I'm assuming you've either started to convert your PR or marketing agency into a full blown digital powerhouse or you are considering the transformation. Markets and consumer behavior are pretty much forcing the issue these days. Either you play well in the interactive media space or you struggle to stay relevant. Having made this move a few years ago, we have faced these top 10 challenges for any agency switching from outbound to inbound marketing.
Will you focus on local markets or national (or global)? Will you try to service a niche or industry vertical? Will you specialize in one aspect of marketing or handle all of the disciplines? What size company will you target?
What are you going to sell and to whom? How competitive is the marketplace and how do you differentiate your offering from your competitors? Are you going to specialize in one or two inbound marketing disciplines or provide the whole nine yards? Do you have a value-added secret sauce that sets you apart from the pack? What about packaging and pricing? Can you learn from the experiences of other agencies, or will you need to find your own way?
Now that you've decided the 'why', 'where' and 'what', let's focus on the 'who'. Who do you have on staff now to provide your services or build your products? What skillsets are you lacking? How are you going to attract the right people, hire them and keep them happy? Or does it make more sense to subcontract out certain aspects of your business?
You need a location and some form of office to house and enable your workforce. Since your business is going digital, you may not need as much space for client meetings, but you still need to worry about employee morale and productivity. At a minimum, you need a reliable network, internet connection, phone system and comfortable environment. Hot or cold workers are not happy workers. If you are going with a full or partial remote worker model, how will you collaborate with them and manage them?
You're an inbound marketing agency, so you will need the best available technology for web design and development, content creation and management, SEO, social media engagement and monitoring, lead generation and closed-loop marketing. Our setup is constantly evolving. You can follow our preferences via our blog.
You won't stay in business long without sales. You're an inbound marketing agency, so you'd better be good at that. You need to fill your own funnel before you can start providing that as a service. Your clients won't buy your claims about your capabilities if they don't see you "walking the walk". You need to dedicate a hefty amount of time and budget to your own website, blogs, advanced content and social media. You will find that your personal rolodex runs out of sales leads pretty quickly. Once you start generating leads with inbound, who/how will you handle them? Do you have a solid sales process in place and closed-loop marketing to keep sales people and marketers on the same page?
This can be a killer. If you provide open-ended, non-specific proposals, you will end up losing money on your customer projects. Tell your customers exactly what you are going to do and when before you get started. Make sure they understand and agree. Get it in writing.
If you are selling inbound marketing services on a retainer basis, you need to prove yourself every month. Report your results in regular meetings and interpret the data. Update your strategy as you go and make recommendations to improve results going forward. Look for new ways to add value. Ask for customer feedback and pay attention to it.
If you are successful at overcoming the above challenges, your business will grow. Now you have a new challenge. How can you scale up to meet demand without breaking the bank. You need to develop a solid business plan complete with current monthly financials projected into the future and accounting for realistic sales growth and costs. Will you need financing, and if so, what kind? Can you grow "organically" or will you need to step it up with investors?
What's the point in building a successful inbound marketing agency if it isn't fun? Starting a business requires endless hours and produces lots of headaches. You can't avoid that, but you can think about and strive for personal satisfaction as well as monetary rewards. Build into your plan a path for your own changing role and duties. You can't handle everything forever. Find and hire good people and empower them to take charge. One day you will wake up and realize they don't need you anymore. Now you can focus on the next big idea.
I would love to hear your ideas and experiences in building and running an inbound marketing (or PR or digital or interactive) agency.
Photo credit: by DaveFayram