the time they spend in their company, doing everything, and how it can save owners a lot of money, time, and headaches by professionalizing their operations.

The tough part about being a digital agency owner is that you likely started your business because you were great at something. Building websites, creating Search Engine Optimization strategies, or running paid media campaigns. And then you ended up running a company. Those are two very different things. 

How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Create Some Simple Structure for Your Agency…

Start Working Less 

I know this sounds really brash and counterintuitive, but I’ve seen it work wonders for clients and colleagues alike. I often say you can’t see the label from inside the bottle and I’ve found no truer statement when it comes to things like planning, vision, direction, and operations creation.

Owners who stay in the weeds of their business while trying to build the structure are like hunters in the jungle hacking through the brush with a machete, getting nowhere with really sore arms. Instead, define your work day, create those boundaries of involvement, stop working weekends, nights and jumping over people’s heads to solve problems.

It’ll help you get another vantage point on  your company and your team can build some autonomy in the meantime. 

Master the Art of Knowledge Transfer

There are two ways to impart knowledge on others: apprenticeship and writing something down. Apprenticeship began as a lifelong relationship and often knowledge was only retained by ONE person who would carry on your method.

Writing things down used to be limited  (before the printing press) to whoever held the pages.

We’re fortunate that today, we have many ways of imparting knowledge to our team. And creating this habit early on can save a business from being dependent on any one person who has a bunch of “how” and “when” up in their noggin.

While you’re taking some time to get out of the day-to-day, start writing things down and recording your screen (use a tool like while you’re answering questions.

Deposit those teachings into a company knowledge base, a central location for company resources. Some of the most scaleable and sellable companies I’ve ever worked with had this habit down pat. 

Define Your Processes

Lean in. No fancy tool or software is going to save your company. Every team I’ve ever worked with who came to me with a half-built project management tool suffered immensely from not first defining their process. This isn’t easy to do, but it can be simple.

The thing that hangs up most teams to dry is simply making decisions. If you can decide how you do something, when you do it and why it’s happening that way, you’ve already won. I know exactly what you’re thinking: our process changes all the time, per client, per engagement, etc. That’s fine.

Small businesses should be finding better, more efficient ways to do things all the time. Developing your processes and creating a maintenance effort to keep them accurate and updated is going to be a liferaft in choppy seas. You’ll be able to cling to it when the agency gets busy. 

“I’m so busy, how can I possibly work less and make time for this?”

You can’t afford not to do this work. Burning the candle at both ends and the middle will catch up eventually and in some form or another. Whether it’s burnout, clients churning out of the company, a team member leaving, some huge, unexpected tax bill.

I’ve heard all the stories and they all suck. It’s easier than ever to start a business and it’s harder than ever to keep one. This work might not be sexy, but it gives us the freedom we craved when we began our companies. 

Start small and simple and watch your company become more predictable and your team more efficient.

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