Best of 2014: No 10: 10 lessons I’ve learned from (nearly) 10 years of running an agency

This week we are showing you the 10 most popular posts of 2014 on State of Digital. The top 10 is based on a combination of reading numbers, shares and comments.

This is number 10, by Louis Venter, about his own experience!
Originally posted: July 9, 2014, 12:05

Quite a few friends of mine have started their own agency recently and asked for advice. This year MediaVision will be ten years old and while I am massively proud of what has been achieved I sometimes wish I knew these lessons upfront. Sometimes I wish I remembered learning them as they can constantly come around and bite you when you least expect it.

1)      It always takes longer than you think

Always. Really. I promise. If you are forecasting business growth for the first time halve it and see if you still come out. It’s an important lesson. Entrepreneurs are by default optimistic and that’s fantastic but check your numbers and factor in unforeseen delays. It always happens to plan for it and then strive to beat it.

2)      Some clients aren’t worth it

This one took me a while to work out. At the beginning you think all work is good work which simply isn’t the case. Some clients are great to work with and you achieve great things together. Some clients you literally have sleepless nights over to try and work out how to make them happy. It’s not worth it nor will it ever be as they are forcing you to take your eye off your business and your other great clients! Try not to get sucked in as hard as it can sometimes be. Another thing to factor in is that smaller clients take the same if not more account management than the large clients and this can seriously eat into your time and available resources. Pick wisely and be happy to turn away business if it’s not right.

3)      Run it by numbers

Forecast your revenue growth and track it monthly with your accountant or finance team if you’re lucky to have one. Numbers don’t lie, if you are cruising that’s an easy conversation, if not then you need to face up to them and change to make it so. Don’t wait for next quarter or the next 6 months to act. That’s simply not quick enough.

mediavision office

4)      You can’t do everything!

As you grow you will work out that you can’t do everything. You also can’t control everything. This is a lesson I keep learning as you take more and more on without any end in sight. You need to take the time to inspire your team; share what’s working and what needs to get better and I promise you they will surprise you. It will also help realise who are the great strategic people in the team and the ones that can take further steps when it’s time to grow. Get to know your people as they are your greatest asset their development is the company’s development. Invest your time in it.

5)      Take time to relax

You can’t go at 100 miles an hour all the time. If you do you will burn out, it’s a marathon not a sprint so take the time to relax and have fun in the office. It is also the time your brain stats lining up connections and you come up with the best ideas. Plan for and take your leave! You need to be sharp and sharp isn’t achieved by working stupidly long hours again and again that’s the perfect recipe for blunt and slow. Long term that will make you hate the one thing you used to love.

6)      Put time into the business, not just your clients

The closest way I can come to describing running the business is playing 8 games of chess at the same time. Everything from HR to finance needs your attention at some point and needs to be focused on. Block out time every week to work ON the business not IN the business. It’s really important to give that your attention or things will unravel quickly and you’ll have to deal with the major issues.

7)      Don’t just focus on the easy stuff

If you are a great doer there will always be a call to a very safe place where you tinker on all the work you do as a business trying to iron out every little aspect before you aim to grow. This is a huge mistake as it will never be perfect from a delivery point of view. You need to focus on your entire business and not just the bits you find easy. If you find sales hard then get out there and speak to other friends in non-competing agencies for advice.

8)      Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides

One of the biggest motivators is competition. As digital marketers we are naturally competitive and this can be a very positive thing. It can however be very unhealthy if you compare other businesses outsides to your insides. Like every life every business has issues that aren’t shared by the entrepreneur but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Compete, strive to be better but don’t spend your life comparing because that will suck your energy and limit your creativity.

9)      Allow yourself to realise it will always be a work in progress

It’s never going to be finished. You will always be “getting there” and that’s because it’s a journey. It’s never going to be perfect and it’s never finished. It’s constantly evolving so embrace the change. If you don’t the rate of change will bring you down.

10)   Making mistakes is allowed don’t beat yourself up about it

You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up about them. You made a judgement call with all the relevant information to hand that turned out to be a wrong turn. What’s important is that you’re still there and to learn from it. It’s the only way to learn in my opinion. If you don’t make mistakes you aren’t pushing hard enough for your goals.

If you own a business it would be great if you could share your biggest lessons in the comments below!

About Louis Venter

Louis Venter is the founding director and CEO of MediaVision, a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) company specialising in all areas of search. His particular interests are organic search marketing, paid search marketing, conversion strategy and online PR.

16 thoughts on “Best of 2014: No 10: 10 lessons I’ve learned from (nearly) 10 years of running an agency

  1. some good tips! thanks for sharing – indeed 5 or 6 years in here and perhaps mentioning; “its a lonely life” well thats how it feels here, having team members was a great day for me and made me feel like business was moving along.

    The world of SEO – my goodness – she has her ups and downs but wild horses couldnt drag me back now!

    Nice to know we aint all alone in the pond – and indeed – I like the idea of working ON the business and not just in it – heres to that!!


  2. Great tips but please please please go back and fix the character rendering issues you have in this post! When you pasted your original apostrophes didn’t convert how they should. 🙂

  3. “Making mistakes is allowed don’t beat yourself up about it”

    This line is so tried and true, that it can’t be said enough. I work for an agency now and I have times where I worry that if I make a mistake will it be the end of me? Quite simply, having the resources and teammates around you to give you confidence is key in this aspect.

    Mistakes are going to happen, learn and more importantly rebound from them quickly, or you will end up missing many more opportunities ahead.

  4. Nice list Louis, pretty much for any business owner. I would certainly agree with all of them. I had one to add … don’t under estimate the level of perseverance you will need.

  5. How about “Don’t promise something that you cannot deliver”? Like a first page ranking on a target keyword within one month. Tell your client that you will do your best to rank within a short period but explain that SEO is a long-term process and first page rankings cannot be guaranteed.

  6. Really great advice, all true to my experience as well. I’d like to add just keeping your doors open as a business is an accomplishment that puts you in the top 50% every year.

  7. I believe, in growing a business is easier said than done. Starting is about preparations it’s just the first step to start the race.

    10 years isn’t a joke, It’s quite a long year for a business and it won’t last that long without intellectual capacity, fine-tuning, team work, and zeal from the owner, to the team.

    Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides – “As digital marketers, we are naturally competitive and this can be a very positive thin” a takeaway that will explain this point.

    Work in progress, yes, always. You can’t create a successful business in just a blink of an eye, everything will get through the process, and you as the owner, you will nurture and you will be taught more.

    I found this post shared on, the Internet marketing social networking site, and I “kingged” it and left this comment.

  8. First of all, I loved your article. It’s worth reading and the second point you mentioned “Some clients aren’t worth it” It’s completely true and you need not to waste your time and resources for these clients.

  9. Great article. I especially like #2. I think it only takes one time being burned to learn this hard truth and when to walk away. My agency is one year old and I am learning your other lessons too. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Good article. Quite some points of recognition. Running an internet/marketing agency since ’07, below you can find my biggest lessons besides the one you’ve already mentioned:

    #1 Honesty is the best policy
    In everything you do, be honest.

    #2 If something doesn’t seem to work, don’t do it
    Besides employees who want to return after they quit, this is also applies to clients from which you already know since the beginning that they are not a match made in heaven.

    #3 Believe in your own ideas and capabilities
    Similar to “don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides”. If you don’t believe in your own ideas and capabilities, why would someone else do?

    #4 Focus on processes
    The better you manage them, the easier you can grow and take advantage of available knowledge and efficient working procedures.

    #5 Continuous innovation
    Adapt or die. A known saying but so true.

Comments are closed.