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Should a Setback Define Your Agency’s Trajectory?

Danboard figure holding a broken heart

It ain’t all sunshine and roses, kid.

If you’ve spent any time in the world of digital agencies, you’ve experienced that fact for yourself. When it comes down to the metrics of losses and gains, working in a tech-related industry—or any industry, really—is volatile. 

More often than not, we rely on a combination of immense effort and a bit of dumb luck, and even then, we have no guarantee of success. You are, quite frankly, more likely to have a one-to-one, success-to-flop ratio. 

Here’s a disheartening fact for you: If you were to ask the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they’d tell you that 1 in 5 small businesses fail within the first year. And by the end of that same decade, 7 out of 10 small businesses won’t have survived. In the end, about 90% of all startups fail, according to Embroker.

As a freelancer or agency owner, you are nearly guaranteed to experience setbacks and failures. This means that there must be another factor for determining how successful people stay firm in their path to success despite their setbacks.

So, should a setback define your agency’s trajectory?

The answer’s not that simple.

It would be very easy to pump your fists in the air and say, “HELL, NO! Setbacks aren’t going to shake me up!” And we agree—partially, but not completely. 

As devastating as they might feel in real-time, setbacks present an invaluable opportunity to learn, grow, and, perhaps even change your agency’s current trajectory.

guy spits out coffee looking at reports

Why—and When—Setbacks Ultimately Make You Stronger

At first glance, any setback can seem like a major catastrophe. But you and your agency have survived countless setbacks up to this point, ranging in size and severity, and you’re still chugging along. Bravo!

The human brain must be trained to handle stressful situations so that it is equipped to handle problems that lie farther down the road. The ironic part of it all is that each time a setback appears, you develop a response that is increasingly more proactive and less reactive by working through it.

We’re not saying that you have to send your setback a thank-you gift basket. But when you’ve resolved whatever it is that has caused you grief, take a moment to appreciate that you’re becoming a better agency owner and person in general.

Setbacks make you stronger when you search for the root cause.

Sometimes, what looks like the easiest issue to resolve within your agency can be tied to inherently deeper issues. It’s the reason that many agencies are constantly putting out endless small fires.

It’s the difference between fixing an unreliable faucet at sink-level and crawling under your house to find a burst pipe. Bam, you’ve found the reason your sink only works half the time, and you’ve discovered why your water bill has been astronomically high. 

Setbacks in your agency are no different, and often multiple issues can benefit at the same time by digging as deep as possible from the get-go.

Ironically, while contributing to the overall well-being of your agency, the surface problems do little in the way to provide true psychological satisfaction. The dopamine-drip hits when you solve more complicated issues. So revel in the mind-bending nature of your most difficult setbacks.

Setbacks make you stronger when you figure out what doesn’t work.

Look on the bright side (and please don’t yell at me for telling you to look on the bright side.) Sometimes things don’t work within your agency, whether a person, a service, or software. 

Statistically speaking, when you proactively deal with the issue, you have eliminated a possibility that kept you from uncovering the correct service or partnership.  

And that, in itself, is progress.

two women discussing with a laptop

Get on the Path to Recovery

The most irritating thing about made-for-TV movies is the speed and predictability with which the main character bounces back from any problem. It might be cynical from our perspective, but a lovelorn woman doesn’t go back to her tiny hometown, fix its entire GDP, and rekindle a lost flame in 90 minutes. 

If only life were that measured and consistent, right?

As your agency’s recovering from its setback, there is no guaranteed timeline for how you bounce back and surpass yourself. We hate to say it, but there’s no guarantee that your agency will ever recover—at all. 

But while you put out fire after fire and uncover new solutions, you could find your project evolving into something that you never thought possible. The glorious nature of adaptation and survival. 

  • Reevaluate Your Mission

When you first set out on the path to agency glory, you probably developed an iron-clad mission statement that you promised yourself would never be compromised.

Well, it’s time to start compromising.

Maybe you made a resolute decision to niche before finding out that your niche was, in fact, saturated or unresponsive to your offer. Perhaps you told yourself that you wanted to avoid working with companies outside of your direct range, but those in your direct range haven’t shown up en masse. Or maybe you’ve simply created a brand that doesn’t seem to fit the personas you have likewise imagined for yourself.

See what you can live with—and live without. If sacrificing the product of stubborn pride means the difference between surfing the wave or going under, let’s hope that you have enough sensibility to make the tough choices.

  • Evaluate spending and other potentially-damaging habits

Not every agency setback is related to financial issues. That being said, if finances are causing problems within your agency, consider each aspect of your monthly budget and expenditures. Where are you allowing money to seep through the cracks while you could be creating an emergency fund? 

Even when finances are not our main concern, we can feel relief knowing that we’re building a safety net as we recover in other areas. This takes out the sense of impending doom and frees our minds up for more productive problem-solving.

  • Ask for outside help and advice

If you’re not severely in the weeds but have sensed lurking problems, consider getting help from a business coach or even asking an industry expert to be your mentor.  

The people who you want on your side will be more than willing to help and offer their advice; they’ll make sure that you’re back to moving forward in your goals. What’s more, an outside advisor can offer a perspective that a company insider might not be able to see from close range.

And, perhaps most importantly of all: Try to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

powerpoint presentation on how to keep up

Looking Down the Road

You’ve taken a big risk in your decision to build your own agency, and we salute you for it. Remember that each aspect of your agency’s growth is essential, even when it’s potentially disguised as a setback. How you choose to face that setback and use it to your advantage determines the viability of your agency further along the line.

So get out there, and don’t be afraid to not only change your trajectory, but to create your own path entirely. 

Need some more inspiration? Check out this list of 21 tips for young entrepreneurs, inspired by some of the greatest names in the business. 

For more ideas and advice to help you grow your agency despite setbacks, check out this webinar we hosted with Lee Jackson of Agency Trailblazer. In it, he discusses what to consider when resetting your agency for a comeback.

And if you’d like to continue discussing this topic, check out our Facebook group, Digital Agency Owners Community. In it, you can find agency owners who have tried, failed, and flourished and that are thrilled with valuable advice.


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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  • Daily security scans and malware cleanup
  • Maintenance dashboard
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