As the founder of a content marketing agency, my career path was more accidental than intentional. I didn’t plan to build an agency; my freelance practice just grew organically until I needed to hire people.
Since my agency career wasn’t carefully planned, I ended up making a lot of mistakes. If you plan to take this route and build an agency of your own (or any other business for that matter), avoiding these mistakes will help you a great deal:
1. Develop robust processes
“How exactly do you find email addresses for cold emailing?”
“What sort of targets should we look at for outreach?”
“Who on the team should get a copy of the kickoff meeting agenda?”
As a solo founder, I would get questions like these every day. I would have ad-hoc answers but there was never a clear process a new hire could follow and get up to speed.
The lack of processes meant that we were doing everything on the fly. From finding clients to saving documents, everything was on an ad-hoc basis. Not only that, new hires would bring in habits they learned in previous roles.
This created a situation where our entire workflow and accompanying documentation was extremely fragmented. There was little uniformity in our communication or in the way we approached critical activities. Since everyone was doing their own thing, we often struggled to collaborate–or even find the right things to collaborate on.
My solution to this problem was to spend an entire week documenting every single one of our processes. From shortlisting new candidates to reaching out to clients, I made a list of all activities and developed processes to handle them.
As a result, our agency now functions smoother than ever and everyone is on the same page, regardless of the problem.
2. Leverage automated solutions as much as possible
When I got my first client, I spent two hours searching for a suitable template for a status report.
When I finally found something I liked, I spent another two hours gathering data for it.
Consider that I had to send this status report on a weekly basis and you can imagine how many hours I wasted on this seemingly mundane task.
This was the second lesson I learned as I expanded my agency: anything that can be automated, should be automated.
For instance, instead of creating them from scratch, we now use project management software to quickly create project status reports. The software takes care of gathering all data and condensing it into a useful format. This means I have more time to do things that are truly important – finding clients, and finding people to serve those clients.
Try this in your current role–make a list of everything you do. Then find ways to automate it.
3. Make hiring your top priority
Regardless of your background, expertise, or current role, every founder essentially has one key goal: to find and attract the best people. This is important in every business, but in a talent-focused industry like marketing, you’re only as good as your people.
I made the mistake of outsourcing hiring to recruiters. It was easy to see the appeal then: hiring takes a lot of time and effort. Surely, I could spend it better chasing clients?
The problem with this approach is that for recruiters, you’re just one of my companies they serve. They might know your requirements, but they don’t really know your culture or values.
Unsurprisingly, most people we hired through recruiters turned out to be a bad fit.
As a solution, I’ve adopted a proactive approach to hiring new employees. Instead of simply posting requirements on job boards, I actively look for suitable candidates and court them just as I would court a potential client.
As a result, the quality of our new hires has improved drastically. Instead of molding them to our culture, we find that they’re already attuned to our needs.
Try this at your business: chase candidates just as you would chase clients. Make a spreadsheet with a list of people whose work you admire. Build relationships with them as you would with a potential client or press contact. The best candidates are usually not short of opportunities. You have to woo them if you want them on your team.
4. Invest in software
I’ll admit: the thought of spending $75/user/month on Salesforce was unnerving at first. Couldn’t we just use one of the many cheaper alternatives?
But the lower price tag of cheaper software comes with a hidden cost. You’ll have to deal with:
Software breaking due to technical issues
A lack of training and learning resources
Experienced employees re-learning habits (and wasting valuable time)
It is better to go with industry-standard software that your people already know how to use than to save a few dollars upfront. Look at software as an investment, not an expense. The improvements in productivity are worth the higher price tag.
5. Focus on ‘doing’
Before launching my agency, I fretted for months over building a “proper” website. I felt that unless I had all the trappings of an established business – logos, websites, business cards, and a fancy office – I couldn’t actually call myself a founder.
While there is certainly merit to all of the above, it is very easy to make too much of a virtue of the “show” of business. I won’t tell you that clients don’t care about them – they do – but not at the cost of your actual work.
Start away. You can always get the website, the logo, and the office later. The virtue of ‘doing’ is far more important than the virtue of ‘showing’.
What mistakes have you made in your entrepreneurial journey? Share them in the comments below!
Puranjay Singh is the founder of GrowthPub, a content-focused growth marketing agency that helps SaaS entrepreneurs attract customers with targeted content marketing campaigns. In his spare time, he enjoys experimenting with electronic music. Connect with @puranjaycom on Twitter.
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