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Expert Advice: Helping Your Agency Thrive In A Pandemic

How has agency life has changed? What are agency owners doing to keep their teams motivated? How can you keep your clients happy? And what you can do to help your agency thrive – despite the global pandemic?

There’s something about Float that agency owners just love. We suspect it’s because our founder Colin came from the agency world, and understands exactly how important good cash flow is to keep an agency ticking.

As a result, we’re lucky to know quite a few agency owners and experts, and we’ve tapped into their collective wisdom to bring you this article. Read on to find out how agency owners and advisors are facing the challenges of the pandemic head on…

Shift your focus

Without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic brought a cascade of changes to agency life. From remote working to paused or cancelled projects, agencies were forced to adapt quickly to the changing landscape.

The agency owners we spoke to shared their own tips on adapting to life under lockdown, and how they changed their focus to customer retention.

“At the start of the pandemic it was all about surthrival – survive and thrive – we encouraged agencies to; not worry so much about margins or team utilisation, just make sure you keep your existing clients and keep marketing. Listen to clients, absorb what they need, make plans to help them, not just sell to them.”
Mark Probert, Cactus and Agencynomics

“We approached several loyal clients in highly affected verticals at the beginning of the situation and offered to move them onto significantly reduced fees (but with 100% hours), they were hugely appreciative of this gesture and hopefully it means they can ride the storm and stay with us longer term.”
Lyndsay Menzies, 8 Million Stories

Lyndsay Menzies 8million stories

Lyndsay Menzies, CEO, 8 Million Stories

“During the lockdown period, it was the customer retention strategy… We pivoted by looking at more digital assets, but also just showing more value to our clients and what we can deliver. Helping them solve their problems and continuing to deliver great work so that we’re impacting their bottom line and in a positive way. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about making money, isn’t it?”
Jaime Gee, Jam

“Everyone talks about this buzz word of pivoting as though it’s something really exciting, like a transformational thing, but actually it’s just helping an existing client focus on moving more towards online or even just changing their message online… there’s never been a better time to build brand loyalty for a business that people are already feeling sorry for because they’re having to close their doors.”
Paul Barnes, MAP

Ask for referrals

In addition to supporting existing clients, tapping into their loyal client base and asking for referrals was a key strategy of some of the agencies we spoke to.

“(We) chased down some of the opportunities that have been bubbling away in the background, reconnecting with old contacts to keep filling that pipeline.”
Jaime Gee, Jam

“Remember you get new business from existing clients, so don’t overlook them. Our UK survey found 80% of leads for agencies come from 12 sources, for which 50% are referrals (65% internationally!). Go back through old referrers and set up catch-ups with them – this way it’s much easier to get a foot in the door. Ask yourself: who has referred the most work over the last 3 years?”
Mark Probert, Cactus and Agencynomics

Mark Probert Cactus

Mark Probert, Managing Partner, Cactus & Agencynomics

We love the idea of taking a really targeted approach with which clients you ask for referrals. Can you think of a client who has always sent business your way? It’s time to pick up the phone.

Stay connected

While most agencies are tech-savvy and relatively comfortable with remote working, the fragmentation of teams has inevitably led to some communication challenges. So how can you keep a strong company culture? Regular check-ins, strong leadership and the right tools to stay connected can make a huge difference to your agency.

“Something I would encourage agency owners to check in on is – are your team communicating with each other properly?”
Jaime Gee, Jam

“We have really invested in tools and tech to make our clients, team members and partners lives a little bit better during lockdown. One that we have found really great for team engagement and morale is OfficeVibe, which uses surveys and regular 1-to-1’s to provide a good oversight of how the team are feeling, which is very relevant, particularly when working remotely.”
Lee Fitzpatrick, Outlaw Social

Lee Fitzpatrick Outlaw Social

Lee Fitzpatrick, Managing Director, Outlaw Social

“The key component of an agency is its culture and its collective approach to solving creative and strategic challenges. And that is obviously compromised or at least made more difficult when you’re not in the same room…. (However,) people make an effort to try and engage and have Zoom calls. There is no room for slack thinking so I think everyone is much more focussed and given the remote issues, clarity of thought and vision are the forefront of people’s minds.”
Dave Mullen, Story UK

“I’ve seen mostly really good, honest and open leadership – the feeling that we’re all together in this journey, it’s essential to keep company culture alive.”
Mark Probert, Cactus and Agencynomics

Understand your cash flow

If there’s one piece of advice all the agency experts we spoke to agreed on – it’s that getting to grips with your cash flow now will do your business HUGE favours in the long run. Understanding what lies ahead and planning for different potential scenarios can give you the confidence to make key decisions to keep your agency running.

“What do we need to do? What are the next steps? What do our finances look like for the next month, three months, six months, and allow us to really put together a plan that would see us through the main lockdown and then what it might look like after we are released from lockdown.”
Jaime Gee, Jam

Jaime Gee Jam

Jaime Gee, Managing Director, Jam

“There’s a difference between profitability and cash in the bank, and you need to focus on both. There’s no point in just seeing a number that shows that you’ve got enough cash to survive if you’re leaking profitability. You need to make the right decisions… for the long-term future of your business. That’s your wealth that’s withering away. If you allow the loans and the grants to mask underlying profitability issues in your business. Be conservative when it comes to cash flow.”
Paul Barnes, MAP

Consider grants and loans

Speaking of loans and grants, there are a number of ways you can get financial support for your agency. The right grant or loan could help keep your agency afloat and allow you to retain staff. The key aspect is to spend the money in the right way.

“I think there’s a bit of a British mentality of being averse to debt and not like in taking on debt, which I fully understand. But I think when you think about that there’s a couple of thoughts going through your mind: one is, well, what would I spend the money on? And two, is it worth the cost i.e. the interest? Then three, can I afford the repayments? Well, number two and three are gone out the window now, because there is no interest and you don’t have to make the repayments if you don’t want to. You can just repay it in a year. The only question is the first one, which is where would I spend the money? There’s never been a better time to borrow money, you’re never going to get money this cheaply.”
Paul Barnes, MAP

Paul Barnes

Paul Barnes, Managing Director, MAP

Check out our article on business grants and loans to find out what financial support is available in your region.

Use the employers’ market to your advantage

There’s no denying that if you’re looking to hire right now, you’re going to have a large pool of candidates to choose from. With many businesses looking to cut costs and letting their staff go, competition for jobs is stiff. Meaning now is a great time to bring in some fresh talent (if you can afford to).

“There’s quite a strong correlation as well between part-time and remote work. You find a lot of people who want to work remote, also want to work part-time. Which is quite exciting as an employer, because you might not be ready to invest in a full-time person for a certain part of a business.”
Paul Barnes, MAP

“Many agencies see redundancies on the horizon, so have a plan. Understand your revenue/cash flow so you know what to do in the next coming months.”
Mark Probert, Cactus and Agencynomics

Polish your boots

When you spend all your time perfecting your clients’ marketing, it can be easy to overlook your own. Could your agency’s branding do with a little spruce up? Perhaps it’s time you got that website updated? The agency owners we spoke with agree…

“Practice what you preach. The website you have left out of date, the social media you have neglected, the CRM system you haven’t got round to setting up, all of these component parts that weren’t top of the agenda in ‘good times’, need to be nudged up the priority list now.

“I think one of the key elements in shifting the needle for agencies in the coming 12 months will be the ability to refine your message and value proposition so that it connects deeper with your ideal clients than ever before. At Outlaw, we have recently spent a bit of time reviewing our visual identity, our culture and our proposition, as I believe that clients are going to be a lot more concerned with ‘how’ and ‘why’, rather than ‘what’ you do.”
Lee Fitzpatrick, Outlaw Social

“We’ve recently refreshed our deck and case studies. And I think if you haven’t done that in a while, then get it done because it’s a conversation opener.”
Jaime Gee, Jam

Look ahead

The past few months have been tough in many ways. But our agency experts were practical and resolutely optimistic when looking to the future. We’re going to leave you with their words of wisdom and positivity…

“Be adaptable! The new norm will be different, be flexible, be nimble and allow the change to drive some new creativity in your business. It’s an opportunity to recalibrate and focus on what really matters.”
Lyndsay Menzies, 8 Million Stories

“Don’t assume it’s business as usual. Watch what other countries have done, read articles of successes (and failures). Everybody is going through the same pain and it is well documented everywhere. Yes we’ve got to be in our own bubble but we all know what they say about operating in a bubble. You need to look and learn outside your own reference points.”
Dave Mullen, Story UK

“COVID doesn’t have to be the end. We just need to really plan ahead, stay the course and really tap into that grit that you first had when you launched the agency or when you became a partner in an agency. There is something very special about people in agencies. Excuse my French, but we know how to handle a lot of sh*t and with a smile.”
Jaime Gee, Jam

Well, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Further reading:

Growing A Digital Agency With MadeBrave’s Andrew Dobbie


Louise Bayley-Boyd

Digital enthusiast, passionate about helping small businesses survive and thrive.