These days the one business that is proliferating quite rapidly are social media agencies. I see no problem in that since the market is seeing fresh faces who are ready to challenge the status quo, and bring in some amazing work in the process. But, there is another side to this growing business and that is of survival.
I am often asked for survival tips, how to do quality work, how to retain clients, how to make quick money, and more questions from new and growing social media agencies. This time I thought let me ask the established players in the market and the response was amazing; I had to limit suggestions considering repetitions and the length of the article.
So, here are the edited tips from 12 social media experts:
Profitable growth and selective retention of clients
In the long-run, profitable growth and retention of clients can often be at odds with each other. If your objective is to grow (and the only way to grow should be profitably), you may have no choice but to part ways with some clients because you’ve outgrown them. At Jack in the Box, we went through a shrinking of our client roster from 20 to 6 over a six month period and trebled our topline and turned profitable in that same period.
For those clients you identify as having growth-potential, do everything to ensure their needs don’t outgrow your capabilities. Keep pace! Better yet, lead the way! You may start with social but there isn’t much of a future in being pure social, nor are any client’s needs going to be restricted just to social.
Put people at number one
I would put people at number one. It’s important to have good, passionate, committed people as clients sign up with people, not just agencies. People who are not focused, don’t have long term career goals with a clear reason of why they are working with you, don’t have an entrepreneurial attitude or mindset, no matter how capable they are, will have a detrimental effect.
It’s more important to find those who truly want to help you build the agency and who can add value through their passion and commitment, than to go on past work experience alone. It is such people that even the clients will value and this will go a long way in growing and retaining accounts. The team has to believe in the larger purpose of the work (building a stand-out company) so that they contribute above and beyond.
Stay focused but learn to adapt and diversify
From the buffet offerings – SMO, SEO, ORM, OPR, SEM, Web Design/Dev, Mobile Apps, Analytics etc, you don’t have to fill your plate just in the first serve. Aim to serve your client well with services you have control and expertise over. Add offerings as you grow. Adapt & diversify not just in terms of service offerings but also by building your products and expanding to other geographies.
Ask yourself, What if social media is taking in house by brands in future?. Do you have the technology (products, apps etc) , training expertise or other services (SEO, ORM, SEM etc) to still add value to your existing relationships & generate revenues?
Ask yourself – How am I different?
My first thought to them is – are you sure you want to jump in? In the last 5 years, there is a plethora of social/digital agencies that have sprung up. So the first question that they need to ask is – How am I different from the others in terms of my offerings and deliveries that will make clients want to come to me.
Second question they need to ask themselves is what is the scale of business that they are aspiring for? This is also going to determine the scope of what they want to offer as part of their services.
Focus on a niche in social media
The market is changed now compared to when I had started. There are many players and sophistication in processes when it comes to operations of social media agencies and digital arms of large agencies. If I were to advice young startups, I’d say don’t start a social media agency rather start a mobile agency as there are very few in that segment.
But even if one does start he or she should focus on a niche in social media and become best at it. Not be a full service but instead look at Social CRM, Social HR, Intra Company Social Media or such niche and build technology and services around it. Just a people play will be tough for a social agency to scale in today’s times as there are already established players doing that. When I started that was not the case. So differentiation and depth of service offering will be more important than breadth.
Execute few amazing campaigns
The social media agency landscape is now quite crowded. You really have to make an effort to stand out as a new player. And the best way to stand out is to execute a couple of path breaking unique social media campaigns that the industry will start talking about. Instead of channeling your efforts on getting more clients try to execute few amazing campaigns and clients will automatically come searching for you.
Additionally, as a new agency, you may succumb to reducing your prices just to acquire a new client. Don’t fall into that trap. If you feel the service you’re offering is worth a certain amount, stick to that and make your case. It’s always better to have few clients paying a higher amount than having multiple clients paying a smaller amount.
Be brave. Be curious
Just because you’re a social agency or a digital agency or an offline agency or an event agency, don’t just read or be interested in only that. Because consumers don’t think in boxes. Be intensely curious about everything that’s happening around you, and far away from you. And choose the most interesting stories, the funniest jokes, the most ‘in’ things. And make connections. So your brands and your pages can stay relevant, interesting and sought after.
Focus on increasing billing with existing clients
The entry level business in social media is very competitive with practically no entry barriers. For a new agency it is often reduced to a play on price to get new clients. My advise would be to get quickly to about 10 accounts as quickly as possible. Once this is reached through whatever means including price play, the agency should consolidate for a good 6 months building competencies. This is important to be able to create showcase work which is the best way for a new agency to grow and get attention of bigger brands. Some attempts at winning a few awards would actually be a good idea at this stage.
Focus should be on increasing billing with existing clients while providing exceptional levels of servicing. Only once the initial clients are felt to be completely loyal should the next round of growth be pursued but at much higher billing rates. One of the things one needs to keep in mind is that money is crucial to sustain growth and be able to invest in people and infrastructure. If these basics are kept in mind any new agency should be set up for significant play within a couple of years.
Do not undervalue yourselves
With all due respect, the client cannot and must not grow at your expense. Make sure that you don’t just value your clients but your clients value the work you do for them as well. I notice a lot of new agencies (sometimes even the so called ” big ” ones) working at horribly low rates that defy logic. While it might get you short term benefits, in the long term it is definitely not sustainable – The clients will not grow, and neither will you.
Marry unique ideas with business goals
It isn’t magic really. The advertising business is all about helping clients meet business goals through communication. I think the secret of any ‘good’ agency is to be able to understand that. If you can demonstrate in your introduction meeting to a client that you understand their business goals, and have some ideas on how to solve them, you’ve got your second shot – to come in and pitch.
That’s when your second big skill counts. Big idea thinking that’s out of the box. If you can bring in a unique idea and then marry that unique idea with the business goals you outlined earlier, the mandate is yours to handle.
Understand business value
Today, the social media space has matured considerably. So the next important thing for any new agency to understand is how social media generates business value. This is clearly beyond generating social media value, in terms of say, fans or followers or engagements. The CFO of the brand, if not the brand manager herself, is going to ask, “so what does this all amount to, for the business?” and you need to have a focus there, and you need to have a strategy to get there.
Of course, let’s not forget that core skills like language, communication and repartee, all of which should be a natural flair. Moreover, one needs to constantly upgrade social media knowledge across platforms and stay abreast with industry guidelines and innovation, to make sure your business has an edge above the rest.
Build culture and team
We have a culture that breeds creativity – open, non-hierarchical, collaborative and transparent. Also, everyone at our agency is a digital creative and contributes effectively to ideas. On building the right team we do everything in house. Strategy, creative, development and design all happen in-house. This gives us great creative control over anything we do.
Additionally, often our project teams cut across functions as opposed to work in silos, this further helps in shaping up the right ideas and getting everyone to buy into what we might be trying to do.
Disclosure: WATMedia is an advertizer at LHI.