Biggest fuck up?
Not being choosy enough with who I’d work with when I set up the agency.
When I started the agency, I was willing to work with anyone rather than choosing those that I really wanted to work with and knew my services would benefit the most. Since those days, I’ve been told by multiple business advisors and fellow agency founders that most start-ups always fall into the trap of selling ourselves to the wrong clients and not charging enough for our services, which is exactly what I did.
Whilst it was nice to have a good number of clients in the early years to help pay the bills, quite a few of them didn’t value what we did, some were never going to take it that seriously and others were a complete drain of resources.
There were a couple that were just awful people that I’d never want to work with again, and one of those, unfortunately, cost me a couple of members of staff. Firing our first client is something that I should have done a lot sooner than I did and is a milestone that I should have celebrated more.
If I was to start up again, I’d be far more particular about who we work with. We now vet prospective clients, and if they don’t fit in with our culture or the way we work, then we don’t quote them.
The sheer amount of blagging and bullshit in the digital marketing world has been pissing me off on a daily basis for nearly 20 years.
I think part of the problem is there’s no barrier to entry. Anyone can set up a marketing agency, whether they know what they are talking about or not. And because of that, you regularly see people with no experience offering marketing services to often unwitting businesses and organisations.
If you think about it, how do you really know if that person you are speaking to genuinely understands how to get your website ranking higher, your Google Ads performing better, your content in front of the right people, or your social media performing better? It’s easy for marketing decision-makers within brands to get blindsided here with a decent creds deck and a confident sales pitch.
Where this really annoys me is often, these people are playing with real money. If someone convinces you that they know what they are doing with your paid media account, then it can be thousands or tens of thousands of pounds of damage before you realise they were full of crap. Signing up with a shyster can be the difference between a business being successful and failing, and I’ve unfortunately seen many businesses go bust thanks to some terrible marketing advice.
There are lots of areas to be careful with, including people who steal content and offer it as something original to social “experts” selling fake followers, but the worst area is that of programmatic. This part of the industry has a terrible reputation, and, in many instances, it’s well deserved. Aside from the usual problems of ads not showing on decent websites, the hidden commissions can be insane. I spoke to one platform that said their agencies could take up to 80% commission – meaning their clients only saw 20% of their budget get spent on advertising, and the intermediary was keeping the lion’s share!
Differentiate. Whether you are looking to set up your own business or go into the world of freelancing, then offer something as unique as possible.
Most markets are very competitive these days, none more so than the marketing agencies sector, with most agencies really struggling to stand out. Most of us tend to offer the same services to the same brands, showcasing the same award wins and saying the same things. Yet we moan about how we are being seen as a commodity.
The only agencies that are truly standing out are the ones that specialise in one or two services or work with just one target sector. This works in all sectors, and our most successful clients take this approach, too, whether they are selling furniture online or offering financial services.
Think about what you do really well and who is most likely to benefit from it, and stick to that offering and just target those people rather than trying to expand across all sectors. Mastering one or two things is always better than being average at a wide range of offerings.