I’m weighing up whether to continue as a solo freelancer or to launch a micro agency.
I’d like to make full use of my skills (from content strategy to reporting). I’ve worked with a lot of agencies, but maybe that’s not enough knowledge to start my own. On the other hand, why play small?
What helped you make your decision to launch an agency?
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: you’re right, I run an agency now and I’m no longer a freelancer in practice.
But I was a freelancer for about eight years before that. It’s been quite the journey to get here, so I was super happy to see this question come through.
Let’s start with this: you know you best, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt. I’m not about to make this decision for you, so don’t take my positives as a stamp of approval or my negatives as a reason to ignore what you know.
With that little caveat out of the way…
There are lots of good reasons to start an agency, and there are lots of bad reasons to start an agency. The biggest of the bad is starting an agency because you’re getting more work than you know what to do with. We all hate turning away money, right?
Little known fact: my wife and I tried to start an agency about two years before we started Beam.
We fell into the more work = more money mindset trap, and it went terribly. We didn’t have solid guidelines, we rushed the vetting process, our rates weren’t high enough to support quality writers, and overall we just bit off more than we could chew.
Lessons were learned, tears were shed, and we took a few steps backward.
Fast forward to Beam: after I quit my full-time gig, we spent a few months exploring whether we wanted to continue freelancing or start a (true) agency. We decided on an agency (obvi) for entirely different reasons this time around: we wanted to learn new skills beyond “just” writing.
It’s encouraging to me to see the same reasoning reflected in your message. I really think the mindset shift—with a focus on growing into new areas—has made a world of difference over this past year.
TL;DR — don’t start an agency if it’s just to make more money, but maybe start an agency if you want to push yourself to learn.
If your goal is to make more money (and, really, why wouldn’t it be) there are plenty of other ways to go about it without starting an agency or even hiring subcontractors.
A couple of places to start:
Raise your rates
No duh, amirite?
But it bears repeating because, time and again, I see freelancers undervaluing their work or spending far too long charging the same amount for the same work.
Let’s give an extreme example: If you doubled your rates today and lost half your clients tomorrow, you’d make the same amount of money but work half as much. It’d free your time up to focus on networking, biz dev with larger clients, and expand the kinds of services you offer.
Focus on consulting instead of writing
You mentioned liking things like editorial strategy and content analytics. Do you get to work on any of that with your current clients? If not, why not?
I don’t think it’s an accident that I started landing larger (and more interesting) projects once I learned how to put SEO research to good use in content strategy.
Ask your current clients if they could use help with the parts you really like, and include those services in every new sales call. You might be surprised by how quickly you can make the transition from writer to content marketing consultant.
This one is a double whammy, too: you get to make more money while doing work that’s more interesting for you.
Finally, if you are still leaning toward starting an agency and building a team, I’d make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions:
- Do you have a solid, non-monetary reason?
- Can your current rates support high-quality freelancers with at least a 30% margin?
- Will you add value to your clients by bringing a team in, beyond simply white labeling other writers’ work?
- Do you have a clear ICP, core offer, and message?
Based on what you included in your question, I imagine you’re close to being able to answer “yes” to all four.
P.S. I know you also asked about sales in your original question. I apologize for leaving that part out, but I promise it’s for a good reason: I also think I suck at sales. Marketing, fine. Sales, no. I didn’t want to speak out of turn, so instead, I recommend this article from Mike on becoming your own case study and joining the waitlist for the next Creative Class.