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What Sets High-Performance Agencies Apart From the Rest?

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 As a business mentor and consultant, international key-note speaker and acclaimed author, Robert Craven has helped more than 1,000 companies transform the way they work to become top dogs in their industries. 

In our podcast, we recently had the pleasure of quizzing Robert on the differences between high-performing agencies and those stuck in a growth rut.  

Here’s a recap on Robert’s fantastic work and his key points on what it takes to galvinse your performance as an agency to rise above the competition.  

From accountant to acclaimed author  

Robert is a specialist in agency growth coaching and mentoring with over 25 years experience.  

His big break came six years ago when he was approached by Google from both the US and UK. Google was putting together a global project based around the characteristics of high-performing digital agencies and - owing to his extensive experience in this area - wanted Robert to spearhead the work.  

He became the Lead Coach and Designer for the project, running the Google Partners’ 3-month Coaching Elevator Business Growth Program for the UK, Belgium and Romania’s top independent agencies. 

Harnessing his unparalleled experience working with high-performance agencies, in 2015, Robert wrote his book, Grow Your Digital Agency. It has since been hailed as the no.1 resource for digital agencies by the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Jerry Blackett. 

Three years later, with agency owners calling for more, the GYDA Initiative was launched. Leading a team of digital agency experts, Robert works with agency founders and owners to facilitate sustainable growth and success.  

What are the key characteristics of high-performing agencies?

“High-performing digital agencies charge more, earn more, are more profitable, hire the best people, have the pick of reputable contractors and utilise their resources more effectively,” Robert told us. 

This is one of his key lessons. If you’re not doing the above, then it’s likely that you’re stuck in the middle. You’re too small to be big and can’t complete on reputation with the industry giants. 

But Robert appreciates how difficult it is to make these decisions. The critical thing to understand is that those who achieve success haven't done so on their own. As he explains:  

“The secret sauce isn’t making that commitment to charge more and do all those things. It’s about getting the right level of support - whether that’s consultancy or coaching - to give you the confidence needed to push forward.”  

Essentially, successful people recognise that they can’t do it all themselves. Behind every great agency owner is a consultant or a group of people who keep them accountable and on the right track.  

How can digital agencies prepare for the future? 

“This modern world is as exciting as it is terrifying,” says Robert. “Change is occurring rapidly. Customers and clients want different things and agencies need to readjust to keep up. That means thinking and planning for the future, such as what you’ll be selling in 2-3 years and how new legislation will change the way you operate.”  

Robert also advised how larger agencies that offer a broader service are more resilient. They have a stronger cash flow and are more appealing to the modern client. Clients these days are looking for partners who understand brand and can lead on the wider marketing strategy of the business.  

This makes smaller agencies with a 10-30 headcount vulnerable. But there are plenty of ways they can become stronger, from securing business partners to building a unique and compelling company culture.   

How do high-performing digital agencies set themselves apart? 

Robert is an advocate of business niches. According to him, agencies that are a category of one have a fundamental advantage - whether that’s a particular method of delivery or a unique marketplace.  

To discover their niche, they work backwards and ask:  

  • What is our sweet spot?  

  • Who is it we have been selling to?  

  • Why have they been buying from us? 

As a result, they become the go-to agency for a specific, common problem and develop powerful relationships with their clients.  

Are high-performing digital agencies purpose-driven? 

“I’ve worked with a lot of agency owners who’ve listened to Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk, Start With Why. They have driven themselves mad trying to think of their purpose,” explained Robert. “The problem is that when you haven’t found your thing, it can be incredibly discouraging.”  

Rather, Robert believes that it isn’t necessarily fundamental to have a solid purpose. What you need is drive, ambition and a good business model. Not all successful business people are saving the world. They are motivated to thrive because they do great work and work with fantastic people.  

Create a culture by design  

Just because you’re not necessarily purpose-driven doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate a great company culture.  

According to Robert, what you need to do is: “Reward things that are in-line with your desired culture and move people away from things that aren’t consistent. You need to understand what your values are and how you’re trying to make things happen. Then you can execute your culture, but it doesn't have to be dropped down from the leadership team. It should come from everyone in the agency.”  

Put your prices up

These are Robert’s final words of wisdom for agency owners hungry for high-performance:  

“Charge more. Send a message to the competition and your prospects that what you’re doing is good. The numbers speak for themselves. Putting your prices up by 10% can give you a 30% gross margin and you can afford to lose 25% of your customers. That equals more time. You can work from Monday to Wednesday and spend the rest of your week improving the quality of your output.”  

Enjoyed this article? Then you will love our full podcast with the incredible Robert Craven. You can listen to it here.