How To Start An Agency in 2023

The last few years have wreaked havoc on our economy. We’ve all seen the negative impact on the job market, and financial ventures of all types have suffered. 

We’ve also seen online businesses grow and scale beyond what was initially thought possible. Technology manufacturers rose to the occasion. Software developers created innovative solutions that continue to support digital businesses. 

One thing that’s clearly not going anywhere is the service-based agency. I love being an agency owner. It’s a solid business model that I love, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

I can leverage the skills of several talented team members without sapping the resources of my clients or my business. They get to do what they love, we get to work together, and our clients get top-shelf results. Everybody wins!

I’ve been asked a few times what I would do if I had to start over. How would I start an agency today, in 2023? Here’s a breakdown of the top four priorities every business owner should establish when starting an agency. 

What Is An Agency, And Why Would I Want One?

An agency can be a company that provides any service, from marketing and design to copywriting and account management. What the agency charges for doesn’t matter. The structure is the distinction.

The primary function of an agency is to connect the client with valuable resources, tech, talent, and results they need to execute their vision without having to learn three to five new skills every day. The agency acts as an intermediary that is already familiar with the process, people, and output required to accomplish the client’s goals. 

Done-for-you services provide clients with efficient, skilled, and effective results for every project they take on. An agency offers a practical, results-driven solution with costs that are balanced by the distribution of work. 

Owning an agency model allows service providers to stick to their strengths and collaborate with trusted team members on what needs to happen in order to push the client’s objectives forward. You can delegate what you can’t or don’t want to do, create a client-focused process that keeps them excited and engaged, and lead your team to provide powerful results. 

Nail Down Your Contracts

This is a non-negotiable first step. Don’t take on a single design, account, or project until a contract is vetted and in place. 

Do not attempt to Google your way through this. Hire a lawyer to draft up a custom, solid contract that protects your business and your assets. Use it with every client. Even relatives, friends, your parents, and your pastor. Nobody gets a free pass when it comes to contracts. 

Depending on what you need, you may find some attorneys and lawyers who offer their contract templates online. You can purchase and customize these templates to match what you do and who you work with. While this is a convenient middle-ground option, it’s always good to have an attorney look over the final product. (Check out my client Amy Neshiem’s online legal resources at Artful Contracts!) 

Master and Automate Client Onboarding

The idea of an agency, in the first place, is that you use established methods and processes to achieve repeatable results. Onboarding your client is the first opportunity you will have to make a bangin’ first impression of how you operate your agency and what kind of interaction they can have moving forward.

Mapping this out could be as simple as an outline that moves through every step, from contracts and brand/project questionnaires to initial project review and final delivery. As you take on more and more projects, this process can grow and adapt, but the bones should always include these essential elements:

  • Who’s responsible for specific deliverables
  • What happens next
  • Follow-up and review/approve deliverables
  • Communication channels

PRO TIP: Leverage software and tech tools to do less manual work on the front end. Your team will thank you for establishing automated channels for work that doesn’t need hands-on attention. With tools like Zapier making life easier, so much can be automated that it’s almost too easy.

You can take payment information from Acuity and send appointment reminders for follow-up calls. You can automatically trigger follow-up actions after contracts are signed and set up workflow integrations with Zoom, Gmail, and Zaperi in Honeybook. You can manage team tasks in Click-Up and copy files into a Google Drive folder. 

The possibilities are endless. Automation keeps your team focused on delivery rather than admin, and every agency owner needs to get this down ASAP. To learn more about all the software tools I use in my agency, see here. 

Clearly Outline The Client’s Responsibilities

After the client signs a contract, they’ll want to know all about what you’re going to do for them and WHEN it’s going to be complete. It’s important to make sure they understand the data, logins needed, questionnaires, and other digital assets you’ll need in order to bring this project to the finish line.

Outline very clearly everything they are responsible for and when it needs to be turned in. Communicate that if you’re going to meet the deadlines and deliver the work on time, these are the things you need. If necessary, create a timeline that shows projected delivery dates based on timely responses. Have a notification process in place if you wait more than three days or a week without the resources you need. 

Devise Lead Generation Tactics

Once you’re up and running, how will you get your next or first project? Lead generation is a never-ending necessity for business owners of all kinds, but especially for agencies. There are several team members at work relying on consistent revenue, and it’s up to you to make it happen.

There are so many tactics that each have varying levels of cost and effectiveness. From email marketing and paid ads to social media and digital PR, they can all serve your business at various stages.

Email marketing requires a warmed-up email list of people to talk to. Paid ads require highly-effective ad creative and copy, skilled targeting, and daily ad spend. Social media outreach requires consistent content creation, hands-on community engagement, and an audience. 

Digital PR requires supporting content and a media outreach strategy. Whether you’re trying to build awareness, activate engagement, or go straight for conversions, you may leverage any or all of these tactics at the same time.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything? Are you ready to launch your agency this year? You can learn more about my Agency Mini Mastermind here and our next cohort starting in Q3 2023.

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