Building a great digital agency is no different to building any other kind of successful business — it’s seriously hard work, and if you’re trying to conquer it all by yourself, it’s damn near impossible.
Instead of battling it out all on your own, you’re going to need a team of people you are able to delegate certain functions within your agency toward. And, by delegating, I don’t mean directing or managing — I mean empowering and trusting them to do what they know best and to grow the business on your behalf.
This small team of people (otherwise known as a leadership team) will be brighter, more experienced and more skilled than you are, and they’ll know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to growing your agency, because (ideally) they’ve done it before.
In this article, I’m sharing what a good leadership team actually looks like, why you need to be the most naive person in the room and where to find the right kind of leaders for your team.
A strong leadership team will have a senior representative from each corner of the business and they’ll speak for their department during key business activities and meetings.
In a medium-sized agency, a leadership team might be made up of a Financial Director, Operations Manager, Customer Experience Manager, Head Of Sales, Marketing Director and a senior representative from your IT & HR departments. Then, of course, there’s you too — the founder/director/MD/CEO.
Your leadership team should be cohesive. While they will represent different areas of the business and will have their department’s interest at heart, they will share the same core values and will be well-equipped to make big business decisions that benefit your agency.
Building this empowered leadership team won’t happen overnight and it certainly won’t happen by accident.
Digital agencies, like any other business, go through life cycles as they grow. And with each new phase of business, there usually comes a need to recruit, restructure and promote your internal team. Agency leaders tend to offer promotions to high performing team members who are loyal to the cause and great at what they do (which is understandable).
But this is where the trouble lies.
As the business builds and time goes on, this process can repeat itself over and over until your senior management team is a loyal collection of overly-promoted technicians, rather than commercially skilled and strategic business people. And while this might have been great for the most recent growth cycle, it doesn’t necessarily mean this group of leaders will be equipped for the next stage of growth. Horses for courses so to speak.
A digital agency owner should surround themselves with a group of leaders, strategists and experts from each function within their agency who are more experienced and better qualified than they are.
The agency leader should be the most naive member of the leadership team.
If you’re in the market for new leaders, make sure you’re looking for talent from aspirational agencies, rather than your current competitors. You want people on your team who know how to grow, manage and lead agencies at the scale you’re hoping to achieve.
Growth is often measured differently from one agency to another — however, there are generally two metrics that matter to almost all agency leaders, revenue and headcount.
As an agency leader, the fastest and most sure-fire way to grow your agency, be it headcount or revenue is to surround yourself with a strong, experienced and brilliant leadership team from the outset.
When a digital agency is pushing a headcount of around 25–30 people, it’s time to implement a leadership team.
Surrounding yourself with a team of leaders (who are all much more brilliant than you are) when your agency is in its infancy, means you have a strong support network of experts from each function within your agency. This then allows you to tackle the next stage of growth with confidence, knowing that every corner of your agency will be considered and looked after as you gear your agency up for another round of growth and your headcount pushes toward 80.
By now, I’ve hopefully established that you need to have a leadership team in place in order to grow your agency and that everyone in your team should be more experienced and qualified than you are. So how can you go about finding these brilliant people and how do you build yourself a leadership team?
First, take a look at your existing senior management and ask yourself — are they over-promoted technicians or are they genuine managers and leaders?
If the answer is over-promoted technicians, you have two options:
1 — You can invest time (3–4 years) and money to train them and build them into the leaders you need in order to grow your agency. Or,
2 — You can go out and buy your leadership team from an aspirational agency (this is my recommendation)
When you’re recruiting for new senior leaders to join your agency, don’t look for managers from agencies on the same rung as you — make sure you’re recruiting from an agency that is the size and shape you’re aspiring to grow into.
These individuals will know what’s required to grow your agency because they’ve evidently already done it.
Make sure they’re loaded with management experience, experts within their function and who are downright better than you are. If you’re not completely floored by the excellence and the performance of your potential leaders, then don’t hire them.
Remember, the agency owner should always be the most naive person in the leadership team.
Just like growing your agency, building a great leadership team won’t happen overnight — so it’s never too early to start your search. Start connecting with leaders and managers who inspire and impress you now and keep them within your network.
That way when you’re ready to recruit or change things up, you already have a starting ground. Then, once you’re actively recruiting and gearing up for a new phase of growth within your business, call on Digital Agency Coach for expert advice on how to tackle (and succeed with) your plan.
I'm an ex-agency founder now coach and mentor to digital agencies and trusted by Google and Forbes to deliver agency growth programs across the globe.