The #1 mistake that is killing your agency

Blog image: Man, sat with hand over eyes
Photo by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 on Unsplash

I still remember sobbing uncontrollably at 3 in the morning, in the confines of my small home office, tucked away at the back of the house.

Apple had finally approved an iOS app we were building, and what should have been a moment of joy, felt like an emotional breakdown.

My office was dark, and the house was quiet. My family, of whom had only seen me for brief moments in time over the last few months were tucked up in bed.

I felt alone as I wept.

It had all started well enough. We’d had an idea for an app that allowed event attendees to create their own agenda for the day. They would select the talks they were most interested in, and then navigate through the day using the app.

This was the early days of smartphones, and this idea felt revolutionary! We felt that if we could test the idea with a client, we’d have a product we could resell to countless event organisers around the world.

This app was going to be our saving grace.

So why was I so sad? Why did I feel so desperate?

This app had taken weeks of work. Without any real experience, we were teaching ourselves app development as we went; we were battling scope creep with the client on a near daily basis; and Apple was rejecting every submission we made.

While it had been finally accepted, it bore no resemblance to the original idea. It was ugly, clunky, and limited by the client’s extremely unique needs.

The disappointment was compounded by the fact that we were only invoicing £500 for all this effort, and the end product was not something we could easily resell to any other client.

Let’s do the math: as an agency with a £20k a month minimum payroll plus countless other expenses, we’d spent the best part of 2 months and multiple team members getting this app over the line.

An invoice of £500 plus VAT was never going to save my agency.

The feeling of desperation was compounded by world events. As the 2007 recession took hold, clients began slashing budgets, canceling contracts, or closing down. Within months, revenue had plummeted, and we were now trying to tread water using savings put aside for bills to pay staff, and any supplier that shouted the loudest.

That night, with the weight of the app and everything else pressing down on me, I knew something had to give. We were all over the place, trying to cater to every industry that came our way. Events, IT, Pharma, local businesses – you name it, we were there. But was it really working for us?

The answer was a resounding no.

We thought that by casting our nets wide, we’d catch more fish. But all we were doing was spreading ourselves too thin, without really catching anything worthwhile.

It hit me then. We had to hone in on what we were genuinely good at. No more chasing after every opportunity. We needed to play to our strengths.

We had to be clear about who we wanted to serve. Not every client was the right fit, and that was okay.

So, we took a step back. We looked at where our strengths were. What were those projects where our team felt the most energised, the most passionate? And who were the clients that valued our unique approach?

The answer was clear. We had to focus on one key industry, one core client group. By doing so, we could tailor our offering, get under the skin of our ideal client’s challenges, and truly make a difference.

It wasn’t an easy shift. There were temptations to go back to the old ways, especially when times were tough. (The Tax man showing up at the door for example).

But we stuck to our guns regardless. To cut a long story short, over time, the rewards of this new approach became apparent. We were building deeper relationships, delivering better solutions, making a profit on our efforts, and most importantly, we were happier and more fulfilled in our work.

Looking back, those dark days, that app project, was a turning point for us. It forced us to reflect, to make tough choices, and to choose a direction.

And I’m grateful for it. Because it led us to where we are today – stronger, clearer in our purpose, and making a real difference in our industry.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Focus on what you do best and who you genuinely want to serve. That’s how you’ll find true growth and success.

If you’d like to learn how we embarked on this journey, check out this episode of the Trailblazer FM Podcast.