Reaching $1 million in revenue represents a milestone for any PR agency or professional services firm. There’s something about this nice round number that says “we’ll still be standing after a strong gust of wind.”
I enjoyed rewinding the tape and thinking through five variables that can play to this success.
1. Recognize Your Value Proposition: You
With rare reception, the primary differentiation for a boutique agency rests with the founder (or founders). Hammer home the point that senior talent gets involved in program implementation. Such a proposition will always resonate with a slice of the market.
Don’t have un-pure thoughts; i.e., “how do I wean clients off of me so the agency can scale.” That comes at the next phase.
2. But Hire People Not Like You
This was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received when I started my shop. A friend told me there’s a natural tendency for hiring managers to favor job candidates who are like them. In my case, I would end up surrounded by introverts who enjoy research, writing, and sarcasm.
Our first account hire was a guy named Tad Bixby, high energy with a gift for establishing instant rapport.
Susan Baldwin, our second account hire, was extraordinary in executing the vision of a campaign.
Both provided compliments to my strengths.
3. Engage a Third-Party to Conduct an Annual Client Audit
This might sound like overkill.
Maybe you’re a four-person shop with six clients clicking at $45K of revenue per month.
You’re more than half way to the magic number.
And with only six clients you already know exactly what’s going on with each client.
Not so fast.
There’s nothing more frustrating on the path to a mil than two steps forward, one step back.
Even if you command the gifts of Dr. Phil, clients aren’t going to share things with you that they would discuss with an objective third party.
And if something has gone sideways, you gain an opportunity to course correct through this process.
By the way, this doesn’t have to be a high-ticket item.
For six clients, figure six interviews at an hour each and another four hours to put together the report and meet with you. Even at $200 per hour, you’re talking $2K for the deliverable that can make a huge difference in preventing that step backwards.
4. Secure Physical Office Space
I know I know.
In a world that puts a premium on virtual and mobile, why take on the expense of brick and mortar?
Because it sends a message of stability and professionalism that can help your agency punch above its weight.
Virtual agencies tend to get relegated to the bottom of the food chain. Reaching $1M on the back of 30 clients will turn you into a modern day Job.
There are clever ways to minimize the cost.
As a one-person band, I subleased a room from an attorney’s office suite that also meant access to a paralegal to proof/edit documents.
Our first real office offered humble surroundings (cheap) but my wife Heather’s interior design skills upgraded the space to the cool quadrant.
5. It’s O.K. To Break a Rule or Two (or three)
No doubt you’ve come away from previous agency experiences with views on what works in winning accounts, implementing PR programs, and managing people.
Implement those views.
But just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way or even the right way.
Trust your instincts
Zag when everyone else zigs.
That’s how you’re going to build an agency with a distinctive flare and bonafide differentiation.
And that’s how you’re going to reach $1M and beyond.
About the Author
Lou Hoffman is CEO of The Hoffman Agency, a communications consultancy that specializes in markets of complexity (technology, energy, financial services, etc.). With offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, the firm can implement single or multi-country campaigns. Lou blogs on storytelling through a business prism, and he can also be reached on Twitter.
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