I’ve seen a lot of people talking about AI in agencies, recessions, and future-proofing, so I want to share my thoughts on what it actually means to protect your agency against anything that may come up in the future.

What Future-Proofing Means

I don’t think there’s any way to protect your agency against everything that could possibly happen, but there are a few things you can do that will give you a better chance than any other agency out there that only focuses on delivering services.

There are lots of little things that can add up to increased longevity as an agency, but the following three things are the trifecta. 

(Note: The following is the best approach to future-proofing assuming you have clients, charge them enough that you can pay yourself and your team, and try to do good work for your clients. If you don’t tackle that first, the rest is pointless.)

Focusing On Relationships

Driving leads and sales is an essential part of marketing, but if you make that the goal, you limit your thinking. I’m not even talking about revenue, profit, lifetime customer value, or any of that.

I’m talking about relationships. 

There are many stages to developing a relationship with someone, but marketers usually focus on introducing a person to a company, usually when that person needs the help that company can offer them.

And why shouldn’t they? That’s how you get leads, right? 

Well, you’ll need to start there, sure, but imagine a non-business relationship that started because someone wanted something from the other person. You’d say that’s an unstable and even unhealthy basis for a relationship.

So if you start all of your relationships based on a transaction (i.e. a transactional relationship), then you aren’t really developing relationships, you’re just engaging in transactions with people who know about you.

In business, transactions are the lifeblood, but transactions happen a lot more in healthy relationships than in transactional relationships. 

Have you ever had such passion and loyalty to a company that you recommended them to anyone who asked for a relevant recommendation? That doesn’t happen because you engaged in a transaction with them, it happens because you loved the experience that company provided you with and you want those you know and love to experience it as well. It happens because you feel grateful for the experience and you want to give back.

You can, occasionally, serve customers who are naturally inclined to behave this way (I tend to be one of these weirdos). However, most of the time it takes more time with the person to develop an actual relationship. 

That’s why you need to develop a strategic approach to developing relationships.

It starts at the highest levels. You need to understand your own company and your “brand voice”. You need to understand the problem(s) you solve and how to develop messaging in your brand’s voice that speaks to the pain said problem(s) create in the life of your customer.

You need to understand how and why they find you and you need to help them before they’re ready to buy, when it isn’t about the money. When you are serving them in return for money (because you’re a business and it’s not wrong to exchange money for goods and services), you need to serve them so well that they feel valued for more than just the money they gave you.

And you can’t forget them after you’ve served them. That’s not how relationships work.

When you have a relationship with a client, making it transactional is a surefire way to lose them. 

The more you can find balance between the business relationship and a friendly camaraderie, the more you’ll find that poor performance or small mistakes in service delivery can be overlooked. They know you care and they trust you to fix your mistakes (just try not to repeat your mistakes). They’ll care enough about you to bring competitor pitches to you for your opinion (I’ve seen this a lot).

If you and your client both enjoy chatting and spending time together, and if you’re working hard to get them the best results possible, you can expect a more healthy relationship with a longer retention than if you made it all about business.  

As the language above would suggest, this is for any type of business. Agencies included. However, if you want to be “future-proof”, it’s not enough to focus on relationships with clients and customers.

Employee Relationships
It’s not weird to say you’re in a relationship with your employees. What’s weird is having a boss that treats you like a cog in a machine or a soulless asset, but expects you to stay and work for them forever.

If the idea of having a relationship with your employees, of caring about their feelings and wellbeing, makes you uncomfortable, you’d better figure out why and work on your perspective.

Employees are essential if you want to grow beyond the solopreneur or freelancer phase into an actual agency and retaining your employees is essential if you want your agency to last. 

Not only do employees affect client retention, they also provide internal stability. Employee turnover is crazy expensive and you can’t expect to get quality work from employees that leave before they’re fully trained and acclimated to the way your agency does things. 

The best employees, in terms of productive output and ROI, are the ones who have been with you long enough that they know what to do in nearly every situation. They know you well enough to predict how you’d respond and there’s enough trust between you that they can handle most problems without your direct involvement.

You can’t get employees to stay with you that long if your relationships with them are transactional. 

I’m not saying you need to be besties with your employees or anything. That can sometimes be unhealthy and can lead to nepotism. I’m just saying that getting to know them a bit as human beings can show you care without things getting crazy.

Are your employees remote? Try organizing a virtual game or movie night. Consider flying everyone in to meet up and have some fun for a weekend. You can always make it mostly about work, but sprinkle in some meals together and a couple of fun non-work things.

Are your employees local and coming into your office? You have no excuse if you’re avoiding relationships. Bring their families together for a potluck or an office party. Host a trivia night with snacks and music. Put on a talent show or hold a mini-conference in which employees speak on non-work (or work-related) topics about which they’re passionate.

Agency too big for this sort of thing? Try the conference idea with the leadership speaking and hold contests, giveaways, award ceremonies, and things like that to make individuals feel valued. Enforce a rule that encourages employees to sit next to a new person every meal and suggest ice breakers to get conversations going amongst employees that may not have met each other.

The relationships your employees share with each other are just as important as those they have with you, and moreso in larger agencies.

If you want to future-proof your agency, stable client relationships and stable employee relationships will protect you from most of the curveballs life throws at you.  

Building An Audience

Have you ever heard a Frank Sinatra song? Ever seen a movie with Tom Hanks? Maybe you’ve heard of The Lord of the Rings books by J.R.R. Tolkien, or the Joe Rogan podcast?

The impact these individuals have had on the entire world can not be understated. 

These are all entertainers, though. What does that have to do with us marketers?

Have you ever heard of Gary Vaynerchuk, Dan Kennedy, Seth Godin, or David Ogilvy?

If your answer is no, dear goodness open a book or watch YouTube or something. If your answer is yes, you now know the importance of being recognized in your industry and being known for something specific.

If the necessary steps (loosely speaking) to developing a relationship are “know, like, and trust”, why focus on each one in turn at the individual level?

As an agency owner, there’s a decent chance that you have both knowledge about your craft and opinions about how things are being done.

All you have to do to build an audience is start sharing that knowledge and your opinions about it with your prospective market. 

Yes, there’s more to building a brand than that, but having an audience of people who want to listen to your opinions and learn from your knowledge is a helpful step toward building a widely recognized brand. Brand recognition is subsequently helpful if you want to get better results from your marketing and sales efforts.

After all, people instinctively trust and prefer things they recognize (unless said recognition throws a red flag for them) because familiar feels safe. 

If that recognition comes with reciprocity from teaching and sharing insights, it’s exponentially powerful. 

People who have been listening to you teach them for weeks, months, or years on a podcast or YouTube channel, or reading your newsletter, will come to view you as a kind of celebrity. It’s just how the human mind works. 

If they are then able to talk to you one-on-one or have the chance to work with you, they’re going to feel excited at the prospect. You don’t even really need to sell these people on why or how you’re different or better than others in your field because they’ve followed you and listened, read, and watched your content on-demand. 

They already know everything you’d tell them and they’re already sold by the time they talk to you.

If you want to get more leads, have faster sales cycles, and be able to command higher rates, find ways to build an audience and work to have that audience associate you with a specific problem and solution.

Agencies that are known, liked, and trusted by tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of people are going to have a lot more stability in uncertain economies or through shifting trends because they won’t be desperately working to hold onto their clients or find new ones to replace clients that are leaving.

Controlling more pieces of the ‘Growth Puzzle’

You may offer Google Ads. You may offer SEO, Web development, meta ads, traditional advertising, email and inbound, or any other number of services.

No matter what services you sell, if you view them as ‘a la carte’ channels that all serve the purpose of driving leads or sales, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to solidify your agency as one of the best of all time.

To piggyback on our relationships point above, let’s consider how to develop digital relationships with customers in a way that delivers maximum value to them in exchange for the highest possible revenue.

After all, companies that develop the most customer relationships for the highest amount of money are going to be a whole lot more stable than those who focus on getting “cheap leads” at scale.

What are the steps needed to truly grow a business through digital relationships? Let’s start at the top:

Identify Your Market
The most important step in developing relationships with the intent to grow is to identify a compatible market. 

The individuals in the market will need to have a problem you can solve. 
They’ll need to recognize it as a problem and want to solve it.
They’ll need to have the money to pay for your solution.
They’ll also need to be easy to identify and contact.

The market itself will need to have enough individuals that you can run a business without having to secure a huge percentage of the market share.

It also helps to know and understand this market and their problems, but this last part isn’t essential because you can always fix this with some interviews, surveys, focus groups, or good old-fashioned conversations.

Create An Offer
Once you know who you’re helping, you need to know how to help them.

Remember how I said your market needed to have a problem you could solve and want to solve it? That’s what we’re focusing on with this step.

As an agency, your offer is easy. You may think you’re offering Google Ads, SEO, or Web Design services, but you’re really offering to help clients grow their business. How you do that, however, can differ dramatically. 

There are a lot of ways you can approach an offer, even if it’s as specific as helping a company grow.

You can help them generate leads or sales through increased relevant web traffic.
You can improve their website to convert higher percentages of said traffic.
You can build a list of first-party contact data (e.g. a “list” for us old-school marketers) and/or reach out to those contacts.
You can help them build a following on social media, podcast, or YouTube to harness the power of an audience (as described above).
You can help them spread their brand across their local city with traditional advertising.
You can even help them organize in-person or virtual events, sell tickets, and capitalize on their time with the attendees. 

Those are channels, though. There are different business models that affect your offer.

You can help them by teaching them.
You can help them by coaching and supporting them.
You can help them by doing all of the work for them.
All of these options can be mixed and matched, but you need to follow these criteria when choosing your offer(s): 

The offer has to provide more in value than you ask in payment (free is always an option).
The offer has to get them closer to solving their problem (if it doesn’t solve it completely).
They have to understand the offer and trust that it will help them achieve their goals.

Frankly, there’s a lot more I could discuss regarding offers, including offer stacking, but this is getting long and we’ve got more to cover, so let’s move on.

Messaging is simply how you tell your market about your offer.

This includes ad copy, sales copy, technical copy, imagery, and anything else that helps you communicate with your market.

I tend to wrap the website, landing pages, and funnels into messaging because it’s simply a place for the messaging to live and for customers to respond.

Your messaging should be clear and match the average reading level of your market (e.g. selling to chemical engineers could involve language you’d never include when selling to garbage collectors).

It should also prove your deep understanding of the customer’s problem and the way your solution solves the problem.

It helps to include social proof, of course, but isn’t always necessary if you do a good enough job of describing the problem and if the price tag isn’t too high.

The higher the price tag, the more time you’ll need to spend with the customer to earn their trust. This means longer sales pages, longer videos, a longer series of emails, etc.

Distribution of a message is equally important to the message itself. What good is a message nobody receives?

This is the part most marketing agencies focus on (though many are also focusing on messaging), so I don’t need to spend much time on it. 

The more relevant traffic you drive to an optimized message for an offer people want, the more you’re shooting fish in a barrel.

For lead gen, this is a more crucial step than for ecommerce, where it’s automatic (though even that can be improved).

If you’re a PPC agency that has run any amount of lead gen, you’re probably familiar with complaints about lead quality. Sometimes this is valid, but sometimes you can record the calls and hear atrocious salesmanship on the part of your clients.

I once listened to a call in which the business owner himself, who had been complaining about lead quality, started cussing out a legitimate lead within 10 seconds of answering the call. His team was not much better, and they were forced to acknowledge that many of the leads we were driving were actually lost because of their inability to treat people like human beings.

This can be such a big problem, actually, that some agencies have decided to handle the phones themselves and call or answer calls on behalf of their clients. This lets them increase leads and close a larger percentage of those leads because they’re actually answering the phone and kindly helping the people who called.

This is the step in the relationship process that everyone wants to focus on because of the transaction, but nailing all of the above steps makes this step easier.

Customer Service/Nurturing
Once you’ve won the sale, most marketers would consider the mission accomplished, but you’ve actually just made the relationship official.

If you’re creative with your offers and you’ve got the ability to continue communicating with existing customers, you can continue serving and supporting your customers while sharing all of the different ways you can help them.

In fact, if you’ve acquired this customer (or developed this relationship) starting with a low-value product or service sale, you can often guide them to higher and higher levels of product or service as they’re able and willing to solve more of their problem or adjacent problems that may be more painful.

This often looks like someone paying for information or education and then paying for coaching, eventually paying for full implementation as they achieve greater levels of success with what they’ve learned and they no longer have time to do the work themselves.

In cases like this, the initial sale revenue covers the cost of the customer acquisition and the profit comes from higher-levels of sales on the back end.

The Puzzle

Most agencies will handle one or two of the above steps in developing a relationship with their client’s customers. 

However, because this is how the customer relationships develop, the more pieces of this ‘puzzle’ you can control on behalf of your clients, the more impact you’ll actually have on their business.

Imagine a client came to you and wanted to sell glow-in-the-dark loofahs to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Would you tackle that challenge? Probably not. They’re trying to solve a problem their market probably doesn’t have (desire for glow-in-the-dark loofahs) to a market that only has 500 people, all of whom will be exceedingly difficult to get a hold of.

On the other hand, imagine they were an established company that had identified a painful problem experienced by working moms, but weren’t sure how to productize the solution…

You could get paid to help them design the offer, get paid to craft the messaging for them and build the landing pages, funnel, website, or whatever they were using. You could get paid to drive traffic to it, help them sell it for percentage of the sale value (or whatever pricing model you want to use), then get paid to run nurturing and upsell campaigns.

In addition to this client being much more valuable to you from a revenue standpoint, you’re much more valuable to them than if you just helped them with their messaging and traffic. You’re helping them create real growth by helping them develop new relationships with a new market around a new offer as a new revenue stream.

Having this much impact on the growth of all your clients is a great way to solidify your place in the market regardless of what happens in the world. 

Business owners want to grow their businesses and people want to solve their problems. If you know how to handle all of the steps above and you include them in your own service offers, you’ll get takers in the best and worst of times.


Any one of these future-proofing elements is powerful, but if you combine them all you can outlast any of your competitors.

It doesn’t matter what flashy new tech comes down the line, what changes occur in your favorite marketing channel, or what gurus are toting as the new hot strategy…

If you build strong relationships with your clients and employees, build an audience around your brand, and control enough pieces of the growth puzzle to affect actual growth for your clients…

You’ll be future-proof.

If you’re curious about how I work with agencies or if you’re frustrated with your agency’s profitability or retention of clients or employees, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll see how I can help. I never charge for the first consultation and if I can solve it in 30-minutes, there’s no reason to pay for my services and you walk away happy.

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