In this article, I’m going to share how we scaled our agency from 1 to 12 people. I’ll be sharing everything that helped us grow and get to where we are today so you can cut through the noise and get real advice from a company that’s actually done it.
But right before we jump in, why am I talking about this? Who am I?
Hey – I’m Vito, the founder of Atarim and Ace Digital London.
I’ve been building websites since using GeoCities at 14 years old. 👋
Today, I’m going to take you through the evolution of my WordPress business, sharing everything I’ve learned along the way so you can focus on what really works.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The Pillars of Growing a WordPress Business
- Plan = Passion + Focus + Goal
- Execute = Audience + Message + Channel + System
- Maintain = Mindset + Workday
- Take Action – What You Can Do Now
The Pillars of Growing a WordPress Business
Top Level: Plan, Execute & Maintain
This is an overview of the different aspects of your business that you need to consider when you’re looking to scale and manage a team of people…
Plan = Passion + Focus + Goal
Failing to plan is planning to fail, we’ve all heard that.
But in business the three things that truly the most important when running & scaling are passion, focus and the end goal.
Passion is important because by finding the type of work that you love, you’ll no longer have to dread waking up every single morning.
And, if you’re still not working with any clients, in particular, niching down is incredible because it gives you a focus that you can dedicate your efforts to and excel at. Why be a jack of all trades and a master of none when you can dominate one part of the market?
The smaller your niche, the more focused you are so that you’ore able to create a unique solution for your customers.
Put it this way, how many websites have you built in the last few months? We surveyed over 600+ professionals in the industry and found that the majority had only built a handful. So why are we trying to reach thousands, if not millions of people with our lack of focus and broad messaging?
When you choose a certain niche to focus on, this gives you the opportunity to become a true authority & expert that is more capable of being an asset to every single client that you work with.
Focus. Once you find your passion and then decide to niche down and serve this specific audience, that is going to give you focus that will allow you to basically not spread yourself too thinly doing too many things, selling to too many people, trying to figure out different solutions for different people as they come to us. Basically, the more you do, the less you chew. So clear your schedule, avoid distractions, just focus on that one thing that gives you the most pleasure in your business, because if you don’t love your business, it’s not worth it. It can easily become a nightmare.
From personal experience, there was this time when I woke up in the morning and I just hated going to work, just because I wasn’t working with the clients that I wanted to work with. By niching down to an audience that I enjoy working with, and focusing just on that, allows you to really expand and just gives you a better life.
And last but not least, is having a goal.
Let’s leave choosing a realistic goal for the accountants.
When choosing a goal in a creative business, we have to think big, so whatever the goal is for the next year you want to 10x it. It’s not enough to just think about how you can close one more deal next month or you can close two extra deals. Start working on building a system that has the potential to close 50 deals.
Simply put, goals are arbitrary. The same people will start from the same starting point, one of them will aim for $2M USD by the end of the year and others will aim to reach $20,000 at the end of the first year.
Notice the difference? The people who set themselves the high goal – although they may not reach it – they’re going to try and figure out what it takes to get there. It forces you to think bigger and beyond just yourself.
It forces you to think beyond the scale you’re comfortable with.
When I first started as a freelancer, I only wanted to get a few clients that would get me to $5,000/month. That’s a decent goal for the vast majority of people, but the moment I started thinking of how to scale to $50,000 – which we actually just reached – but it took a few years, it changed the way I thought about my agency. So it is possible, but if I hadn’t looked at it like that, I would have still been doing $2000 websites with 1-2 websites per month and stayed at that level…
A good mindset to be in when you’re setting goals is the story of the “4-minute mile”. Nobody thought it was possible, it was such a relevation when Roger Bannister finally became the first person to run a mile in 4 minutes. Beyond people thinking it was impossible, physicians and experts in the field said that it is literally impossible for the body & the body would break down if you run faster than four minutes per mile.
But Roger wasn’t having it.
He just went for it, and believe it or not a year later, another guy did it. And a year after that, a few others did it to the point where running one mile in under four minutes is something that every runner in high school can do.
Nothing much has changed; just our mindset and the way that we perceive reality and how we can look at things from our point of view.
Execute = Audience + Message + Channel + System
Now, let’s execute.
Breaking execution down into audience, message, channel and system is a great way to make sure you’re reaching every individual goal so that you can work towards your overarching goal.
So let’s break down these four things to see how they apply.
Defining your audience will help you clarify your message but focus on the people themselves not their job titles or positions.
Niching down – which we discussed earlier – is usually approached with focusing on a specific mindset. what does this guy do? What is the industry that I want to be a part of? I’m going to work with real estate people, I’m going to work with charities. I, on the other hand, think it’s incredibly valuable to look at people and ask people, not at job titles.
We’re all doing some variation of the same thing, but every single person that reads this post is unique in their own right (including you 😉). The aim is to be able to start a conversation with someone, find an instant connection, identify a problem you want to fix and then fix it for everyone that has the problem that you have the best solution for.
Next is messaging. Your message is your offer.
We build websites is what you’re doing, but a website isn’t an end result, it’s not the goal for the client – it’s simply a means to an end. You should aim to think beyond that.
Why is what you’re doing worth $5,000 or $10,000 and how can you wrap it up as an end solution?
WordPress is just a tool just like a guitar is.
You can buy the best guitar in the world but if you don’t know how to play it, it’s arguably worthless (to you). So it’s about finding that offer that speaks to the person you’re targeting.
Now that we’ve discussed finding your message and finding your audience – let’s talk about your channel & the process of actually finding them.
Finding prospects is always a challenge for all of us, we basically just want to build websites. We want to be creative and do excellent work for our clients but before we can do that we actually need to spend the time finding clients, following up with them, and invoicing them.
So, where do you find clients?
This becomes a lot easier when you have the right audience and have niched down, so we highly advise that you focus on nailing those aspects of your business before moving onto this step.
But, once you know your audience and understand who they are – I’ve found LinkedIn to be the most reliable place to network & find clients. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all definitely also worth looking into at some point but especially when getting started you want to focus on excelling at one channel. Choose the channel that makes the most sense based on where the people you are after are rather than where you want to be. We won’t cover a complete LinkedIn strategy in this post, because that would be a 4,000+ word guide on its own, but we recommend checking out Lemlist’s detailed guide.
And last but definitely not least is your system.
From day 1 or day N (where N is whatever day you’re at today), start mapping out the entire process from a lead contacting you and converting into a client all the way to launching their website.
You’ll definitely have to accept that your processes won’t be perfect to begin with, they will be rough. And like every machine, you’ll have to optimize it and keep putting in work to make sure that it runs smoothly.
Let me briefly walk you through how my LinkedIn outreach process works. I make my profile look awesome for my audience, rather than for me. Once I have my profile set up properly, then we search to find the right people and send a personalized introductory message.
Then once they reply, we proceed to build the relationship and start looking deeper into their profile and what it is that they do. At this point, there are basically only three outcomes – either you found the decision-maker, or they’re not interested.
So if you’ve found the decision-maker, you should have that message ready to send. How are you able to help then & why does it provide them value? Of course, adding that you’d understand if they aren’t interested.
While this outreach process isn’t ideal and in an ideal world the leads would be inbound (rather than outbound), when you’re starting out you need to put in the effort to get to that point. So don’t get hung up on the rejections you get, keep the relationship going but find more people.
The best way to get peoples’ time of day is not trying to sell to them directly, you want to make an initial connection and build that relationship. And if it clicks, then they’ll come to you. If you let the person reach the conscious decision that they need to work with you on your own, then they will require little to no convincing or selling at all.
In the past, you’d get a message request almost always after someone connects with a full-on sales pitch where the person tries to close you without even knowing anything about them. Please do not be this person.
The connection has to be personal, it’s not about shouting what you can do. As the name suggests on LinkedIn, it’s about connecting with that person.
If you truly know what you’re looking for and the market that you’re able to serve, finding the people to get in touch with is easy so it really becomes a matter of just doing it. When you come across someone that’s interested, you move them further down the process and proceed to book a call with them. Over time, you’ll build a list of the most frequent questions that come up in the discovery call and can put together a survey to send out to these leads. This is a great way to filter out the leads that aren’t truly serious about working with you (once you have interested leads to filter out).
One question that we recommend including in this survey which far too many people leave out is asking whether they have the money to work with you. This doesn’t have to be blunt, there is a way to ask it in an elegant way – here’s an example:
It’s surprising how many people never ask this question and continue to spend time pursuing leads that are never going to work with them anyway.
Based on their initial responses to these questions, if it is a good fit, you should reach back out to them to let them know that you have availability and would be open to discussing their project further & continue with the rest of your sales process as usual.
Our profile as we’ve seen in step one is already designed for this particular audience. So if you know who your audience is and your messaging is proper, they will go to your profile, they will see what you’re doing, they will say “This is what I’m looking for!” So that’s why they come to you with interest, even after just saying “Hi, thanks for connecting!” They’ll check out your profile and come back to you. That’s perfect.
And if they haven’t, that’s when you make the offer. We still won.
If you want to execute this process, you have to think big. Not everyone in the industry will be open to connecting. The way I see it, we have ten thousand sure outcomes to a full digit combination lock. But if one of the things is not right, you can have three of them right, which is still useless.
If something’s not right, the whole thing doesn’t work. Usually, this is when people give up, they try three times and are out of the game. Understanding that there are 10,0000 possibilities gives you so much more leeway, just try again. If I’ve only tried something 5 times, I still have 9,9995 tries to go before I give up.
This doesn’t mean try the same thing over and over again (this is the definition of insanity).
When something doesn’t work a few times, we want to change just one number at a time. if we change more than one thing at a time it’s difficult to keep track of what worked. So if it doesn’t work, try refining the message slightly be changing small parts of it. If that doesn’t work the message might not be right for the person you’re trying to reach or perhaps it isn’t the place for the type of people that you’re trying to reach.
Maintain = Mindset + Workday
Now we’re at the final stage, maintaining.
In business, it’s so common to take incredibly long to execute. As an agency, when you start having clients coming in, you need to serve them. The level of responsibility surrounding their project and business is very unlike any other business out there. When you’re an employee at the company, you have much more leeway, but as an agency, clients expect a lot more from you (even if they pay less than they pay employees).
Workday Of The Kings & Queens
Time is our most valuable resource.
Nothing in this world is more precious than the time you are investing in your own business and into your personal life. It just flies by, which is why we want to maximize its use in focusing on being a CEO, acting as a leader in your business. Not on support tickets or requests.
The Biggest Bottleneck – Communication
It’s natural that in the early days of scaling, when you take on more business your profitability will usually (if not always) take a hit in one way or another. This was one of the most difficult things to accept for me.
There’s no way to avoid it if you want to build a real business that doesn’t live and breathe only when you do (often referred to as economies of scale).
You will feel really weird when your revenue initially doubles, but you yourself aren’t actually taking home double. The solution to this is scaling beyond this awkward position that most agencies face right before the founders burn out.
And if you run a WordPress agency, that is something you can avoid with effective client communication – single-handedly the biggest time-waster in an agency. Depending on the type of clients that your agency works with, the reason this is typically the case is that you and your clients are on two completely different wavelenght.s.
You know everything about web design, how to refer to a certain part of a page, but some clients don’t even know what a menu is or a hero area is. This is why your processes should be fool-proof and client-centric rather than designed for your use only.
There’s three basic processes in any website:
- You need to request content.
- You need to improve the design.
- You need to provide support.
Getting content from clients is a nightmare.
They don’t know what exactly you want and have no idea how to send it your way. Everything breaks down when this miscommunication starts occurring. They create huge Word documents or in the best-case a Google Sheet with explanations including screenshots trying to use arrows to point at what part of a page that they’re referring to.
The step beyond this that most agencies eventually try is some project management system like Trello or Asana. But this just brings in more confusion because they own’t know how to use those tools in thae way you expect them to. Those tools are about you, they’re not helpful for the client.
When you’re looking at a website, we see code, we see the design, we see the specifics colors and they just see a completely one-dimensional screen.
This is why we built Atarim.
As an agency, we spent countless hours trying to decode what clients were trying to explain in endless email chains and long Word documents. We were sick of it so we build a feedback widget that lets clients interact with you directly on the site they hired you to build.
In the most intuitive way possible.
Using Atarim makes it feel as if the client is standing right next to you, actually pointing at your screen and asking you to change something specifically. All of the information – automatic screenshots, browser, and device information – is all automatically sent you never have to ask them for something in order to be able to replicate an issue on your end.
Build To Sell (Even If You Don’t Plan To)
I’m not here to tell you that you have to sell your business, but building an agency in a way that it is ready to sell whenever you want to is a great way to make sure that you are not the center of the business you’re running.
Especially in the early-stages it’s very typical to be a complete control freak with your business and want to do absolutely everything because you can do it better than everyone else. I can assure you that isn’t the case.
You really have to lose that mindset if you want to scale. The way to tell that you have a truly scalable business model is if you are ready to be sold at any given moment.
Take Action – What You Can Do Now
Let’s summarize. In short, there are two ways to grow your career in the WordPress industry. As a freelancer and as an agency.
The biggest mistake is when people start having an identity crisis and can’t figure out which one they want to be. There is nothing wrong with being a freelancer, we aren’t trying to say you have to scale beyond yourself, there are a number of people who have been successful without doing so.
As a freelancer, you can continue to be involved in the technical side of things and you also work with clients on a small scale which is great for understanding your position in that kind of business-client relationship.
You have to go through this process to understand whether you want to build upon it and scale at some point.
Once you manage clients on a larger scale, you start focusing on your business at a higher level. As an agency, think of every website you build for a client as a standalone product. And you do 3, 5 or 10 product launches per month. The agency model has its advantages but it also has this glass ceiling that people are talking about. Some people have broken this glass ceiling, but it’s a huge uphill battle to go beyond $20,000/month. If it would be easy, then far more people would be running such large agencies.
If you want to scale beyond this stage, you really have to act like someone that doesn’t know any part of the process but are capable of managing and motivating your team, how to work with accountants and lawyers but beyond that, you shouldn’t be getting involved in day-to-day client work anymore.
Ask yourself: where do you want to be in five years?
Out of everything covered in this article, this is the single most important thing. What do you actually want your business to look like?
If you make sure the process is covered (with solid, scalable systems), you know how to manage a team, and are able to consistently land clients you enjoy working with – you’re on the right track.