After running my web agency for 12 years, I’ve learned one thing for sure:
Every Lost Opportunity Costs You Money.
But not in the way you’d normally think.
Creative minds are already too aware of lost opportunities and so their FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) kicks into overdrive fueling a type of insanity that turns the Internet into a war zone.
Ironically, by seeking out every opportunity, their FOMO creates even more lost opportunities in the form of lost revenue.
Take a look at Upwork for example:
It’s the bottom of the barrel pricing for any agency.
Because creative people don’t know how to generate their own leads, they often rely on freelance websites like Upwork, Fiverr, Guru or Freelancer to give them work, but since the number of freelancers outstrip the supply of work, they quickly turn into “bidding mobsters”, bidding the price nigh unto oblivion, ending any chances of scaling their agency and sealing their fate in a lifelong cycle of poverty.
Smaller Creative Entrepreneurs are so busy trying to jump on every $50 opportunity that they get nothing but random insane customers that want the world for $50. And when you can’t please those customers you essentially get knocked off the platform with a negative review.
And who are the insane customers buying services for $50 and $500? Usually other creative agencies trying to save a buck. Say hello to the customer chaos cycle. Yes, relying on inconsistent freelancer availability is an insane way to run an agency.
The word outside of those platforms is no better for most Creative Agencies because they can barely sell their own services, let alone sell them consistently.
And good luck finding the right staff to stay profitable… Most agencies don’t know how to scale past $500k let alone $1M per year.
Pro Tip: If you want to scale to $1M per year, you will need to generate your own leads and learn how to hire the right people, and price your services properly. This means stop worrying about the competition so much and start figuring out what your customers actually want.
So what’s causing the Creative Agency insanity?
If agencies rely too heavily on freelancers, the work falls apart leading to upset customers, and if they don’t pay their full time staff, everything comes unglued.
On one hand Creative Agencies are stuck paying their staff, while on the other hand, they are trying to land every job just to keep the hamster wheel turning so they can pay the bills each month.
The faster you run on this hamster wheel, the faster you have to run, leading to burn out.
This is no way to scale an agency.
But there is a better way: Specialization.
Focus on “Niching Down”
Early on, when running my first Web Design Agency I tried to pursue as many paths as possible, each taking me a thousand different directions.
I found that each direction was full of problems and detours, each needing its own time, energy, research, people, tools and skills.
There’s no end.
I learned it was up to me to trim most of the paths and pick only what’s worth my time.
Once I started niching down, my agency started plowing ahead of the curve.
Why does niching down make such a big difference?
When your agency specializes in a certain niche, you begin to increase focus and efficiency in all areas:
- You can identify and cut out distractions.
- Your customer’s needs become clearer
- Your training and processes become clearer.
- Your hiring gets more focused.
- Your speed and quality improves.
- You listen to customer feedback more.
- You can double or quadruple your prices.
- Your marketing gets better.
Niching down is a continual process, with exponential returns year over year.
Most agencies start out as a “jack of all trades, master of none” and a rare few take the journey to becoming a sought after specialist in the global marketplace.
Without the right niche, you are handing over $1M to the Internet.
But even if you have the best niche and best strategy in the world, you’ll fail if you don’t have the right mindset.
You must take consistent action.
Sounds easy, but it’s not.
The whole Internet will try to stop you.
In a sea of opportunities, it’s hard to focus, especially for creative entrepreneurs.
If attention is the web’s currency, then focus is your main advantage.
Every damn day people will churn out more useless news articles and entertainment to drag your attention away from your dreams.
And why do they intentionally distract you?
Because they have their own dreams. They want to steal your attention for a 0.5% chance at clicking an ad on their site for a 35 cent payout from adsense.
It’s disturbing really.
And when the Internet is not stopping you, don’t forget the daily battle with all the external distractions, family issues, upset clients, grumpy neighbours and random emergencies.
You think it’s hard? It gets worse.
The motivation you had at the beginning will eventually fade and you’ll naturally slip into your comfort zone.
You will battle client and scaling issues until it feels like “staring into the abyss and chewing glass” as Elon Musk puts it.
You will need to battle your own internal distractions, emotions and doubts.
At first people will tell you that they want you to succeed, but deep down, many of your friends will begin to feel jealous and hate you for your success.
The more you stir the pot, the more you make them look bad! Why can’t you slow down and be more like them?
You want to belong, so you might even give in to their negative criticism and try failing “just enough” so your friends don’t end up kicking you out of their tribe.
Pro Tip: If your dreams are truly important to you, then simply unfriend some of the friends that are pulling you down. Good riddance. Nobody said success was easy.
The harder it gets, the more distractions will seep in.
You’ll begin to doubt yourself, procrastinate and seek help from all the “online gurus”, and get sucked down each wormhole … until you wonder how you ended up on each of their sales pages.
So how can you beat the mind game?
There’s so much BS out there that will drain your time and energy, but what you really need is clarity.
Focus On The Goal
Do you want your creative agency to make $500k per year? $1M per year?
Don’t focus on what you “should” do, or what your parents “want” — Focus on what you really want!
Everything will distract you when you aren’t clear on what you want.
When you have no direction or feel stressed out, then distractions will excite you even more.
Every shiny new object will tug at your heart and pull you down another random rabbit hole…
So get clear on exactly what you want, then write it down.
When you wake up every morning: Write it down again.
Visualize it clearly in your mind’s eye. Don’t imagine you have achieved it already, or you will lose motivation. Instead imagine that it’s very close to you, just out of reach, and today you will take a major step towards it. Identify what’s blocking you, and get to work on your goal.
Why write down your goals every morning?
When your morning mindset changes, everything changes.
If you prime your reticular activating system with your long term goals in the morning, your brain will remember what you really want, and begin to seek out opportunities and resources that align with your goal.
Your motivation will go up, and you will begin to connect with the right people.
Because you have primed your brain, those distractions that once delighted you? They will become threats to your goal.
Break Your Goal Into Smaller, Measurable Steps
It’s easy to fail at a vague and moving target, but as your goal gets clearer, you will be able to define it better, and break it into smaller, measurable steps.
Each step should have at least one measurable score, but in reality 1 score can backfire because it usually creates quality without quantity or quantity without quality, so I recommend using at least 2 or 3 measurable scores per goal.
Background: The best way I found to break goals down is with Objectives & Key Results (OKRs). For more info see the book “Measure What Matters”. This defines a clear way to breaking down goals. In some ways I find it similar to a “Work Breakdown Structure” (WBS) because it ends up having a nice hierarchical (or treelike) structure with subtasks feeding into larger goals, and keeps everyone clear and on task.
Basically your main goal needs to be defined clearly enough that achieving the measurable scores will guarantee achieving the main goal. This can be done by dividing the goal into quantity measures and quality measures so that if all subtasks were achieved, it would guarantee goal completion.
These “subtask” measures can also become goals in themselves and broken down further.
If you want $1M in revenue, then you should come up with at least 2 measures that would guarantee this result. For this example, you could achieve this by aiming for $1.02M in sales with less than $0.02M in refunds, like this:
Main Goal: Make $1M in annual revenue:
- Quantity Measure: $1.02M in Sales
- Quality Measure: 98.5% Customer Satisfaction (ie. less than $0.02M in refunds)
Notice that satisfying these 2 “subtasks” should guarantee $1M in annual revenue.
Now each “subtask” measurement becomes a new goal to solve, which keeps everything very clear and organized.
To break it down further, let’s focus on the Quantity Measure #1 above: How can we guarantee that our agency will make $1.02M in sales this year?
That’s a good question to ask the sales team. In this example, let’s assume the team worked out their numbers and decided on a guarantee like this:
Sub Goal: Make $1.02M in Sales:
- Quantity Measure: 204 Sales
- Quality Measure: $5000 / sale
Again, satisfying these 2 goals should guarantee the goal above it.
But how can we guarantee 204 Sales? After discussing this with your team, you may come up with the following breakdown below:
Sub Sub Goal: Close 204 Sales:
- Quantity Measure: 1360 Appointments
- Quality Measure: 15% Close Rate
You can keep breaking these goals down until you have everything covered by measurable scores in your agency.
Without clearly measuring goals, you cannot break them down like this. And if you can’t break them down into measurable subtasks, then there is no clear way to assign tasks, measure progress or solve problems as a team.
Moving the scores forward is part “action” and part “problem solving” … but mostly action.
Focus On Actions That Impact Your Measurable Scores
If you focus only on the scores, then you may get overwhelmed or forget to take action.
If you focus only on actions, you may get stuck doing random activities that do not push your measurable scores forward.
In order to stay on target daily:
- Everyone should be assigned measurable scores that they are responsible for (these should feed into the OKR goals above)
- The scores should be made public to keep progress transparent. (You can keep a public scorecard in a spreadsheet for everyone to see)
- Check on the team’s progress scores daily / weekly.
From time to time, your teammates’ actions will get off course, no longer adding value to the organization, so check in regularly to make sure their actions are pushing the measurable scores forward.
The Easy Way to Get Your Creative Agency to $1M/year
Is there an easy way to get to $1M per year?
Yes! Get a proven mentor! Shameless plug: Yes, I know it’s hard, I’ve been there before! I’m here to help you grow your agency to the next level, whether that’s 6 figures or 7 figures, I will be happy to help you get there faster.
I ran my own successful agency since 2007, helping my clients earn $160M and started mentoring other agencies fulltime in 2018.
So if you need help scaling your agency, or just want to get “unstuck” faster, then let’s talk.
Agency Growth Mentor
Pro Tip: If your agency is not getting enough leads or sales, or keeps running into scaling issues, then I might be the right mentor for you. Need more free time? Need help scaling to 6 or 7 figures? Then let’s talk.
Chris Johnson, Upscale Method, Agency Growth Mentor