Quoleady turned 2 this July. It is a SaaS content marketing agency I launched in 2020. I guess it was a bold idea to start a business right when COVID-19 was raging. Little did I know about the tests and trials the future was preparing for us.
In just 2 years of business we had to face the severity of the pandemic and later on – the horrors of war in Ukraine. We went through both, and I’ll share what helped us stay afloat, sane, and sail our ship to the safe waters.
5 Steps to Build an Agency During a Crisis
1. Build a Winning Team
Yes, you can be the jack of all trades when you start. However, as business grows, you won’t be physically capable of spinning all those plates alone. Losing control of some of the business areas is inevitable. Putting trust in your team is fundamental to a successful business.
Here’s what our chat with the director of operations literally looked like in the morning of Feb 24th 7am, while bombs kept dropping here and there:
Me: Hey, are you OK?
DO: Yes, you? I’m going to send out emails to all our clients saying that we continue our work as usual, there’s nothing for them to worry about.
Me: Amazing, I’ll write the message to the team and send out Feb payroll
If you have people in your team who have your back, who are ready to act and help, who don’t panic in the worst situations possible, you’ve struck gold.
2. Embrace and Adjust
The more flexible you are, the easier it’s going to be to run your own thing. If you need the safety of a stable environment, think twice about opening a business. Running an agency is like a roller coaster with one challenge constantly replacing another. One day you lack clients, the next day you lack workers.
You deal with broken ankles, electricity outages, family issues, burnouts and other misfortunes that happen to your team and prevent them from delivering work on time. Clients go bankrupt, cut budgets, get unhappy, and pause work. You can’t prevent that from happening. That’s just what running an agency hides under the hood.
Every morning as you open Slack it’s like, “let’s see what goes wrong today.” Your life can get quite hard quite fast if you don’t learn how to embrace and adjust to the obstacles that your business throws your way. On the bright side, if you love the challenge, running an agency is a job that never gets boring.
3. Invest Time in Your Team
Does your team need guidance and more explanation about the process, their role and responsibilities? I had a one-hour chat with one of our managers that completely changed her work approach and we went from “let’s probably pause our work” to “let’s get you started full-time in August.”
Your team gets the work done, but at the end of the day, the responsibility is all yours.
It’s your company’s name that’s at stake. Make sure to train your team, set the standards, introduce centralized guidelines and communicate with them regularly to ensure the quality level of the work that’s being delivered. I’m an introvert, and sometimes I have to force myself to make that extra Zoom call, but trust me, the results pay off big time.
4. Unplug Every Day
I used to be “on” 24/7. Whether it was a weekend or a work day evening, my mind was putting together social media posts for LinkedIn or writing guidelines for copywriters. I couldn’t stop thinking about work. A year later I realized that I have to shut the work down every evening in order to stay sane. Moreover, I also have to switch to the “off” mode every weekend.
Now, if I don’t have a speaking event that I need to get ready for, my weekends are 100% work free. It’s great to also give up your phone for at least one day. I’ve tried it once and it feels amazing – I’ve never been as refreshed as after that weekend.
It does take some willpower though, if you can do it every weekend you are literally a superhero. Remember to take good care of yourself and your mental health as you are running a marathon here, not a sprint.
5. Niche Down
If there’s one thing I learned it’s that you can’t scale an agency that doesn’t have focus. When you say ‘Yes’ to every client’s request and end up setting up analytics, writing landing page texts, building links, and running social media ads, then you are spreading yourself thin and your expertise doesn’t improve.
The more services you’ll try to provide at the same time the more your agency work will look like a hamster wheel. Focus is the obvious answer here. Find a couple of things you and your team are really good at and become the best provider on the market. For example, our focus is SaaS blogging–we write blog content and build backlinks. We don’t do newsletters, landing pages, or social media even if our clients really ask for it.
Make sure to have a “plan B” in case one service becomes obsolete. We used to work on HARO pitches for our clients, but we had to shut it down as its ROI plummeted and we could no longer deliver value to our clients with it. Luckily, we had more cards up our sleeve. At the end of the day, losing one service was quite unfortunate yet not critical.
Build One Step at a Time
Great people are the core of every business. Make sure your team feels valued – communicate with them, help them, educate them, support them, guide them, treat them like your family especially when you go through hard times like the war we are dealing with now.
Whether you are going through a pandemic, war or having a regular day at work, running a business means putting out fires every day. Life is already full of problems that are hard to solve. When you run a business, you multiply those problems by the number of your employees. The stress is inevitable. The sooner you learn to manage it, embrace it and adjust to it, the better chance of success you have.
Last but not least, don’t jump on every opportunity that comes along. As tempting as it is, narrowing down your focus and becoming a niche expert agency is a much better long-term strategy especially if you plan to scale your business.
Running an agency is no walk in the park. It requires lots of your energy, responsibility, work and dedication. There’ve been so many times over the past 2 years when I was about to give up and quit. But every time I stand up and keep on going – one step at a time. You know, when you work hard, nothing can stop you – not COVID and not even the war.