After years of experience as a creative professional, setting up your own agency is the obvious next step.
Perhaps you’ve found a particular niche that you want to dedicate more of your time to. Or maybe you want to work in a way that’s different to existing agencies.
Starting a creative agency gives you the freedom to shape the business according to your own beliefs and goals.
Similar to my motivation for setting up Alchemy Accountancy, now I think about it.
At the same time, it comes with more responsibility. Unlike freelancing, you’re not just looking out for yourself anymore, once you start to take on employees. The decisions you make have an impact on everyone involved.
Ultimately, you want to grow the business into something bigger than one person – building a legacy, I suppose. And maybe even think about reclaiming some of your own time in the process.
Before you get started, there are some important decisions to make.
Work out your offering
It’s likely you already have some idea of the services your agency is going to provide, but it’s worth spending some time thinking about what exactly you’re going to offer, and how you’ll package it.
You might choose to limit your offering to one main specialty, or provide a range of services. Creative agencies can offer a variety of services, including marketing, advertising, design, copywriting, SEO, and so on.
If you’re not planning to offer a wide range of creative services, you could consider partnering with other agencies with services that complement your own. This means you don’t have to do everything in-house, and can turn your full attention to your own area of expertise.
Find your niche
While some agencies are open to working with any business, it’s generally better to pick a niche. This could be a specific industry, or it could be the stage of growth a business is at.
It could even be more about the goals and attitude of the client – you might choose to work with disruptive brands, for example, or businesses that are looking to grow.
Specialising can help you to differentiate yourself from the competition, as well as allowing you to build up authority in your field.
Plan your finances
With your broader plans in place, it’s important to look at your business from a tax and financial point of view.
This could include determining the best structure, and forming a limited company if necessary, as well as tax planning to make sure you meet your obligations and claim any tax breaks available to you.
If you’re moving from freelancing to running an agency, one major difference to the way you work will be your fee structure.
Rather than charging by the hour or by the project, many agencies prefer setting up retainer fees for their clients. Providing services for a regular, flat fee gives you a steady stream of income, and it means you’re not relying heavily on one client.
It’s important to scrutinise the numbers early on, to make sure you’re charging enough for the work you put in, and that your business will be financially viable in the long-term.
Proper budget planning and preparation is essential to prepare you for what’s ahead, and to help you make decisions as your business grows.
Grow your team
Agencies tend to deal with more clients than freelancers alone, so it follows that more people will be needed to deal with the work.
To figure out who you might need to bring on board, start by thinking about your own strengths and weaknesses. What can you do already, and what will you need someone else to help with?
Once you’ve identified those gaps, it may be time to think about hiring your first employee.
Alternatively, you could commission freelancers or contractors to carry out some of the work, but be aware that they might not be available when you need them, or might decide to turn down work if they find a better offer.
As well as filling creative roles, remember to take into account the other tasks that come with running a business, including admin, finance, accounting, payroll, and so on.
Unless you have an expert in these areas on your team, the best option is usually to outsource them, saving you time and ensuring the work is done to a professional standard.
Choose a location
Renting out an office used to be the obvious choice for anyone starting a new agency, but with today’s widely available communication technology – and as working patterns shift following the coronavirus lockdown – many people are starting to rethink this.
By using time tracking and project management software, and keeping up regular communication with your team, it’s possible to run an agency remotely, with the added benefit of saving on office running costs.
On the other hand, having a professional, well-presented office can boost your business’s credibility for potential clients, as well as giving your team a space to connect, share ideas and work collaboratively.
Another option could be to set up more flexible working arrangements, or make use of shared workspaces.
Start winning clients
Now that your agency is set up and ready to go, it’s time to get some clients on board.
If you’ve been freelancing you might have some clients you can continue to work with as an agency, but it’s likely you’ll need to grow that list.
While it might be tempting to take up every opportunity early on, it’s important to be selective at this stage.
The relationship between agency and client has to work on both sides – otherwise, you may find you spend too long on projects that are frustrating for your team, and not valuable to your business in the long-term.
Think back to your original plans, and your goals for your agency, and stick by them when you make these early decisions.
Talk to us about starting up your creative agency.