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The #1 source of sales qualified leads (and lead generation as a whole) for agencies is referrals.
Referrals are incredible. They convert at higher rates. They’re primed with social proof.
But relying on them is sinking your business. They leave your agency susceptible to highs and lows, unpredictable revenue, and make hiring and scaling your team a nightmare.
Being dependent on referrals and expecting agency growth is an oxymoron.
Agencies are incredibly hard to scale as is. Without a predictable funnel of qualified leads, it’s nearly impossible.
In this post, I’ll share unique ways to market your agency (based on how I’ve marketed my own agency) so you can stop relying on referrals and start scaling.
1. Cold Email Marketing Works (If You Have This One Thing..)
The biggest misconception is that cold email marketing doesn’t work for service-based businesses.
“It doesn’t work if you’re selling high-ticket.”
“Only SaaS companies can get customers with cold emails.”
“Nobody buys from spammy email outreach.”
You’ve probably heard a variation of these statements before. And they just aren’t true.
My proof? We’ve closed massive deals with some of the biggest software companies in the world from cold emails, sending them directly to our link building agency page.
Here’s just one example of dozens of clients in the last 12 months I’ve acquired from cold email:
This is the response from a Senior Director of Content Marketing at a software company with 1001-5000 employees and nearly $1 Billion in funding. That’s right, billion.
They’re still our client a year later and are thrilled with the results we are delivering to turn SEO into their organic growth engine.
Cold email works when done correctly. The reason most people say “cold email doesn’t work” is three-fold:
1. They don’t send enough emails.
Sending 50 emails and getting no qualified leads should be expected, not an indicator of a failed channel.
50 target accounts? You need 5000.
You’re fighting against: budgets, timelines, inbox deliverability/spam, competitors, and more.
You should expect a low conversion rate. The beauty is that you only need a few interested people to 100x your return on investment.
Pro tip: research accounts using Semrush’s Market Explorer tool. You can analyze specific niche markets:
It quickly gives you key details like main players in the space, total addressable market (TAM) and so much more to build a list of target accounts:
2. Cold emails don’t shorten your sales cycle.
Cold emails aren’t some magic cure-all for a dried up sales pipeline.
It takes 30 days to warm up email accounts and domains. Takes days if not weeks to build a targeted, cleaned email list ready for sending.
Then, it takes weeks to send all your initial emails. Potentially months for your entire sequence to send.
And this doesn’t count your own sales cycle lengths.
Emails don’t shorten your sales cycle. You’ll rarely send an email, get on a call, and close someone instantly.
Cold emails are a long-term play, and they should be treated as such.
3. You have no brand
Sending cold emails to a billion dollar company requires one thing:
A brand people trust. If you are brand new to the space, your cold emails will almost always fall flat.
The first thing someone does when they get your cold email? Look you up. Your name. Your company. Your socials. Who are you, why are you emailing me, and why should I trust you?
If not much comes up, you can expect abysmal response rates.
And that brings us to the crux of the article: marketing your own marketing agency to make every lead generation activity 10x easier.
2. Build Your Personal Brand
As corny as “become a thought leader” sounds, building your personal brand is incredibly important as an agency looking to scale.
People want to work and connect with people. And they are far more likely to associate you with expertise if you build a personal brand first.
Unlike software companies, direct consumer (D2C), or consumer-packaged goods (CPG), there is far less attachment and brand loyalty in the agency space.
People love their favorite software. Notion. Clickup. Semrush.
But how many agencies can you recall by name where you don’t immediately associate a single founder or CEO first?
Probably very few. There are an ungodly amount of agencies, and almost none of them get immediate brand recognition like other industries.
Conversely, personal brands are one of the main reasons good agencies bring in new business: people want to work with someone they know is an expert in the space, not an agency that just happens to have cool graphics and logos and claims to be “#1.”
Building a personal brand can draw in millions of impressions a year that would otherwise cost a fortune on ad spend. And becoming recognized for your work leads to tons of new business.
Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tik Tok are ripe for brand building and virality. Their algorithms maximize reach for valuable, popular content.
And, I’m not just talking the talk. I walk the walk. My Twitter following is active, generating me millions of impressions per week:
Posting on Twitter and sharing my expertise in the space of SEO has lead to:
- Speaking gigs
- Referral networks
And most importantly as it relates to this article topic, new business!
All you need to do is start. Get a fresh Google Doc out, and start brain dumping information on various topics and subjects you know well.
Then, find people in your space on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc, who are active. Network with people, comment on their posts, build your loyal following.
Reminder: this isn’t a quick win. It’s going to take you months of posting consistently to see any results. But when you land a single deal worth $100,000+, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Do 1 Podcast Per Week
One of the most simple yet effective ways I’ve marketed my own agency is through podcasting.
Not hosting my own, but going on popular, existing podcasts, like so:
Not only does going on the podcast expose you to the host’s audience, but it builds a real relationship with the host, thereby extending your referral network exponentially.
They now see you as the expert in that field, meaning anytime someone they know is looking for a service you provide, you will be top of mind.
Identify a list of the most popular podcasts in your niche. Get as relevant and specific as possible. And don’t limit yourself to direct 1-1 niche fits.
These can actually be the worst when it comes to lead generation, and is one of the biggest mistakes I see agency owners make.
If you offer PPC services, stop marketing directly to fellow PPC folks. They are not your target audience. They are there for tips they can implement, not for you to replace their job.
If you offer PPC services for healthcare companies, go on healthcare related business podcasts.
Line up 1 podcast per week for the next 6 months and it’s almost guaranteed to produce leads.
I go on podcasts frequently, and my Head of Business Development has stated that “I heard you guys on a podcast” is one of the most common lead gen sources.
1 podcast per week should only take 1-2 hours including prep time, depending on the length and style.
And podcast hosts are always looking for new angles, guests, and ideas.
4. Acquire or Build Tripwires
Tripwires are smaller ticket offers that reel in your target market without devaluing your agency positioning.
Things like $50 SEO audits massively devalue your positioning as a premium agency. Trying to secure $10,000 retainers after offering that is going to be an uphill battle as you’ve devalued your time in exchange for extremely price-sensitive leads.
Meanwhile, a $1000 course or $100/mo software tool does the exact opposite.
I’ll give you a real life example: my business partner and I acquired a software company for low six figures. Wordable — a tool that exports Google Docs to your CMS in just a few clicks, with perfect formatting, clean HTML, and saved settings.
It’s directly in our niche: people publishing content at scale also need off-page SEO experts to distribute that content and earn links. That’s where my agency, uSERP comes to the rescue.
Wordable acts as a first-step tripwire: a $50-1k/mo SaaS that brings directly primed leads to our front door. We build real relationships. We deliver impeccable service.
And then we reach out at the right time, with a great relationship built, and fill them in our agency services.
It’s resulted in multiple contract deals that have effectively paid for the entirety of the acquisition cost.
If you can’t acquire tripwires, build them.
Courses. Small tools. Guides. Video series. Anything you can think of that is valuable in your niche and leads to your service as the next step.
5. Run Minimum Viable Ads
CPC based ads can be expensive.
For example: reaching senior decision makers on Linkedin will cost you $6.40 per click.
Running conversion-centric ads on LinkedIn requires a hefty budget. Instead, I prefer something called minimum viable ads:
Running ads that you are:
- Comfortable with the price to where you never need to turn them off
- Do not care that the attribution and tracking is futile
- Are investing in the long-term awareness of your brand
The key lies in #1: your ads being so cheap that it is unreasonable for you to care about the cost of them nor the time it takes to try to attribute brand awareness ads.
In plain english: run cheap ads that even if you can never prove a single dollar ROI from, you will not turn them off.
As you can see, this campaign has spent $393.32 in the last few months, getting 50k impressions in my target market, and 145 clicks (even though the goal is just impressions, not clicks).
My goal isn’t clicks, but, that results in a $2.71 cost per click to VPs of marketing compared to LinkedIn’s global average of $6.40.
These are ads I will run for years without concern about their spend, even if I can’t prove a single new lead came from them.
Marketing your own agency is key to scaling beyond the highs and lows of referrals.
Getting a steady stream of qualified leads requires branching out and actively marketing.
Leverage cold email to connect with decision makers and start conversations with value.
Dedicate time weekly to build your personal brand and earn speaking gigs, podcasts, and direct leads.
Do 1 podcast per week for 6 months. Run minimum viable ads.
And if you can, build or buy tripwires that can help you establish a massive funnel of qualified leads.
The moral of the article: spend more time working ON your business rather than IN your business.