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We talked to several digital marketing agency owners to find out their top challenges and how they solve them.
What are those challenges and how you can overcome them?
Let’s dive in.
1. Getting more customers
Every business needs customers to make money, and digital marketing agencies are no exception. But they do face unique challenges in attracting and acquiring clients.
Marketing a digital agency is tough. First, getting in front of prospects is difficult due to intense competition. Even if you manage to do so, differentiation is difficult in a crowded market.
SEO and social media are the primary marketing channels for most small and midsized agencies. But it’s tough to compete as you’re up against experts. PPC is expensive, as bigger agencies have driven up the cost of buying clicks. So maintaining visibility is an ongoing challenge.
William Gadea, Creative Director and Founder of IdeaRocket, says the biggest challenge is maintaining visibility. With so many agencies (and freelancers) trying to rank for the same keywords, the competition is fierce. Ranking in Google searches for important keywords is tough.Most keywords are expensive to drive clicks through Google AdWords. Agencies need to invest a lot of resources in content creation and linkbuilding to gain visibility and attract visitors.
Some, like eCommerce optimization agency Trinity Insight, attend tradeshows to meet new prospects and build a pipeline of deals.
Once in front of the prospect, the agency has to demonstrate why they’re the best option. For a prospective client, all agencies look the same, with similar services and business models. Everyone uses similar tools and processes. Every agency claims to deliver same results — more traffic and sales. So how can you stand out?
The solution is to have unique offerings and a different business model. It might mean finding a narrower niche or repurposing your offering. For example, Brian Dean of Backlinko focuses only on SEO and link building and has become one of the best known SEO guys. Viveka von Rosen focuses on LinkedIn and is among the top LinkedIn experts.
As the agency owner, you need to identify your core strengths and focus on them. Maybe you’re a wizard at SEO. Or perhaps you’ve developed a strong portfolio helping SaaS companies get new customers. You need to double down on your best strengths.
Once you’ve decided your niche, it’s time to get down to promoting the agency.
The first thing you need is a well-designed website that’ easy to navigate and is SEO friendly. Focus on delivering your key message above the fold on the home page and make it easy to contact you.
As speed is an important part of the SEO equation, make sure your website code is optimized and images are compressed to reduce load time. Many of your prospects may access the site on mobile devices, so make sure the site is responsive and renders well on mobile devices.
Next, you need to create content and promote it. Having a great blog is a must for a successful digital agency. Ideally, you or your staff should write blog posts. But if you don’t have time, you can also hire someone to write for you.
A great way to differentiate yourselfand build credibility is to get client testimonials. You can use them on the website or on your LinkedIn profile.
You can also project savings or benefits clients should expect to see from your work. Take a look at how WebMechanix does a great job of quantifying the benefits on its home page.
If all of this sounds familiar, you might be surprised to find that many marketing agencies know this stuff yet struggle to promote themselves — even though their core work is promoting other businesses. It’s the old adage of the cobbler who has no shoes but makes thousands in a lifetime. You might consider working with someone like IMPACT, an agency that specifically works with agencies.
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2. Finding and keeping talented people
You can’t build a successful agency without having the right people, at the right price. And competition is high for the best talent.
Trying to recruit the best minds in the industry is not easy. The best talent is already working for other companies, and to convince them to jump ship is no easy task,” said Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore.
The two most popular strategies used by digital marketing agencies to attract and retain talent are hiring remote workers and having an in-house training program to build new college graduates and young “creative” into exceptional marketers. Hiring remote talent is increasingly popular among small and medium-sized agencies, as it provides access to a bigger and more affordable talent pool.
Check out this blog on how to hire and manage remote employees for digital agencies.
Most agencies we talked to have a training or internship program to train new hires. Richard Conway, founder and CEO of Pure SEO, says the agency often takes on and trains people for their first or second job. To retain top talent, Pure SEO also provides a great working environment, gives people encouragement and offers consistent opportunities to progress.
WebMechanix takes apprentices with a desire to become digital marketers. The apprentices are trained by senior employees. The best and brightest of these apprentices are hired by the company.
SiteVisibility, a £2m UK digital agency, has taken a slightly different approach by creating an in-house digital marketing recruitment agency. The approach has helped them meet hiring needs quickly and cost-effectively.
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3. Scaling the business
Scaling a business is always a challenge, more so in a person-centered industry like digital marketing. Growth brings new challenges in recruiting, such as ensuring consistent service delivery, managing finances and building a new business development team.
As you grow your agency, you’ll need to have the right systems in place to manage growth. This includes systems to track and monitor sales, finance, service delivery and HR. You also need to build a culture that gets the best out of your employees.
Digital marketing is a skills-based service and there’s always a risk that the person delivering the service makes a mistake or lacks the information to deliver the best possible service.
To address these challenges, Webmechanix uses small, nimble teams that serve specific groups of clients. The company has built and documented processes and templates for everything they do to make sure work is consistent across teams and clients.
Many digital agencies are built around the founder’s brand. Clients come to agency expecting to get personal attention from the founder. Such agencies need to be proactive about growing beyond the founder’s bandwidth. As Bradley Shaw of SEO Expert Brad said, “There is only one me. Scaling our growth to better manage tasks, while freeing up my time to still offer the one-on-one personalized interaction that our clients are looking for, is a significant challenge.”
Communication tools and systems also play an important part in scaling the business.
For example, SiteVisibility has created an ISO9001-certified knowledge management system and a shared ServiceHub where up-to-date information, procedures and process workflows are documented. Staff can reference, use and update the information as needed. This enables knowledge sharing and reduces the risk of inconsistent or substandard service being delivered. Pure SEO uses Slack, TINYPulse, WorkflowMax and Highrise to keep multiple offices and employees in sync.
There are times when your team needs to focus on a new initiative for a client, in addition to delivering on typical projects. New work requires a game plan and intentional systems so your team can stay on top of regular work, even while working on the new, exciting projects.
Jason Parks of The Media Captain says his company has created a customized Google Drive setup to stay on top of tasks and overall progress. It keeps teams organized and on top of everything they need to do for each particular client.
If you don’t want to go through the pains of creating a custom setup, consider using Asana. It’s a great tool to manage your projects. You can track tasks and projects, plus it integrates seamlessly with other tools to keep the information flowing between your team and clients.
Check out our step-by-step guide on How to manage projects using Asana.
Along with selecting the right tools, you need to define processes to support growth. For example, you can require all client deliverables to be peer-reviewed before sending to the client. You can set up monthly internal review processes for each account to make sure team members know what’s expected of them and how to deliver their work.
4. Managing client relationships
While getting new clients is important, it’s even more important to effectively manage existing clients. Poorly managed relationships can lead to client dissatisfaction even if you deliver a high-quality service, and the single most costly thing for many agencies is seeing the loss of client relationships.
Since most digital marketing projects require multiple specialists, clients have multiple touchpoints within the agency. For example, the same client may interact with an SEO manager, a PPC specialist and a community manager. It’s important that your clients not only get their desired value and support but also feel like they’re getting the value and support they want. One of the ways you can do this is by scheduling weekly or monthly calls between your client and account manager.
Craig Smith of Trinity Insights says he tries to get on the phone with each client at least once per quarter to get a pulse on how they feel about Trinity’s service. He also advocates using quarterly surveys to get more authentic responses about what’s going well and where you can improve.
Perhaps the most important part of client relationship management is setting right expectations. These days, everyone is in a hurry and wants quick results. There are any number of digital marketing “experts” who guarantee to rank a site on page one in just a few weeks. Seasoned professionals know it takes time to deliver results in a competitive market. Organic SEO can take months and still not deliver everything your client wants. It takes time to build a Facebook community to a level where clients see consistent business. Setting the right expectations and managing them proactively is a big key to having a good client relationship.
And sometimes, while it sounds outlandish, it may be in the best interest of your agency to let a client go. Some clients just don’t have the patience or foresight to wait for results. They have unrealistic expectations that are impossible to meet. In such cases, it’s best to let them go so you can focus on serving clients who are a better fit for your agency. In fact, finding the right clients to build a lasting relationship Formatted: Font: Italic with is one of the most important determinants of long-term success. Not just any clients will do; they need to truly value the unique abilities and opportunities you bring to the table.
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5. Staying ahead of industry changes
Digital marketing is a constantly changing field. Every month, new tools, platforms and theories impact the way marketing is done. Your agency needs to stay on top of new developments to stay ahead of the game. But it’s not easy. You need to invest in learning and knowledge sharing to ensure your team stays up to date on the latest developments.
Some agencies, such as Pure SEO, do it by specializing. CEO Richard Conway says they decided to be strictly lead-gen (SEO, SEM) and conversion (CRO) focused and not do any website design or development.
Others use things like show-and-tell sessions, knowledge sharing and encouraging a collaborative culture to keep on top of a rapidly changing landscape. WebMechanix encourages employees to be an expert on something as well as be a teacher. These experts lead weekly in-house training sessions so everyone can stay on the cutting edge.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to hire a freelancer who’s an expert in a new technology or platform. It solves two problems — you can offer your clients the expertise and your team members can learn from the expert. For example, if you offer conversion optimization services to SaaS companies, you may want to work with an expert who can use tools like Intercom to drive conversion from Trial to Paid customers.
Bringing it all together Managing a digital marketing agency can be rewarding in both the day-to-day work as well as money. But like everything else, it has its own challenges. We hope this post will help you overcome the ones you face every day in running your agency and build a successful business.