10 top tips to setting up your own independent agency

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Have you ever contemplated going out on your own? Many people think about setting up their own ad agency and leaving the big guys behind. The rewards both financially and emotionally are high if you succeed and even the journey can be fun- even if you don’t arrive at your destination. What is the worst that can happen? You might lose some money and work for someone else. But you will always know you tried.

LONDON Advertising, on setting up as an independent agency

First the health warning: 8 out of 10 start-ups fail. But that should not stop you trying – after all, life is not a dress rehearsal and you don’t want to look back when you are older and wish ‘if only'. The key thing is to mitigate the risks and maximise your opportunity of success. Over the next ten weeks I will be sharing 10 tips I have learnt over the last seven years that I wish someone had told my partner and I when we were contemplating launching on our own.

Tip number one: treat yourself as you would a client

The good news: our sector has very low barriers to entry so you don’t need a hefty slug of working capital to get started. The bad news: our sector has low barriers to entry so is an over-supplied industry with little differentiation and agencies competing on the head of a pin to stand out.

So job number one is to think long and hard about what it is you will be bringing to the industry that is fresh, new and different. My advice is to treat yourself as a prospective client and pitch to yourself.

Look at the competitive arena. This benchmark of different agency positionings across the world by the US intermediary Peter Levitan is a good place to start. Getting a differentiated positioning in our market is hard. But if we can’t do it for ourselves how can we expect clients to trust us to be able to do it for them?

Road test it by writing your creds and present them to some external people who are outside your close circle and gauge their reaction to them. We were fortunate to have been able to do this with Martin Jones of the AAR who was most helpful and encouraging, it is essential to see how your credentials come across as a start up to gage how successful you will be. My suggestion is do this before you take the plunge to strike out on your own (along with writing the business plan so you know you can fund it).

Once you have an agreed positioning it should inform every aspect of how you structure and market your agency like you would expect to do with a client. It makes so much sense! Our mission statement was ‘to deliver London-quality creative in any market and any media from one office.’ That one mission differentiated us from small agencies that focus on their domestic market and the large, outdated networks which are slow, old-fashioned and expensive.

We called our Agency ‘LONDON’ and when a few years later we bought our own office building we named it LONDON House. Our business development programme is based on the LONDON Dinner, our newsletter is The LONDON News, our promotional item is a LONDON Routemaster, you get the picture. Our positioning also tapped into a client insight that London was the best place in the world to develop international creative work so we owned the highest order benefit in our category.

Next week my tip will be covering the importance of setting up with a trusted partner. If you want to read about our highs and lows of setting up solo, click here.

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