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The 9 most common challenges facing agencies in 2024.

At the beginning of 2024 I started offering a free business advice call to any agency owners that had a challenge or opportunity they wanted help with. (Book yours here).


Since then, I've spoken to over 100 agency owners, ranging from 1 person agencies up to 100+ people.


Speaking to so many, over a short period of time, you can really get a feel for the type of people that succeed as entrepreneurs. Ambitious, confident, curious and not afraid to ask for help, to get them to where they want to be.


But I was surprised at how common the challenges were. To the point where now, if I know roughly the size of an agency, I can pretty much guess what the problem will be that they want to discuss.


When you're running a business it can be pretty lonely, and feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. When things aren't going exactly to plan, and you look on Linkedin and see everyone talking about how great things are.


So I thought, for the sake of agency owners mental wellness, I would share the most common challenges. Just so you know that you're not alone.


And to make it relevant to as many people as possible, I've broken it down by agency size.


I hope it helps!



1-10 person agency


Freelance vs agency

For some reason, many successful, highly profitable freelancers want to grow into an agency. I guess it feels like the normal next step, a bit like finishing your A levels and then heading to uni.


But if you were making significant income and in control of the hours you worked while doing your A levels, you probably wouldn't bother with university.


Most agency owners would do anything to go back to just having themselves to worry about and the kind of income they could make as a freelancer or a consultant.


The grass isn't always greener on the other side.


There are opportunities to make significant money from building up an agency, but in the short term it will bring a lot of stress, a lot more work, and likely a lot less money in your pocket.


New business

No surprise here that most smaller agencies are having some issues with generating revenue. Quite often an agency will be born from an existing network of the founder, and able to scale up to £20-30k/month.


But it's a whole different ball game when you need to start reaching out to clients that don't already know you.


While servicing your network, it's also likely that you'll have strayed away from your core offering too. Maybe they needed a website as well as the paid social ads, or some graphic design done alongside the SEO. This makes it much harder to then turn it into an offering that would attract people outside your circle of trust.


Hiring

Hiring in the early stages of an agency is tough. You're a risky bet for someone, no matter how great you know you're going to be at growing your business.


The biggest mistake is usually to go for volume over quality. Bringing in 3 junior hires at £25k/yr, rather than a big hitter on £75k.


It might seem odd to hire people that are earning more than you as the founder. I'm afraid this is how it's going to be for a long time, if you want to grow. The founder is the last person in the company to get a pay rise.


My learned experience of this is that often the cheapest hires become the most expensive. Taking far to much of your own time away from the business, poor performance and then ultimately having to start again a few months down the line.



11-40 person agency


Services but no proposition

As your agency grows, you will also want to grow the size of the clients that you work with. You can get to this size of agency by hustling. Picking up contracts across a variety of services.


But as you go for the larger clients, and budgets, you need to get a bit more strategic.


For a potential client, your list of services is a distraction. To be frank, they don't care what you do. They only care what you can do for them.


If you want to hook these bigger clients, you need to take your list of services and turn them into a proposition. That proposition needs to solve a problem that these target clients have. And it should be very clear how each service impacts that problem. If it doesn't, then you should drop it.


Backward looking financials

When running my agency, I never looked back on a financial document. I didn't have time to analyse what happened. I couldn't change that. I only cared about what was coming. Because I could still influence that.


Team meetings looked forwards. Board meetings looked forwards.


Otherwise you just end up in a cycle of people justifying why something happened, or trying to avoid the blame.


But many agencies don't have a live, accurate financial document that tells them what the next 3 months, or ideally 6 months looks like. Go get your weighted pipeline set-up, fill it with leads, and then you'll sleep much better at night!


No intentional growth

In the early stages of an agency, growth is pretty easy to come by. Before you know it, you can be at the £40k mark, with a team of 15 people relying on you to pay their mortgage.


It's easy to think that the growth will just continue. But it doesn't.


As the numbers get bigger, the growth becomes much harder. You can't just rely on calling up your network for a favour, or a client referral.


If you want to grow further, you need to be intentional. You need to figure out what the bottlenecks are, what the levers are you can pull. And then you need to do it. Even when it breaks some things and causes some stress.


41-100 person agency


No clear destination

One of the biggest challenges I see with larger agencies is a slight confusion about where they're trying to get to.


At some point in their growth they may have been shooting for an exit, but possibly they've missed their chance and need to reinvent. So if an exit is still the focus, they need to place some bets and make some investments. But they've become so used to focussing on building EBITDA for the valuation, that it seems alien to spend it.


Add into the mix that sometimes co-founders have a different end goal in mind.


Revenue plateau

After 5, 6 or even 10 years of running an agency, with consistent organic growth, you might not see it coming.


A handful of clients that you've worked with for years, and consider good friends suddenly resign. Market conditions maybe, but that doesn't help your revenue.


It's much easier to replace lost revenue when you have a permanently filled pipeline and are growing fast. But to fill the gap of a few decent clients, when you're averaging 5 or 6 new client wins per year can be a shock to the system.


Complacency can be the biggest risk to agency businesses. You need to maintain a regularly filling pipeline, even, and in fact especially when times are good.


Habit

Not a challenge in itself, but the main cause for all of the less frequent problems that I've heard.


After years of running your business, it's difficult to step out and spot the obvious opportunities or issues.


"That's how we've always done it" - the death knell to any business.


Whenever you make decisions, try to think about how it will impact the client. Is it the right decision for you, or them?


Try to find an advisor that's from a different industry. It'll be frustrating at first, how quickly they spot really obvious areas for improvement. But ultimately it's your business that will benefit.



The good news is that I've written blogs about pretty much all of these challenges already. Check them out here.


And if you'd like some help figuring them out, then get in touch via the below banner.









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