For our evening events this year, we have a “war stories” theme, where we invite well known and respected agencies to share their tales from the front lines of agency management: honest, warts and all accounts of the challenges faced, mistakes made, lessons learnt and the hurdles overcome in their battle for growth.
First up for this year was Louis Georgiou, Founder and MD of Code Computerlove, one of the North West’s biggest and most well-known independent digital agencies. Louis founded Code Computerlove in 1999 and has been working in the digital industry for over 18 years. His background in creative technology immediately positioned the agency as a digital leader in the North. Now over 80-strong, Code develops award-winning digital products for major brands and is nationally recognised for its digital excellence.
At an event on 28th April at Code’s offices, Louis lifted the lid on the dilemmas facing a digital agency as they grow, covering topics such as being a small fish in big pond, the price of mistakes, investing in start-ups, the danger of silos and the current battle for talent.
Here’s a brief outline of Louis’s lessons for growing agencies:
Cash is king – do everything you can to look after every single penny when growing your agency. Code Computerlove’s first office was free in exchange for creating the owner’s website.
Change or die – you have to be prepared to change and adapt as new technology arrives and as the industry evolves. Just like the dinosaurs, if you don’t change with the times, you’ll find yourself extinct.
Have no ego – in the early days, do whatever it takes to grow your agency, even if that means taking on really shitty jobs.
Talent is everything but make sure you know the recruitment agent’s rules and be prepared to pay huge fees if you use them.
Having a strong agency culture is priceless – it gives you a high performing team who will go the extra mile and do anything for each other. Make sure your freelancers feel like part of the family too.
Know what you are getting into – speculative side projects might sound attractive as your agency is growing but can end up losing you an awful lot of money – something that Code learnt the hard way!
Don’t be afraid to buy in the experience you need to help you grow – although be aware that the agency culture that you’ve worked so hard to create can suffer if you bring in too many new people all at once.
Understand what matters to your clients and do your best to not let them down. Do all you can to recover client relationships when things do go wrong (which they will – it’s inevitable as your agency grows and you get busier and busier).
Stick to what you know – just because you are a project manager at an agency, it doesn’t mean you can project manage an office fit out – again, something that Code learnt the hard way when they grew to the point that it was time to move to a bigger office.
Only keep the right people – you are bound to have a few bad apples once in a while as your agency grows so don’t be afraid to let them go. They are bad for morale and you could end up losing your best people if you don’t act quickly.
Know when to call it a day – sometimes you have to accept that a client is lost and just walk away. Often clients don’t realise how much time and money agencies have to invest in to re pitching to try and keep existing accounts so sometimes it’s better to say “thanks, but no thanks”.
Don’t over promise, deal with problems head on and remember that team collaboration is essential.
Always invest in the quality of people, products and ways of working to maintain your agency growth.
The war is never over – just as you think you’ve won one battle, a new issue will appear on the horizon. To keep growing, you always have to be thinking about the next challenge.
Our next evening event in Manchester is on 27th May 2015 where we’ll be focusing on freelancers, small agencies and start-ups, and particularly how to win new business when you’ve got limited time and resources. For more details, click here.
Sign up now!