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How To Optimize Your Agency’s Growth Strategy: Be a Tortoise, Not a Hare

starting line of race track

Chances are you’ve heard the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare”. On the off chance you haven’t, here’s a brief summary:

The main characters:

  • Tortoise: slow and steady 
  • Hare: speedy and inconsistent (and pretty cocky, to be honest)

How it goes down:

  • There’s a race.
  • Hare starts out quickly and, “knowing” he’s going to win, stops for a nap.
  • Tortoise goes slowly and steadily throughout, passing the napping, overconfident Hare to win the race.

The message is pretty clear here: Slow, consistent effort beats a rapid rise-and-burnout every time.

So, how can we apply this message to micro-agencies?

If you’ve recently started down the path from freelancer to micro-agency, or you’ve decided to break away from #bigagencylife to forge your own path, it can be tempting to strive for—and work towards—an immediate onslaught of growth.

But here’s a little insider tip: That big, successful agency you’re looking to get away from probably didn’t have a rapid rise, either.

As with anything in life, overwhelmingly positive results are more likely to come from a steady stream of effort, versus giant, rapid peaks. Your agency is no different.

Let’s look at some “Hare” and “Tortoise” strategies, and you can draw your own conclusions.

The Drawbacks of a “Hare” Strategy

businessman on bicycle
Infrastructure Might Not Be Able to Handle a Rapid Gain

If you’re developing an agency for the first time or seriously considering upping your game, it’s unlikely you have everything in place—we’re talking contractors, scheduling, software, etc. What are you going to do with all of those shiny new clients if you can’t support their needs on your end?

Potential for High Churn Rate

Satisfied clients are clients that stay. It may seem super cool at first to see so many potential clients enthusiastic about your work. But when those emails turn from psyched to angry about missed deadlines and subpar output, they’ll feel substantially less exciting. 

More money coming in during the short run does little to ease the precariousness of client churn in the long run. And at the end of the day, you’re back where you started—no recommendations, no clients, and no fun.

Risk of Burnout and Mental-Health Related Issues

Two of the most common motivations freelancers and agency owners have for leaving their other jobs are gaining peace of mind and a flexible schedule. But if you’re scaling at a rate that outpaces your current capabilities, we doubt you’re gaining much of either. If your goal is to create a successful, longstanding project without coming out the other side a dried husk of a human, you’ve got to consider your health.

The Advantages of Being a “Tortoise”

professional woman walking in the city with laptop
Opportunities for Developing Authentic Relationships with your Clients

As we mentioned before, satisfied clients are not only the ones that stick around, they’re also the ones that recommend you to other industry professionals, leave good reviews, and fill your inbox with more thank you’s than “What the—”

If you’re scaling steadily, you have time to truly get to know your clients, make them feel valued, and establish best practices for their site–and for the next clients that (inevitably) come along.

Learning the In’s and Out’s of an Agency As You Grow

No one is born ready; neither were their agencies. There’s a lot to learn as you manage your projects, your clients’ expectations, and any additional team members or contractors that you might have onboarded. 

So why put yourself in a situation where you quite literally have no idea “what the ‘firewall’” you’re doing, especially if that might be in front of your clients? 

Take it slowly and tackle aspects of owning an agency that you might not have been privy to before now so that you’re prepared when issues inevitably arise.

Not getting caught off-guard

Measured progress and a steady eye on potential problems allow you to address issues before they become too big to resolve. Fewer I’m sorry’s, and more it’s taken care of’s

Optimizing Your Growth Strategy

two people analyzing numbers on tablet and laptop

Since you’re now committed to growing at a controlled and steady pace, your goal should be to use your efforts in the most effective way possible. 

1. Quality of Clients versus Quantity of Clients

Scaling steadily means acquiring more clients at a manageable rate. It also means having a proactive approach towards screening your clients for interest, accountability, and longevity—because you owe it to yourself to work on projects that interest you, with people you can tolerate.

2. Keep an Eye on Important Metrics—but don’t get obsessed with them

Another aspect of a “tortoise”-style strategy is not allowing costs to usurp revenue. This sometimes happens to the best of us when our balance sheets’ “sales” side seems very large. It means keeping a calm, objective eye on what’s going on, not just in the day-to-day operations but in the “behind-the-scenes” happenings. 

The other side of this approach is developing emotional maturity. Did you have a slow start, or maybe a bad month? A “hare” might resort to new measures at breakneck speed to “ensure” a quick turnaround of their profits, while a “tortoise” takes a look at overall growth and waits for the results of their current policies backed by more data.

Desperation—it’s not a good look for anyone.

3. Invest where necessary, responsibly

Another potential threat to a hare’s overall outcome is a tendency to go all-in at once, growing every part of their business at the same time, with little regard to strategic investment. When their agencies’ fixed costs come a-knockin’, only then do hares start to question their choices.

In steady, scaled growth, not everything explodes at the same time. Investment is based on need and ability without entering into a calamitous financial situation in the process.

Can You Find Balance in a Tortoise/Hare Hybrid?

Let’s be clear here: We’re not in the business of condemning success, or expansion, or luck—we’re simply condoning a strategy which, all other variables being controlled, you can use to organically and steadily scale your micro-agency, coming out the other side with only minor headaches, not ear-splitting ones.

It’s possible to have your agency take off overnight, and that is something to celebrate! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and work hard to retain it. 

(And if you need to outsource some of your developing, copywriting, designing, or project management responsibilities along the way, you know where to find us.)

Moving forward, but not in a hurry

four people bumping fists in an office

We’ve seen the negative impact of being in a rush when it comes to scaling your micro-agency, and we’ve seen the benefits of pacing yourself. We’ve also discussed the pros and cons of each approach (hey, nobody’s perfect).

At the end of the day, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. But what we do know is that there’s no magic formula. Creating something that you’re passionate about and proud of takes time, effort, a LOT of patience and persistence, and, above all, believing in what you’re building. 

So get out there and get going—slowly.

For more tips on scaling your growth at a sustainable rate, check out this webinar on scaling your agency by Troy Dean and this equally important panel about #agencylife and mental health. They’ve done a great job explaining certain aspects and setbacks of growing your micro-agency that you might have overlooked or not yet encountered.

And if you want some advice from people who’ve been where you are now, check out our Digital Agency Owners Facebook group. You can commiserate, laugh, and learn from agency owners just like you!


Abigail Brooks Santana

Abigail Brooks Santana

Abigail Brooks Santana is a Dedicated Copywriter with GoWP who loves to work with words and challenging ideas! Abigail is a native of Montgomery, Alabama, but now lives in the Portuguese countryside, where she and her partner breed and train Lusitano horses.

You’ll be joining a community of highly-vetted digital agencies and web professionals with one common goal — growth! Learn more. 


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  • Maintenance dashboard
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