How to Create an Agency Culture and Establish a Niche
Evan McBroom from the Indianapolis-based agency Fishhook joins us on Episode 96 of Inbound Agency Journey. While the audio connection wasn't perfect, it won't take you long to pick up on the energy and passion Evan brings to agency life.
We covered a lot of ground during our 40-minute conversation, but here are 5 of the top action-oriented takeaways from my conversation with Evan.
Find Your Niche - It Helps
Fishhook found their niche providing strategic communications services to churches and non-profits and has doubled-down on that space.
Evan describes the conversation and thought process that led them to settling into their vertical and shares the benefits of that move. This is a huge obstacle for many agencies — the fear of saying no or turning away work ultimately holds them back from growth.
Remember — fear is a terrible long-term motivator.
Define Culture Early & Invest Long-Term
If you haven't seen it yet, go check out the Fishhook page explaining their values. Evan and I got into the importance of culture, his current role as Chief Culture Officer, and one of the most helpful exercises they went through as they defined their core values.
The big principle: work to define your culture and goals early, then consistently work on encouraging, improving, and building that culture. It's not a one-time investment, but it's worth the long-term energy and resources it requires.
Get Comfortable With Your Strengths
Fishhook lives in the inbound agency community, but they don't match my perception of the "normal" (I know, I know...none of us are normal) inbound agency. A large amount of the work they do is communications strategy and web design. Evan was very open about the fact that integrating inbound has been a challenge.
What's the big takeaway?
There aren't many agencies in the inbound space who focus on churches and specialize in communications strategy. Fishhook stands out in that niche, which is a huge advantage for them in the sales and delivery processes for prospects who fit their target.
Figure out what your clients need, what you're good at delivering, and what fits with your agency vision. Don't build a cookie-cutter agency. Go off the beaten path and lean into your strengths — this differentiation is what allows you to scale anyways.
Processes Are Critical, but Feel Antithetical to Many Agency Founders
This may have been the first time in 96 episodes that a founder admitted this during recording.
What was charming and allowed us to grow early, became debilitating later.
What is Evan talking about? His personality. Evan, like so many agency founders, is a creative, charismatic personality who is not naturally inclined to process and detailed structure.
In the early days of an agency, this is often a huge advantage in landing your first clients and allowing the agency to grow legs. As your agency matures, however, the importance of structure and process becomes increasingly important. This same strength quickly become a weakness and can lead to inconsistencies in delivery, high client churn, staff turnover, and internal chaos.
It's important to recognize your personality and augment your weaknesses. David Cancel & Dave Gerhardt from Drift talk about Momentum Makers and Perfectionists on Episode #56 of Seeking Wisdom. It's a simplified model, but it was helpful for me in thinking about personality and how we work together on the DoInbound team.
In our situation, my business partner, Andrew, leans towards the Momentum Maker end of the spectrum, while I fall more towards the Perfectionist end in comparison. It's a good balance, it causes healthy tension, and it's enabled us to start and grow multiple business.
It's critical that we're constantly working on our relationship, communicating honestly and transparently, while having empathy for the other person's personality and working through the inevitable conflict with the understanding that we're both fighting for the same end goal.
We refine each other's ideas, don't take conflict personally, and push each together to grow.
Truly Understand Your Client's Customers
When Fishhook is working with a local church, they'll often have team members go to a church service to get a first-hand look into what the experience is like for a first-time visitor.
This level of personal experience may be hard to replicate in your vertical, but the lesson is to figure out how to get as close as possible to your client's customers. The closer you get to those end users, the higher your odds of success.
Give this episode a listen, follow Evan on Twitter, and thanks for tuning in!