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How to keep your agency afloat during COVID-19

Preston Lee's Layout avatar

Depending on who you talk to, we’re either on the tail-end of the COVID-19 pandemic or we’re just ramping up to a second outbreak.

Regardless of who you believe, there’s one simple fact all of us can rely on: many agencies are wondering where to go from here.

How can we keep profits up? Can we avoid lay-offs? Will our clients still be around (or have budgets) in the next 6-12 months?

These are all questions that may be keeping some agency-owners up at night, which is why I’d like to offer a few ideas for keeping your agency afloat during COVID-19 (or any other economic downturn).

Here are eight ideas for keeping your agency moving forward during COVID:


Give extra support to clients during this unique time

While it can be easy to panic and focus only on your bottom line right now, smart agency owners realize what happens now and over the next few months will have a big impact on their business in the coming years.

With that in mind, do your best to continue to support current, previous and potential clients by offering support for their businesses however you can. 

web-designers-support-clients

Oftentimes your clients are running small businesses as well and struggle with the same concerns you do. Take time to brainstorm and review ways you can best support your clients during Covid-19.

Clayton Johnson from Freeup, reminded me in a recent interview:

“Even if people aren’t ready to buy right now, they will remember you for what you do during this time. When the economies come back, you’ll be at the top of their list.”


Double down on client-finding efforts

While there are quite a few tips in this list about making extra revenue and growing your business without finding new clients, one thing remains a predictable staple of an agency’s business model.

You need clients.

While it may be tempting as the world seems to shut down around us to stop reaching out to potential new clients, that’s probably the complete opposite from what you should be doing. 

Yes, it can be awkward, when everyone is tightening their budgets, to call up businesses and pitch them a monthly retainer.

But you know as well as anyone: if your agency isn’t constantly searching for new clients, you suffer a very real risk of going out of business.

To help, I’ve compiled a gigantic guide on how to find 10 clients in the next 30 days. I suggest you open it in a new tab and read it after this article.

And even if you don’t need ten new clients this month, there are still plenty of tried-and-tested ways to get more clients

As my good friend and agency-builder Clay Mosley advises: engage in some sort of marketing activity every single day.


Find clients in growing sectors

As you maintain (or even ramp up) your client-finding efforts, it might be wise to focus on sectors that are growing as a result of the COVID pandemic.

There’s a reason Amazon, Netflix, and Zoom have all had growing stock prices while the majority of the market is tanking. They prove that, just because the world is in an uproar, many sectors and businesses can continue to thrive.

I know a few freelancers and agency-owners who are struggling to get by right now because all of their clients were in the entertainment sector, or sports industry, or restaurant business.

But I know others who are busier than ever because they found clients in medicine, remote work, home entertainment, and other sectors that are thriving.

web-designers-work

To get the wheels turning, here are a few business sectors that are probably doing well and may have need of services from your agency in the wake of COVID-19:

  • Home entertainment such as gaming, movies, television, etc. Clients might include anyone from YouTubers to Local Television Stations to Twitch Celebs.
  • Health and wellness including at-home workout services, playgrounds, and other things to keep people busy at home.
  • Remote work support including tools, resources, technology, and supplies for moving from the office to the home office.
  • Delivery services, especially for smaller businesses in your community that don’t have the luxury of belonging to the GrubHub or DoorDash network.

As you think about it, I’m sure you can come up with even more sectors that seem to be in more demand thanks to the change in our typical lifestyle. Targeting those clients may result in higher conversion rate and more reliable revenue.


Generate client-less revenue

Of course, finding and working with clients is not the only way your agency can generate revenue.

Take, for example, Chris Do and his agency, Blind. His team has begun building another project, called The Futur, where they teach creatives how to run a successful business.

And it’s growing fast, bringing in hundreds of thousands of extra revenue for Chris’s business—all without clients. 

recurring-revenue-web-designers

So if you feel like COVID-19, has your clients “on-hold” with their budgets and long-term commitments, it could be a wise decision to use your “extra time” by generating non-client revenue streams.

Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Target DIY clients through teaching (Udemy, Self-hosted Courses, etc.)
  • Upcycle unused work for a lift in sales (Creative Market, etc.)
  • Promote affiliate products to your current clients (Flywheel, Freshbooks, etc.)

These three ideas come from a recent article I published which you can read in more depth here to get a better idea of what I’m suggesting.


Get long-term commitments from clients

Perhaps the most unsettling side-effect of all this uncertainty is not knowing what your business will look like in the next 12 months.

One way to do this would be to offer a discount to clients who agree to sign a long-term recurring revenue plan with your agency.

Some agency owners may want to consider making short-term compromises in order to secure more long-term business stability.

If your agency doesn’t already do its best to turn one-time clients into recurring monthly revenue, then you’re missing out on a lot of potential business.

While some businesses will not be able to commit to anything long-term while things are so uncertain, others may welcome a small monthly or annual discount at a time when budgets are getting tightened.


Work out payment plans

The sad truth is some of your clients may have already called you to let you know they can’t continue working with you. 

Depending on the services you offer, oftentimes large agency costs are the first to go for some businesses in an economic downturn.

If this is the case for you, you may want to consider setting up payment plans for clients who are worried about paying their bills in full in the coming months.

While the ideal scenario is to collect your entire payment at once, getting paid over time is certainly better than not getting paid at all.

Plus, if you’re really smart about it, you can actually collect an additional “fee” for allowing for partial payments over time. 

web-designers-discussing-payment-plans

Here’s one thought experiment I did with a mastermind group recently:

“If there’s a client who can’t pay their invoices right now, consider offering them a payment plan with an added percentage fee.

“Here’s a very simple way you could work out the math of a new payment structure.

“If your client owes you $1,000 for a completed project, offer to take $100 payments every month for the next year.

“At the end of the year, your client will be happy you offered a payment plan and you’ll have an extra 20% (or $200) in your bank account just for being patient.”

Please keep in mind, this method will only work if you have the cash flow and the confidence your clients will actually stick to the plan. But it could turn out a win-win for everyone if done correctly.


Hire freelancers instead of new employees

As your own agency budget starts to get pinched a bit, you might be tempted to avoid hiring new employees (some agencies may even be considering layoffs).

While I sincerely hope you don’t have to lay off any of your agency’s employees, I recognize this is the reality of the current economy.

To lighten the financial burden on your agency, may I suggest hiring freelancers instead of full-time employees if you need to add members to your team or replenish after layoffs.

freelance-web-designer-working

While managing contractors can be a bit more difficult in some ways, the fact that most of us continue to work remotely, gives freelancers a fighting chance at working with the team in the same way a full-time employee would.

Plus, if you bring on someone who gets a 1099 instead of another W2 employee, you don’t have to pay for their computer, healthcare, or other expensive benefits.

Hiring freelancers can be a rewarding way to build your agency and can save you critical funds at the same time. Then, if business begins to take off, you can always extend a full-time position to these contractors later.


Know your numbers better than ever

Finally, more than ever, you need to know your agency’s business numbers.

I’m not talking just about how much money you’re spending and how much you’re making (even though these basic metrics are, of course, important). I’m referring to more complex numbers.

For example:

  • What does your revenue-to-employee ratio have to be at to keep from forcing layoffs?
  • How many new clients can you bring on before you have to hire a new contractor or employee?
  • How long can your agency survive if it didn’t book any new clients beginning now?
  • How many new clients does your agency need to continue current revenue rates?

If you feel completely lost when it comes to your agency’s revenue, I suggest investing in some basic financial software like Quickbooks that can help you see a clear picture of your company’s cash flow and general financial health.

Once you know your numbers better, you’ll not only be able to make more informed decisions about your agency moving forward, but you’ll also sleep a bit better at night knowing that your financial health continues to hold steady despite the madness that swirls around you in the world.


We’re all in this together…

Above all, remember: we’re all in this together. We’ve got this. As we all cut each other some slack and realize we’re all learning how to deal with this pandemic together, long-term relationships can be built that will go on to support your agency for years to come.

Good luck and stay well out there!


Video: Running an agency during a recession

Dave Nelson of Secret Penguin, an agency that was founded in 2000, gave a talk to Flywheel’s Agency Partners about the intricacies of running an agency during a recession, and highlights what to do to make sure you and your agency survive (and thrive!) during times of economic uncertainty.

In this video, Dave shares:

  • Several short-term solutions to keep your agency afloat
  • A 4-stage internal plan to help guide your decision-making
  • A vision for the future of your business

Sign up to watch it here and receive a free PDF guide with steps on how your agency can stay afloat during this time.

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