Starting a new business can be exciting -- but it can also be incredibly overwhelming. We’ve been there. But after spending over 10 years in the digital marketing sector, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to run your agency successfully.
As a fellow agency owner, you may be wondering about what we’ve discovered over the years. Since we’re all about growing together, we’re sharing some of these insights with you in an effort to help you achieve your own dreams with your business. Here are just some of the not-so-secret steps we’ve taken over the years that have helped us reach new heights.
Establish Customer Service Protocols
At Semify, we like to say that we’re in the relationship-building business. The products we sell may have to do with SEO and PPC, but our main focus is nurturing the relationships we have with our clients.
We take a hands-on approach to everything we do and consistent communication is key. In fact, every Semify team member participates in communication training. Even if their position doesn’t involve any customer-facing work, our focus on active listening and effective communication tools is a source of cultural pride. We bring what we learn in these training sessions to every customer interaction, allowing us to help our clients feel heard, solve problems as needed, and continue building on those relationships over time.
In addition to communication training, establishing a fast response time is an important part of knowing how to run your agency effectively. Not only do you need to truly listen to those customer concerns and inquiries, but you need to do so without delay.
For us, this involved establishing protocols for customer support tickets (submitted through our white label dashboard) and customer calls. Through cross-team collaboration, we created a phone coverage calendar that made sure phone calls to our agency were answered within 30 seconds. This means that, at any time during business hours, current and prospective clients will know they can talk to a real human being. Not only does this inspire confidence in our brand, but it also allows us to solve problems quickly, keep leads moving through their buyers’ journey, and ensure communication flows freely throughout the team.
Even with all of your best efforts, not everything can be smooth sailing all the time. That’s why you need to prepare for issues before they ever come up. We’ve established internal guidelines for what happens whenever a customer has a major concern or if we ever make a mistake. These typically involve jumping on a phone or video call with the client, along with a few select team members, to address the situation and make sure the client feels valued. While these situations may vary, our team is quick to rectify any problems. They also know they’ll receive the support they need from other Semifyers as needed, which removes any fear an employee might have surrounding customer complaints or other difficulties.
When figuring out how to run your agency, you’ll need to determine how you’ll show customers that you care about them and their experiences. These protocols might vary from ours, but an emphasis on the customer experience is a universally important factor. If you’re interested in learning more about effective listening skills to use both with each other and with clients, we recommend starting with Julian Treasure’s work -- like this video:
Make Sure Employees Feel Valued
We’re the first to admit when we’ve made missteps in the past. But we’ve learned that without our people, Semify wouldn’t exist. As you find out how to run your agency, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion about your team. Not only do you need to have the right people on the bus, but you also need to make sure that those people want to stick around.
To that end, it’s not enough to merely have a dog-friendly office, host team happy hours, or spring for pizza at lunch. Those perks are great, but they aren’t necessarily enough to keep employees happy and engaged long-term. To accomplish that, you’ll need to make sure your team members feel truly valued, that their work is vital to the success of your organization, and that they work for a company that cares about them.
There are a number of different steps we’ve done to help Semifyers feel valued. It’s important to note that our efforts have sometimes been misguided, inconsistent, or unsuccessful in the past. But we made it our mission to solve the problems that we were ignoring -- and that involved listening to our employees. Employee feedback is priceless, so we don’t want to wait until we receive a post-exit online review to find out what we’re doing wrong.
We also don’t wait to give feedback to employees; managers hold weekly or bi-weekly 1:1 meetings, as well as quarterly performance reviews, to assess what’s going well and where improvements can be made. We actually received feedback from Semifyers that quarterly reviews were preferable to annual reviews, so we’ve implemented that feedback to give our team members a clearer picture of both personal and company-wide performance in every quarter. Generally speaking, this makes giving and receiving feedback a lot less scary and stressful -- and ultimately, that’s key for keeping employees engaged.
Of course, we’ve established other ways to ensure Semifyers are recognized for their accomplishments and are involved in how our business is run. Aside from employee award recognition and positive call-outs in company meetings, we also follow a unique decision-making process that eschews the hierarchical business model. Instead of making decisions in a traditional top-down manner, we “grow decision trees” that involve the people closest to the information -- regardless of position or time spent with the company. This empowers everyone to have a voice and allows team members to have a real impact on how we operate.
One problem we had for a number of years was dealing with higher levels of employee turnover. A couple of years ago, we sat down for a series of meetings with the people most affected by this turnover to get to the bottom of the issues and find solutions that would improve the employee experience. We heard feedback from our valued team members that high workload, inadequate pay, and a lack of upward mobility could prove a deadly combination for us unless changes were made.
We faced this problem head-on and restructured those positions to meet both our company goals and the needs of our employees. We’ve restructured our teams since then, which involved the creation of several different promotional paths. By creating more opportunities to build careers, increasing our pay structure to align with industry standards, and overhauling the responsibilities of these key positions, we’ve experienced huge changes in our turnover rates and our overall employee satisfaction. Our quarterly culture survey has maintained impressive results, even as we’ve continued to work remotely over the past year. Without the work we did with our employees pre-pandemic, we might not be in the strong position we’re in today.
Showing how much you care for employees can come in a number of different forms. But addressing basic needs is really the bare minimum when learning how to run your agency. Providing a living wage, health insurance coverage and other benefits, annual bonuses, and suitable paid time off were all must-haves for us. We also continue to promote a better work-life balance through our Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which allows employees to do their work wherever and whenever is best for them. As long as expectations are being met, they’re free to schedule a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the week, take the afternoon to spend outside, or sleep in if they’re feeling ill. Not only can this reduce employee absences and remove the need for micro-managing, but it means our team has more control over how they do their best work.
While not every aspect we’ve discussed here might be applicable to or possible at your business, it’s essential that you take employee treatment seriously. If you want to know how to run your agency to the best of your ability, you have to start with your people.
Secure Financial and Legal Assistance
Even if you think you’re doing everything by the book, you can’t possibly be familiar with every financial or legal issue you might come across. Knowing how to run your agency involves surrounding yourself with experts in other fields that you can trust.
Don’t assume that you can learn everything you need to know about bookkeeping, taxes, copyright law, or employment legal issues. Chances are high that you’ll miss something important -- and that could land you in hot water. If you aren’t careful, what you assume is a small oversight could actually jeopardize your entire business.
The need for a company lawyer and an accountant for your agency should be clear. While you hope to never need them for a major issue, it’s wise that you establish these relationships early on. You should feel confident that these professionals are well-versed in the issues that are most likely to impact your agency. We’ve had to consult our legal and financial team for all sorts of reasons over the years, stemming from the potential for lawsuits to clarification on how much we have in our yearly bonus pool.
While it might seem like an unnecessary expense at first, you should think of these services as part of your business insurance policy (which you also need!). You might not have to use them for anything significant -- but if you ever do, you’ll be really glad you have them.
Keep Your Offices Clean
We could have chosen to skip this secret, but in the age of COVID-19, it’s something that we’ll soon have to address. Although we’ve been fully remote for the past year, there will eventually come a time when we’re able to return to the office. When we do, we’ll want to further improve on our cleaning methods to keep everyone safe. We will further clarify those policies as that possibility becomes more imminent, but we’ll certainly be following health agency guidelines pertaining to sanitizing and cleaning our workspaces and common areas.
It should be noted that your employees can be tasked with wiping down counters and washing communal dishes. But you should also hire a cleaning crew to empty trash, clean bathrooms, vacuum carpets, and complete other tasks to ensure your office is presentable at all times. Our employees also led an effort prior to the pandemic to organize our storage and generally spruce up our offices to better reflect the image we want to put out into the world.
If you’ll be continuing to run your operations remotely to reduce overhead, remember that a clean space will make it easier to focus. A cluttered room will often make your mind feel cluttered, too. And if you’ve been working from the couch for a while, you may want to consider establishing a home office space. Not only can this help your concentration, but it can also help you separate your personal life from your work life -- and in the process of learning how to run your agency, that separation is important to prevent burnout.
Bolster Your Technology
One of the reasons we had such a smooth transition at the start of the pandemic is that we were already using technology to collaborate with our clients and our team members from afar. Because most of our clients aren’t local to our immediate area, communicating via video chat had long since been part of our operations. What’s more, our employees would often call into meetings they weren’t able to attend in person. We’re now just following those procedures on a much broader scale than we were before.
Even if you’re planning on returning to an office environment (or if you already have), your agency will still need to employ technological alternatives to traditional forms of communication. After all, if you’re working in the digital marketing sphere, you need to adapt to the latest technology. But of course, it should be used in service of your larger business goals. Whether that means you’ll continue to use Zoom to meet with clients, embrace cloud storage for accessibility, or utilize a VPN at work for a more secure connection, bolstering the technology you use for work purposes can promote productivity and allow you to compete.
You’ll also want to give some careful consideration to your web security. During the pandemic, scam attempts, cyberattacks, and data breaches have become more prevalent than ever. Don’t make the mistake of believing that your small business won’t become a target. Be sure to train your employees to spot cybersecurity threats and invest in protective measures to keep your data safe.
Manage Your Online Reputation
Online reputation management is important for both brand perception and lead generation. We’ve worked hard to generate online reviews for our agency, especially after our rebranding, and to lead with our values in our response to all reviews. This includes both reviews left by customers and reviews left by current or former employees on a variety of different platforms.
When learning how to run your agency, you’ll also need to work on building your own search rankings. Your clients can’t expect you to help them if you’re difficult to find online! Keep in mind that link-building and guest posts can help you with reputation management, as obtaining links and publishing links from reputable websites can allow you to highlight the search results prospective clients would be most excited to see.
Keep in mind that you can utilize local listings platforms, including Google My Business, to increase and manage your web presence. In addition to customer reviews, GMB can offer you the chance to show up more readily in local searches and connect to users through blog posts, photos, and other parts of your listing. In today’s world, visitors care more about honest reviews than website testimonials -- so focus your efforts on generating positive reviews for your business and showing who you are in your responses and updates.
Get Help With Fulfillment
In learning how to run your agency, one of the most important lessons learned is that we aren’t really able to do it all. Although we offer a number of services through our white label reseller program, we’ve actually scaled back quite a bit on what we offer to focus on the areas we know we do well. That way, we can avoid disappointing our clients or failing to meet our own standards. Instead, we can take pride in the work we do and zero in on what we’re the best in the world at.
Similarly, you may find that you’re wearing too many hats. That happens pretty often with business owners. We want to show we can do anything -- and if we had unlimited time and resources, we might be able to! But since your number one priority is meeting your customers’ needs, you may need to take an honest assessment of whether or not that’s happening consistently. If it isn’t, it may be time to seek out external help.
Rather than hiring more employees, outsourcing may be the right way to go. This can save you time and money, in many cases, while allowing you to build relationships with other businesses and focus on the areas of your agency that you want to grow. By working with a white label SEO partner, you’ll gain access to the quality services and on-time delivery your clients deserve. At the same time, you’ll have more freedom to grow your business and gain access to additional tools and support to make it happen.
This isn’t just highlighting the benefits of becoming a white label reseller. We know we can’t do everything ourselves, either! We’ve sought additional support in a number of areas, from lead generation to rebranding assistance. The trick here is figuring out the things at which you can excel and the things your business needs to compete. If those two columns don’t match up, it’s probably a good idea to explore options that can strengthen your business in the long run.
Knowing how to run your agency isn’t always easy, especially with all of the changes our world has gone through over the last year. But in sharing our secrets to success, we hope we can help your business grow together with ours.