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The Differences Between Marketing Yourself Solo and Marketing an Agency

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This post is part of a series called Evolve From Freelancer to Agency.
How to Manage an Entire Agency and Still Get Work Done
How to Decide Your Own Role in Your Creative Agency

When you’re first marketing yourself as a freelancer, you have to make sure that your clients trust you. The entire point of your marketing is to convince each prospective client that you, personally, will do an awesome job on their project. But that approach doesn’t work when you won’t be personally doing every piece of work that passes through your agency. You’re going to have to make some major changes in how you handle marketing in order to get your agency’s name out there.

Take Your Name Off the Door

One of the key changes you’ll need to make in your branding is to take away personal elements, at least to a certain extent. For many freelancers, personal branding is a logical way to promote the services you offer. You may be pushing traffic towards a fairly personal website, located at yourname.com.

It’s up to you to decide just how much of your own mark you want to put on the company.

As you move to an agency model, however, you need to make it clear with every step of your branding that you’re not the only person involved. At the most basic level, that means changing the name you’re operating under. You need to create an agency brand.

It’s up to you to decide just how much of your own mark you want to put on the company. You can use your last name to brand the agency, or you can use a company name that doesn’t reference you individually. Personally, I prefer to keep this a marketing decision more than one of ego. Do some research to see what will be easier to promote, especially in terms of search engine rankings. A common last name may not be a good fit, no matter how proud you are of your heritage.

You’ll also want to make sure that anyone you’re planning to work with on a regular basis will be comfortable working under the brand you create. You may add partners in the future, for instance, who might have their own preferences on how the company is named. You may also have some legal obligations, depending on the structure of your company. A limited liability corporation must have ‘LLC’ someplace in the company’s name, and other structures have similar requirements. You may need to file a DBA (‘Doing Business As’) to use any other name.

If you’ve put a lot of effort into promoting yourself as an individual freelancer already, make sure that you continue to take advantage of that work. Keep your personal site intact, though make a point of directing clients on to your agency site. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to promote yourself specifically through your agency, but your company should take precedence.

Introduce Your Team to Your Clients

When a client hires a freelancer, she knows exactly who she’ll be working with. With an agency, things can be a little more complicated: the overall quality of the agency’s work is usually clear, but it’s hard for a prospective client to know who will be working on her project and what sort of work that creative might do. It’s up to you as the head of the agency to alleviate any concerns your clients might have. The easiest way to do so is to make a point of introducing your team to your clients.

You may not be working on projects in such a way as to require a personal introduction and, honestly, you probably need to provide your introductions long before the project ever starts. That means that your marketing materials need to do the heavy lifting for you. They should make it clear that your team is top-notch and can provide what your clients need.

If you’re working primarily with freelancers, it can be difficult to be specific about exactly who is on your team, if only because you can’t be sure of who you’ll be working with from one project to the next. However, prospective clients probably aren’t going to be looking for a huge level of detail — even some general discussions of the types of freelancers you prefer to work with can be very reassuring. Put together what information you can offer and see if that’s enough. You can always tweak future versions of your marketing materials to include more information about the members of your team.

Once you’ve actually embarked on a new project, it may make sense to give a client access to more information about the specific team members who will be working on their project. You’ll need to balance that with keeping the information flow going through you so that you know what’s going on with each project. Just how much access you want to provide may come down to a question of what works for your individual agency.

Give The People You Work With the Opportunity to Market

Depending on the exact type of agency you found, you may wind up taking on projects that a single freelancer wouldn’t — either because of the size or the different skills required. If you make a habit of working with different freelancers, you may find that they’re helpful in your marketing efforts.

Your subcontractors may be offered projects that are just not a good fit for them (at least if they try to handle those projects without help). It’s up to you to make it worth your team members’ while to bring those projects directly to you. How you do so depends on what feels comfortable.

There are agencies that offer affiliate programs, often by giving out coupon codes or custom links associated with each team member.

You may be willing to offer a commission or another financial reward to such team members. No matter what sort of incentive you decide to offer, make sure everyone who works with you knows about it. If they don’t know you’re always looking for more projects for the agency, they’re a lot less likely to help you land anything they hear about.

You can structure incentives in a variety of different ways — just make sure that you can afford any payouts you’re offering your team. The hard part really comes down to making sure that any team member referring work to you is getting credit for her efforts. You need to make a point of asking new clients how they heard about you, even if the question feels trite.

There are agencies that offer affiliate programs, often by giving out coupon codes or custom links associated with each team member. However, technology doesn’t always work and nothing can endanger the stability of your agency as quickly as one of the contractors or employees you work with feeling like they are getting short-changed.

Bringing the rest of your team in on marketing can take more direct forms, as well: particularly if you’ve hired employees, rather than contractors, you can ask them to take an active role in marketing the agency.

If, for instance, you have a company blog, ask your team members to contribute posts on a regular basis. Highlighting those different voices can make your agency more appealing to prospective clients who want to know exactly who they’re working with. The same goes for networking, speaking gigs and other marketing opportunities.

Of course, you need to consider who is representing your company. No one else will do it exactly the same way you might. You need to trust anyone who can impact your agency’s reputation. That may mean educating them on what you consider to be positive ways they can represent the company and what you’d like them to avoid.

Consider a Salesperson or Marketing Staff

While hiring someone to handle sales isn’t usually practical when you’re working on your own, it can make sense to have someone drumming up business full-time if you have a whole team that needs work.

A salesperson typically won’t handle much in the way of marketing; rather she’ll follow up on any leads you give her and convert them into paying clients. But you can get the hard work of actually making the sale off your desk, letting you focus on the rest of your marketing.

It can take a little while to build up revenues to the point where you can hire more help — sales staff can be paid on commission, making them a little easier to hire — but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Unlike freelancing, which usually works out to be a one-person deal, the entire point of having an agency is to be able to hand off certain types of work to someone else. Marketing can definitely fall into that category, even beyond hiring sales staff.

But since you’ll likely need to put in even more effort towards promoting your agency than you do to market yourself as a freelancer, getting help may be the only way to make sure that all the work gets done. Since you’re no longer the only person depending on your marketing efforts, the best policy is to do what it takes to ensure a steady stream of clients are coming through the door.

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