As the owner of Considerate Agency, a creative agency that focuses on well-being and innovative ideas more than note-worthy contracts and accolades, I often find myself reflecting on the journey that led me to this point. Starting a small creative agency isn’t for the faint of heart, it really isn’t a huge money maker either, but with the right mindset and approach, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling endeavour. I’m going to share some insights from my own experience, highlighting the factors, risks, and creative ideas it takes to build your own agency. And build it your way.
1. Passion and Vision Are Your North Stars
Every creative agency begins with a spark of inspiration. For me, it was a deep passion for creating something from nothing and a vision of what this something could do for someone else. Before diving in, ask yourself what truly drives you. Your passion and vision will be the foundation upon which you build your agency. If it’s “I like designing” or “I want to be my own boss” you better quit. Like, Now. Just having a desire to create doesn’t complete the ingredients for a fully baked agency. There’s way too many risks that the faint of heart won’t be able to endure.
2. Embrace the Risk
Starting any business involves risk, and a creative agency is no exception. The creative industry can be highly competitive and unpredictable. It can be filled with emotion, disappointment and worst of all…debt. However, it’s essential to embrace these risks as opportunities for growth and learning. You have to be thick skinned in this industry, because your idea (your brain child) is on display every single time. You can’t just have a mug that says “Believe in yourself” and move forward. You truly need to believe in yourself and own it. Don’t be afraid to take risks that align with your vision and values. If you’re any good, it will get less risky as you go along.
3. Define Your Niche
I’ve hated this word, for a few reasons. First off, no one says it right! Is it pronounced “nitch” or “nish” or “neesh”? Second reason is its overused, and said in the wrong way. When I think about an individuals “Niche” I think of a place they love, and a place they’re most comfortable with, not a category of business. In the creative world, finding your niche is crucial. If you don’t love what you do, and you’re always trying to figure out how to do it…you’re not in your niche. So, find it. Define it. Take care of it.
Once you know what you’re good at, and it’s comfortable, you’re there. That’s when you can add to it, and push your comfort zone from there. You shouldn’t jump into other people’s or other agencies niches and try to do that. That’s their comfort zone.
4. Cultivate a Network of Talent
As a small agency, you may not have an extensive in-house team. That’s ok, it’ actually the norm these days (thanks covid!). But, working alone is never good, and it doesn’t help you grow as a leader. Try to always cultivate a network of talented individuals who share your creative vision, and keep those people close. Collaborate with freelancers, contractors, or other agency owners when necessary. Building a reliable network of creative professionals allows you to take on diverse projects and meet your clients’ needs. Also, other creatives (even though we don’t want to share our ideas freely) can hear what you have to say and help you refine. This is better than speaking to yourself btw.
5. Prioritize Client Relationships
Strong client relationships are the lifeblood of any agency. We often get confused by looking at a client like they are a pay-check vs a friend. Or, worse…we have too many friends who don’t have the pay-checks. Focus on providing exceptional service, communication, and results for your clients. When you meet them, overdo it. Get to know them, treat them well, over deliver, and never forget to stay in touch. Happy clients are more likely to refer you to others and become long-term partners.And if you never forget them, they will never forget you.
6. Embrace Flexibility and Adaptability
The creative landscape is ever-evolving. Embrace flexibility and adaptability as core principles of your agency. Be willing to pivot, experiment, and evolve with changing industry trends and client demands. Sometimes we do this to ourselves as we grow our services, we are more flexible for ourselves vs who surrounds us. How many times have we all added a skill and immediately put it on the website? But when a client asks for something to be added for their business or website…it’s out of our “wheelhouse”. More flexibility will keep your agency relevant and innovative, not to mention always learning. An agency that is constantly learning is an agency that lasts a lifetime.
7. Creativity as a Business Strategy
In a small creative agency, creativity shouldn’t be limited to the work you produce for clients. Use creative thinking in your business strategy as well. Think outside the box when it comes to marketing, client acquisition, and problem-solving. And not just “search the internet for how others do it” type of out of the box. Come up with creative ways to build your business, and build your clients’ businesses. If you don’t prove to your clients that you can build a business yourself with your own creative ideas, they won’t call you back. Results for other clients, and your own endeavours will set you apart in a crowded market.
8. Balance Work and Well-Being
The business-minded peeps would always tell me “work/life balance” and I would try to make sense of it. But it always seemed to have a sacrifice component to it. I don’t like that, never did and I didn’t want my employees to feel that way either. You spend half your life at work, it better be good. Why sacrifice life for work at all? Don’t we work so we can enjoy life? Look at it more like a cycle, there are moments in the day that are family, work, food, relaxation, creative ideas, entertainment etc…all of it is good and it doesn’t matter when it happens. As long as you know that commitments and promises always have to be made, to clients and to family.
9. Continuous Learning and Growth
Stay hungry for knowledge and growth. Invest in your own education and encourage your team to do the same. I’ve thought this way from the beginning, and it never seems to disappoint. The creative industry is always evolving, and staying on the cutting edge of trends and technology will give your agency a competitive advantage. If you’re learning, you’re winning. If you’re failing, you’re learning. It’s a recipe for immense growth, and it’s also fun. Client work can’t be the only thing that challenges you.
10. Keep the Why Alive
Creative agencies always ask the WHY. It’s usually for our clients to answer, but we hardly turn it on ourselves. Never lose sight of why you started your agency in the first place. For me, it was a desire to create a company that valued the idea over the data. Most crazy ideas out there made no sense when it came to the data, but they changed the landscape of our world. Crazy ideas are also fun, and who wouldn’t want to have fun? Keeping your “why” at the forefront of your agency’s mission will help guide your decisions and inspire those around you. If you change your company name, work for someone else, end up taking a huge life break and come back for more…your values will always be the same. The why is the agency, everything else is just business.
There are definitely more elements to starting an agency, but 10 looked good and I’m keeping it that way. But building one is one thing, keeping it going is another.
More to come on How to keep an agency going next month!