How to Transition from Freelancer to Agency



How to Transition from

Freelancer to Agency

5 Steps that can make it Easier

Brett Cohen -emagine

the story

• 1995 - Beginning of the Internet Age

• 2 Guys freelancing on their own

• Doing small projects for small businesses

We couldn’t have been more different

• One was fairly technical

– jack of all trades,

master of none

• Knew he wanted to

build a business to

support his family

• Married with a 6 month

old at home

• A writer who read every

marketing and sales

book he could get his

hands on

• Wanted to build a

business to support a


• Smartly still lived at


We couldn’t have been more different

• We met by accident

• Had nothing in common other than:

• We were broke college dropouts

• We were trading our time for money

• We knew we didn’t want “real” jobs

this talk

• Share our experiences of the last 20 years

• Layout the 5 steps that helped us transition

• Help you avoid the pitfalls

• Prepare you for the road ahead

this talk

who is it for?

• You’re an ambitious freelancer

• You’ve built a solid client roster

• You’re earning a full-time income

• You’ve already decided you want more

this talk

who is it not for?

• You’re just getting started

• You’ve undecided whether or not to take the

next step

• You enjoy the freedom of not having to answer

to anyone else

how do I know what it takes

who am i?

History… me

• Broke college dropout

• Self taught designer/developer

• Built my first website in 1996 for $800

• Recognized how big this could

• Met Bill Gadless by accident and recognized his talent

• Realized I couldn't do it alone

• Convinced Bill to be my partner

History… emagine

• Started as “2 guys in a garage”

• Took on any project / no focus

• Gradually added industry/company focus

• Added employees slowly

• Built portfolio

• Grew projects from $1,500 to $150,000+

• Always maintained a sales/marketing mentality

Transition from

Freelancer to Agency

5 Steps that can make it Easier

Step 1:

Change your mindset

Change your mindset

• Think macro vs micro

• Think long term vs short term

• Fake it ‘til you make it

• Build confidence

• Remove doubts and limits

• Don’t be intimidated by company size or position

Change your mindset

• You’re a professional business

• Be prepared for it to be hard

• Don’t panic when things go bad

• Avoid knee jerk reactions

• Don’t feel guilty for making money!


Step 2:

Obsess over

Sales and Marketing

Obsess over Sales and Marketing

• Have a story: Why choose your company

• Have a sales strategy

• Have a sales process

• Sell value, not time

• Be nimble

Obsess over Sales and Marketing

• Get in front of the prospect face-to-face

• Build rapport, ask many questions

• Understand their business and their pains

• Spend 2X as much time listening, than talking/selling

• Design and write killer proposals and presentations

• Details matter: thank-you cards, leave-behinds, etc.

• Follow up until your hear “no”

Obsess over Sales and Marketing

• Force yourself to dedicate time/resources to sales

• Don’t procrastinate, make excuses

• Double down effort when things are good and bad

• Lose some deals because you’re too expensive

• The power of NO!

• Ask for the check!

Hard work beats talent when

talent doesn’t work hard

Step 3:

Be Strategic

Be Strategic

• Identify your key strengths

• Be great at something

• Define a differentiator … even if it’s not that different

• Specialize in certain industries

• Diversify offerings

• Build a recurring revenue stream

Be Strategic

• Build your portfolio (at almost any cost)

Why your portfolio matters

• Gets more traffic than any other part of your website

• Shows your ability

• Gives you the opportunity to highlight certain projects

• Shows relevant industry experience

you will win more deals because you

have relevant industry experience

the deals you win will be at a higher

rate than your competitors without

relevant industry experience

get creative

• Take on less profitable jobs if they fit your market

• Take on jobs that aren’t quite perfect

• Partner with established companies in your market

Goal: build your portfolio

Be Strategic

• Build your portfolio (at almost any cost)

• Create economies of scale

• Take some chances

• Execute (do what you say you can)

Be Strategic

• Take care of your finances

• Be frugal / bootstrap

• Plan for a rainy day

• Take care of your people/vendors first

• Don’t be afraid to ask for a deposit

• Don’t be afraid to collect what you’re owed

• Save for Uncle Sam

Step 4:

Find/Develop Good People

Find/Develop Good People

• Find a Business Partner

• Develop strategic partners

• Hire potential more than talent

• Find hidden talent and encourage growth

• Hire diversity

• Invest in your staff

Find/Develop Good People

• Replace yourself (as fast as you can)

• Be a leader

Step 5:

Avoid Complacency

Avoid Complacency

• Where can you get better/more efficient

• What are the design/technology trends

• What tools can make your employees lives easier

• Where are new opportunities

• What is your competition doing

• Attend industry events like WordCamp

“Death by 1,000 cuts”

Success and growth are a result of of

many, many tactics relentlessly being

tried and employed.

We’re Hiring

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