If you’re running a WordPress agency, selling projects is the first, essential step. But once you have the ball rolling with sales, how do you decide what to prioritize to keep the business as a whole running smoothly? This article is here to lend a hand. I’ll share some insights from The White Label Agency’s founder, Einar Rosenberg, based on his ten years of experience running a successful WordPress agency. According to him, the core factors for WLA’s success include mission-oriented strategic planning as well as a focus on building solid partnerships–both within WLA’s team and with customers. I’ll discuss his perspective on each of these factors and how they can be relevant for other agencies, too.
Heading towards success
One of the common challenges on an agency’s way to success can be the lack of a clear direction and purpose, resulting in difficult or slow strategic decisions. The way Einar has addressed this problem in WLA is to set up a vision and mission document that outlines where the agency is heading, what is the approach, and what the core values of the company should be. Having this defined provided a solid foundation for WLA, making it easier for owners and managers to take decisions that align with the agency’s overall goals.
In addition to setting up a vision and mission document, another well-tested practice from WLA is to create a yearly roadmap that identifies a list of upcoming challenges and ways to address them. The roadmap should identify upcoming issues based on the past year’s experience. Depending on the conditions, this could be hiring, sales, liquidity, or lack of time, to name some examples.
Not everything always goes as planned, especially in such an ever-changing industry and world. Recent years have taught us that we should also perhaps have some level of preparation for larger-scale challenges, be that pandemics, natural disasters, or political instabilities. Plan scenarios to prepare your agency for potential crises. Identify the key variables impacting your business, develop from best-case to worst-case scenarios, have a plan for each of them, and regularly monitor and update them accordingly. We suggest mapping out challenges based on their level of importance and their likelihood of occurring and addressing them one at a time. Some of this planning might feel unnecessary when you’re doing it, but if these scenarios play out you’ll be a step ahead of most others.
At the same time, trying to solve all the problems simultaneously can lead to paralysis. Planning is valuable, but it should not get in the way of making decisions on the most pressing problems. Einar has put WLA’s attitude simply: “The worst decision you can make is not to decide at all, so act.” This way, you keep moving forward.
Building an effective team
Another critical component to run a WordPress agency is building an effective team that shares common values and respects each other. To achieve this, WLA has prioritized three principles under Einar’s leadership: delegation under responsibility, a flat organizational structure, and selecting recruits by the best overall fit, not only by skill. Let’s look more at how each of these principles work.
Delegation under responsibility
“Delegation under responsibility” means believing in each team member’s ability to take responsibility and perform tasks without supervision. Based on WLA’s experience, giving employees autonomy paired with clear expectations makes them feel respected and motivated to rise to the challenge.
“Think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with their freedom,” as famous songwriter Bob Dylan said.
Trusting employees does not mean abandoning them; it involves finding a balance between autonomy and support, and providing resources when needed.
Flat organizational structure
The second principle WLA has prioritized for building an effective team is to have a flat organizational structure with few layers of management. Fewer levels of management minimizes bureaucracy. For example, across WLA’s different production offices, Einar chose a decentralized approach and allowed office managers to make decisions for their own office, without having to go through multiple approvals or insisting on uniformity in all aspects across all offices. Keeping it simple has helped WLA to avoid wasting time.
Recruiting for best fit, not most skilled
It’s tempting to think the most skilled and experienced developers are the best ones to hire. One clear drawback of hiring the most skilled recruits is that it can be pricey. It also may not be the best choice in the long run. Building an effective team is more about recruiting individuals who are a good fit for the position, rather than the most skilled candidates. Are they motivated to do the work? Is there room for them to grow and learn? If a potential recruit is already so skilled that it will be difficult to provide opportunities for them to grow and learn with your clients’ projects, this can be a real limitation.
Instead, WLA has found recruiting eager team members even with limited experience can be a recipe for success when paired with providing extensive opportunities to improve and learn. There are many ways to enhance learning, both formally and informally. Encourage sharing of knowledge between peers. Schedule code reviews, where senior developers can provide mentorship and guidance to juniors. Offer incentives for upskilling, like promotions or course reimbursement. Don’t underestimate the value of motivation.
Building strong customer relationships is essential for any long-term business success, and WordPress agencies are no exception. One of the key factors Einar emphasizes from WLA’s experience is taking the time to conduct proper exploration sessions, to understand clients’ needs, expectations, their goals, and objectives. Actually talking is essential; choosing text-only communication will often result in a dissatisfied client from either miscommunication or under-communication. This guide can help you to set up questions for exploration sessions.
During the session, pay attention to the number of decision-makers, because too many of them can lead to confusion and finger-pointing. Clearly understand who evaluates your work and how well they define their expectations. When a client defines expectations clearly, it’s straightforward, you should just listen carefully and ask questions to ensure that you fully understand what they want. On the other hand, those with vague expectations may need additional guidance and suggestions, maybe by asking open-ended questions in order to get on the same wavelength. Exploration sessions can be helpful for assessing the workload and setting the deadline too, especially if the WordPress agency is working on a new type of project.
Beyond the initial exploration session, continued effective communication is key. WLA focuses on two aspects to achieve this: transparency and consistency. Talking to clients by video or face-to-face can help create an initial feeling of transparency. More than that, clients appreciate when you treat them as a partner, not just a service provider. If and when issues come up, remember that both of you want the same thing: delivering the project on time and with the right quality. It’s more important to be open and find a solution than try to sweep issues or mistakes under the rug.
To ensure consistent communication, ask for regular feedback. If not provided, consider it as a warning sign to be extra careful about quality, if you don’t want them to show up later with complaints. Another red flag can be when the client is not punctual or is not showing up on calls. From the agency’s side, the best you can do is to be prompt and punctual in all communications. Ensuring close contact with them will allow your agency to keep customers over long periods of time.
For WLA, some of the key factors to run a successful agency have been careful planning, effective team management, and a strong commitment to building customer relations. WordPress agencies can be as different as the people that work in them, so what works for running a successful WordPress agency might be different from one to another. I hope you nevertheless can take something useful from WLA’s experiences that will help you pave the way for a thriving agency.