Do You Need Big Agency Experience to Be a Successful Agency Owner?

By Jason Swenk on April 13, 2016

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • What it’s like working at a big agency.
  • Why a CCO would leave a large, publicly traded agency.
  • Does size matter?
  • How you can determine your purpose and use it to build your brand.

For anyone who has questions or doubts in their own abilities to startup a digital agency and run better than the big dogs, you’ll have to check out this interview. My guest, Kerri Konik, has worked at some pretty huge agencies, and left her latest as Chief Creative Officer in order to start her own agency. She tells us what it’s like at the big agencies and why she left to do her own thing.

The grass isn’t any greener at the big agencies… it’s greener on the side that you water:)

What it’s like at a big agency (…and why leave)?

After years of working at big agencies Kerri started her agency, Brandscape Atelier, five years ago because she felt like she wasn’t making much of an impact on her clients’ businesses.

Like anything else, there’s pros and cons, of course. First and foremost the resources are top-notch. You have a team full of people who are experts in their specific area — people don’t wear more than one hat. This means, you can learn a lot and get exposure to the big picture. However, big agencies tend to sound very glamorous when in actuality, they are not. Sure a big agency can be very fast paced and they land 2–3 year agency of record contracts, however there are too many layers to be effective. A typical client/agency meeting often included 18–20 people… making execution very inefficient.

Kerri left because she felt like she wasn’t making much of an impact on her clients’ businesses. She started Brandscape Atelier (translation: “artist workshop”) to bring sophisticated, big agency strategies to small businesses who are looking to grow.

Does size matter?

No it does not. You don’t need a huge team to do amazing work. Kerri’s agency operates with just six core team members and they bring in subject matter specialists as needed. They are in their 5th year and Kerri has no plans to get too big. She feels it’s too difficult to be nimble when you are too big.

More benefits of staying small:

  • You make decisions based on the long term. Large corporations look at making growth decisions based on the short term, which doesn’t have lasting effects for sustainability.
  • You can turn down the wrong clients or wrong jobs that distract from your long term goals.
  • You can make build your brand equity by defining your purpose. Why you do what you do.

How to select clients that set you up for a WIN.

Brandscape Atelier works with startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs that are looking to grow and be competitive with bigger brands. They have a pretty specific criteria on who they will (and will not) work with, including:

  1. Businesses that are focused and clear. They want to work with clients who want to make a big impact in their industry.
  2. Businesses the agency views as viable and sellable.
  3. Businesses the agency can bring to life by bringing the owner’s unique and genuine personality into the mix.

Set yourself up for a WIN by being selective in your prospecting. It’s hard when you’re starting out — sometimes you are hungry enough to take on any work that is thrown your way. If you can avoid making decisions based on short term gain, you will reap long term benefits.

Remember: There’s no such thing as a bad client. Only a bad prospect or a had process! Click here to learn what I mean.

How can you determine your purpose?

In Kerri’s case, she kept finding herself beginning a lot of sentences with with “Someday, I’ll…” She realized she had gotten to a point where she wasn’t really doing what she wanted to be doing. She was just waiting for that “someday.”

If you want to find your purpose, figure out what you’re passion about. Ask yourself questions like:

  • “What can’t I help doing?”
  • “What do I want to see more of in the world?”
  • “What do I want to see less of in the world?”

Sometimes it’s easier to start with what you don’t want to do, then narrow down to what you DO want to do

Use your findings to position your agency (and yourself) for success. When you’re working on something that moves and inspires you, it also empowers you to be successful.

Bottom line is, you do not need big agency experience to be a successful owner. My best advice is to stay in the game of learning. Stay on top of trends and technology and avoid being viewed as a commodity by your clients by continuing to take your level of knowledge and service up a notch.

No matter what your size, there are five levels of agency service — check out another interview about them here. Comment below and tell me which level of service you provide? Which one are you be striving for?


Originally published at jasonswenk.com on April 13, 2016.