Shifting from being a freelancer to having a full-blown creative agency has never been easier. In the past, freelancers were geographically restricted to the area they lived in. Still, with the revolutionary change of the internet, freelancers can access a world of people, tools, and strategies to grow their empire.
With stellar organisation, careful planning, and strategic execution, any freelancer can start a creative agency — as long as they know how to.
That’s what we’re here for.
In this article, we’ll cover our top tips so you can stop thinking about your dreams and start manifesting them.
1. Create Business Systems
Our number one tip to shifting from freelancer to full-blown creative agency is: you must be process-driven.
This means having the right systems in place so that every freelancer and employee that works for you can do their job independently.
You won’t have time to hold anyone’s hand or micromanage them, so skipping this part isn’t an option.
How do you create business systems that work for you like a well-oiled machine?
First, take a look at the activities that make up the operational side, the sales and marketing side, and the financial side of your business.
Then, the next step is to break down those activities into actionable steps and decide which tools, people, and strategies can help make those steps easier to manage. You’ll also need a way to track all of this to see which areas need to improve.
Note: Use tools that easily integrate with one another and allow automation and custom workflows.
Here are some examples of tools you can use to run operations, sales, and marketing:
- Communication tools (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.)
- Project management tools (monday.com, Wrike, Asana, etc.)
- Password management tools (LastPass, Duo Security, OneLogin, etc.)
- Research tools (Google, MarketMuse, elink.io, etc.)
- Writing and editing tools (Google Docs, Grammarly, Writer, Hemingway App, etc.)
- Website platform and commerce tools (WordPress, Wix, Shopify, Instagram Shop)
- Marketing tools (Streak, Mailchimp, Later, etc.)
- Templates (negotiation templates, sales templates, email templates, etc.)
Once you’ve chosen your tools, decide what kind of staff your agency needs. Do you want to hire employees, or would you prefer freelancers or both? What kind of job roles do you need to fill?
For example, if you’re juggling multiple accounts, you might need an account manager, or if you feel like you can’t keep up with your schedule, you might need a personal assistant.
Finally, what strategies are you going to use to complete those steps? Are you going to use list-building strategies? SEO? Lead generation?
Whatever strategies you choose, make sure they help speed up completion, improve quality, and enable you and your team to work more independently.
Next, we’ll cover some examples of how to run the financial side.
2. Get the Right Accounting Software
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about accounting software regarding your agency’s financial side.
After all, it’s unlikely you are working for free whether as a freelancer or creative agency, right?
If you want to switch to having a creative agency, you must be equipped with the right accounting software.
Having the right accounting system can help you:7 Tips to Shift from Freelancer to Full-Blown Creative Agency
- Keep up with all the financials involved in your business — say goodbye to those dreadful days of getting lost in quarterly spreadsheets and receipt boxes
- Spot accounting bottlenecks
- Have on-time financial reporting (avoid getting in trouble with creditors and regulators)
- Take advantage of potential tax write-offs
- Save time on dreadfully long manual processes
- Automate invoices and receipts
- Have faster record-keeping
- Deal with more suppliers/clients and ultimately make more money
3. Get Enough Sleep
According to a recent study, getting enough sleep is crucial to being a great leader and getting more work done. 90% of bosses who slept well believed it had a positive effect at work, and the numbers don’t lie:
Well-rested bosses are more likely to encourage productive employees, be in a good mood, and have focus and energy throughout the workday.
To make sure you get enough rest, try these tips:
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Allow natural light to come into your room in the morning
- Stick to a daily wake time and work schedule
- Invest in a good mattress
- Create a bedtime routine
- Don’t drink caffeine in the evening
To lead your team to success and be more productive, it’s crucial to get enough sleep. Don’t skip this step.
4. Get a Hand With Marketing
After your systems and strategies are set up, you’ll have a better understanding of your marketing goals.
You and your team can learn how to take care of marketing on your own, but you’ll likely spend most of your workday running that side of your business.
So, if you’ve got other important things to do (or if you’re just not interested in being a full-time marketer), then you’ll need a hand.
There are many ‘white label services’ (aka experts that do the heavy digital marketing for you without taking the credit) that you can use to build your own agency.
With this helping hand, you’ll be able to get a better return on your marketing investment, focus your time on what you do best, and have professional and polished marketing designed to convert leads into customers.
5. Set Your Business and Your Family up for Financial Success
Running an agency means being responsible for your future, your children’s future (or any special kids in your life), and the financial security of your employees.
Creative solutions like Earlybird allow you to begin securing a child’s future by creating investment savings they can access when they’re adults.
You may also need to take a serious look at your credit to get your finances in order. This will be a crucial step if you ever need to secure business loans later down the line. (Make sure you know the difference between building business credit and building personal credit.)
Here are some tips on building business credit:
- Make business credit card payments on time
- Open a line of credit with vendors (make sure they report payments)
- Open a business bank account
- Use business credit products to manage your cash flow
- Get a business tax ID number (EIN)
With good business credit, you have a better chance at securing a business loan if you ever run into an emergency cash-flow situation (like not being able to pay your employees because you’re waiting on funds).
You can also use business loans to invest in better equipment, hire a performance marketing team, or to expand your products, services, and locations.
Note: Please consult with a credit analyst before making decisions on business credit products.
Beyond investments and credit products, make sure you have a monthly business budget plan that accounts for monthly expenses, employee payments, vendor payments, bills, and business savings.
With proper financial health, you can secure your financial future.
6. Focus on Creating an Awesome Team
An agency is only as good as its team. To create an awesome team, you’ll need to develop an onboarding process, manage communication, come up with a training system, and build team camaraderie.
In this section, we’ll take an in-depth look at how to create your dream team.
Tip #1: Communication is key! (Especially for remote agencies.)
Make sure the communication tool you chose earlier has real-time updates, custom channels and threads, and allows you to communicate across various teams and departments on multiple devices. Encourage your team to keep an eye on the tool daily to not miss critical updates.
Tip #2: Create an easy-to-manage onboarding process without multiple interviews.
The first step in setting up your onboarding process is finding a site or forum to post job listings. Then, create an application form (most sites have a built-in option, or you can link to a custom one on your website).
Make sure to include a section where they include their portfolio or attach examples of any previous work they’ve done. This will give you a good idea of their work quality.
You’ll need to decide what to do with completed applications. How will you handle applicants who don’t make the cut?
What should the next step be for applicants who seem like a good match? Should they send in a custom sample?
We also recommend setting up an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to protect confidential information about your business.
If you hire freelancers, you’ll need to set up contractor agreements, and if you hire employees, you’ll need to set up W-4s.
That’s a lot of paperwork. A business process automation software can put your onboarding process on autopilot and keep everything organised.
Next, add your new team members to the appropriate tools and pipes, and provide them with instructions on submitting invoices or collecting payment. From there you can add them to your communication tool and say hi, set up a quick welcome call, or send a welcome email.
Finally, assign an account manager to the new employee and start sending over assignments, or set up a work schedule and create a job description with daily expectations.
Tip #3: Set up a training process
Training employees well must be a high priority or you’ll end up having a team that wastes a lot of time.
Whether you decide to create high-quality training videos, hire a trainer, or set up an online training course (i.e. Trainual), be sure the information you provide helps your team easily understand what’s expected of them.
Tip #4: Focus on team-building and creating a company culture
Inspire, motivate, and put a smile on your team’s face by praising their efforts and assigning them important projects they’re excited to work on.
Bring your team together by creating a space for break-time chatter (like using Donut to inspire conversations in the #watercooler channel in Slack, complete with memes and dancing emojis).
With these tips, you’ll be on your way to manifesting your creative team. Your team will be key to the success of your agency. Support your team, and they’ll do their best work.
7. Keep Your Website and Data Protected
Cybercrimes cost small businesses $2.7 billion in 2018. Now that you’ve gone through the efforts to set up your entire agency’s website, online systems, and digital tools, the last thing you need is a security breach or system crash.
Some examples of cyber attacks business owners need to watch out for are:
- Malware (damages computers, servers, and networks)
- Viruses (give cybercriminals access to your sensitive data)
- Ransomware (infects and restricts access to devices unless a ransom is paid)
- Phishing (from websites or emails that seem legitimate, but they actually infect devices or steal private information)
To prevent hackers and scammers from taking over your website, make sure you’re equipped with the best cybersecurity you can get your hands on (especially if you’re a small business where the stakes are even higher).
With proper cybersecurity, you can prevent devastating losses, damaging equipment, and data breaches. Cybersecurity has to be a top priority for your creative agency.
There will always be a reason to put off making your dreams a reality, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to run the creative agency you’ve been yearning for.
Ready? Choose a tip, take action, then choose another tip. Rinse and repeat.