15 Dec 2015

7 Challenges Every Design Agency Faces

The daily life of a design agency is fraught with challenges, not least of all slogging hard for two weeks solid over a steaming laptop constantly under the threat of a client turning round and saying, ‘but I don’t like it…’ One of the many challenges every design agency goes through is the constant, ‘circle of life’ stuff where you lose a client, you win a client, only to lose another client and everything (hopefully) balances out. There are other challenges that all design agencies face in some shape or other that are unseen, but can seem overwhelming.

Swystun Communications conducted research and produced a report titled “Big Value: A Study of Small & Medium Sized Advertising Agencies,. This research found that there were seven similar challenges that all advertising agencies faced. In no particular order, these are:

  1. Keeping up with technology
  2. Affording growth
  3. Balancing the needs of new business and keeping up great service
  4. Attracting agency search consultants
  5. Overcoming the “generalist” stigma
  6. Competing with large agencies and their advantages
  7. Client success (Their growth means they will be able to move a bigger agency.)

Every single one of these problems has nothing to do with creativity or graphic design brilliance. They are all challenges that come with running a successful design agency. Addressing these problems won’t create better graphic designs or a more effective branding campaign, but they are essential to keeping your design agency viable and producing work in a way that keeps your client happy. Pre-empting these problems, as well as already working out a solution, will help keep your well-oiled machine working like … well, a well-oiled machine.

Keeping up with technology

Technology changes all the time. Every week it feels like a new app or software has been released that claims to help you make the most of your time, user experience or efficacy, but you need to ask yourself one question – do I really need it? Just because it’s the 2.0 version does not mean there is enough in it to warrant the extra expenditure. You need to look at any tech purchase, hard or soft, and see if you will get your moneys worth out of it. If you can achieve the same thing with a reasonable amount of leveraging your current tech, it may be worth waiting for a while.

If you do desperately need to use the next ‘new’ thing see if you can hire it or have a few days loan before you buy. It may even be worth asking your contacts if they have one you can come and see it to evaluate. They may even let you borrow it – or do it for you for a fee. You’re a creative! So be creative!

If all else fails… wait a week. There’ll be another version out then.

Affording Growth

Don’t take this challenge personally, all business have to plan and budget to afford growth. It seems a bit of an oxymoron that you have to have money to make money, but that just about sums up the ‘circle’ of business life.

There is only one way to afford growth – expect it, and save for it. You want to be able to grab the opportunity when you can, so if you put a set amount away from each project that you complete, then you’ll have what you need on hand when you need it. If you need to borrow money, borrow it for you current needs as not many lenders will part with their hard earned cash on a crystal ball prediction.

Balancing the needs of new business

This is another problem that needs to be pre-empted with a viable plan. All new customers want to be treated with kid gloves and feel liked they are the centre of attention, you have to expect that. Make a plan that gives them the service they deserve without compromising the service to the customers you already have. This may mean having them come to the office to you rather than visiting them or some meetings taken over by someone else, but make sure you have a way to look after new business that doesn’t rely on taking up productive time.

You need a continual stream of both new customers and repeat customers to future proof your business so make room for both. If you have an effective, segmented customer service plan you can make sure both you have the business coming to fund the growth you’ll need.

Attracting agency search consultants

Oh how we wish there was a magic wand for this! There is only one way to attract agency search consultants (and who doesn’t? That’s where the big fish swim!) … be AWESOME! Do your best work, be an active part of the industry and hopefully it will happen.

The ‘generalist’ stigma

In a nutshell, not many clients know how marketing achieves what it does, or sometimes, even what it can achieve. To them ‘marketing’ is a nebulous industry that produces overpriced brochures and tv ads. Not understanding its value can be interpreted that ‘marketing’ is a general term with no real meaning. The only antidote to this sea of ‘blah’ is to make sure you give value to every customer. Show them your value and make sure they realise it.

Marketing covers such a huge range of products and services that can add to the confusion of a ‘generalist’ stigma, but we need to take up the challenge to market ourselves more effectively. Clients need to know what we can do for their business. If we have to get over the, ‘I have no idea what you do’, stigma the solution is in our hands. We help companies make money and they need to know we can do that.

Competing with large marketing companies

There will always be big fish, little fish, medium sized fish, ‘nearly’ little sized fish, ‘sort of’ big fish and so on in the marketing pool. Everyone is growing at different rates so there will always be bigger fish – even the bigger fish take it turns to be the biggest. The key is … keep trying to keep up with the big boys! Make sure you are growing and one day you will be the bigger fish that customers come too.

Until then … accept that customers come and go – but always feed the client machine. You need a constant stream of new accounts coming in, small and large, so make sure you never sacrifice your new accounts to service your old. A good way to overcome this problem is to ally yourself with a larger marketing company and arrange for you to feed the larger enquiries to them so in return, they feed their small accounts to you.

Client success

It’s always sad to see a client you have worked with for a long time need services you can’t offer. It’s unfortunate, but remember how they got so successful – it was your marketing that did it! Ask them to remember you, celebrate the achievement and use what you have learnt to nurture the current clients you have. It’s unrealistic to ask customers to stop growing out of your abilities, so you might as well make it such a great send-off that they won’t forget you.

Running a business isn’t easy. It won’t ever be, but expect these challenges, keep up with competition, roll with it, as that is your future. As the research concluded:

“Size of agencies will always be a consideration, but new models that deliver scale without comprising quality and cost present the greatest opportunities to compete.”

One day, it really could be you.