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Everything you need to start, run and scale a digital agency

Your complete guide to running a successful client-facing business.

Design by Alice Korenyouk

Profile picture of Ido Lechner


7 min read

Anyone who's ever built a digital agency knows there’s a lot to juggle: the time crunch of short deadlines, working with clients who ghost, trying to win back angry clients, managing a team of designers (without micromanaging a team of designers).

Agency life isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s also rewarding for creatives who want more control over their work. And a blueprint, like the Wix Studio-approved one below, can help you manage the logistics of launching, running and scaling your business. Jump ahead to the section most relevant to you:

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How to launch an agency

Take time to think through your plan, and you’ll set yourself up for success (and streamlined operations) later. Address the points below through a detail-oriented lens; the more specificity you sprinkle in, the stronger your foundation will be.

Write a business plan

Your business plan is basically your GPS as you move forward. Check out this free business plan template for your new agency, and make sure to:

  • Define your business idea

  • Clarify the market and competitive landscape

  • Outline your marketing strategy

  • State your value proposition

  • Identify/anticipate potential risks

  • Seek investments and strike partnerships

  • Set benchmarks, goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

A cohesive business plan is the best way to start your agency. Make these points explicit in a singular document to articulate your vision and provide a framework with which to assess the impact of possible decisions. Above all, a business plan provides clarity and context, answering stakeholders’ most frequent questions.

Remember: business plans lay the groundwork for your strategy, but you need to stay flexible should any unexpected moments arise. Write one with intentions to follow through, but pivot when necessary.

Determine your niche, audience and services

Who do you sell to?

It’s a simple question at face value, but the answer changes a lot about your business. For starters, your ideal client might have specific needs that others don’t, which can impact what services you can offer, or how much you charge for them.

Begin by identifying what niche your agency fills in the market. In other words, how are you different?

You can do this by identifying your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), or what you offer that no one else can replicate. To find your USP, run a SWOT analysis (sometimes called a ‘situational assessment’) to gauge how you differ from other agencies. This includes articulating your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as they relate to your competitors in order to determine what you alone bring to the table.

Note: There should be a natural fit between your USP and your ideal customer. Find yours, and your agency will click with your intended audience, because it speaks to who they are (or want to be).

Set your sales and marketing strategy

How you reach your audience is as important as who you reach. Start by identifying where your prospects spend most of their time. Is it LinkedIn? A niche community? Maybe they listen to a daily podcast during their commute? Or, perhaps they’re an avid blog reader and would sign up for a newsletter.

Enter: why you need to create a marketing plan. This includes defining your marketing channels (social media, SEO, PPC and so on), developing buyer personas, identifying the jobs-to-be-done (JBTD), articulating inbound and outbound strategies, establishing your pricing strategies and planning out your finances and budget. Of course, you’ll also want to build out that initial client pipeline, which you can kick start by asking for leads through your network.

Get your tools right

Planning is one thing, but taking deliberate action to grow your business is another. To that end, you’ll need the right tools to service your clients, run your team and manage your operations.

For example, the Wix Studio workspace is a new end-to-end solution packed with features that help agencies and freelancers manage their projects and teams. You’ll have easy access to all your websites, reusable templates and widgets. You can also manage all your sites in one central hub and manage billing and subscriptions from the same place.

Lastly, consider how you’ll integrate the latest AI capabilities into your toolkit. Here’s what the rise of AI means for the future of creativity.

The Wix Studio Workspace dashboard featuring six client websites
Leverage Wix Studio's workspace to operate more efficiently

How to run an agency

Up and running now? Congrats. Here’s what you need to manage it all effectively and efficiently.

Build your team

If you have a successful solo practice, you might be wondering, “who should be my first hire?”

It’s a question every founder wrestles with, and the answer depends on who will help you maintain your business so that you can focus on growth.

That could mean hiring a salesperson to close more deals for you, or a creative to do more of the manual labor. You might opt to hire a CMO if that’s a personal weakness. The point is, fill in the gaps (your personal weak points), with a bias towards the particular space that promises the greatest immediate ROI for your agency.

From there, implement systems and establish workflows and procedures to make your hires’ lives easier. Use project management tools such as Monday or Trello to centralize task management, and host regular meetings to hold more nuanced conversations and build team chemistry.

Ultimately, laying the foundation for a strong agency culture starts with your leadership team. There are certainly ways to motivate creative teams, though you need to embody the vibe and culture you want your company to express. Reflect on how you want to train new employees, and build out collaborative structures (such as the pod model) early, which empower teams to stay agile in order to best service clients and close the feedback loop.

Some emerging roles to consider down the road: digital experience managers (responsible for maintaining brand cohesion across a multichannel strategy), AI engineers, influencer marketing managers and a director of client services.

A team consisting of five people on the left side of the screen, and a page with a task list on it on the right.
Teams function best when they have clear goals

Lead with vision

Leading an agency requires more than strategic planning and effective management, it demands a visionary approach that goes beyond the day-to-day operations of the business and taps into the essence of what the agency stands for. Leaders should push their crew to challenge the status quo, all the while protecting the larger vision the company aspires to achieve.

Do this by:

  • Setting ambitious goals and seeing them through

  • Creating frequent opportunities for brainstorming

  • Creating a promotional ladder for emerging leaders in your company

  • Regularly celebrating (and amplifying) employee achievements

  • Striking exciting partnerships that birth new capabilities at your agency

  • Regularly speaking with clients and prospects to learn which areas of your agency’s operations need improvement

Get new clients

Getting new clients calls for a formalized process for sourcing leads (see: is doing free work ever ok?), onboarding clients and managing the relationship, starting with a full-on contract or SLA (service-level agreement). Protect yourself down the line and ensure you get paid by putting pen to paper, all while communicating a sense of professionalism.

You’ll likely also encounter several clients who, throughout the course of your relationship, begin to expect more than what was previously agreed to. It’s a real (and common) problem that persists if you don’t set boundaries, so it’s important to know how to avoid scope creep.

How to scale an agency

Scaling an agency means doubling down on what works. Growing an agency means trying new things entirely.

Set your growth intentions

To scale, put routine work on autopilot with automation and look to secure recurring revenue for your services. Growth looks like adding entirely new service offerings, identifying new customer segments, striking new partnerships and leveraging growth hacking techniques to expand client outreach. That’ll usually come after you’ve scaled up.

The difference between scaling and growing is easy to visualize. You scale your operations, whereas you grow your capabilities. Ideally, you do a bit of both at your agency, but the only real way to track it is to set the intentions and the metrics. What are you scaling/growing? And how will you measure success? Are you trying to increase blog traffic through your newsletter? Do you want more followers across your social media channels?

Growth doesn’t happen accidentally, so you’ll need to set your targets ahead of time. Treat them as a north star, and weigh all of your decisions against them.

Adjust your business plan for your new reality

There comes a time when an agency outgrows their previous strategy and must evolve by adapting to a new reality. This may come during massive changes in the market, or perhaps you have more clients than you can handle, and it’s time to upsell and charge more for your services.

You might be at the stage of your growth where it’s time to explore new markets, or you might be responding to times of crisis (see: 6 ways to recession-proof your agency). Whatever the root cause is, address the need for change head on. Formalize new standardized procedures to provide your teams with much needed clarity and a well-structured plan.

Refer back to the how to write a business plan section above and address each change point by point. Determine where the greatest changes have occurred within the plan and what changes need to be made. Do this as proactively as possible, so you can respond to internal and external pressures instead of reacting to them.

Manage your money effectively

The unwritten rule of growing/scaling your agency is a strong command of your finances. Cash is oxygen for a business, so make it easier to breathe by handling it well. That means managing expenses properly with a budget you determine on a quarterly basis based on your performance and available balance. Set the minimum sales volume needed to cover your costs, evaluate the profitability of your offerings and create pricing plans, identify opportunities for cost reduction and assess how feasible your business model is. As the leader, you should always have a clear view of all the costs associated with running the business (though it never hurts to hire a CFO when your agency is ready for it).

Strong financial management is long-term financial planning. Over the course of running, managing and scaling an agency you’ll come to find that the age old adage rings true: it takes money to make money.

Don’t lose your soul as you expand

Since culture is often regarded as ‘the glue that holds companies together,’ you’ll want to maintain the positive qualities of your work culture so they don’t get diluted as you scale. Empower teams to fail fast (and fail forward), stay informed about industry trends, set realistic goals and invest in personal development.

At the company level, implement continuous improvement strategies such as regular feedback sessions and continuous testing (like A/B testing, user testing and heat maps). A proactive and receptive approach to experimentation will help you make the necessary course corrections to go the distance.

Now that your GPS is set, buckle up and fix your mirrors: agency success might be closer than it appears.





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