I don’t generally help agencies with client acquisition.
By the time an agency needs to work with me, acquisition is not their main problem. They struggle more with keeping the clients they have, or with finding and keeping the right employees.
Those problems certainly affect growth and profitable scaling, but they have less to do with client acquisition and more to do with everything that comes after signing the client.
That said, agencies need to get clients and a lot of them don’t know how to do it.
I’m going to share with you what I’ve seen over the years that has helped agencies grow. Some methods are fast, but take a lot of work. Other methods are slower, but steady and take less time or investment.
The format I’ll use for sharing each method will be:
“When To Start, What You Need To Use It Effectively, and Who Should Own This”.
Lastly, a prerequisite to all of these points is understanding the problem you solve and the specific type of business you solve it for.
For example, I could say “I help marketing agencies increase revenue” (which I do say), but it hits home with the right people in the right way if I say “I help PPC Agencies to grow profitably by improving their client and employee retention while increasing their rates.”
The last 22 issues of this newsletter were written to illustrate the problems that come from low client retention and low employee retention, as well as the pain and growth issues that stem from those issues. I also aim to give you the solutions to those problems so you can work with me if you start solving them and don’t want to do it on your own.
If you want to learn more about niching down and understanding the specific problem you solve, check out this interview I had with Nick Bennett of Harness & Hone.
Now you know the format and the prerequisites.
Let’s dig in.
When to start: You should almost never do this as a PPC agency. Exceptions would be if you help small local businesses, particularly realtors, mortgage lenders, roofers, insurance salespeople, or their direct customers. It’s almost always a waste of your time because people in networking groups tend to work with individuals and you’re looking for businesses. There are some B2B networking groups out there, but you’re better off putting your time elsewhere.
What you need: If you do go this route for some reason, offer a massive referral bonus ($500-$1,000 per signed client or 20% recurring) and train your group to recognize a couple of scenarios when someone would be a good fit to work with you. They will, even with these incentives, almost never refer you business and/or their referrals will be awful.
Who should own this: Trust me, this is almost always a bad use of your time.
When to start: You should do this for your first 10-20 clients. Everyone hates cold calling because they imagine what happens when people cold call them, or they imagine robo-dialers. However, the “hustle bros” you see on YouTube that grow their agencies from $0-$30k+ per month in a few months are the ones hitting the phones.
What you need: You need a list of phone numbers, which can be found in lots of places. Just Google it. You’ll also need some sort of script. If you’re like me, however, and you get all amped up to “start dialing” and then talk yourself out of it, you can always try warm calling. I like Ari Galper’s teachings on this. My version of warm calling is a little different. I go to job sites and find listings for PPC Specialists, Google Ads managers, and anything else that matches the services I offer. The ones that offer the salary are the best because you can tell how much they’re offering. If you, as an agency, charge less than they were going to pay for a single in-house ad manager, you have a decent shot at proving how your entire team would be a better hire at ¼-½ the price.
Who should own this: I have only done warm calling a few times, but I’ve closed every agency I got through to and have made well over $15,000 from deals struck this way. Initially, this should be you doing the calling. However, if you have the money or trust a commission-only call center, it may be worth it to outsource your cold calling so you can crank out the volume needed to land a few clients.
When to start: Pair this with cold calling for your first 10-20 clients. You could potentially do it instead of cold calling.
What you need: For this, you’d need a fair number of connections on the social media platform of your choice. You’ll want to optimize your profile on that platform to show in no uncertain terms the problem you solve and for whom. When building your connection base, remember that if you immediately spam the person you connect with a pitch, you can expect to be ignored. I see this working better on Facebook with conversational messages about the prospect’s business and the casual sort of “How’s it going” script that leads into asking about the problem you solve. You’ll still get ignored most of the time, but you can get more opportunities to chat and learn from conversations with this approach. You’ll eventually want a full script for reaching out a few times if you don’t get a response, what to say if they respond, and what to say if they respond favorably or negatively. You shouldn’t try to sell the service with this, you should try to sell a call. Before selling that, you will likely have better results if you put together a video walking through your process of solving the problem they struggle with and sell them on watching that video as the first CTA.
Who should own this: This will need to be you if you’re a solo-preneur, but it’s generally best to have one or more trained appointment setters handling this from your account or the accounts of your leadership.
When to start: You can run this for your first 50-100 clients and beyond, if you want. It’s generally more sustainable and less time consuming than cold calling or cold DMs.
What you need: You’ll obviously need a list for this. A lot of email tools like Apollo.ai let you build lists with their scraper software and then you can build the campaigns from within the platform as well. It would be wise to pair this with a software like Instantly, however so you can warm up your email address. That will increase your deliverability and decrease the risk of getting your account blacklisted. In addition to this, you’ll (of course) need a script for your initial outreach and the remainder of your sequence. Again, it’s easier to sell the first step toward working with you (watching a video that demonstrates credibility and your understanding of their problem) vs straight up pitching your service.
Who should own this: Again, you can do this when you’re a solo-preneur or micro-agency owner, but you’ll want to hand this off to an in-house team or a vendor when you start growing and need to focus on leading your teams vs doing the work.
When to start: You could theoretically start this before you have any clients at all, but I would advise waiting until you’ve got a solid 10-20 clients at least. The more clients you have, the more stories you’ll have to naturally work into your speech to show your experience and how you work with businesses.
What you need: You need a decent speech for this. One that tells a story to show who you are and why people should listen to you, as well as how they can relate to you (e.g. “Two years ago, I was struggling just like you…”). Toss in a few things they need to know to solve their problems without your help (those who have the money will still pay you to save them the time). Be sure to close with a story that demonstrates how much they could lose by not taking action, or how much they could gain if they do. Stories are great for blending the head knowledge you just shared with the emotions they may be feeling (fear, doubt, anxiety, etc). After putting together the speech, of course, you’ll need to figure out how to monetize it. Many stages won’t let you sell to the audience, so have a backup plan and give away a free online resource that helps them solve the problem you’re speaking about. Have a QR code up at the end of your speech with an optin page or lay out cards and pens for them to fill out their info. You can now email them after the speech and sell them whatever. Lastly, you’ll need to find the events you want to speak at, as well as the event planners that book the speakers. Reach out to a lot of them and show them how you can help them make the event more valuable to attendees and/or help bring in attendees in the first place.
Who should own this: You should write the speech, but you should have someone else find the events and event planners if you have an admin, virtual assistant, or executive assistant.
When to start: If you’re going to pay for a booth at a conference, you should probably wait until you have 50-75 clients. If you’re just going to listen to speakers, learn, and network with prospects, do audits and podcast interviews, etc, you can go as soon as you have the money to cover yourself and any team members you want to bring.
What you need: The main thing you need is a plan. You’ve got to know what you want to get out of going to a conference. Are you going to learn something from a specific speech or speaker? Are you going to meet someone specific and start a relationship? To network with other vendors? To offer free audits? Put a plan on paper and assign roles to your team. Pick some restaurants nearby to invite people to if you have the opportunity, but be prepared to adapt and go with a group if it is more beneficial. Depending on the conference, there can be amazing opportunities to meet great new people who can refer business to you or become clients themselves.
Who should own this: Very similar to speaking gigs, you’ll want someone else to reach out to apply for you, to design the booths if you’re going that route, and to hash out all of the travel and lodging details. You’ll also want them to research the attendees (vendors, in particular) to approach for strategic partnerships.
Organic Social (LinkedIn, X, Facebook, Instagram)
When to start: Contrary to modern belief, you don’t need to start social media right away. Social media doesn’t lead to rapid growth for startups. At that point, it’s a distraction. You should wait until you have 10-20 clients, or at least enough income to pay your bills and consider hiring some help.
What you need: Once you have your niche and have chosen your social channels, you should develop 3-5 problem-centric content pillars and a list of topics and sub-topics under each one. Then you can map each subtopic onto an editorial calendar and start writing. Most pros write a week’s worth of posts at once, whether that be 3 days’ worth or 7. Make sure your posts have a purpose so you’re not just spraying generic stuff or writing whatever pops into your head.
Who should own this: You should definitely be writing your own content, but if you have a team, you should assign them their own content calendar, or have them write posts based on a standardized company calendar. This will help them build a personal brand, which will only help you if you otherwise keep an open line of communication with them about what they need and want in your agency to stay happy. You can’t keep the best ones forever, but you can do your darndest to keep them for a long time.
When to start: Honestly? You should start this as soon as you have money to pay an editor and possibly a scriptwriter. You should probably wait until you have about 30-50 clients so you can really put some time and effort into doing this well.
What you need: Get The YouTube Formula by Derral Eves and get really serious about it. YouTube is a fine video host if you want to just toss some videos up to refer people to via links, but it can be insanely powerful if you do it right and there’s a reason people like Alex Hormozi are cranking out so many videos. The book gives you everything you need, but you can get off to a decent start by doing keyword research and competitor research, understanding titles and thumbnails, nailing the first 30 seconds of every video, and paying attention to analytics so you know which videos to make more of. Then you can just test and adapt.
Who should own this: This should be a group effort unless you’re outsourcing most of it. You and/or a trusted team member should be the face of it. You should delegate the research of keywords and topics, though you should provide guidance from your problem-centric content pillars. You can also delegate the scriptwriting as long as you tweak it to be in your voice or at least sign off on it. Also delegate the editing because that takes forever and you really have to care to make it look YouTube worthy. Make sure you pass it off to someone who knows how to edit for YouTube specifically, both longform and shorts, because it is different from wedding videos, business promo videos, and even TikTok videos (though shorts have some crossover in style).
Yes, I understand that they’re different, but they’re close enough to combine for my purposes in this newsletter issue.
When to start: This takes time, especially if you’re going to go big on link building. You can tweak your technical SEO and optimize your existing content as well as possible, but creating fresh and optimized content regularly and building backlinks takes a ton of time and it can be expensive if you go the usual route for backlinks. Either way, SEO is a long game and many should argue you need to start immediately to build the foundation. I’m in the “you need to make money now” camp. Start SEO when you can afford to hire someone with experience to help you in-house (and maybe for a client or two) or outsource your SEO to some pros like 417 Marketing.
What you need: Lots of time, a deeper understanding of SEO than I and many agencies have, and potentially the money for backlinks or full-on outsourcing.
Who should own this: Someone on your team who has both experience increasing organic traffic to your website and the time to implement.
Paid Ads (Google Ads, Meta Ads, YouTube Ads, Microsoft Ads)
When to start: In most cases, you shouldn’t run ads for yourself until you’re at the 50+ client mark. You need proof of concept in your offer and message before you can start getting the most out of paid ads. This is why most agencies can’t get ads to work for themselves. The clients they help have an offer people want and know who their audience is. Agencies just offer services, not outcomes (again, see my interview with Nick Bennett).
What you need: You need to understand the platform you’re going to advertise on and how your market uses it. You need to understand the problem you solve and the people you solve it for. You need to have a fat stack of cash to burn through with testing and possible failure. You need to be willing to admit that one platform isn’t objectively better than another (i.e. Google Ads vs Meta). Again, you need proof of concept in your offer and message. This is crucial. A lot of PPC clients fail because they could get a few clients here and there with other channels and thought that they had proof of concept or that people were looking for their offer on a search engine. Don’t fall into the same trap. When you have all of that figured out, I’d lean more heavily on video ads and non-search channels than on search ads. It tends to get better bang for the buck and you can set yourself up as a credible expert and “celebrity” as people begin to see your face everywhere.
Who should own this: Because I write this newsletter for PPC agencies, I should hope you have someone in-house that can run your ads. Treat yourself like your best client and pull out all the stops. Go through whatever processes you would go through for your clients. Aside from giving yourself a better shot at success, it can help you identify whether there are gaps in your processes or important questions to ask during onboarding that you never thought to ask. It’s a great way to better understand how your clients experience working with you!
There you have it! 10 Acquisition channels for your agency, as well as when and how to use them. Did I go into as much detail as I usually do in my newsletters?
No. You’re welcome.
I’m frankly not as passionate about client acquisition vs client retention. I see so many agencies out there that struggle with acquisition and I want to help, but I see the ones that have acquisition dialed and they can’t keep a client or an employee to save their lives!
If you really have your market, offer, and message dialed in, you’ll have an easier time with any acquisition channels you pursue. After that, it’s my job to make sure you have the best shot at keeping your clients, hiring great talent to help them, and keeping your talent.