Passing £2m: Why structure is the second critical agency growth hurdle

12th September 2023 – by Paul Muggeridge-Breene, Thrive CEO

You may have thought your journey as an agency leader would be smooth sailing once you’d passed the £1 million income mark. You did the hard work of letting go (largely!) to clear the first critical hurdle of agency growth, and you’re well on your way to £2 million.

But, of course, growing an agency is never straightforward nor easy. You’re about to face the second critical hurdle along the way to £5 million, and it’s just as tricky to clear as the first one. In fact, I know agency leaders who say this is the hardest of all.

The challenge

As you approach £2 million income, the key issue you face is that your agency’s structure and workflows are no longer fit for purpose. There’s just too much work coming in for the existing workflows to handle – so work is getting lost and deadlines are being missed. It’s stressful for your team and, critically, clients are becoming unhappy as the quality of the service they’ve been used to receiving is declining.

As well as being stressed by these workflow issues, your employees are also becoming confused by the agency’s organisational structure. There’s almost certainly a lack of clarity around who’s supposed to do what around the business, and clever solutions which worked well during the start-up phase – things like highly multiskilled roles and people working across a range of functions – are now creating uncertainty instead. Tasks and responsibilities are either being duplicated or falling between the cracks, and there may be growing friction and conflict between employees.

The solution

To clear this hurdle, you need to determine the optimum structure and workflows for your agency. And then, just as importantly, you need to implement them. As with the first hurdle, this may sound simple, but it really isn’t. It’s another significant piece of work that you and your team should devote sufficient time and energy to.

The key here is to aim to create something that will work well into the future, as well as solving the problems of today. Imagining your agency double the size it is now will help with this.

Every agency is different, but your plan of action should look something like this:

  • Thoroughly investigate and capture the challenges currently being faced around the business in terms of structure and workflows. Find ways of gathering this information in as unvarnished a form as possible – bear in mind people may not want to be entirely honest with you about problems and frustrations! Anonymous surveys are a good option here.
  • Based on the feedback you’ve received and other information you’ve collected, build some “ideal world” future structures – one for your agency in six months’ time and one for two years into the future, when your agency is, say, twice as big. Think about what teams you should have, and how work will flow through the business (at a high level)?
  • Outline which team or person would be responsible for all of your agency’s key tasks under each of the scenarios
  • Create a full organisational chart for the future scenario, based on the number of people you think you’ll need to employ at that point to service the additional work.
  • Create a detailed plan of action to transition to the “six months’ time” scenario, and a high-level plan to transition to the “two years’ time” scenario.
  • Based on the feedback you received and the thinking you’ve done above, determine the workflows you’ll need under the two scenarios. Break these down in whatever way is most suitable for your business – eg by product line or type of output – and think through each step of the process.
  • Consider how the workflows will be managed – do you need a specific workflow or project management tool?
  • Create a detailed plan of action to transition to the “six months’ time” workflow scenario, and a high-level plan to transition to the “two years’ time” scenario.
  • Implement both plans, adjusting along the way as required.

As ever, when you’re making any changes as part of this process, you need to ensure that everyone is thoroughly briefed. This means telling them a number of times in different ways, and always putting a big focus on the “why” so they can really see that the change is required, and isn’t just being imposed for the sake of it.

And remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect structure: anything you implement will present issues or challenges of its own. But a well thought-through design will allow you clear this second critical hurdle and power your way on towards your goal.

Paul Muggeridge-Breene is CEO of Thrive, a former agency MD, former international journalist and a member of the British Psychological Society. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss how Thrive can help you.