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How To Scale Your Design Agency In 4 Steps

In business, there is a certain commonality in the opportunities and challenges we face. It’s common for people to want to scale their agency or business. It’s also common for agency owners to face similar challenges when doing so. 

Scaling an agency is no easy task. 

I took my agency from zero to 20k months, 20k weeks, then 20k days and finally to 20k projects before exiting. To be completely honest, at the start, my only plan was to sell more, because if I did that, we could figure everything else out. We gave little consideration to anything other than being able to land the sale and output it to the best of our ability.

Yet as I grew in knowledge and experience and brought in new team members to support our agency’s growth, it became less about “winging it” and more about building a process that can scale our agency sustainably.

We didn’t always get it right. We made more mistakes than I care to admit. But we agreed to fully embrace the principle of failing forward. To learn from our mistakes and use them to our advantage. 

In this article, we’re going to cover

How to scale your agency: why growth isn’t enough

When agency owners first think about scalability, the first thought is commonly about increasing revenue. Secondly, they’ll think about how that translates to retained profit. It’s not wrong to think like this, but in reality, this isn’t scaling, but rather growth.

Scaling a business not only looks at increasing revenue, but it also refers to the ability and focus to grow all aspects of the business, to meet the needs of the revenue targets sustainably and profitably.

For example, let’s assume we hire a new sales team to increase sales. They do a fantastic job and bring in new clients. Yet without a focus on scaling other operations, the increased workflow exceeds capacity. We let new and existing customers down and the business is in a worse position for growth.

To scale an agency effectively we must look at the business as a whole, identifying ways to increase capacity in all business functions while maintaining and improving the business’s profitability.

Scale your agency in 4 steps

If only it was that easy right? Every agency we work with on our programmes is unique and they are each at their stage of the business journey. But the process for scaling follows a strategy and that strategy along with the actions an agency must take can be applied to any service-based business.

Know where you are

We can’t scale our agency effectively if we don’t first know where our starting point is. At Move at Pace, we use an extensive business diagnostic to understand the current state of your agency. The challenges you face and the unique opportunities available.

The agency business diagnostic allows us to review all aspects of your business, focusing on the core business functions we must each focus on. 

  • Human resources
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Accounts
  • Operations

We also deep dive into the internal and external factors that affect your business and the opportunity for growth.

Know where you are going

To achieve growth we need to define what this means for our agency and include clear goals and objectives. Ask yourself this question. What does success look like?

Common goals for scaling an agency include:

  • Profit or revenue growth
  • Removing founder/owner time spent in the business
  • Client acquisition targets

Personally, profit always became the primary focus. Without profit, many of our secondary goals could not be funded. Having a tangible profit figure as a goal allowed us to set a clear focus on what needed to happen to achieve this. It became the framework from which everything else needed to support and allowed decisions to be made without emotion.

Make a plan to get there

This is where we turn theory into practice. We know what we want to achieve, but scaling your agency requires resources to take us from our current position to our goal state. And the plans we need to make are company-wide. Every decision will be a tradeoff in terms of time, resources and affordability. 

It also takes action. We can’t just decide we want to increase profit by 50%. We must actively do this. Knowing our goals, we must critically look at every function in the business and take action to ensure it is contributing positively to that goal.

To scale your design agency we need to implement systems and processes that meet the needs of our growing business. Utilising technology, and managing our teams and clients more efficiently may require investment but they also require acceptance and utilisation from our current teams. 

If I could only give one piece of advice to developing new systems and processes it would be to ensure you plan one course of action and stick to it, rather than hopping from one system to the next. How many times have you decided a new system should be adopted by your agency, only for it not to live up to expectations? Sticking to the plan is key to keeping your current team on board. 

Review and revise

As part of both our Agency Growth Network and Creative Mastermind programmes, we focus heavily on the accountability of partnership. We do this because many agency owners, myself included often forget to pause and review where they are. Taking your agency to new levels takes time, it takes action and often it takes small but considered changes. Setting objectives and key results (OKRs) is a great way to break down your larger organisational goals into smaller and more manageable objectives that can be shared across departmental heads and then broken down into individual objectives at a team level.

Schedule quarterly team meetings, 6 monthly management reviews and an annual overall review to refine and continue to focus on meeting the objectives you set. Enjoy the journey and remember to celebrate the wins, no matter how small they are.

Challenges you’ll face scaling your agency

Scaling your agency won’t be easy and it would be naive of us to think it’ll be anything but hard work. Yet, the steps and processes identified above will ensure we minimise these as much as possible. With that said some common challenges owners face when scaling their agency include:

  • Getting new clients
  • Retaining existing clients
  • Growing too fast
  • Hiring the right team
  • Training existing team members
  • Managing time effectively
  • Retaining profit as you scale
  • Implementing new technology
  • Documenting processes and systems

If you’re ready to scale your agency sustainably, check out our programmes or get in touch with our team via the contact page.

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