Today we’re excited to bring inbound agency growth consultant and #Inbound15 speaker Karl Sakas to the podcast. Karl runs Sakas and Company. He is focused on giving agency owners the business coaching they need to build their dream agency.
As an entrepreneur building the business, it can easy to loose perspective. This is why advisers are so important as you’re building an agency. An adviser or consultant can bring a different perspective to the table, and this fresh set of eyes my help you to see the business in a different light.
An adviser doesn’t need to be someone with a specific background in the agency space. It may even be an asset to speak with someone who doesn’t have an agency mindset. Look for someone who understands the financial side of business or is an expert in leadership development. These are important areas of the business.
In this conversation with Karl, we touch on a lot of topics that can help you grow your agency. We cover a lot of ground—from hiring new team members to attracting leads through speaking.
Karl has been in marketing for years. Being a forth generation entrepreneur, entrepreneurship is in his blood.
In his career, Karl has been a Head of Business Operations for two different marketing agencies. It was during this time that he noticed something—marketing agency owners get into the business because they love marketing. They don’t always get into the business because they love the business side of the operation.
Noticing this trend, Karl launched Sakas and Company (formerly Agency Firebox). His goal is to offer business operations and growth consulting to digital marketing agencies.
Helping a Digital Agency Double Profit Margin
A recent success Karl shared was partnering with an agency on the west coast. After doubling her client load, she needed help managing this amount of work. She realized that she needed to build her agency team, but wasn’t sure where to start. She also felt like she wasn’t charging enough for the services she was offering.
Karl was able to partner with her by giving her a strategic direction. After looking into the financials, the agency team, and the services pricing, Karl presented a series of recommendations. Those recommendations included a hiring plan, changes to pricing, and changes to services offered.
After following the steps recommended by Karl, the agency owner doubled her profit margin over the following year.
How to Grow Your Inbound Agency Team Smart
There is more to growing an agency than just adding new clients. Growing a team that can service new clients is a challenge that all successful agencies face. You can’t just add people with skills—you need to add team member that are a fit with the agency culture too.
How you approach hiring is going to depend on where you’re at as an agency. Karl says that younger agencies—so a team size 5-12 people—are going to look to hire people who can wear many hats. They need to be able to be inbound consultants, project managers, and have relationships with clients.
As the agency grows it makes sense to split these jobs out into more defined roles.
How to Find Agency Focus by Selecting 1-3 Target Verticals
You don’t have to focus your agency to a select number of verticals—you can be an inbound agency for everyone, but that is a lot of work. Selecting an agency focus actually gives you more marketing options than staying generic.
For example, you decide to become the inbound marketing agency for lawyers. You can become the expert in legal marketing, you can speak at a legal business group, and you can hone the perfect message to the market.
For a real life example, check out Kuno Creative. They target three verticals: SaaS, healthcare companies, and specialty manufacturers.
John McTigue, co-founder at Kuno Creative, joined us on Inbound Agency Journey. He shared how they came to these industries. He also shared how this focus allowed them to launch a targeted inbound campaign.
What Type of Agency Do You Want to Build?
Building an inbound agency is a relative term. We’re not all out there trying to create the same thing. Different people have different goals. You need to decide what the agency you love looks like, then start moving toward that image.
Karl is speaking on the Inbound Partner Track. His presentation is Scale to Win: How to Grow Your Agency Without Breaking It. This talk will cover team structure, pricing services, and time management. Each these topics center around the idea of building the agency you want.
When building an inbound agency, there are two possible extremes to target. First is a lifestyle business. You’re looking to make a great salary. You want to have the freedom to pick and choose the clients you want to work with. You want to limit to overhead of the agency to maintain flexibility.
The other extreme is a the grow to sell business. Here you’re working to build a book of business and team of talent. These are your two primary assets when you’re target is to sell your agency.
You may find yourself somewhere between these two extremes. To help discover which extreme you lean toward, Karl recommends the “but” test.
I love this! When you’re describing the agency of your dreams, where do you put the “but?”
“I’d like to build a big agency, but I don’t want to work crazy hours.” “I want to build an agency that doesn’t own my life, but I’d be open to selling if someone made an offer.” Whatever comes before the “but” is likely the type of agency you’re working to build.
Using Speaking as a Platform for Agency Lead Generation
As inbound agency owners, we’re all educators. There are a ton of different opportunities for us to teach and one great channel is speaking. There are tons of chances to speak to an audience all around you. At a conference, trade group, chamber of commerce, or HUG meeting are just a few options.
Agency owners can turn speaking opportunities into a lead generation engine for the agency. When you’re speaking, it is important not to sell. Just like inbound, you want to focus on adding value. An audience that feels like you’re pushing your services is going to tune out.
A blog post with no CTA isn’t helpful for generating leads. The same is true with a speaking engagement. Think of an offer that will deliver value to the audience. Karl shared insight from an interview with Mike Lieberman, co-founder of Square 2 Marketing.
Speaking is a large part of Square 2’s lead generation engine. At the end of each presentation, Mike gives away a free consultation to member of the audience. This offer attracts 2/3 of the audience to set up an appointment with Mike. That is a great conversion rate!
Interested to learn how to use speaking as a lead generation tool for your agency? Check out Karl’s new book, The In-Demand Marketing Agency: How to Use Public Speaking to Become an Agency of Choice.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Marketing Agencies Group at Inbound.org
- Check out Karl’s book: The In-Demand Marketing Agency: How to Use Public Speaking to Become an Agency of Choice
- Subscribe to Karl’s newsletter (and “Don’t Just Make the Logo Bigger” eBook) for agency leaders.
- Top articles for agency leaders
- Client Ranking Matrix
- Time Bucket Template
- Lifestyle vs. High Growth Agencies
- Specializing by Client Industry