Six Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting an Agency 

By: Laura Johns, CEO – The Business Growers

This summer, I had the opportunity to sit down with CEOs from agencies all over the United States. Some were marketing agency owners working in real estate; others specialized in painting and some owned generalist agencies. Everyone at the table had been in my shoes in some capacity and experienced the same challenges and successes I had over the last few years. In just a few days at this conference in Vegas, my role as CEO was forever changed. 

The CEOs at this table were energized and inspired. They didn’t get up to leave the room every five minutes to put out client fires. They were engaged and tuned into the people sitting at the table. Several of them poured into me that week and have continued for the last few months. I saw what I wanted to become in them, and I loved it.

For the first two years as CEO at The Business Growers, I did what needed to be done to keep clients happy—late nights, long hours, and sacrificing family time for my laptop. During my week in Vegas, these CEOs gave me practical next steps (like reading Buy Back Your Time) and advice on exactly what steps to take to get me from working in the business every day to working on the business. And in just a few weeks, I’ve taken significant strides to make these changes and am seeing wins every day as a result. 

I’m grateful that these CEOs poured into me, so I want to take the time to do the same for others. As I reflect on the twists and turns of my journey as an agency owner, I’m reminded of the many lessons I’ve learned in the last few years. If I could sit down for coffee with myself before starting this agency, here’s what I would’ve shared. These are the six game-changing lessons that I’ve learned.

1. Do Good Work and Watch the Magic Happen

Entrepreneurs are often fixated on growing revenue and what it will take to make the next dollar. When I first stepped out on my own, I made many decisions out of fear. Rather than fully trusting myself and my capabilities, I was thinking conservatively about what this business could do. I was dreaming safe instead of dreaming big.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Delivering exceptional value creates a ripple effect that surpasses all the sales strategies in the playbook. When you pour your heart into your work, you watch satisfied clients become your biggest advocates. Referrals start flowing in naturally, and you realize that doing good work is the engine for success.

2. Make a Greater Impact with Niche and Specialization

When we first started, I took any client that wanted to do business with me. After six months, I looked at the numbers and asked myself:

  • Where are we making the most impact?
  • What client relationships are operating seamlessly?
  • What is making us the most money?

After dissecting these three things, I quickly realized we have a niche. My 19+ years in technology led me to realize that what I truly loved not only made me happier but also attracted clients who aligned with my passion. 

Today, we target our ICPs (ideal customer profiles), and we are looking for who we serve best – B2B SaaS, Telecommunications, MSPs, and other technology organizations or startups who don’t need or can’t afford an in-house marketing team. I learned that specialization isn’t about limiting what we can do but owning our expertise and scaling with a world-class offering.

3. Unleash Your Team’s Superpowers

The entrepreneurial journey isn’t a straight line; it’s ever-evolving. And the same holds true for my team. We are growing fast, which means our needs change quickly. And the skills my team has acquired over the last few years have also evolved. I’ve learned not to assume strengths and always keep my team in the know about the plan, whether it’s a two-week plan or a ten-year plan. The last thing I want is for us not to be aware that someone internally was interested in a position we filled externally. 

Each team member brings a unique superpower; as a leader, it’s my job to help them lean into their strengths. One of my favorite pastors has always prayed over every new church member. His prayer is, “God, help us make room for their gifts.” That’s the kind of business I want to build. One where part of the joy of work is that the team can flex their skills in a way that benefits both them and the business. As CEO, I’m always prepared for roles to shift and evolve—it’s the rhythm of growth.

4. SOPs: From Good to Great

If I were running a solo shop, I would likely fly by the seat of my pants all day. With a growing team, this doesn’t lead to a sustainable business. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a stellar ops team who have swooped in like superheroes to build our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). They are taking us from good to freakin’ great one day at a time. With SOPs in place, we deliver more than just quality; we deliver consistency. And that is what will allow us to scale, not to mention it’s what sets us miles apart from our competition.

5. Hire Smart, Hire Early

Growth is exciting but can also knock the wind out of your sails if you’re not ready. Trust me. Fast growth means you must also hire fast, but here’s a critical lesson: hire before you’re desperate. Bringing new team members on board before you’re buried under a mountain of work ensures you can train them well and keep the ship sailing smoothly. Smart hiring isn’t just about filling positions; it’s about investing in potential and fostering a culture of continuous learning. When you bring on team members before you’re swamped, you give them—and your business—the space to thrive.

6. Learn from Other CEOs

I can’t say enough how good it felt to be at a table full of CEOs who’ve been through the same things as me. These connections are gold. They’re the ones who recommend books that speak to my soul and give me advice that’s changing the way I live my life and run my business. This year, I realized how important it is to network with fellow agency owners. Being a CEO isn’t always just about business; it’s about growth, learning, and having a tribe that’s got your back.

Business, like life, is a dance. But each lesson shapes me in unique ways. As I navigate my journey as an entrepreneur, I’m learning that it’s not just about business; it’s about the journey of growth for me and the journey of empowering my team—personally and professionally.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have learned what I learned already, and I know plenty more to come. My tips for a future agency owner – focus on quality, trust your team, niche down, find your people, hire early, get SOPs, and GROW, GROW, GROW!

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