I am a pseudo-entrepreneur, which means that I have entrepreneurial characteristics without a venture to call my own. But I like to think that I extend my entrepreneurial characteristics into every single piece of work that I do, including writing this particular blog post. I own up to my work, feel responsible for it, feel satisfied when done well and can feel inspired enough to wake up another day to do a fantastic job yet again.
But then there are the ‘real’ entrepreneurs, the ones with an enterprise and a relative liability thereof. And while they work no differently than I do there are ways in which we differ (quiet obviously). I have been around plenty of start-ups (digital, mainly) to understand what it means to run a full-fledged venture and how increasingly effort-intensive the journey can be. Particularly in the case of a digital agency I have seen stress levels soar to Everest and one still had to make the effort to climb the incline.
Now, on the topic of kick-starting a digital agency, there is no ‘one ideal’ way of doing so. And there can never truly be a fail-safe way to do so either. But one of the best sources of inspiration for starting any venture, for that matter, comes from gaining experience — either by oneself or through experience of others who have treaded off the traditional paths to purse something entrepreneurial.
Here are some tips I have gathered through my experience with digital start-ups and words of advice I have stumbled upon while browsing through the internet and found as being really helpful. I hope you will find them just as so:
1. Have a Strong Enough Reason for starting your own agency
Some people say that they are in this business for the sake of easy money, but if you are stepping into the arena for the sake of ‘only’ making money, be assured your decisions are going to be short-sighted and may likely lead to long term failure. One ought to a have reason much bigger than just making money — be it a desire to be a part of something revolutionary, something that changes the status-quo or perhaps makes lives (professional or personal) better in some way.
2. Learn first; Do later
One of the things I have always been told is that the best way to learn something is by simply doing it. But an even better way to learn that thing is by shadowing those who actually do. The difference is the magnitude of risk involved. For fresh digital entrepreneurs, a good deal is to first gain some experience working at an agency and learning how to master SEO, PPC, SEM, ORM and the likes. It saves plenty of effort you will otherwise invest in indulging in trial-and-error with your own money and time (and that of your client’s, for that matter) on stake.
3. Define your Niche and Amplify it
One of the things you learn in a business school is the impressive need to define your ‘competitive advantage’ and your ‘core competency’. In simple terms it means ‘what makes you different from the rest of the lot’. Having a crisp, clear answer to this is very important. Because, every agency offers an SEO service, possibly at the same price as you do, but why should someone come to you instead of them? Unless you have a compelling answer to this, selling your service may not be easy.
Adopt the Right Tools
Subscribing for digital analytics tools is a cost that will be incurred, and quite recurrently too. But as many of my digital friends suggest, it is always advisable to work with a few tools and master them. Run a trail on a couple of tools and pick the ones that most agree with your business model, its goals and client requirements.
Apart from analytics-related tools, opt for including at least one productivity tool in your regime — be it a personal to-do list or a simple editorial calendar (for managing content publishing). Given the scale at which you will be dealing with things when just starting out it helps when there is someone (something) to keep you on track.
5. Invest in Right Kind and Right Number of People
Juggling between servicing clients, getting sales and managing books all by yourself can leave you with sore arms and grey hair in a matter of weeks. When you have scaled enough (money wise and business wise), invest in bringing on-board the right kind of help.
A colleague in the digital domain once remarked about a certain helpful task-manual they used when just starting out at the firm. It was sort of a user-guide to help fresh recruits adapt to the company processes without too many problems and without much dissonance too. I found this to be quite a handy trick.
6. Be Prepared for No-Business spell
There are no guarantees that your clients remain with you for the long-haul. There may come a time when some may back-out — either because they cannot afford to continue investing in your service anymore or they found someone who can do it internally at half the price. Irrespective of the reason, be prepared for the worst. Ensure you have sufficient cash flow to sustain certain periods of draught, especially if your business has multiple partners/investors. You may opt for diversification of your business so as to not be limited to one source of income. For example, apart from helping optimize websites you may choose to diversify into web hosting services as well.
7. Aspire to Stay Relevant
Every digital marketer I have met swears by the fact that they simply cannot do without reading blog posts on a daily basis about what’s happening in the digital domain. They swear by Moz and SEJ, and are regular with featured blogs on various LinkedIn communities. And it serves to invest habitually in reading such blogs in order to remain relevant and adapt to the changing environment. It took Snapchat only weeks to become fashion retailers’ ultimate choice when it came to marketing to the millennials. How many woke up early enough to smell the change that week?
A key thing to note here is that there are no hard set rules or fail-safes when starting an agency. Often it boils down to a simple question which you need to ask yourself in between: “Will you choose this adventure every single day or not?” And if the answer is yes (on most days at least), then you are on the right track.
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