We collectively learned that a global pandemic is capable of flipping both personal and professional lives upside down within days. In the grand scheme of things, most agencies can count their blessings in that digital services are still very much in demand. However, this does not mean it’s “business as usual”.
The COVID-19 outbreak has changed how we spend our money, attract clients, and even work within our own teams.
Running a digital agency in times of crisis requires a particular approach. If crafted planned and executed properly, agency owners can set themselves up for success long after the crisis dies down. We’ve seen it time-and-time again: chaos puts businesses to the test – and only the savviest come out on top.
How can you run your agency successfully when people are working remotely, clients are dropping like flies, and the world is in total upheaval?
Find out what we consider to be the most effective, essential tips for digital agencies during the pandemic – and beyond.
1. Have A Communication Plan
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said George Bernard Shaw.
During this crisis, many of us are seeing just how much truth that simple statement holds.
During a normal period, you might think your agency does an excellent job of communicating both internally and externally. However, the complications of social distancing and quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how false that might be.
Proper crisis communication is essential to surviving a period like this one. You can’t rely on your usual methods of conversation and reporting – you’ll need to adopt a more thorough strategy.
As you can see in the graph above, there are three main aspects to quality crisis communication within an agency. From discussing preparedness plans in advance to responding in crystal clear methods, as well as recovering with continuous conversations, each of these steps is 100 percent essential.
Your communication strategy must be two-fold: you need a plan for communicating with clients and a plan for your internal communication.
a) How To Communicate With Clients During A Crisis
- Provide them with multiple methods of connecting with your business (social media, email, your website, PM tools, etc.)
- Reach out to them – don’t just wait for them to contact you.
- Review your messaging and conversation methods to determine if you are handling all communications efficiently.
- Make client communication a company-wide effort, not just a job for the customer support team.
- Document all client communications, regardless of where they might take place.
b) How To Communicate With Your Employees During A Crisis
- Be transparent about expectations and plans. There’s no room for uncertainty right now.
- Set up a clear method of communication for all remote and in-house employees.
- Download and implement communication software to centralize all records.
- Provide updates frequently to extinguish rumors and nerves.
To survive this pandemic, you can’t just assume that communication is happening. Your team will need to actively install and rely on new communication strategies to ride the wave of chaos and change.
2. Work On Revised Pricing Model
It’s no secret that COVID-19 is causing most of us to rethink our spending, both personally and within our businesses. Whether your agency serves individuals or other companies, you’ll need to understand that many clients will begin to rethink continuing their services with you.
As you can see in this graph from Reuters, consumer prices fell dramatically in March – when the first quarantine orders were issued and the true effects of the pandemic were first felt.
Now is not a time to consider how you will make more revenue – but instead to consider how you can keep the clients you already have. Unfortunately, this might mean reconsidering your pricing models, at least for the time being, to match the current state of consumer spending.
I recently heard a good analogy about businesses right now. Once COVID-19 hit, many businesses were in a similar situation as a passenger on a boat who had fallen overboard. Digital agencies are the rescue boat. They can either exploit the situation and demand a high price to help businesses, or they can do the right thing and throw them the rescue floatie without ulterior motives.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to offer your business-saving services for free. But you can be more flexible. Consider reducing or delaying payments for the time being. Set up lax payment plans. Offer discounts.
Quickly altering your pricing model to become more flexible for clients is an excellent way to make things work during a challenging time. Even if your clients want to pause their ongoing work to tighten their belts, some flexibility in your pricing could definitely help you retain some valuable clients in the long run.
Not only will more flexible pricing plans help you keep clients, but it will also help them think of your agency as more of a friend – rather than just another vendor. They’ll remember that you did your best to make things easy for them during a challenging time. That kind of action can go a long way toward establishing client loyalty.
3. Prepare A Content Plan
We’ve talked before about how vital it is to continue producing content on behalf of your agency, even during a worldwide pandemic. Agencies (and businesses) that plan and execute content strategies right now will come out ahead.
Think everyone else is taking a break from producing content? Think again.
A large chunk of businesses is deferring their current marketing campaigns, including content production, but another 79 percent are creating new ones.
The agencies that will thrive during this crisis are the ones ready to adapt their content marketing strategies to the topics, themes, and needs of the time.
So where do you start as a digital marketing agency?
While then nuts and bolts will look different for each agency, the formula to content marketing will be pretty much the same across the board.
Step One: Find Your Crisis X Factor
There are millions of digital agencies in the world providing relatively similar services. Times of crisis are when many of your clients will be strongly leaning towards scaling back. Even though this is a totally understandable response, it’s our duty as digital agencies to encourage clients to keep the brand light burning.
So how exactly do you do this?
You can tell your clients all day how important it is to keep moving – but they need to know more.
I’m going to go back to the rescue boat example. Your client was thrown overboard and is desperately trying to survive in the water – and you are the rescue boat. Simply telling them they need to keep their digital presence moving during a crisis is like telling them to just tread water.
You need to provide real solutions that are going to get them through the crisis. Your crisis X factor (or USP) is the rescue float that’s going to pull them out of the water.
For example, gyms and fitness businesses NEED video and social media right now. Can you leverage those services into your crisis X factor?
As a digital agency, you have services that can be the saving grace for clients. What are they? How can you convince clients they need them?
Step Two: Look For New Channels To Showcase Your “X” Factor
Times of crisis favor certain channels more than others.
Let’s go back to The Great Depression. With tons of people being out of work and staying home, daytime radio saw a huge spike in listeners.
Fast-forward to today. We have a similar situation. People are stuck at home trying to kill the boredom. Perhaps the biggest phenomenon right now is tons more people are watching YouTube. A survey released on Statista revealed that nearly 40% of people claimed they used YouTube “significantly more” while being confined due to coronavirus.
What does this mean as a digital agency?
Well, in this scenario, kicking your video marketing strategy into high-gear would likely be a great way to reach potential clients! However, this won’t be the case for ALL digital agencies.
Take a deep dive into current marketing and industry trends to spot these opportunities.
The bottom line is that businesses are desperate for solutions right now. While your goal should always be to showcase these solutions in the right places – you need to be aware of how these places may have shifted during a crisis.
Step Three: Focus On Trust Before Revenue
To rehash a bit on pricing, you need to accept that your revenue is more than likely going to dip. With so many businesses closed, shelling out tons of money right now is not high on most of your clients’ lists. That being said, your approach in marketing your crisis X factor needs to go beyond sales and focus on building trust.
Plain and simple, pushy sales tactics right now aren’t going to work nearly as well as they may have worked just a few months ago.
Now, your content doesn’t need to be 100 percent focused on your crisis X factor. More than anything else, businesses want assurance that they are in good-natured hands. As a digital agency, there are many ways you can do this.
- Show how exactly you are helping clients through the crisis.
- Create the content on how you are making a positive impact on the industry.
- Promote the ways you are helping your employees.
- Display community values.
At the end of the day, clients want to do business with people they trust – especially these days. The better you are at building trust now, the more revenue you stand to gain in the long run.
Step Four: Beef Up Your Content Calendar
Digital agencies across the board need to up their content production –no ifs and or buts.
More and more people are online these days – many of which are potential clients searching for answers. If you normally produce two on-site posts per month, make it four. If you do four guest posts per month on niche sites, make it six or eight.
I know I totally sound like a broken record by now, but times of crisis are when businesses need digital agencies and their expert guidance the most. This is when you really need to step up and be a leader in the industry.
Step Six: Promote Success Stories
Now is not the time to be fear-mongering. People are getting enough of that on the news. Now is the time for digital agencies to be providing hope and positivity.
As you create content to promote your crisis X factor – make it a point to show how other businesses have benefited from a similar strategy. Let’s go back to the video/social media X factor example. You could talk about how gyms like Planet Fitness are using social media to promote their video “Work-Ins”.
Now, your clients might not have the same budget as Planet Fitness. But, showcasing the success stories of similar brands is going to be crucial in getting clients on board. These should be a focal point in your content and how you present your crisis X factor.
Content in times of crisis is an interesting entity. For digital agencies, it almost always requires some innovation, craftiness, and creativity.
4. Embrace Smart Financial Planning
Okay, now we’re to the part no one really wants to talk about – managing money as an agency during a crazy pandemic.
No one knows for sure when things will return to normal, or what our “normal” will be once COVID-19 is no longer such a threat. While preparing for an uncertain future might seem like an impossible task, it’s one your agency needs to take on ASAP.
So, what does smart financial planning currently look like for your business?
a) Plan For Ongoing Flexibility
If your agency has been forced to adopt WFH policies and setups, don’t think of them as a simple Band-Aid for the time being. Take this time to prepare for a long future of uncertainty and adaptability.
Do what you can to make flexibility within your agency affordable. This could mean finding affordable remote workers to help out, buying technology for long-term work-from-home setups, or even restructuring teams for better adaptability.
b) Keeping Loyal Clients Happy
Most agencies should expect some clients to request pauses on their projects and maybe even miss their payments. Although we do encourage you to be flexible, we also encourage you to showcase the necessity of your agency’s work, both for the client and for your current employees.
Impress upon your existing customers the benefits of sticking with you – as well as how much you appreciate their support during a time when many businesses are hurting.
Acquiring a new customer can cost up to five times as much as retaining an existing one. Now is the time to keep your current agency clients happy rather than focusing on bringing in new ones. Sure, your short-term revenue will take a dip – but this is pretty standard across the board right now.
c) Preparing For Societal Shifts
Although we don’t know exactly what will happen in the future of this crisis and beyond, it’s safe to assume there will be some lasting cultural and societal shifts that might impact your agency’s finances.
For example, will this switch to an increased remote work stick? Will more people adopt permanent work-from-home setups and continue to use remote collaboration tools?
Think about how we shop. Everyone is ordering online in an attempt to social distance and avoid setting foot in contaminated spaces. What will this do to mom and pop shops that rely on walk-ins?
Do your best to predict what changes might be heading your way. Based on current customers’ reactions and goals, how will your revenue change? How can you best appeal to future clients in a post-pandemic world?
d) Look Into The Government Relief Options
Most businesses and agencies are tough spots right now – involving layoff, furloughs, and downsizing in general.
Thankfully, businesses in the United States are getting a decent amount of help from the government. The Small Business Administration is offering aid through the CARES Act – including the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). This provides forgivable loans to small businesses to help cover payroll, rent, utilities, etc. within certain dates.
Take a look at this chart for more information:
e) Finding New Sources Of Revenue
Depending on your particular agency, financial planning for next year might involve experimenting with some new ways to bring in money.
Nail salons are making masks to sell to the community. Therapists are offering online or over the phone sessions. Websites are selling t-shirts to support healthcare workers and other essential employees.
What do all of these businesses have in common? They’re finding ways to real in extra cash during a trying time – and your digital agency will need to follow suit.
If you feel that your current services will be difficult to sell in the coming months or even years, take a hard look at your packages and see what you can do to generate extra revenue.
- Can you market yourself as a fully remote agency?
- Can you expand your service offerings?
- Can you place a heavier emphasis on working with e-commerce companies?
No one knows what the future holds financially for the average digital agency. But planning for the future is crucial to protect your current assets and stay afloat amongst financial uncertainty.
5. Efficiently Manage Remote Resources
If your agency, like the rest of the world, has recently turned to manage remote teams, you’ll need to work on efficiently managing all of your different employees and resources.
Let’s discuss some ways you can do this.
a) Proper Technology
To successfully run your digital agency during COVID-19 and beyond, you’ll need to adopt the right collaboration tools for the remote teams. Don’t make do with what you have if the tech simply isn’t cutting it – install and implement new software that will help your agency thrive rather than survive. Maybe this means adopting a new PM tool, communication portals, and IT solutions.
b) Secure Connections
Hackers and cybercriminals are itching to take advantage of unprotected endpoints in work-from-home setups. To effectively manage your remote team productivity, you’ll need to invest in proper security measures to protect your employees, agency data, and technology.
c) Clear Expectations
The digital agencies that will come out on top are the ones who clearly convey expectations to both their clients and their employees. Now isn’t a time for vague emails or open-ended conversations – be upfront about what everyone can expect so there are no loose ends.
d) Communication Programs
As we said before, remote team communication is key right now for digital agencies (and businesses of all kinds). What kind of communication programs do you have in place? Are conversations scattered across the board, or do you have centralized methods for updates and queries?
Managing remote employees effectively is pretty much impossible if you don’t have trust. Take a look at your agency’s current setup – does everyone rely on each other? Do you trust your employees to do their part, wherever they might be located?
Without trust, remote work doesn’t work. Figure out how you can build more solid relationships amongst your teams if you want your agency to survive.
f) Testing Effectiveness
Remote work setups shouldn’t be Band-Aids. They should be just as effective, if not more effective, than the environment you had in your in-person office.
Take extra steps to test the effectiveness of your agency’s current pandemic setup to see how you can boost efficiency and develop better workflows.
6. Identify The Right Niche
As a digital agency, you probably have clients from a variety of industries. In a situation like this one, some clients might be hit harder than others. In fact, some businesses may have more work for your agency while others hit pause on their projects.
If you want to experience success during this strange COVID-19 period, you’ll need to determine what client niches you can best serve – and which have the most need.
Here are some big industries where we see digital agencies stepping up and providing great services during the pandemic.
Gyms and fitness studios are in a crisis right now. Their main source of revenue, people who come in-person to take classes and use the facilities, is gone.
Although this makes it difficult for gyms to turn a profit like they usually do, it’s an opportunity for digital agencies to step in and craft some new strategies as gyms are being forced to go digital.
For example, Planet Fitness has taken to posting daily “work-ins” in which people can join from their computers, tablets, and laptops to stay active. It might not be generating any revenue since the activities are free, but this marketing strategy is generating super strong leads and encouraging members to stick around post-pandemic.
How can your digital agency help local fitness studios and gyms stay afloat? What strategies, like Planet FItness’s, can you help implement to pave new paths for struggling fitness businesses?
Oh, the travel industry. It’s been through hell and back in the past few months, and we truly don’t know what the future holds for airlines, hotels/resorts, and other tourism businesses.
However, there is one assumption that is probably pretty accurate right now: people are itching to travel. Once things go back to normal and people are safe to leave their homes, it’s a good bet to say the tourism industry will be flooded with eager travel bugs.
Sure, revenue is at an all-time low for these companies, layoffs are happening, and operations are barely getting by. But now is not the time to go dormant. This is the time to prepare for a mass influx once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.
Travel companies should be fine-tuning things like:
- The online searchability of their business
- The user experience of their website
- The simplicity of their booking engine
As a digital agency, you can help these companies with:
- Conducting content/SEO audits
- Site optimization
- Content creation
- Upping social media presence
- Video marketing
Things definitely look bleak for travel companies right now. But it’s going to explode once quarantine is lifted and those travel bugs have the opportunity to break the cabin fever. Travel companies need to be using this time to prepare, not retreat into their shells.
c) Mental Health
Another example of an industry in turmoil comes from the mental health/self-betterment sector. People can’t leave their apartments to see therapists or go to the spa to make themselves feel happier. Unfortunately, many of us are dealing with waves of anxiety and depression due to the pandemic.
Therefore, the mental health industry is in the midst of adapting to a different, COVID-19 time.
Enter companies like BetterHelp that provide affordable, online counseling sessions for people looking to improve their headspace.
Other mental health apps are booming, as well, opening a whole new realm of marketing for the industry.
Your digital agency can jump on this bandwagon and help other clients involved with self-betterment and health ride the tailcoats of brands like BetterHelp. Through new digital strategies and marketing, you can turn this industry’s crisis into a wave of positive change.
We won’t lie – running a successful digital agency right now is tricky. No one knows what the future holds, and client budgets and needs are up in the air.
However, we can tell you that these six tips will improve your odds of maintaining strong revenue and client relationships during COVID-19, and beyond. Take a good look to see where your agency can apply this advice.
If you have any questions or concerns about running your agency during times of crisis, don’t hesitate to reach out. We specialize in helping other agencies succeed – both in chaotic and normal times.