The 7 Step Proven Process for Scaling an Agency to $50k+/m
This article is long as hell. 4,200 words to be exact. It takes a while to read and consume. So we created a one-page cheatsheet that summarizes everything in this article. It’s called “The Anatomy of a $50k/m Agency”. Click here to download it for free now.
If you’re looking to scale your agency to high 6 or 7-figures, this article will show you the proven process to doing exactly that… without burning yourself out.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty, there’s something important you need to understand…
See, most agency owners start out as freelancers or solopreneurs. It’s only natural – having a team is expensive when you’re just starting and aren’t making a lot of money. So, in the beginning, you wear all the hats in the business. You’re all things to all people.
As you grow, your workload increases. So you bring on a contractor or two, or maybe even hire a VA, but you’re still doing most of the grunt-work. Before long, you’re working 14-hours a day, 6 days a week, which sort of defeats the purpose of having your own business (it is the promise of more freedom that gets most of us started, after all).
Working like this, most agency owners plateau very quickly.
The mistake that prevents them from moving past their plateau into the high 6-figure range is the belief that they just have to “hustle” more… which only leads to burn-out.
This is freelancer thinking. In order to scale, you need to start thinking like a CEO.
Think of it this way: in the beginning, your business is a system that harvests your time and energy into profit. This works at a small scale, but your time and energy are finite, so at a certain point you max out (if you try to overextend yourself, that’s when you burn out).
This isn’t something you can work yourself out of. The real issue isn’t your work-ethic or productivity – it’s how you have (or haven’t) designed the system.
Now that we understand the real problem, we can begin talking about the solution so you can get your life back, break through growth plateaus, and take your business to the next level…
(Oh, by the way, the reason this process is “proven” as stated in the headline, is because this is the exact process we teach students in our Profit Paradigm accelerator for agency owners. We regularly see students triple their income, while reducing their workload, within 90-days of joining. Click here to learn more.)
Step 1: Begin thinking of your business as an independent organism that exists outside of you
At the very root, you have to understand that you are not your business. And that’s a good thing, because it means that you can scale it beyond just yourself.
From now on, don’t think of your clients as your clients. Think of them as clients of the company. They aren’t working with you, they’re working with the company.
You must have the mindset that you are actively creating a self-sufficient machine, not just a bicycle that requires your constant pedaling to stay in motion. This will allow you to operate from the right place when making decisions in your business.
Another way to do this is to go about building your business as if you were going to sell it. Even if you never do, this paradigm shift will require you to build systems that allow the business to run smoothly with or without you. After all, nobody wants to buy a business that will require their constant babysitting.
A great book that will help you understand this at a deeper level is “Built to Sell” by John Warwillow.
Step 2: Specialize, don’t generalize
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard the classic comparison between the general practitioner and the heart surgeon.
The heart surgeon makes ten times more than the GP because he has a deep knowledge in one specific area, rather than a broad, shallow knowledge in a range of areas.
The same thing applies in the realm of business. If you offer too many services, you spread yourself thin and dilute your focus. Potential clients can sense this and will not value your services as much as someone who is extremely clear on the problem they are solving and how they are solving it. True specialists who are experts in their field are rare, so they are more in demand.
Then there’s the issue of deliverability…
When you have too many different types of deliverables, it decreases speed and efficiency because it adds a layer of complication. This makes it much harder to systemize your business. And because of this complication you will become, at best, merely competent at the services you offer, but never world class. The man who chases two rabbits catches none.
When you choose to specialize, you are actively choosing to focus on one thing. You have less distractions, less complications, and can dedicate more time and attention to that one thing, making you infinitely better at it. It is also much easier to systemize and scale a business with one service vs multiple.
So, how do you actually specialize?
First, look at all the services you offer. If you are offering more than one or two, you should heavily consider the consequences of doing so. Weigh up the opportunity cost.
The advice I give to Profit Paradigm students is to focus on the service that:
- You’re best at;
- You enjoy the most;
- Makes you the most money.
Stop taking clients for other services altogether. Doing so will just divert your attention, and you’ll be the person chasing two rabbits at once.
There is also the common advice of choosing a niche. This can be helpful as well because it allows you to get really good at solving a specific set of problems for people, which further removes complication from the equation.
To choose a niche, simply think about all your previous clients and who:
- Got the best results;
- You enjoyed working with;
- Paid you the most money.
At the end of the day, the goal with specializing is to:
- Become really good at one thing, making it easier to sell and charge higher prices for, and;
- Eliminate complications in order to make systemization easier.
Step 3: Stop doing custom work – turn your services into products
Custom work is a big issue if you want to scale.
The mistake most agency owners make is in thinking their clients want completely custom solutions to their problems. So they bend over backwards trying to deliver everything that the client wants – even if it’s outside the company wheelhouse.
That’s a big problem.
The more custom everything is, the harder it is to fulfill and deliver. And if you haven’t yet realized, 90% of the work as an agency owner is the same thing over and over.
What you need to do, if you want to scale, is to productize your services.
All this means is you have a standardized delivery process and set of prices for your services. If someone wants something outside of what you offer, send them elsewhere. Taking them on board will clog up your system and wreak havoc on your ability to grow.
The best way to think of it is like a McDonalds restaurant; they have an itemized menu with set prices for customers to order from, recipes (aka SOP’s) so clear kids can follow them, and clear roles and departments that allow employees to take responsibility.
You want to do the same – turn your services into standardized “menu items” and build Standard Operating Procedures around them so clear a kid could follow them.
If you do web design, this might mean you have 3 different packages for clients based on the size of the site they want. You might charge $2,000 for the first package, $4,000 for the second, and $6,000 for the third.
You would then document the whole delivery process right from when a client comes on board, and create your SOP’s.
If you find that clients commonly want additional things, like appointment booking functionality, you can either build that into your packages or create a new package.
However, if somebody wants something uncommon and particularly complicated – like a bunch of super fancy 3D interactive graphics on their site – this would be outside of your scope. Don’t be tempted to create a custom package for them. Sure, you might be able to get a quick influx of cash, but it would be at the detriment of the long term success of your business. Send them somewhere else.
Turning your services into products will make them much easier to automate, freeing your time up, and making the business much easier to scale because you won’t be limited by the amount of clients you can work with.
A great movie to watch that will help you understand the concept of productization is The Founder, which is a biography of how McDonald’s started and became the brand we know today.
Step 4: Know your numbers
A lot of agency owners like to “play” business. But when it comes to doing the stuff real CEO’s do (like knowing their numbers) they run away and hide.
That ends now. Level up your thinking and step into your role as CEO. Otherwise you’ll remain stuck where you are for years, continuing to work 14-hour days and not making anywhere near the progress you know you’re capable of.
Get it through your head now: knowing your numbers is crucial to your ability to create a scalable business and move to those higher income levels.
What gets measured gets managed.
You need to know what’s going on in every area of your business in order to make educated decisions and steer the ship in the right direction.
Not knowing your numbers in your business is like flying a plane with no instrument panel. Without an instrument panel, how would you know if you’re heading in the right direction? How would you know if you’re too high or too low to the ground?
So how should you begin tracking the numbers in your business?
I’m so glad you asked.
In Profit Paradigm we teach students to create a company dashboard, which is a spreadsheet that is updated every week with all the metrics from every department; sales, marketing, operations, and finances.
The benefit of having this tool is four-fold:
- It allows you to track the company’s actual performance against the goals you’ve set.
- It provides objective accountability for everyone in the company, including you, and keeps the team focused on the mission.
- It makes imperfections and weaknesses glaringly visible for everyone to see, reinforcing responsibility without the emotion.
- By looking at trends in your data, you can catch potential problems before they arise and get a better sense for the cause and effect outcomes in your business.
And because I’m extremely generous, I’ve included the full training video from the Profit Paradigm member’s area below. You’re welcome:
Step 5: Be clear who you’re trying to attract, and how
There are four letters you should never forget when it comes to marketing your business.
It stands for Avatar, Marketing Message, and Offer.
Keeping AMMO in mind will help you sell more of your services with less effort. But, forgetting AMMO will lead to an uphill battle with your business and throttle your ability to generate sales. Speaking from experience, it doesn’t turn out well for you or your business.
In fact, if “fighting an uphill battle with your business” sounds like you, you’ll want to pay very close attention to the explanation of each of the letters – it may turn things around for you.
No, we’re not talking about the movie by James Cameron 🙄
We’re talking about your ideal client avatar – this is either a real or made-up person who embodies a perfect client and whatever that means to you.
Typically when people talk about client avatars, they only look at “demographics” (where they live, their age, etc.) This is only surface level… we need to go deeper and dig into the “psychographic” traits of your ideal client – i.e. what are their pains, desires, and beliefs? What are their likes and dislikes?
As with Step 2 and choosing a niche, you’ll want to look back at all your previous clients and figure out who:
- Got the best results;
- You enjoyed working with;
- Paid you the most money.
Then figure out the traits for this person (or people) and document them.
To help you get clear on the “psychographic” traits, it’s a good idea to reach out to these past clients and get them on a 30-minute interview to ask them about their pains and desires.
You’ll want to find out information like:
- What their biggest frustration is/was (as it relates to your services)
- What keeps them awake at night
- What they are afraid of
- What pisses them off
- Their top 3 daily frustrations
- Their biggest desire (as it relates to your services)
- What they secretly, ardently desire most in life
- What they do and don’t like in regards to the industry you are in (i.e. you want to find out what they think about people in your space – e.g. “digital marketers are all talk”)
(Pro tip: turn the above list items into questions and you have an awesome set of interview questions that will likely be very eye-opening.)
The whole goal is to tap into the conversation your ideal client is already having inside their own heads. Once you do that, you can speak to that conversation using the next step…
MM: Marketing Message
When you have a good marketing message, it shows your potential customers that you can solve their problem, just by virtue of the fact you understand them so well (this is why conducting client research as above is so important).
In other words, when you can explain someone’s problem back to them better than they can describe it themselves, they automatically view you as the authority and solution. That’s what will make you irresistible to potential clients.
Your marketing message should be centered around the pains, desires, beliefs, likes, and dislikes of your ideal client – not you and your company.
If you get your messaging right, it can open the floodgates to a ton of new business. But be warned: it will take time and effort to get it right, and should always be a work in progress.
For more on this, get the book “Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan.
Also known as your “Unique Selling Proposition”.
In order to give your potential clients a reason to reach out and buy from you, you have to have a clear and compelling offer that promises to solve their biggest pain.
The common trap is becoming distracted by all the things you “could” do, and offering a bunch of different services thinking it’ll make you more valuable. Instead it confuses people and weakens your positioning – another reason to be a specialist instead of a generalist.
Instead, focus on the ONE thing you’re best at, and how that relates to the pains and desires of your ideal client.
Your sole objective when it comes to crafting a compelling offer is to make it a no-brainer to work with you. In fact, you want to make your offer so compelling that NOT working with you seems like a DUMB decision.
Do this by looking back over your client avatar and eliminating the things they don’t like about what you (and your competitors) offer, while adding or improving the things they do want.
A classic example of this is having a refund guarantee (especially if you’re in digital marketing) or charging based on your performance. Most business owners are extremely worried their money will end up going down the drain when they invest in marketing. So if you can remove that risk, it makes your offer infinitely more irresistible.
You will have to get creative here because your business model may not allow for refund guarantees, or refund guarantees may be the norm in your industry, so you’ll have to find another way to differentiate.
Step 6: Stop doing proposals (this works way better)
I’m just going to come out and say it: your proposals are being ignored.
Here’s a hypothetical you will probably resonate with:
You have a great conversation with a prospective client. You get all excited because they say, “Great, send me a proposal.”⠀
Then you rush home and spend 3 hours crafting the perfect pitch. You send it out the next day and you wait…⠀
And wait. ⠀
And wait. ⠀
You follow up. They are “reviewing” it internally. You try to be patient. ⠀
You follow up again. The team hasn’t made a decision. The boss hasn’t looked at it yet.
Or even worse, it’s been 4 weeks and they finally come back to you saying, “we decided to go another direction.”⠀
Proposals don’t work. They create unnecessary barriers to buying, add time to the equation, and give prospects the opportunity to psyche themselves out (naturally, our minds drift to what things will “cost” rather than the benefits we will gain).
Proposals are crutches for freelancers and agency owners who have not learned to sell.
Here’s a simpler way to close leads quickly and bring more money into the business. It’s called the 2-Call Close…
Call #1: Discovery
The purpose of this first call is to get to know your prospect, to see if working together might be a good fit, and to uncover what their pain points are. The purpose is NOT to sell them.
At the beginning of this call, have the intention just to listen. Be their doctor and diagnose their problem, but do not prescribe a solution yet. Keep in mind the general rule of 80/20: 80% of your time should be spent listening, 20% should be spent asking questions.
IF it seems like a good fit, you invite the prospect onto a second call so you can show them how you can help…
Call #2: Prescription & Close
The second call is where you show your prospect how you can solve all their problems and pain points that you uncovered in the first call, and ask for the sale.
Not only that, but you want to demonstrate how your process works, and prove that it works by showing examples of other clients you’ve helped. You want to future-pace them and paint a picture of what it will look like to work together and the results they will gain.
A good way to think about it is like test-driving a car; you want to let your prospect test-drive your service.
Once you’ve shown them everything you can, you then ask for the sale, which is as simple as this: “your investment will be $6,000”.
Just tell them your price and SHUT UP. Do not speak. And absolutely do not say “I’ll follow up with a proposal” (call #2 IS the proposal) – that will kill the deal. Let them speak first.
Sometimes you will get objections. The best way to deal with them is to listen and try to understand your prospect’s perspective.
Get them to open up by asking things like “what do you mean?” or “tell me more about that?”. Once they open up and feel heard, you can lead them in the direction of the sale with much less friction.
Step 7: Get the right people in the right roles (delegate and elevate)
The key to truly scaling your business is building a team of leaders who take responsibility for themselves, not just employees you have to watch over all the time.
Not only will this allow the business to grow with or without you, but it will give you a level of freedom you’ve never experienced before.
However, most agency owners make the mistake of hiring for the job rather than the character of the person, and end up becoming a glorified babysitter as a result.
Instead you need to see people for who they are and put them in the right role for their character and abilities. Keep in mind that character is the most important thing when it comes to hiring – skills and abilities can be taught.
Sometimes you will hire people who are a great character-fit for your business, but their skills may not match up to the role you hired them for.
Learn to see your business as a chessboard, and each employee as a piece. Your job as CEO is to figure out where each piece needs to be and move them around based on their character and skills for the betterment of the organization as a whole.
One of the best books I’ve read on this is “Principles” by Ray Dalio. He goes in depth on this subject in Part 3: Work Principles.
With that said, there are 6 areas you need to look at when hiring. Think of these as the squares on your chessboard…
A quick note on roles and responsibilities:
In the beginning, it may just be you working in the business… and that’s okay. Over time you will need to find people to fill each of the following roles as your time becomes more scarce.
Here’s the only rule of this system: one person can hold multiple roles in the company, but each role can only be held by one person at a time. Read that again.
Ultimately, only one person can be responsible for the outcomes in each area of the business. Everybody must be crystal clear on who is responsible for what.
If you’re the founder and CEO, this is probably you. The visionary is responsible for the “big picture”. This includes, but is not limited to: coming up with fresh ideas, creative problem solving, closing big sales, important partnerships, and company culture.
Steve Jobs was the Visionary of Apple.
Visionaries are inspiring and can drive the mission forward, but oftentimes they lack the practical execution to bridge the gap between vision and reality. That’s where the next role comes in…
The Visionary can’t do everything alone. So it’s the Integrator’s job to take the vision and turn it from high-level ideas into actionable information that can be executed by the rest of the team.
This includes leading, managing, and holding people accountable – which means they need to oversee projects, coordinate between departments, and remove barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of the vision.
Tim Cook is an example of a stellar Integrator who eventually became CEO.
Head of Sales
You need someone who is directly accountable for overseeing sales and revenue goals. This includes developing and implementing sales processes, as well as follow up and lead nurturing.
In the beginning, the CEO is the most logical choice for this role since they know the product best, and can sell it with the most enthusiasm. Eventually you’ll have a sales team leader and multiple sales people – that’s how you scale those numbers.
Head of Marketing
Some people lump sales and marketing together, but these are in fact different roles. The head of marketing is responsible for inbound lead capture, email campaigns, social media, paid marketing, and marketing systems/processes.
Sales and marketing work synergistically to feed each other. They should not be competitive, but complementary. Strong lead flow combined with strong closing percentages is what will result in revenue growth.
Head of Operations
The head of operations is responsible for client delivery, as well as the internal systems to keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes. This role is absolutely critical to building a scalable company.
The head of operations oversees customer service, SOP/process management, product creation, and product fulfillment. If you are still in the early days, the Integrator is a natural fit to take on this role while your team is still lean.
Head of Finance
Oftentimes, the CEO forgets that they are also the CFO until that role is clearly assigned to someone else. You can’t just assume that because sales are being made, that all the money is going to the right place.
The head of finance (which should be the CEO in the beginning) is responsible for budgeting, reporting, taxes, AR/AP, and even HR.
Overlooking this role is a good way to set your company on fire.
You just took in a lot of information, and I don’t blame you if you’re slightly overwhelmed.
In all honesty though, this is only a small part of what you need to know in order to scale your agency to high six and seven-figures without burning yourself out.
The best thing you can do now is bookmark this page, and revisit it as often as you need to as you build a plan to take action on these steps. And as you probably saw at the top of this page, we also have a free printable cheatsheet that summarizes this entire article in one easy-to-read diagram. You can download that for free by clicking here.
However, if you made it to the end of this article, my guess is you’re quite serious about your business and want to take it to the next level as quickly as possible.
If so, I want to invite you to learn more about our accelerator program for agency owners, Profit Paradigm.
The program is specifically designed for agency owners who feel like a slave to their business and know they could be doing much better.
We’ll show you how to build the right systems and turn your agency into a scalable business. But more importantly, we’ll show you how to level up your thinking from “freelancer” to “CEO” so the results are easier to achieve and actually last long term.