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Growing A Digital Agency in 2016

I was recently back in the homeland (southern Saskatchewan) for a family gathering and within all the pleasantries and catching up, most conversations eventually steered to a similar question being posed:

‘So, how are you guys doing over there in Alberta?…are you guys ‘feeling it’?…have you had to lay anyone off?’

I gathered by the tone in which these questions were asked, my well intentioned kin were expecting me to hang my head, and sheepishly explain how we were doing our best to keep our heads above water.

And of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Adster, like many digital agencies in Alberta and indeed across Canada are experiencing unprecedented growth.

Digital + Alberta = so hot right now.

Alberta is finally clueing in: this whole ‘internet digital advertising deal’ is legit.

What’s more is that while many industries our clients work in have become competitive, we routinely discover businesses working in an area that I would best describe as ‘untapped’ (or at the very least, poorly executed) online.

Here, the most basic of internet marketing tactics will most certainly result in said client’s digital dominance. Even in those more competitive areas, there is rarely any voodoo-witchcraft-sorcery involved in making things work.

This is good news for Alberta’s growth hungry businesses and it’s digital agencies alike.

Simple, Top Secret Success – Shared.

Because it is actually so simple, I will now – at great risk to Adster’s success model – share with you the three steps to achieving these successes.

Get your notepads ready:

  1. Build (or make right) a website that doesn’t suck.
  2. Build paid advertising campaigns that don’t suck.
  3. Make sure a business is mentioned / discussed on the right places across the web (i.e.: places that don’t suck).

Now, go forth and prosper!

Still reading?

O.k…so I am by no means suggesting the above is easy. I am however, saying that it does not necessarily require a particularly massive amount of creativity or ingenuity.

But, perhaps the single most greatest challenge posed by the three step dominance model is that of people.

Agency people to do work that doesn’t suck, and business people to find, trust, and delegate to said agency – and ultimately have the infrastructure (i.e.: people) in place to grow themselves.

People, people, people. Oh, and not sucking.

Agency Roots, Company Culture, and the Great Plateau.

Adster, like many agencies who have experienced (or are experiencing) rapid growth, will find ourselves at an unavoidable plateau.

I see our peer agencies across Alberta on near constant hiring sprees, and in speaking with many, a common theme emerges: they (we) simply cannot onboard, train, and make effective our new recruits at a velocity that matches the demand for our services.

I stumbled upon a great post by adage titled ‘Why Growth Is Killing Digital Agencies’ that puts an interesting spin on the notion of scaling and people.

On the one hand, this read leaves me with a rather humbling self realization – while my digital marketing chops may be mostly in check, many of us at the head of digital agencies are ill equipped to deal with day to day operational challenges. Thus, we hit a certain size, and for our sanity (and the sanity of those around us), tend to ‘tap out’.

We are however, by our nature pretty good problem solvers.

So then, is it simply a matter of hiring a few slick managers, banging out some process, and continuing on with the charge? After further reading (and reflection), the answer is not so obvious.

This Just in: People Want Results.

According to a 2014 report by SODA, the #1 priority agreed upon by agencies and their clients alike is the ability to deliver ‘marketing creativity’ (aka using digital to do cool stuff and generate results). Based on our experience thus far, I would tend to agree.

We seem to onboard a never ending stream of clients who have had a poor experience with some of Canada’s ‘big box’ internet marketing providers, or who have had a less than stellar experience elsewhere. Hell, we’ve lost our fair share of clients over the years, and in most cases – you guessed it – they were unhappy with the results.

And perhaps, therein lies the rub.

Delivering ‘real’ results will not be the product of any operational wizardry per-say. Further, personalized creative marketing solutions that deliver en masse are inherently non-scalable.

For all the wonderful opportunities the current climate promises a growth hungry agency, it carries with it the (unfortunate) burden of ‘it-better-work-or-you’re-outta-here-ness’.

That is of course unless we can find a never ending supply of Don Draper’s & Peggy Olson’s.

What’s a poor agency to do?

Avengers Assemble! (Or not. It’s cool either way).

We digital agencies in Alberta are in an interesting place right now.

On the one hand, I envision some top secret SHIELD led meeting where all we silo’d Avenger Agencies are assembled to create the ULTIMATE digital marketing SuperAgency, united in our fight against desktop only websites and low quality score keywords (costumes optional).

Alternatively, perhaps digital agencies are destined to stay small, ‘boutique’ companies that excel at meeting the needs of a modestly sized – but very happy client roster.

Both pretty good options if you ask me.

It’s an exciting time for digital in Alberta right now, and I for one can’t wait to see how things play out.