This episode was inspired by a conversation that I had with an Agency Owner that generated $1M in revenue last year and is projected to do the same this year. She shared that over the past few months she had to stop taking on more clients because she hit an operational ceiling and needed to make some changes before bringing on more business.
This reminded me of another conversation I had with an Agency Owner that was making about $180K in revenue and had to stop attending live in-person events (which she loved) because she couldn’t take on more clients without “breaking her business.”
How big you want to grow your business is up to YOU. However, typically when people hit ceilings like this, there are a lot of operational changes that can make their agency run more smoothly and efficiently REGARDLESS of how “big” they want to grow.
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Hey everyone. Nicole here and welcome back to the show. Today’s conversation is inspired by a conversation that I had recently with an agency owner who brought in a million dollars the prior year and is really on track to do the same this coming year, and she shared that things had just become so busy, they had so many clients that she basically stopped all of her marketing and started creating a really long wait list for new clients.
And the reason why we were having this conversation was because she knew that she needed to change some things operationally in order for her to be able to turn on that faucet again, for her to be able to accept in new clients, which she really wanted to do because she had a service that worked really well. That’s why she had the number of clients that she did, and she had clients who really loved to refer her to other people. We’ve talked before about signs that you are working with an ideal client and referring out is one of those signs that you’re doing something right.
So this actually also reminded me of another conversation I had with a client. We had just started working together. She was probably generating. Around 15,000 to $20,000 per month, just for comparisons sake. So not near that million dollar mark, but still at a mark in her business where she was hitting a ceiling operationally… and she told me that she used to live going to live in-person events. this was pre-covid… and that she loved connecting with people, talking with people, having conversations with other business owners, but those events had started to become a drag because she knew people would wanna work with her and her agency, but she knew that she was going to have to turn down that business because she knew that her agency just couldn’t handle that influx of new clients.
And so I thought this was really interesting because obviously these business owners, they’re both agency owners, they’re at different revenue marks and they have different operations team configurations, processes, they have different services, but they both hit this block where they felt like their operations, their current operations couldn’t handle where they wanted to go.
So how big you wanna grow your business is up to you. It’s up to you. You don’t have to create a $1 million agency. You don’t have to create a, $500,000 agency or a $300,000 agency. You can do whatever you want to do and create, and you can change your mind as you continue to get more experience being an agency owner.
However, typically when people hit a ceiling like this. There are a lot of operational changes that can make their agency run more efficiently regardless of whether or not they really want to grow. Because even when you wanna stay where you’re at, let’s say that’s a certain number of clients, or that’s a certain revenue amount, you still have to be up-leveling your operations pretty consistently, and the reason why is because your business is a living and breathing entity.
And if you, let’s say you work on monthly retainers. What if you have three clients that leave for whatever reason? They might be totally happy with your services, but maybe they’re doing a different direction in their business. Maybe they’re growing and they’re bringing somebody in house. You’ll need to bring in new clients, and that takes consistent effort and as you gain more experience with more and more clients with your team, you’ll wanna use that information to keep updating and evolving your business, because if your business isn’t evolving, then it’s pretty much dying.
Now I used to, I heard this quote and I don’t really know where it came from originally, but I hated it. It was the saying that if your business isn’t growing, it’s dying. And that never resonated with me personally because as an agency owner, and then even shifting business models and being a coach and consultant, I’m like, well, what does growth mean?
Does it mean that I have to hit certain revenue markers? Does it mean I have to hit certain client numbers? And it just, the wording did not resonate with me. And I’m like, well, I always thought it was a trick that coaches would use, like business coaches to get you to work with them. Because it’s like, work with me and then your business can grow and then it won’t die, and all of that stuff. And that might have been true and might not.
So what I realized though, I I understood what it meant, and I think a better word is evolve and evolving. So if your business isn’t evolving and changing and learning and experience that type of growth, then it’s not going to continue to be able to sustain business.
And that’s where kind of the dying piece comes into it. And I have experienced this with different offerings, right? If there’s not energy and time and dedication put into certain offerings, and eventually they’re not gonna go anywhere. And eventually they’re probably gonna fizzle out, and then I’m gonna wanna focus in on something else. So I hope that is clear.
What I recommend that you do, if you’ve gotten to a point where you are just avoiding taking on new clients is to ask yourself some questions. And this can be, a question that you think about. If you can think about it on a walk, you can write it down, whatever you wanna do.
But getting really clear. On why? Why are you avoiding taking on new clients? Because your situation may be very different than somebody else’s.
Another really good question is what are my fears around taking on new clients? So this could be a past experience with a client or a team member that you don’t want to replicate, right?
You have that data in your mind of ” oh, well the last time I tried to take on new clients I attracted these terrible clients,” or “I hired in this team member, and then they didn’t work out and the clients weren’t happy,” like whatever happened, right? That’s an experience, and we do bring those experiences into the present moment.
So just getting clear on what it is can be really eye-opening. Isn’t maybe somebody else’s fear, so what somebody else has said. So one thing that I would just repeat in my mind, I realized it came from a very young age, is the saying, “if you want anything done right, you should just do it yourself.”
And I didn’t realize I had heard this saying and I didn’t realize how much it was impacting a lot of the life choices and decisions that I was making starting at a young age, and then going through schooling and then going into my job, right? Having to take back on a lot of things in order to do it the right way.
Or that maybe I was “lazy” if I wasn’t doing it myself. That was another story that was running through my mind. It could have also been somebody else’s not just somebody else’s saying that really stuck with you, it could also be another person in your industry who wasn’t able to make it work and then recommended that you don’t do it.
So that could definitely, that’s happened before. I’ve talked to people before that have worked with other consultants or coaches and have said these are the concerns I have. And I think those conversations are helpful because we’re able to have a discussion around it and really discuss some of the nuances and have them decide what it is that they wanna do based on really understanding and having more information.
Maybe it’s a revenue marker that feels really scary. It’s like a money thing where maybe in the past you’ve hit a certain revenue marker and then, business dropped a little bit and that growth would require you to hit that business marker again.
And there’s some fear that’s around that. It could be paying for team members and putting in, investing a lot in team members, and there could be fears around that piece as well.
And it’s not that these are not valid. They are very valid and there’s a lot of information that you can gather from these experiences to help you make different choices in the future. But it’s important to know like where some of this stuff is coming from. And sometimes if we don’t take the time to examine it, then the output from our minds is: I don’t wanna take on more clients. No. And that’s it, right? So really getting underneath the surface and figuring out what’s happening.
And I would say that one of the most common things that I hear, and this is one of those things that’s usually running underneath the surface, is “what do I have to break if I keep growing?” Evolution requires change, and so what I typically see when people get to this point is that things do need to change. They need to shift and adjust.
And change can feel exciting, like at times it feels like very exciting and very inspiring, and change doesn’t always have to be hard and heavy, but sometimes it does feel that way. Sometimes it feels a little nerve-wracking, especially if you have grown your business to a substantial point serving a lot of clients right now, the way things are working right now.
Thinking about change may make you feel nervous to have to share with clients who are used to working with you in a certain way that things are shifting and that might feel really ungrounding.
I will say this is not just specific to an agency model. I still get like this too, and I got like this when I had my agency as well where I think about something I might wanna shift or change and immediately I’m like what would my current clients think? Would that be okay with them?
And it’s not that you. Can’t a ask yourself that question to really be able to get clear. But there’s a difference asking that question in a way that is serving your company and your clients versus a fear-based way of asking yourself that question and panic. And typically I can feel that for myself in my body.
I get a little shaky, a little anxious, and I immediately just it’s fight or flight. I’m like, Nope, I’m good. The avoidance of taking on new clients. So just to know yourself in that way. And so what I recommend, if this is a point where you’re getting stuck at right now, is that you take a step back and not consider your current clients for a moment. We can totally address them later. And if that’s of interest to you, maybe you’ve decided to make some changes in your business, or maybe after this podcast episode you’ll, you want to make some changes in your business and you’re trying to figure out how to handle that with some of your current clients.
I could even do a separate podcast interview or a separate podcast episode for you so you can let me know if that would be of interest. So just to take a step back and know there’s nothing immediate that needs to happen. This is brainstorming mode. You’re safe and you can ask yourself what needs to change in order for me to bring on new clients again?
What needs to shift? What needs to change, and there might be some things that pop into your mind immediately. I’m going to share with you the most common that I see, and some of these might resonate with you, some of them might not. I think the most important thing is for you to potentially get some in information and inspiration from this list and then see what is it for you.
What sticks with you? What does that bring up? There might be things that are completely outside of this list, and the most important thing is that you feel a bit more clear knowing what actually needs to change. So these are the most common, and the first is that something needs to change with the operational foundations of your agency.
And so it could be that right now you are working with a few clients that aren’t a great fit and you know that you might need to shift your clients in order to be able to continue to grow.
Now, before deciding that you need to completely throw away, potentially entire group of clients. So let’s say you work with you work with consultants or you work in a medical industry or something, and you’re like, no more, I’m no longer working with medical professionals. I am transitioning all over to. I don’t know, attorneys or something like that. Before you come completely thrown an entire group out the window, I want you to dig in even further and get more clear.
Are there any clients within that group that you do actually work well with and why? I think it’s important here not to jump to conclusions. I’ve seen this happen before where you jump to conclusions and you’re like, these people are not for me. I need to completely stop this and move on to something else. And typically, ideal clients are more than just an industry. It’s more than just a generalized group of people. There are nuances that go into who your company and your team work best with. And so really getting clear on why. And do we have any people in this group that we do work well with and why?
It could be industry, but it also could be personality. It could be team configuration. It could be the types of projects that they need your support with. It could be the scope of what they need the support with. There’s so many things that go into that. And to generalize is probably not going to serve your company. So just to know that.
Other things, when I look at the operational foundations, are your packages, like what you’re selling? And also your price point too. And price point does come up quite a bit because typically when people shift to an agency model and then start to grow, they do need to make adjustments when it comes to their pricing.
And I don’t ever give generalized advice, as you can probably tell from this episode. But I will say I do like to look at a lot of the agency owners that I’ve worked with and that I’ve networked with. And typically pricing does need to increase, but it increases for a very specific reason.
It increases because the client is getting more value from your company. And so it’s not that agencies are more expensive to work with . It’s just that you’re providing more value and they’re seeing those results and that price point has to match so that you can continue to run your agency.
What I will say with pricing is that it is important to test it out before making major changes. Pricing has been something I’ve noticed that agency owners have gotten a little funky with because if they’ve been offering a certain price point for a while, it can again, feel ungrounding.
There might be, conversations that have to come up with current clients who’ve been used to your rate for years. There’s lots of stuff that goes with this. So what I typically recommend, and it depends on the type of business and the type of way you run your agency and your kind of personality type as well.
Some people don’t have a problem. But oftentimes I see people do, you can test your pricing with new clients, see what their reaction is, see what their feedback is. I have a client who does, who has her team rate their current clients. So let’s, they work with probably I don’t know, 70 clients or something.
And so they have each team member rate each of those clients based on different metrics, and then they give their clients a rating, like A, a, B, or C, and then they’ll communicate rate increases with like their C clients and then their B clients and then their A clients. And the reason is because the C clients, they, it’s almost, if you’re a C client, it’s almost eh, I don’t really know if we wanna be working with you anyway. And so it feels a little less risky.
And then they can also gather the information of how it goes, and then they can move on to their B clients, gather information to see how it goes, and then they can see what they wanna do with their A clients. So just as a little tip for you, if you, if that is something that you feel like you do need to adjust, which, which often is sometimes, and that pricing increase does not have to be a lot.
So all of my clients who are in my programs go through a it’s called an offerings, that scale exercise. And what we do during this exercise is it we talk we really take a look at, if you were to delegate the entire service offering, what does that look like expense-wise? And then what would you need to charge to make that work for not just your direct expenses, but also for your overhead as well.
It’s funny, people think they need to increase their pricing because they wanna hire in, let’s say an account manager and then they run the numbers and realize their packages really only need to increase by like a hundred dollars a month in order to do that. And sometimes it’s more than that, but I think really getting clear on what that amount is, feels a little less.
Scary, right? When you have that information. And so just being really clear on like why you’re increasing your pricing and why the number is what it is, can be really helpful, especially when you’re going and communicating it with clients who are going to potentially be paying more. Okay.
The next the next change that I see agency owners needing to make when they’re avoiding taking on new clients is typically a reorganization of their team because I have found that typically the team configuration that they have has served them up until a certain point, and now it needs to shift in order to be able to continue to serve them moving forward.
This often happens. So I, I’ll divide team members into two categories. One would be implementers. So they’re the ones who are actually doing the work. So let’s say you had a podcast production company, it would be like your podcast editor. Maybe it would be somebody who’s writing your show notes, a copywriter, a graphic designer, just depending on what’s inside of your package.
So those are people who are actually like implementing the work. And then you have managers. Managers are usually the one who come, they come in and they are responsible for a certain area of your business and sometimes they are still doing some implementation work. So for example a role that some of my clients hire for is an account manager that manages the clients and then also the team that’s fulfilling the client work.
And so that team member, they are overseeing processes, but they are also communicating. So they do have responsibilities in terms of implementation where they’re writing emails to your clients, they’re interacting with your team members. They may be onboarding clients. So they are going into your systems and actually doing some of that work. It’s more on the admin side, but there is some implementation that goes into it. I just wanna make sure that’s clear.
I often see team reorganization needed either when somebody is bringing on a manager or if someone has brought in a manager and that manager has needed to be needed to set up a lot of systems to make the team work and the company work, and now they’re needing somebody who needs to actually come in and run those systems.
And so it’s not always that, but usually there’s like a managerial situation that needs to happen especially as that business grows. And there’s lots of different ways to be able to bring in managers onto your team depending the type of service you have, what your implementers are responsible for, and also like what areas of your business need the most attention based on your offering? And this is something that we talk about inside of my program AGENCY. And really get clear on based on your business, your unique business, what that team configuration needs to look like next. And then as you grow what it needs to shift to.
There’s not a one size fits all solution to this is what your org chart should look like as an agency because it is very much dependent on the services that you offer and based on those services, the responsibilities of your implementation team.
That feels repetitive, but I think it’s really important to know. Cause I think sometimes people are like looking for this like answer. And while there are frameworks, which again I teach inside of my program AGENCY, it is also something that needs to be customized based on your business. And that’s what we talk about inside of that program.
So the last area that I see that’s the most common are really being able to change your processes or document processes further. The next level of this might be having your team or several team members start to revamp your processes as well, depending on what type of situation and what level of business you’re at right now.
In order for you to be able to bring on new clients, there’s it, there’s probably, there’s probably some streamlining that can happen when it comes to the way that you’re delivering work and what that looks like in terms of when the client is onboarded, what delivery looks like, approvals, what approvals look like, and then also what the offboarding stage looks like.
And if you work with monthly retainer clients, you might not be an offboarding, but it may be a like a check-in call or getting on the same page in terms of strategy for you to continue to deliver to them. Really making sure that you have evaluated those processes, collected data, so you can see two things.
Does anything need to be removed from this? Does anything need to be added to this? Does anything need to be reorganized within this process? And it may be something that impacts your clients, but it could also be something that just impacts your team internally. So really taking a look at how are we delivering and where can we streamline?
And then there’s the second level of processes that I talk about, which is really documenting your intellectual property. So that is the way that you serve your clients uniquely. A lot of times this comes when you are developing a strategies for clients that your team is implementing. it’s definitely inside of creative agencies where you may have team members who bring their own creativity to the table and work directly with your clients, but there needs to also be standards for the way that your agency serves clients that they just need to understand and fall within when it comes to those creative ideas. So being really clear about that as well. Okay.
So like I mentioned, if you’re in a point right now where you are avoiding taking on new clients, This is what I want you to do.
I want you to dig in, ask yourself, why am I avoiding this? What are my fears around this? Is it something that’s happened? Is it something that I’ve heard? What is it? Bring these things to light. Is it fear of change or what I might have to break or shift? What is it for you? And really understanding that so that you can get the support that you need around unpacking whatever it is.
And then thinking about what needs to change in order for you to bring on new clients, and is it your operational foundations, your team, your processes? And again, it might be something completely outside of these categories. If you have somebody else on your team, let’s say you do have other managers on your team, or you have someone on your team that’s been a really great partner, you can also brainstorm this with them.
You can also join a program like AGENCY where we do this together to really figure out, okay, what’s the root cause of what’s happening and what does need to change and shift? And then based on your experiences that you share with us, we can help you create a transitional plan so that you feel more comfortable taking on those new clients and not repeating past experiences that may have been more negative or helping you to take action even when it feels scary, if that’s what’s necessary and needed.
Alright everyone, I loved this episode. I think it’s really important. I think anytime we’re avoiding doing something, it’s a really good opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves and our businesses, our teams, and be able to take that information to learn and grow and evolve too.
I will see you all next week.