Agency growth doesn't happen like you think it does!

Here's something you REALLY need to understand when it comes to building your own digital agency.

Growth is a unique journey for each, and every, agency owner. For your agency to ‘succeed' - a complex mix of  ideas, people, time, money and passion need to to come together. 

Some of this mix is within your control - much of it lies outside of your control. That's what makes growth unique to each agency business.

In my work up to now, I've spent a lot of time exploring the mechanisms of agency growth. From this, there are two key questions on growth that you need to be able to answer in detail - before you try to grow your agency.

  1. Why do you want to grow?

  2. What does growth need to look like for your goals?

Answering these two questions in full, will show you the right strategy to take for your agency growth. 

It may take a while to get to the absolute answers. And, you might find that your answers need to change over time. That’s OK. It’s better to keep asking these questions, than trying to grow for the sake of growth without any idea why. 

Not defining why you want to grow can leave you with unclear expectations. Long term, you will waste your energy and time trying lots of random things - with no clear plan forward.

Yet getting the answers to these two questions is one part of growth. 

The second part, is to acknowledge an often overlooked fact. Growth doesn’t happen like you think it does! Let me explain. 

Mother nature can reveal the key aspects of growth you might be missing. After all, she’s been doing this ‘growth thing’ for well over a few millennia now. :-)

The fact is - True growth happens downwards, first!

Think about it for a moment. It makes total sense. 

But when we think about growth - we expect an upward trajectory right away. 

Knowing that growth happens downward first - will help you reset your expectations for your agency growth. And it's important you do change your expectations!

You see, when you plant a seed, it needs to germinate and establish a root system. Growth is downwards (and outwards) while the roots explore and search for nutrients. 

Nutrients help the to support growth. In nature, it's water and nutrients. In businesses its cashflow and customers. Nutrients allow the building of the root structure. 

This in turn provides a base to support any upward growth. Which is why you don't get to see the stem appear until the roots have taken hold. 

Upward growth is the breaking through of the surface of the soil. But it is not seen until the roots establish. 

The first (and often key) part of growth then - happens out of sight! 
It takes place under the surface.

The same is true for business growth. What we see above the surface doesn’t represent what’s going on (growing on) beneath.

To the outside observer then, a visibly growing business looks like it's a quick process. I refer here to the common misconception of the 'overnight success' agency. 

But there's NO understanding of what's been happening out of sight to establish the growth. Or, how long this has been going on for. Often far longer than is considered.

This downward period of time can be frustrating for agency owners looking for growth. It can often feel like nothing is happening at all.

But, if you could only see what’s taking place under the surface, then you would see growth is happening. It is the roots establishing themselves ready for sustained growth. 

Which as I mentioned above - is a key part of any growth. 

Answering the two questions on growth help define what 'nutrients' you need, and where to look for them. 

Your agency will then have lots going on under the surface. You might be getting root growth right now. You might be in the above surface stage. That's why business growth is talked about in stages. And why (like like to think) investors often discuss new businesses as 'seed' stage.

A note of caution though!

You’ll often look at other people's growth and compare your business to them. It's natural to do so. This is hard to avoid with all the social media posts and news you hear about your competitors and peers. 

Remember, what you are comparing is only the above surface growth!  You don’t know how long it took them to establish their roots, or what their growth plans are. Or how poor their roots formed.

2020 exposed many larger agency businesses that had no cashflow to last more than 8 weeks. Larger businesses require lots more ‘nutrients’ to sustain their size.

It’s worth noting as well, in many businesses there is no growth at all! The 'seed' of your business never gets any bigger. In nature, it would be due to lack of nutrients, or water. In business, lack of growth tends to be down to lack of cashflow. Or, a combination of cashflow, problems finding the right staff, or lack of paying customers.

Although painful to experience if this happens to you - you can only try to grow more than one ‘seed’ at a time. Or learn what was missing from this experience and put the learning into your next business.

Often, it is hard to tell the difference between downward growth, and none at all. 

Unless that is, you have a way to measure what’s going on under the surface of your business. For this you need some form of reporting about your business. 

  • What activity is taking place?

  • Why is it taking place?

  • Which pieces are working?

These questions should cross over with the answers you gave to the two questions above. 

If you haven’t defined either of these answers in-depth yet you need to. Otherwise it will be a struggle for you to identify what growth under the surface needs to looks like, and measure against it.

Sticking with the 'nature' theme, we often refer to ‘organic growth’ in our businesses. Yet, I feel our expectations are 'un-natural' when our expectation of growth is upwards right from the word go!

That’s why I wanted to share this concept with you. I hope it helps you understand what's going on in your agency growth. 

If you feel frustrated with your lack of growth - are you sure you're not missing out the growth going on below the surface?

Gaining advantage from knowing this …

  • Have you taken the time to answer why you want to grow, and what growth needs to look like for your business?

  • Are you aware of the required downward growth to establish the ‘roots' of your business? 

  • Are you still measuring growth as an upward only action?

  • Are you obsessed with your competitors perceived success when you really should focus on your own growth?

Put some time and energy into defining your growth. And working out where your roots will go, and what nutrients will feed you. :-)

See you next week,

Robin Williams

P.S. This article was taken from a short book I wrote called ‘Agency Perspectives’. If you enjoyed this, you might like to find out more here.

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