How to Scale a Marketing Agency Fast: Don’t Believe The Hype

The reality is, much of the inspirational hype you read online about agency growth is bovine excrement.

Look, I’m as jazzed as anybody when I read stuff like “Retire at age 28!” “Do what you love!” “Work thirty minutes a week from a Tahitian beach while sipping a lightly alcoholic beverage from a cup that has an umbrella toothpick thing in it!”

Reality is a bit harsher.

After more than a decade of work in the marketing industry, I’ve witnessed many solopreneur and startup marketing agencies do the following:

  • Hobble along with little to no growth
  • Fold after a few months or years
  • Experience zero satisfaction in the work
  • Quickly lose touch with the needs and realities of clients

It helps little when an inspirational writer with a knack for hyperbole tells these entrepreneurs that scaling their agency is a dreamy adventure in joy and ease.

I have enormous respect for all entrepreneurs. It takes guts and hustle to quit a steady job, go out on your own, and start a business.

But, inspirational bro writers notwithstanding, the entrepreneurial life is not all Lambos and keynote speeches.

So, for your daily dose of Debbie Downer: scaling your agency is not easy.

Question: Should You Scale a Marketing Agency?

So, let’s bring up the question, do you want to scale your marketing agency? Should you do it?

Cue the excuses! Often, I hear something along the lines of “Oh, Larry, I don’t want to be a big agency.”

When I peer beyond the glibness of that excuse, what I hear is a plea — “My agency is stuck! I don’t know how to grow! Please tell me how!”

Some people’s excuses sound all awshucks-not-me, but this actually hides a mindset deficit — the unwillingness to take on the difficulty, the risk, the potential disappointment, and even the probable huge success.

Many agency owners have mental hangups that prevent them from every shouting a convincing heck, yeah!

My goal in this section is to give you permission to shout heck, yeah.

Let me share a few of the motivations for scaling your agency:

  • Money – building a business empire, earning a high income, purchasing nice things and experiences
  • Recognition – speak at conferences, get featured in publications, become Internet famous
  • Challenge – pursuing a major goal, scaling with efficiency and speed
  • Purpose – helping others, providing employment, mentoring people, giving back

Inspiration for scaling a marketing agency may range from the avaricious to the altruistic, but this truth underlies the issue — you can scale your marketing agency.

For some agency owners, the very thought can be surprising — you mean it’s possible to grow? I have a choice?

Of course, you can.

But how?

How to Scale a Marketing Agency: Delusional Thinking

Full disclosure: I have five agency growth hacks (dispensed with largesse in this video), but there’s a major one that constitutes a fundamental mindset shift.

This one point is what I will now proceed to pound on for the remainder of this article.

You want to scale your marketing agency?

Okay, scaling your marketing agency requires being somewhat delusional.

Wait, delusional?

Yes, absolutely.

Delusional thinking is the practice of thinking bigger and farther than you’re used to thinking.

Delusional thinking is Red Bull for your motivation. Drink a can of delusional thinking and your motivational powers begin to quiver and expand with an unstoppable force.

Delusional thinking gives you inspiration, helps you see a way forward, and pushes you to achieve things that are not on the mental horizon of ordinary mortals.

Using the power of delusional thinking you can scale your agency like you wouldn’t believe.

How to Scale a Marketing Agency: Delusion with Intention

Being delusional isn’t merely getting high off your aspirations.

After all, I’m pointing you to a specific goal — scaling your marketing agency — not hyping you up to walk over hot coals or something.

This is where we pair intention with delusional thinking.

Intention is all about making the mental decision that you will scale your business. You’re going to grow. You’re done with the ho-hum of your snail’s pace existence. You assert a bold and compelling vision of your future.

But what about all the details?! I can hear the wails of protest now.

There are legion technical details involved in scaling an agency — from ordering paper clips to adhering to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Yes, it can be tedious and complicated.

But the important thing happens at the very outset — in your mind, with your intention.

You possess intention. You will grow your agency.

How I Scaled My Marketing Agency

In 2008, I started an agency called Wordstream.

I didn’t have a whole lot going for me other than free WiFi at Panera and a cheapo laptop with Microsoft Excel.

Before anything else, I did something really simple — I made a delusional growth plan for my not-yet-existing agency.

Here’s the screenshot of my business plan:

scale a marketing agency - better business plan

Look at those two red arrows. They indicate the delusional growth plan that I had for how to scale a marketing agency.

I projected to go from zero to $240,951.80 in revenue for year 1. And then on up to $26 million in total revenue four years later.

Delusional? You decide.

  • I had no startup experience.
  • It was 2008, which meant that we were smack dab in the middle of a mammoth global economic recession.
  • I had no existing revenue.
  • I had no customers
  • I had no team.

(Panera doesn’t serve alcoholic beverages, by the way.)

At that point, I had absolutely no idea that my agency would eventually employ over a thousand people, that I would become one of the top ten Medium contributors in the world, and that my agency would be acquired by Gannett in 2018 for $150,000,000.

Fast forward ten years.

My delusional plan worked.

In fact, it didn’t just “work.” We exceeded my delusional projection by a significant margin!

But how?

How to Scale a Marketing Agency: Use the Unicorn Filter Effect

You’ve heard the phrase “rose colored glasses” right?

Basically, it suggests that you’re looking at things in an overly optimistic way — often a vision that doesn’t square with reality.

I upped the ante. I invented the Unicorn Filter Effect.

scale a marketing agency - unicorn filter effect

The Unicorn Filter is my totally-not-patented method of eliminating anything that doesn’t fit in my delusional plan.

It works like magic.

I say, “Hey, look, I have this delusional plan that involves scaling a marketing agency by 10,733% in four years. Wanna join me?”

  • 50% of people will grab their shirt and pretend to cough because they’re actually laughing at me.
  • 45% will politely smile and tell me how to dial 911 if I feel ill.
  • 4% will use an expletive to describe their pejorative viewpoint regarding my intelligence

And 1% will say “Sure, Larry. I’m quitting my C-level position, corner office, and 12 weeks of paid vacation because I think this is brilliant. Wait for me in the hall while I go turn in my resignation, effective immediately.”

Unicorn filter level: unlocked.

The unicorn filter has a powerful effect. By holding to your untenable vision, you effectively exclude anything and everything that does not help you on your path to scaling your marketing agency.

The filter allows you to get the right employees, the right business partners, and the right investors that will join you in the pursuit to scale your marketing agency fast.

The cool thing about the unicorn filter is that the people who filter through aren’t just accepting an opportunity. They are kicking and screaming to get in on the opportunity. They want this. They are on fire. They’ve chugged the delusional thinking Red Bull with you and want to secure their seat on the rocket ship.

Folks, delusional thinking works.

Notice I haven’t used the word “easy,” “simple,” “a breeze,” or variations on the theme of a beachside pina colada.

For example, the unicorn filter doesn’t work on its own. In order to find that 1% of frothing-at-the-mouth co-founders, employees, or investors, you have to cycle through the 99% of people who are scoffers, apathetic, or profane.

Delusional thinking coupled with fierce intention using the unicorn filter is how you scale your marketing agency.

But it doesn’t work on its own.

How to Scale a Marketing Agency Again: Redux

After my delusional thinking had reached its fruition in Wordstream, I was ready for the second act.

Wordstream was in really good hands, and I was ready to leap wholeheartedly into the most influential marketing technology to emerge in years.

Chatbot marketing.

scale a marketing agency - chatbot marketing

It was ten years after the founding of Wordstream, and by this time I was no longer hogging Panera bandwidth.

I did, however, dust off my business plan and fired up my practice of delusional thinking.

This time, my goal is twice the revenue in half the time.

scale a marketing agency - better business plan

MobileMonkey is swimming in a universe of potential right now.

Chatbot technology is enormously powerful, but chatbot marketing is criminally underused by marketers.

Whether due to fear of change or whatever, a fraction of marketers are utilizing Facebook Messenger marketing with chatbots.

What does this mean? First-mover’s advantage.

Right now, marketers have the opportunity to unleash a Messenger marketing strategy ahead of thousands of competitors.

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