Setting Up Your Small Agency to Bounce Back After a Crisis

Three entrepreneurs share more about staying agile during a crisis

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As an agency owner, you have a vision for your business and its growth. You've put a lot of effort into strategies to grow your client roster, to track new business ideas, and continue motivating your team. But preparing for the unexpected—beyond bills and hiring—isn't as second nature as you'd expect.

External forces like a recession or a pandemic can bring inbound business to a halt and press pause on many of your contracts. Sure, staying on top of financials, remaining lean, and finding other investment sources are all part of it. But how else do you set up your business to stay agile during a crisis and bounce back after it has passed?

These 3 entrepreneurs share lessons on how to remain resilient during a crisis and how they're positioning their business to move past it.

1. Do an audit of your company's services

As a founder, you may find yourself heads down and moving forward if things are working well. But during a crisis, it's essential to step back and see what you might've missed.

Natasha Murphy of Nicely Built saw an opportunity to expand her business during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. As her team continued to have a hard time closing deals, she did an audit of her revenue for her creative services agency. She quickly saw the value of their new digital marketing offering.

"We started offering digital marketing services about a year and a half ago after seeing a need from our clients, and they have served them well," Natasha says. "We're now actively expanding in that direction and offering digital marketing services, in addition to [our other services]."

2. Diversify your income sources

Once you've audited your services, explore how you can further diversify your company's income. During her career as a marketer, Robbin Block of Blockbeta has experienced several crises, including graduating during the 2008 recession.

"When a company wants to downsize, marketing is last in, first to go," she says. She diversified by acquiring clients in different industries while still maintaining her e-commerce marketing niche. That way, if one source of income goes, her business remains afloat.

Robbin created a new email automation package to offer to her existing clients and develop new services she can provide. "Package price your services so everyone knows what to expect, but it also makes billing easier."

For Natasha, it looked a little different. Her agency acquired bigger, long-term projects from companies, and when possible, they took on new projects at a lower rate than usual to close more deals.

3. Ask for feedback from your current customers

Robbin shares that it's essential to understand your target customers if you're going to do any marketing. But first, understand those you have already and ask for feedback, often.

"You have to understand how people behave so that you can respond to their needs. I'm always thinking about what my clients' needs are and coming up with ways to deliver services," she says. "It's always easier to keep a client than to find a new one."

The right environment for them to collaborate and communicate with your company can also make a difference in the feedback loop on how you can retain them, says Jonathan Morency of HaitiBrand.

"Never forget the central element of your business is the human being. Start with your staff—and then your customers, your audience. It helps keep contracts in place. That's key," he says.

4. Evaluate opportunities with a marketing eye

During a crisis, you may want to accept every opportunity that comes your way, from panels to online webinars, to spread the word of your business. But Natasha says that you should proceed cautiously as not every opportunity is a good fit for your business.

"We've gone against the grain in some ways. We've had to be strategic about how we approach partnerships," Natasha says. "We have to get specific about how we're marketed to those different communities that we're trying to make time for."

She shares that you have to examine them from a marketing standpoint: Do you want this topic to be associated with your brand? Is it valuable enough to take your team away from a project? How will this event be marketed? Make sure these opportunities serve your company and the target community. "It's a two-way street," she says.

5. Don't forget about your team's morale

Hiring and retaining a top-notch team makes all the difference during a crisis. Due to mental health and other factors, morale may ebb and flow, and productivity can suffer because of it. But without a sound, motivated team, your business will not bounce back.

Jonathan points out that it's essential to provide any resources to them during that time. "Our staff is under stress and becoming less creative, especially demotivated by the sight of an uncertain future," he says. "The biggest lesson learned during these moments comes from understanding that if you want to save yourself, you have to do it by helping others."

Natasha says this is particularly challenging for her as keeping morale up in-person versus through a computer screen is different. She suggests "making yourself available as a leader to openly discuss any issues and have constructive discussions about where you can improve."

6. Stay inspired

"Adversity can be a great source of ideas," Robbin says. She encourages entrepreneurs and freelancers to continue seeking inspiration through research, videos, books, or blogs.

"Inspiration comes from many places; sometimes, it comes together all at once to give you that idea. Cross-pollination of all of these ideas, and then I think about how I can use it to grow my business," Robbin says.

Muriel Vega is a freelance writer living Atlanta, Georgia, with a focus on technology, food, and culture.