Tips for starting a new agency

With so many small independent shops out there, we thought we’d try and leverage the experience of others who started on their own and have developed businesses of grandeur.  There are a few stand outs for me – Soap, One Green Bean, The Farm, Droga5, Three Drunk Monkeys & MassMedia – and there are many others.  Through a few conversations, here are some basics which I’m pleased to say I have a big tick against these 3:

Get good people in, right from the start
Seems like a no-brainer, but there are a range of people to work with. Have you worked with the “brilliant jerk” before? I hadn’t heard of the right term to give these oh-so-lovely people until I reviewed a presentation on corporate culture from US based NetFlix. The definition of “good people” can vary based on your requirements so keep that in mind.  I want to work with people who don’t cut corners, who absolutely seek perfection, who don’t have to be bullied or pushed into doing things they ought to be doing as 2nd nature, polite people who respect their seniors and experience of others, who are big enough to admit when they are wrong, and who are ego-less.

Get the process right, right from the start
Getting it all done “right from the start” actually seems to be the #1 tip! As much as process is required, the process is only as good as the people who follow it. In my experience, the process has always existed and actually gets refined along the way quite smoothly, but the failure was always the user – usually the brilliant jerk who thinks they can bypass everyone simply because their work is more important than others. Sure there is an exception to the rule when clients are moving deadlines and profitability is in question, what can you be if you can’t be flexible, but it’s usually the people who demand the process to exist to be the ones not to follow it, and that has to come from the top down.  If defining, creating and implementing new and improved processes isn’t even on the weekly radar, there’s a pretty big disconnect between those that actually care for the company and those that are there to receive their payslip.  The buy-in on process has to be innate, without needing to validate them. Even MasterChef taught us that a dessert for four can have 35+ processes to get it right.

Transparency with staff
I’ve been lucky to spend a good few years working for an organisation that was relatively transparent with its staff on the overall financial performance. Every year at the annual conference we knew exactly what we had achieved and what our goals were for the year ahead. We got to celebrate as a company and that became the buy-in the staff needed to deliver top quality work at the highest possible profit margin. We were included, right to the receptionist (or the Director-of-first-impressions as we used to call it), we were responsible for how well the company performed and what was nice is that we were rewarded for the success.

It’s tough as a small independent to share your financial situation when you’re potentially running at a loss for a year or more, so the tact to deliver the news when it’s not so rosy is a skill within itself.  You’re a team, not a family, with every admission of where things weren’t so good has to come with a positive attitude that things can improve. Shielding staff can lead to feelings of segregation (the “us” and “them” mentality), uncertainty, questioning job security and feeling like the grass is always greener elsewhere. Being part of this partnership makes me feel lucky again to be able to share in the success of your own hard work, only this time I know there aren’t any shareholders to take away my reward.



  1. Connie

    Spot On!!

  2. Starting a new digital agency - Best of 3

    […] I’ve worked at a number of pure digital agencies both in London and Sydney and through my experiences have a pretty good idea of the kind of company I want to work for, and the kind of company I don’t. I agree wholeheartedly with Val’s Tips for starting a new agency. […]

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