Q: I want to fire everyone and go solo

We look at the possible options for a burned-out agency owner

Q: I’ve been running a specialist marketing agency for 10 years and I’m so tired. I’ve been working 60+ hour week, staying up late to speak to freelancers, getting sick, trying to keep up with industry trends and having to work on quality control for all work going through the business (including work from my longest-running employees).

I’ve been thinking about how it was so much easier in the old days when it was just me and a small batch of clients. I’m not a good manager, only have basic systems set up and have no breathing room to change anything. Is it wrong to be considering firing everyone, including many of my time-suck clients, and starting back at the basics?

A: I can 100% empathise with you being swallowed up by your business. From our chats, you’re got a huge drive to deliver excellent work and it’s lead to success in terms of revenue but failure in terms of lifestyle.

Let’s jump in to your options and next steps…

Firing everyone

This can seem to many like a drastic step but it does make it a little easier that you’re using freelancers to complete the work. If you do decide on this option, I’d recommend giving your freelancers and clients as much notice as possible to help them transition.

Benefits to this would be:

  • Starting again from scratch with your favourite clients

  • Giving you time to bed down systems and processes that will help you scale in the future

  • Reduce your work hours

  • Potentially look at options for selling some of your existing clients to one of your freelancers or another agency. Done in a delicate way, you could ensure your clients continue to be looked after and benefit from the sale

Scaling Back

This option would involve you limiting new work, potentially “firing” some of your clients and taking a short-term revenue drop whilst you work on systems & processes. By documenting the current steps in your process, using a customer journey map or service blueprint, you’ll have a clear idea of where you could improve. Where are you getting the most customer support requests? How do you cut down on revisions and the time that it takes clients to give feedback on your work? Can you get some email automation built-in so you can update clients automatically throughout the workflow stages?

Benefits to this would be:

  • Less impact on your revenue

  • Potential to rebuild from a smaller base of clients that are better tied-in to your vision

  • Potential to drop some staff and work on your avenues for scaling more sustainably

A New Model

Perhaps you could also look into alternative models for growing your business that don’t involve you needing to do as many management tasks. Options could include:

  • Set up your business with a system where a team of freelancer professionals can work directly with clients within a project management environment. You set up the systems & processes and leave the clients & freelancers to work together. There are many ways to reduce the risks in this option of freelancers working directly with clients

  • Consider forming freelancing teams and allowing them to buy into a franchise-type arrangement for your business.

  • Find the areas where you’re a specialist in your business i.e. if it’s getting new clients, you could partner with other businesses and freelancers to pass on these leads for a fee or commission.

  • Set up a small marketplace where freelancers and clients can request & fulfil job requests. This is easier than it seems.

  • Look into alternative business models like unlimited marketing support (with conditions) so you can better package your best services in a way that is repeatable and scalable.

Hope this helps! Look forward to your comments.