Starting an agency that's built to last

Starting an agency that's built to last

Learn about tried-and-true strategies, business models, and best practices for starting a successful agency.

Starting an agency that's built to last

Learn about tried-and-true strategies, business models, and best practices for starting a successful agency.

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Written by
Jesse Sumrak
Jesse Sumrak
Jesse Sumrak
Jesse Sumrak

If you’re looking to start your own agency, you’ve come to the right place.

While launching a business of any size or purpose is a complex undertaking, forming one that's built to last is even more challenging.

Starting an agency is exciting. The prospect of harnessing your expertise, leading a team, and delivering innovative solutions to clients can be compelling. However, with thousands of new agencies entering the competitive landscape every year, how can you carve out a unique space and build a sustainable business?

Starting an agency isn't just about a catchy name or snazzy logo. It's about laying a solid foundation from the get-go that can weather economic shifts, client challenges, and the rapid pace of technological change. It's about creating something that will survive and thrive in the long haul.

Below, learn about the foundational steps you should take to build a resilient agency.

Define your niche

A niche represents a distinct segment of the market, emphasizing your unique offerings and how you stand apart from competitors. Establishing a clear niche allows you to differentiate and become the preferred choice for customers’ specific needs.

Identifying your niche requires intent, research, and introspection. Consider your agency's capabilities and resources before choosing a specific direction. For example, if you're an SEO expert, that might be an excellent place to start.

Here's how to start narrowing down your niche:

  1. Strength assessment: Reflect on your unique strengths, past successes, and areas you've excelled in. While you can always hire to expand into other areas, start with what you know.
  2. Market analysis: Explore market trends, seeking opportunities to fill gaps or support growing sectors that align with your capabilities.
  3. Competitive landscape: Understand competitor offerings and identify where you can differentiate or excel.
  4. Profit potential: Balance passion with profitability, ensuring sustainable demand within your chosen niche.
  5. Feedback and trials: Engage potential clients for feedback and run pilot projects to validate demand.
  6. Adapt and refine: Recognize that niches evolve. Continually reassess based on market shifts and agency growth.

Assemble a team

Your team is the backbone of your agency. Beyond skill sets, the right people breathe life into your vision, shape your agency's culture, and drive its success. Here's why your team is invaluable and how to build it.

Teams are an asset

Your team is more than just a collection of skilled individuals—they're your agency's foundation. Their expertise, creativity, and commitment can set your agency apart in a competitive landscape.

As you grow, your team's collective knowledge and capabilities will solidify your agency's reputation and foster client trust.

Hire the right talent

When hiring, look beyond mere qualifications. Seek individuals who complement and enhance your agency's long-term objectives.

This involves understanding your agency's core values and mission and identifying candidates with the necessary skills to share your vision. Prioritize clear communication, enthusiasm for learning, adaptability, and a client-first mentality.

Skill diversity vs. cultural fit

While diverse skills are essential for offering a range of services and solutions, cultural fit is equally important. A cohesive team, aligned in values and work ethic, can collaborate effectively, ensuring client projects are executed seamlessly.

Aim for a balance: hire for skills that fill existing gaps in knowledge and skills at your agency but also confirm potential hires resonate with your agency's ethos.

Forming a built-to-last agency requires a stellar team. Invest time in hiring, training, and nurturing team members who excel in their roles and champion your agency's mission. Remember, with the right people, your agency can start on a path toward success.

Build a sustainable business model

The bedrock of any enduring agency is a sustainable business model. While creativity and innovation are essential in the agency world, the structure and predictability of a solid business model keeps the lights on.

Your business model isn't just about how you get paid — it's about how you create, deliver, and capture value in the marketplace. As the adage goes, "Structure follows strategy." Your model should be a strategic decision that aligns with your agency's goals, values, and strengths.

Consider the following for crafting a model that's profitable in the short term and built to weather economic shifts and industry changes:

Explore different agency business models

Your agency doesn't need to commit to a single type of business model, but it's best to know your options:

  • Project-based: Many agencies kick start their journey with this model. Clients commission specific projects, and once those are completed, the contract ends. This is often straightforward but also means a constant hunt for new projects.
  • Retainer: Instead of a one-off project, clients commit to a monthly or annual fee, securing the agency's services for a prolonged period. This offers predictable revenue and fosters deeper client relationships.
  • Hybrid: Some agencies find success in blending various models, offering project-based services while also maintaining clients on retainer, or even entering into equity agreements with up-and-coming startups.

Create recurring revenue streams

Every business thrives on predictability, and your agency is no exception. Recurring revenue, like that from retainer contracts, provides financial stability. It enables long-term planning, assures payroll, and can buffer against leaner periods.

It's going to be hard for you to grow your clients, hire staff, or project revenue if you can't guarantee consistent income. Beyond financial security, having regular clients fosters a depth of understanding and collaboration that project-based relationships might not offer.

Tailor the model to your strengths and market demands

It's tempting to adopt a model because it's popular, but the best model for your agency is one that meets your short and long-term needs. Consider your team's strengths, your market research, and the kind of clients you aim to serve.

For instance, if you're a specialized web design agency with unique expertise in building websites for startups, you might want to partner with a broader accelerator, incubator, or venture capital firm for ongoing work.

Regularly revisit your business model, especially in the early days. As you grow, learn, and evolve, the model that best suits you may shift as well.

Implement scalable processes

As you expand, the informal processes that once worked might become bottlenecks. Investing in scalable processes early on can be the difference between controlled growth and chaotic expansion.

Scalability isn't just about growing bigger — it's about growing smarter. Investing in adaptable processes and tools early on sets your agency on a trajectory that welcomes growth and thrives because of it.

Avoid falling into the classic agency ”hustle life” stereotype. It's not about working harder — it's about working more efficiently and effectively.

Here's the rundown on everything you need to know to build and implement scalable systems at your agency.

Adapt systems for growth

Growth often means more clients, more projects, and more team members. While growth can be a signal of success, it can strain your existing procedures if you’re not prepared for it.

Without adaptable systems, you risk delays, miscommunication, and reduced quality — threatening client satisfaction and your agency's reputation.

Think of scalable processes as the infrastructure of your agency. Just as a city invests in roads and bridges anticipating future traffic, your agency needs systems that prep you for increased operational demands.

Document, automate, and delegate

Start by documenting every process, no matter how minor it seems. Doing this early on builds consistency and becomes an invaluable resource for training new team members. Platforms like Notion or Trello can be helpful tools for this.

Identify repetitive tasks that can be automated. Tools like Zapier or Integromat can help integrate different platforms and automate workflows, saving time and reducing errors. These things are easier to set up from the get-go rather than waiting for teams to get stuck in their ways and manual processes, so invest in it as early as possible.

Last but definitely not least: delegate, delegate, delegate. As a founder or leader, it's tempting to try to wear multiple — or all — hats. However, as you grow, delegating tasks allows you to focus on higher-level strategy and decision-making. Hire for roles that align with your agency's growth trajectory and train your team to take on more responsibilities.

Use tools to enable scale

In the age of digital-first impressions, a robust web design and development tool is essential. Webflow offers a scalable platform, empowering designers and non-technical team members to build custom, responsive websites without writing code.

Whether you offer web development services for your clients, or simply need a stunning website to show off your business and work, Webflow can streamline the development process and allows you to produce beautiful, professional, and functional websites at scale.

Additionally, by centralizing your design processes with Webflow, you standardize the learning curve for new hires and maintain consistency in output.

Learn how your agency can leverage Webflow to build high-quality, custom sites with fewer developer resources.

Build for scale with Webflow

Every agency starts as an idea, but it's the ones that develop the right foundation that progress from a concept to a built-to-last business. Everything from niche identification to scalable operations sets your agency apart, helping you serve more customers and grow sustainably.

The future of your agency rests on the choices you make today, and we can’t wait to see what you start building.

Unleash your creativity on the web

Build completely custom, production-ready websites — or ultra-high-fidelity prototypes — without writing a line of code. Only with Webflow.

Get started for free
Unleash your creativity on the web

Build completely custom, production-ready websites — or ultra-high-fidelity prototypes — without writing a line of code. Only with Webflow.

Get started for free
Get started for free
Last Updated
November 1, 2023