My partner Jeff and I started our business in 2007, operating essentially as two freelancers under one umbrella company. Jeff was a freelance website developer while I was a freelance writer for media publications and businesses. While the first year was a struggle, we hit a good routine after that — we both had a steady stream of work, our expenses were very low, and we could always pay our bills. For a while, we were fine with that. But, we were long overdue for a visit to Jeff’s family in Australia, and we wanted to eventually get our business to a point where we could both step away for a little while and not have everything shut down.
We made a conscious decision to grow our company from a two-person team to an agency—and we did. At the end of the year, we’d grown our team to a staff of five, and more than doubled our revenue. And, while we didn’t go completely off-grid during our time off, we were able to bring in the same revenue with a lot less desk time while we were away.
These were the strategies we used to take our business to the next level:
Hone Your Focus
Jeff and I rarely worked with the same clients. He typically worked with nonprofits and small businesses, while I worked more frequently with B2B companies. We wanted to consolidate and focus on becoming really strong in one area, and, looking at our work processes and the industry landscape, we decided content marketing was the way to go since work was much more findable and we were able to find an “in” with large companies even as a small team.
We stopped offering website development as an independent service. Instead, we offer it within the context of a content marketing plan. For your own business, try taking a more focused and strategic approach to your service offerings. Build stronger and more consistent relationships with your clients — it’ll make it easier to market your work.
Give Your Business the Time It Needs
Remember to set clear strategies for getting there, and define benchmarks for evaluating your success. We started making time to focus on the act of running a business itself, rather than simply the day-to-day client work that consumed us. We participated in a business development course with entrepreneurs from all different industries and learned from brewers and seafood shop owners. We started making time for daily “walk and talks” on the hiking trails near our house, where we could discuss hiring and strategy as we wandered through the woods. We gained a more in-depth perspective of where our business was, where it was going, and what we could do to take it to the next level.
Find the Right People
Hiring well is essential to your success. Find staff you can trust to learn your processes and understand what your clients need. We hired our first employee in May and have brought on two more since then. Once we had confidence that they could handle the work with limited assistance, we were freed to step back from the constant work of putting out fires to focus more heavily on our company’s growth. Now that we have several great employees, we’re confident that they can help any new hires learn the ropes, enabling us to grow more quickly.
Get Your Name Out There
As longtime freelancers, Jeff and I often got referrals for projects, but that wasn’t enough to sustain a growing agency with a payroll. We used the strategies below to generate awareness and secure inbound leads.
- Blog. Blogging both on your own site and on industry publications is an ideal way to capture the attention of your ideal prospects. While we still aren’t blogging as frequently as we’d like to be, even occasional articles have helped us gain traffic and interest through search and social media.
- Ask for testimonials. Asking your clients to share their honest reviews of your work. Jeff and I did this through Clutch Research, and to date, seven of them have obliged. While not many prospects have found us directly through Clutch, this is a great resource to point new contacts towards to help them learn more about us. It’s a verified source of information about how we’ve worked with other teams.
- Get PR. Responding to media opportunities through HARO and other platforms is a quick and easy way to secure press mentions and get more backlinks to your site — not to mention boost your reputation as an industry expert.
Ask (Nicely) for Work
While many of our leads come from referrals and inbound leads, we’ve secured more than $60,000 in revenue over the last year with LinkedIn, InMail and email outreach with no existing connection to the prospect. How? We find the right contact, send a brief intro, and share some clips (and the aforementioned testimonial link) to back it up. More often than not, we get radio silence, but the positive responses we do get have made it more than worth our while.
Get a Commitment From Your Clients
In the past, we’d sometimes take on small projects for just a few hundred dollars at a time. That meant a lot of haggling and back-and-forth over small projects, which wasn’t very time or cost-effective. Now, we have a minimum cap for projects and tend to do the majority of our work on an ongoing retainer basis. That means we have a steadier cash flow and can build stronger, more in-depth relationships with our clients.
While we still have many more goals we’d like to accomplish, we now have a stronger, more sustainable business. By changing our mindset and thinking of our business as a real company rather than just a way to earn income, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the past year and are on track to see that it continues through this year.