Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People




  • — March 7, 2019

    According to our annual State of the Agency report, hiring is a top-three challenge, and 15% of digital marketing agencies feel that hiring and training new employees is the biggest challenge they will face this year.

    Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People

    Between finding people with the right background and a strong culture fit, hiring new employees can be a daunting task. However, as you scale your business, you are going to need to hire in order to keep up with the demands of your growing client base. Here are some strategies to consider as you expand your team.

    When to Hire New People

    When scaling a digital agency, it’s important to identify signs that it might be time to bring in an additional team member. Recruiting and hiring new team members is not only a daunting process, it’s an expensive one. So how do you know it’s time to hire?

    You Have Steady Revenue

    About one in four startups fail due to not having the right team, and 29% fail from running out of cash, according to CB Insights. While it’s important to ensure you have enough employees to meet the demands of your business, you need to ensure your revenue is steady enough to take on an additional payroll.

    Many startups hire due to an increase in stress level without an actual plan. Before taking on an additional employee, you should have a steady stream of income from client retention. If you’re having a difficult time keeping up with the workload, but can’t justify hiring an additional employee from a financial standpoint, consider outsourcing some work to freelancers or other agencies until things start to level out.

    You Found a New Opportunity in Your Market

    Whether you found a new opportunity in your service offerings or through expanding your market, it might be time to consider bringing on additional help. New employees can be beneficial not only by taking workload off you and other employees, but by having secondary specialty areas that can contribute to your agency’s overall growth.

    You Can’t Keep Up

    If your client base is expanding rapidly and your employees are getting fatigued, it is extremely important to bring someone in immediately. You should never be in a position where you have to turn prospects away because of workload. Nor do you want your product’s quality to suffer. Here are some signs your company is having a hard time keeping up with their current workload:

    • Employees frequently mention feeling tired, burned out, overworked
    • Small mistakes are increasing in frequency
    • Employees are frequently ill and calling out sick
    • Low morale
    • Clients are churning more frequently (with or without specific complaints)

    These are all signs that you’re overtaxing your existing staff and need to expand to meet the demands on your business.

    Hiring the Right People

    Once you recognize the need for expanding your team, you need to ensure you’re bringing the right people into your company. It can be difficult to consider expansion when you already have a great team around you, as hiring new people may lead to change in both the culture side of your agency, as well as the service quality. If you want to gracefully scale your agency, you need to have a good process for hiring and maintaining talent.

    Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People

    Develop a System for Entry-Level Positions

    It’s great when the perfect applicant walks right in your door, ready to work. They have a portfolio of success with previous clients, and already know how to play the game. However, if you are hiring new employees solely off experience level, you are likely missing out on a big pool of talent. Digital marketing is such a new industry, that very few people in your box of resumes are going to come fully equipped with tons of experience. Your best bet is to develop a new system that accepts and trains entry-level employees.

    41% of employers say entry-level positions are the hardest to fill. The reasoning behind this is that many agencies try to cut corners with training programs by adding additional requirements to entry-level jobs. This process not only limits qualified applicants from submitting a resume, but also will be taking away from what you should find in an entry-level employee.

    Entry-level positions are important in digital marketing, as the main strengths candidates will possess are likely around learning quickly and retaining information. Our industry is constantly changing. Between Google regularly refreshing their algorithms and features, as well as new clients coming and going, you need employees who are able to learn quickly and adapt to change. Entry-level positions are going to be a great place to start when it comes to retaining qualified employees in the future.

    Look for Topic Experts

    At this point as an agency, you should have an idea where your strengths and weaknesses are. Maybe you’re better with small businesses, maybe you’re better with B2B or eCommerce clients. Hiring new people is a great way to expand your company’s strengths. Say an applicant doesn’t have a lot of experience for the role they’re applying for, but does have a lot of experience in a service you don’t offer. This employee may be able to provide new ideas for implementing out-of-the-box strategies to your existing client base.

    Consider Hiring a Recruiter

    Finding the right people can be extremely challenging, especially as you need to train new employees and continue to manage your current client base. If you are spending more than 35% of your time interviewing and searching for applicants, you may want to consider some outside help.

    When it comes to recruiters, you have a couple of different options. Ideally, you’d hire someone in-house with experience recruiting who fits the culture you’d like to see in your company. This person may not have a deep understanding of marketing, but should be able to learn enough about what you do to provide qualified applicants.

    Alternatively, you can also consider working with a recruiting agency. This might be a good option if you need a large amount of employees in a short time, or are not sure you’d like to dedicate resources to an in-house position. When hiring a recruiting agency, you should be sure that they specialize in your industry and that they have an understanding of your desired culture.

    Common Hiring Pain Points

    When scaling your team, you are likely going to run into some common hiring-specific issues along the way. I spoke with a member of WordStream’s own recruiting team, Nicole DeSisto, to get a feel for some of the pain points we experience within our own agency’s hiring, as well as how WordStream works to overcome hiring challenges.

    Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People

    WordStream Talent Acquisition Partner Nicole DeSisto

    Employee Turnover

    At 17%, marketing is the leading industry in employee turnover rate, due to a variety of reasons. The first is that digital marketing is constantly changing. New opportunities are frequent, day-to-day practices are constantly evolving, and freelance and consulting opportunities may prove to be more flexible for many people within the workforce.

    On top of this, the average age of people in the marketing industry is 32, meaning many employees in digital marketing are considered to be millennials (also known as the “job hopping” generation). Six in 10 millennials are currently open to new job opportunities, and 21% say they’ve changed jobs within the past year. This is an expensive reality, as millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $ 30.5 billion annually.

    With such a high industry turnover rate, even top marketing agencies are feeling the heat from their competitors searching for applicants within their talent pool.

    Here’s what Nicole had to say about WordStream’s employee retention efforts:

    “This industry is uber competitive in the job market. Just like we want top talent, so does every other digital marketing and advertising company. Our employees are constantly getting approached by our competitors, which can cause challenges from an employee retention standpoint. This is where the importance of culture, employee love and appreciation, and benefits come into play. You must always stay abreast of what other companies are doing to keep their employees happy, to retain your amazing people.”

    As a WordStream employee, I can attest to how hard WordStream works to ensure every employee has a plethora of opportunities for career growth and feels valued. Here are some of the awesome perks we offer to our employees to set them up for success:

    • A strong focus on company culture and team bonding
    • Competitive salary and benefits packages
    • Flexibility with hours/time off (WordStream offers unlimited PTO)
    • A mapped-out growth path for each individual employee
    • Relaxed dress code

    WordStream also works to show that management, employees, and the organization as a whole care about the same things. For example, WordStream has recently enrolled in an equal pay for equal work initiative that supports diversity in the workplace, and WordStream works with multiple charities in our hometown and has a program that matches employee charitable contributions.

    Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People

    Standing Out From Other Agencies & Engaging Candidates

    With more and more agencies popping up every day, you need to stand out to potential hires the same way you need to stand out to potential clients. On top of key deliverables such as salary and benefits, candidates need to feel like moving to your agency over another is a good career choice.

    Job postings should have a clear layout of expectations as well as day to day life, while maintaining a fun, lighthearted tone. Check out WordStream’s career page for a specific example. This is where you can highlight your perks, company culture, and core values. Focus on areas your current employees appreciate about your business, and highlight the opportunity you bring to the table.

    Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People

    We asked Nicole for some advice on keeping candidates engaged throughout the hiring process, and how WordStream handles new hires:

    “Recruiting and hiring can be tricky in this market because of the insanely fast pace. If you aren’t moving as quickly as possible in your hiring process, you’re going to lose your amazing dream candidate to another company who hired faster than you. GET MOVING. Avoid things like multiple rounds of interviews, spacing out your interview rounds too long, or hesitating on hiring someone just to see who else is out there. If you spot great talent, HIRE them.”

    Interviewing Difficulties

    If you seem to be losing candidates during the interview process, there are a couple of different areas where your systems may be broken. The first is your job posting. Are your expectations laid out clearly enough? Are you vetting resumes closely enough? Are you confident each employee you bring to the next step is truly a good fit for the role? Once you surpass this area, it’s time to take a look at what’s happening once you’ve begun contact with the applicant.

    Choosing interview questions that give you the information you need while continuing to paint a consistent picture of your company’s culture and core values can be difficult. Check out some common interview questions WordStream recommends asking candidates. When interviewing, it is important to make the applicant feel comfortable. Asking open-ended questions will give you a big-picture sense of what they’re looking for, and can promote a conversation that allows you to understand who they are as a person. WordStream also includes current employees in the interview process. This helps maintain the company culture, as well as providing the hiring manager with a peer-to-peer review of the applicant, which can be helpful in making a final decision.

    We asked Nicole if she had any additional tips or tricks for the hiring process:

    “Promote your company’s culture. Get your company’s name out there so that people know who you are and how awesome it is to work there! Create a brand for your agency and never stop building on that brand. Treat your employees well and they will never leave! Move quickly on recruiting and hiring – stay proactive and never get behind, this market is hot.”

    Managing Clients with a Growing Team

    Growing your agency will have a direct impact on your clients. As you increase the number of clients you serve, as well as the number of employees you manage, things are going to need to change internally.

    Develop Processes & Systems

    As you hire more people, you’re going to need a method of internal communication that consists of more than flying paper airplanes across the table. Scaling your agency also means investing in tools to help your business run.

    Scaling a Digital Agency: How to Hire the Right People

    These processes should continuously be tested against each other to find what works best for your agency. A good way to maintain successful processes is to be honest about parts of your business that aren’t meeting their goals. Always look for areas where a process may be failing rather than an employee or client.

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