Running a marketing agency isn’t easy. It’s not even *slightly* hard. It’s really hard.
The challenges you face will have you questioning why you chose to build an agency in the first place, and if it’s time to throw in the towel. Difficult clients, employees, and deliverables turn the romanticized dream of agency life into a one-way ticket to personal development land.
This is the land that requires you to level up your mindset—or fall flat in your business.
We’re not recommending any books or courses that will change the way you look at your agency (and life). Instead, we want you to take a look at how you’re running your agency…and why that’s keeping you in a perpetual cycle that feels like this:
And this advice comes straight from Ryan Deiss, co-founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer and serial entrepreneur running over a dozen other businesses. At one point, Ryan fired himself as CEO of DigitalMarketer because he thought the problem was him—the company would only survive if he left the captain’s seat.
In a way…that wasn’t entirely wrong. What Ryan discovered after firing himself, hiring a new CEO, having to fire the new CEO, and rehiring himself was that his business wasn’t built the right way.
It was operating on the wrong system.
Every Business Has an Operating System
Your operating system is how your business runs—just like an operating system is how a software program runs. A software program needs a set of algorithms, a common language, and desired outputs. Your agency needs processes and SOPs, communication and alignment, and goals and objectives.
And whether you put them in place or not, they’re there. That’s why your agency is frustrating, complicated, and you’re facing constant decision fatigue. It’s running on the wrong operating system.
There are two situations that tell your agency you need to upgrade your current operating system:
#1: You’re experiencing system overload
Sound the alarms because things are not going well. In system overload, plans are loosely defined and rarely followed (making 90% of your meeting a waste of time and money). Work is pure chaos and nothing important seems to get done except when something is actually on fire. Team members constantly need to be told what to do, nobody seems to know what’s going on and profits are lower even with higher sales.
#2: You have founder burnout
Welcome to the club, it’s nice to have you here! Founder burnout is normal…and solvable. You don’t need to spend your days stressed and feeling trapped in your agency. You can’t be the sole creator of everything that happens inside your business (from hires, to content, to lead generation). That’s the speed train to burnout, and even shutting down a business that’s one step away from being all you’d hoped.
Every business has an operating system and agency owners tend to create a YouOS. In YouOS, YOU are the operating system. The agency operates around you because you’re the center of its universe.
And that means your agency owns you.
Install an OS that Scales Your Agency
Your marketing agency is failing because you accidentally installed YouOS instead of sOS (The Scalable Operating Framework). YouOS requires you to be working in your business from morning to night…or else you don’t move forward. You end up in the perpetual loop of putting out fire after fire and suddenly, it’s the end of the year and you didn’t even come close to reaching your profit goals, working with the clients you hoped, and creating Version 2.0 of your agency.
The Scalable Operating Framework (sOS):
- Documents and optimizes your agency’s deliverable creation process and assigns clear roles and responsibilities reinforcing team accountability
- Communicates progress, pivots, and priority shifts in as close to real-time as possible
- Provides clarity around the company’s vision, mission, values, and goals
That sounds like a refreshing change from YouOS, huh?
Here’s how to shift your agency from the YouOS Framework that’s the #1 reason your marketing agency is failing and towards the Scalable operating system (sOS) Framework.
Step 1: Define Scale For Your Agency
There are 4 growth targets to choose from:
- Hypergrowth: 3x, 3x, 2x, 75% per year (7 years = $100mm company, true disruption, usually VC-funded)
- Rapid growth: 2x, 2x, 75%, 50% (very fast growth, usually difficult to achieve without some kind of outside funding or in very fast-growth markets)
- Steady growth: 50-75% YoY (great growth goal for bootstrapped companies)
- Mature growth: 10-25% (fine as long as margins are strong, just make sure you aren’t lagging behind the market. If the market is flat, 10% growth is fine. If the market is growing at 10%, then you are falling behind)
Ryan suggests figuring out your current top-line revenue and seeing if you can make it your bottom-line revenue in 3 years.
Step 2: Map the Value Engines of Your Agency
The goal of this step is to visually map out how your agency creates its deliverables. There are 3 types of value engines:
- Growth engine (attract and convert new customers)
- Fulfillment engine (deliver the promised value)
- Innovation engine (create, update, and improve offerings)
In Ryan’s words, “Never underestimate the power of simply documenting how value is created in your business.”
Step 3: Create Functional SOPs (Your Employees Actually Use)
You only need to document what’s actually important. If you try to document everything, your employees and freelancers won’t look at them. Figure out what SOPs to create by looking at the value engines of your business. You’ll create two types of documentation as needed:
- Checklists for SOPs
- Audits for areas of your business where people make a decision (they buy your basic package vs. premium package)
Make sure to store your SOPs and audits in an extremely convenient place. You can use fancy software or just use Excel (that’s what DigitalMarketer uses).
Step 4: Assign a Team Member to Every Task
If you don’t assign a team member to tasks…guess who that task will fall on? You’ll be in charge of keeping the accountability to the goals and SOPs and before you know it, you’ve downgraded back to YouOS.
To stay in your upgraded sOS, your agency needs to assign a team member to each value engine, so nothing can slip through the cracks.
You’ll notice some of your employees and freelancers aren’t part of this, and that’s okay. This is your support. They’re the people helping those in charge of each value engine.
Step 5: Create scorecards to stay on track
Every week, you’ll look at your scorecards to make sure everything is on track. Your scorecard is just a fancy spreadsheet that tells you:
- Your North Star metrics
And for each, you have a team member assigned, a monthly target, and the actual metric you hit. You’ll also add a status column that immediately tells you where that project stands. Is it doing great? Is it falling off a cliff?
Better yet—who’s in charge and what questions do you need to ask them (or do you just need to get out of the way) to keep things moving towards your goals?
What Operating System is Your Agency Running?
It’s normal to feel like your agency is on fire…always. But, it’s not normal to stay there. As you figure out your role as an agency owner, it’s imperative that you don’t build a YouOS operating system.
If you do, you’ll stay stuck in a perpetual cycle of frustration where your agency owns you. Sure, you might fit in a vacation or two a year—but you’ll feel obligated to bring your laptop or have your phone on the entire time. If you don’t, things could crumble at any second because your operating system is giving you a shaky foundation.
Instead, upgrade to a scalable operating system. The kind that lets you go on vacation, turn your phone off, and come back to sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies (a.k.a profit, happy customers, and happy employees).
And remember—you’re not supposed to know it all. There are some agency lessons you have to learn from experience, but there are others you can learn from mentors. The people who have built multi-million dollar agencies have wisdom that can save you unnecessary blood, sweat, and tears.
We’ve brought those agency experts into DigitalMarketer Academy to give you Insider Trainings, Workshops, write Playbooks, and give you their Toolkit so you can learn from their mistakes, and grow your agency more efficiently (and enjoyably).
Check out DigitalMarketer Academy to see everything else included in your membership (like our community of marketers!).