Your creative agency is stuck. Sales aren’t growing. It’s tough in an unpredictable world. Which is why you need to employ these growth strategies for professional services firms.

Growth Strategies for Creative Service Firms – How to Scale Your Creative Agency

Four Keys for Growth

Creative agencies require the management of sometimes unpredictable people and services. But this doesn’t mean you have to suffer unpredictable sales growth. Despite the uncertainty and variability that you have accepted as part of your business, there are growth strategies for creative service firms like yours that will produce a steady upward trajectory for revenues and success.

I’ve condensed these into the following four strategies for growing professional firms:

  1. Know what business you are in and what drives your success.

  2. Deliver consistent high-quality services that provide terrific value for your clients. 

  3. Have a consistent and predictable process for obtaining new clients.

  4. Have a consistent and predictable process for building your client-service capabilities.

When you package these together, commit to them, and practice them resolutely, you will be virtually guaranteed success. Let’s look at each in turn.

1. Know what business you are in and what drives your success

One of my favorite books is The Anatomy of a Consulting Firm by David Maister. He categorizes professional services under four titles. 

{Embed Video:}

Taking this concept, everything you do depends upon which type of work your agency does. Only by understanding which of the categories you fit in will you be able to connect and serve your clients the best. What are these categories:

  1. The Pharmacist – A firm that must excel at efficiency and repeatedly provide highly standardized processes at lower and lower costs.

  2. The Nurse – This type of agency must excel at its ability to hold a client’s hand and guide the them through an established process.

  3. The Brain Surgeon – A combination of high levels of customization, creativity, and innovation with a low degree of client interaction.

  4. The Psychotherapist – This category is as much about creative diagnosis as it is about execution. Clients are seeking help determining what needs to be done as well as how to do it.

When you understand which category you fall into, you will take on the kind of work that suits you and your capabilities. This is important. When we build our agency to match the work we do it impacts everything; from hiring and firing, to marketing and sales, management styles, training and development, etc. 

Each of these business types has different criteria to measure success. Figure out your success metrics and then build to achieve them. For example, do your clients look for a high degree of trust and interaction? Then you need to hire people who are good at that. But that same person would be a disaster in a firm that succeeds based on efficiency and repetition. 

The growth strategies of a firm cannot be developed unless you know what type of creative agency you are and how your success is measured. Without this, you will have a hard time knowing who to hire, what kind of clients to look for, and even what kind of work to perform.

(Read our article ‘How to Specialize Your Agency’ for tips to help you.)

2. Deliver consistent high-quality services that provide terrific value for your clients

You know how to build a great reputation? Deliver great-value services.

You know what a great reputation delivers? Better-quality clients (who will pay more) and high-quality people who want to work for you.

Delivering consistently high-quality services is the foundation on which your success is built. When you do this, you can take advantage of value-based pricing – and that’s going to help you maximize and grow your sales.

Let me ask you these two questions:

  • Are your clients 100% satisfied with your work?

  • Do they rave about you to their customers and connections?

If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to both these questions, then it is time to focus on your service market fit. If you’re not satisfying your current clients, then have you categorized yourself properly?

When you deliver the highest-quality work consistently, you should find that your clients become your most vocal advocates – and that is key for growing professional services firms.

Don’t think you can stop here, though. While reputation and word-of-mouth marketing are key strategies for professional services firms, you should also be marketing to new clients to achieve predictable results.

3. Have a consistent and predictable process for obtaining new clients

Without clients, you will not be successful. You need good clients who value your work, pay you on time, and tell other people about you. If you haven’t found a process that consistently delivers this kind of client, then your success will be ephemeral. 

Successful firms have activities, actions, and processes that are built into their culture. While these actions may be different for each firm, they have some things in common. You must:

  • Have meaningful conversations with people who can hire you, one-on-one

You will need to get out and meet prospects, though 2020 has made meeting virtually much more successful. However you get face-to-face, it’s crucial that you get out into the marketplace and undertake the activity that will help you connect successfully with the clients who are most likely to buy from you. (If you haven’t undertaken a market segmentation process yet, do this now – again, it is among the key strategies of a firm.)

  • Demonstrate your competence

Deliver seminars, articles, and speeches, undertake networking, provide assessments, be active with blogs and on social media, and offer free training – any activity that enables you to demonstrate your competence is likely to generate enquiries. Let prospects experience your expertise. 

  • Build in good times and bad

If your creative agency only looks for new clients when you need them, you can’t expect to grow consistently. If you develop growth strategies of a firm that needs new clients even when you don’t, you’ll never need a new client. You’ll have a flow of leads that will feed through to your client base. Better still, when you market your creative services to the right market segment, you’ll attract prospects who value your work most highly and who are likely to become long-term clients.

  • Make business development a priority

We always want the perfect business-development process that never adds stress to our already busy schedule. Forget it. Business development deserves a place on your calendar every bit as much as client-service work does – they depend on each other. You need to continually evaluate and re-evaluate your business to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness to your clients’ benefit.

Another tip here is to ensure that you develop your business in line with your market positioning strategy.

4. Have a consistent and predictable process for building your client service capabilities

Your revenues depend upon many things, not least of which is the quality of your people. If you’re great at marketing and sales, you will generate orders. If you don’t have the quality people to service orders, your business will suffer. So will you.

Without a great team, you’ll be pulled away from business development activities to fill holes in your client-service team. I see many owners of professional service firms who feel like they can’t sell more, because they don’t have the capacity.

To be successful, you must balance business development and talent acquisition and development. Here are the four best practices you should embed into your business model now to avoid hitting a staffing roadblock while growing your professional services offering:

  1. Put a hiring checklist in place

Make sure that you understand who you need to hire and how you need to hire. You’ll need to write job descriptions, create an application process, screen candidates, conduct interviews, test abilities, and have a consistent ‘score sheet’ to make the best hires. (See my article, ‘The Foolproof Hiring Process’.)

  1. Invest in training and development

The best creative agencies develop their talent to lead. This will be crucial for you as you move away from business activities and focus on business development. You can’t simply hire someone to replace you, it just doesn’t work.

What does work is spotting talent in your firm and those with the potential to take on more responsibility. These people need to be nurtured and developed to reach that potential. The result will be worth the effort, as you develop your own high-performing creative team.

  1. Hire slowly, fire quickly

Don’t tolerate repeated underperformance or those who don’t demonstrate the behaviors your business needs to achieve results and retain clients. If you have developed a good hiring process, you will find it easier to replace poor performers. Yes, it will be disruptive. It’s better than sticking with an employee who is harming your business, though.

Trying to save a person who doesn’t fit in your business is as counterproductive as trying to land a project that doesn’t fit your business. You don’t have the extra time and effort to waste on people who will most likely fail anyway, when you could be investing that time and effort into a new person who can succeed.

Leading a creative services firm can be tricky, but by following these growth strategies for professional services firms, you can add some certainty to the unpredictable nature of business today.

Are you struggling to unlock the next stage of growth for your business? Are you overwhelmed? Is your motivation ebbing? 

Sign up for my 5-day Get Control course – an email each day for five days. Each email delivers practical actions to take to start to regain the focus and energy you had when you started your agency. It’s the first step to getting out of your own way and growing your business to its full potential.

Take our Business
Growth assessment

Learn what stage growth your buisiness is in and get specific recommendations for how to move forward.