An Unsuitable guide to starting up your own agency

By The Drum, Administrator

November 9, 2007 | 4 min read

1. You’ll work harder than you ever have - but it’s worth it. Plan and see how you’re going to pay the bills in the first few months. Stories of people starting up with nothing and living on rice krispies are usually urban myths. You need to net some business and have an appetite to turn your hand to anything in the early days.

2. You learn very quickly (and keep on learning) but you can’t for one minute appear understaffed or naive to a client’s requirements. On the positive side, because any piece of business is vital to a start up’s survival and progression, service levels can be far better than big agencies with clients given lots of love & attention. That said, don’t expect sympathy from clients because you’ve made the leap - there is always someone happy to take the business from you.

3. No, you won’t have the credentials of a big agency and you can’t fool people that you have. BUT, you mustn’t give up getting on lists as some prospects like to see new, fresh names and not the usual trawl of big, well established agencies. Everyone wants the nice brands but we’ve rarely said no to much business. If you set out to just

do sexy stuff or live off doing chip shop ads, you’ll be working emptying bins in weeks.

4. Keep learning from your mistakes. We still make mistakes now and kick ourselves mercilessly afterwards but that’s a good thing. The great thing is, when you’re small, you’re flexible enough to adjust or enhance things at the drop of a hat, be it the style of your credentials, type of prospects you’re going for or how much PR you’re getting.

5. If you can, get some good payers under your belt. Just because your invoice terms say 30 days you’ll be lucky to get paid within 60. Put some money aside for those lean times when no-one seems to want to pay you. And remember, the tax man will want his sizeable piece of the cake and won’t wait.

6. Watch out for ten bob millionaires. They’re everywhere. They seem to have a legitimate well structured business at the start of the relationship then suddenly they’re nowhere to be seen and have gone to the wall owing you thousands.

7. Get some friends. As a small business, you’ll need help. A list of reliable freelancers as well as other small companies that can do the stuff you can’t (media, research etc.)

8. Take little steps. It’s easy to get carried away when those first invoices get paid and new business starts to come in. Staffing up, flashy premises, top notch motors and big expense accounts. But don’t employ anyone, get the interior designers in or visit the Bentley garage until you absolutely have to.

9. Don’t forget the boring things. Don’t skimp on IT. Get a cleaner. Always be available. Make lists and tick them off. If you can’t already, learn how to make a decent cup of tea.

10. Get into a clearly defined workspace as soon is as humanly and financially possible. Inevitably, most start-ups will begin in someone’s box room/loft/shed/kennel. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to ‘go home from work’ at the end of the day. Working from home is convenient initially but the feeling of ‘always being at work’ will get to you.

11. Sometimes you can be too keen. Have respect for the job you do and charge sensible rates. Clients want value for money but will also be unsettled by bargain-basement, knock-down prices. Being the cheapest can also mean being least able to do the job. The same goes for deadlines. Don’t set yourself impossible timings just to appear keen as mustard to the client. Good work takes time and a good client will appreciate this... well, most of the time!

12.And last of all, enjoy it! At first the emotions run high with the fear factor of it all going wrong and then you worry about your first member of staff followed by a whole host of growing pains. But remember, if you’d wanted to be miserable you’d have stayed in your original job.


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