As a creative agency owner, I’ve been asked this exact question quite often: “What do you specialize in?”
Despite the grammatical incorrectness of ending the question with a preposition, I always answer with a question of my own: “Can you tell me what your business’ speciality?”
I used to respond with something along the lines of doing pretty much everything which resulted in a reaction along the lines of telling this prospect or new contact that I murdered their dearest loved one and they were my next target. An understandable response, but not the slightest bit of what I was trying to evoke.
I, naturally, quickly discovered that being apt to achieve and execute solutions for many of a client’s needs is not best translated when you claim your agency does “pretty much everything”. No matter the level of confidence or follow-up explanation, the trepidation is already the foundation and there’s not very far to go beyond the idea that the one thing I’m good at is saving my ass by talking my way out of something. A business approach that works, for a time, for some, but not my bag, baby.
Instead, I’ve switched it up to something more conversational and educational. The success of my creative agency is based on being able to accurately and concisely understand two major things about my client:
Being armed with the reality of what they are unable to do, allows me the opportunity to share with them what I do, that will help them to stay focused on what they do well. Instead of asking a series of rapid-fire questions about needing video, social media management, remote administrative support, email marketing strategies, copywriting, digital ads, graphic design, or the handful of other things I am capable of, I’m able to narrow that down to explaining my capability for the most pressing, top of mind pain points they’re currently struggling with in their organization.
Once we solve those initial problems together, we move on to the next and I get the opportunity to step in to handle them or, my favorite of all things, refer them to someone in my network whom I trust and respect who will be able to instead
We all know the sales and advertising practice of productizing. In the event you do not, productizing is presenting a universal service in an audience targeted way. Making or developing a service into a product.
Let’s look at an example really quick. Say you offer social media management as a service to clients, but the whole of your clients are not industry specific. You would then speak directly to whomever you were looking to attract with design and copy that speaks directly to what they will be looking for like “Social Media Management for Boat Dealers” or, hopefully, something more snappy and catchy.
Now for me and mine, we are precisely this type of agency. Non-industry specific and strengths over specialities in our body of clientele. This makes things both exciting and challenging. Our business model is productization through and through. Everything that we can offer to someone who is interested in using our agency to elevate their in-house efforts is customized particularly to their industry.
I’ve found that it’s less of a challenge to be exceptionally knowledgable about the tasks and roles I will potentially be charged with than it is for me to spend my time narrowing my opportunities by learning decades worth of ins and outs for only one industry. I’m anomalously fortunate to have an aptitude as one who retains information at incredible rates. Yes, this means I’ll remember someone’s pet’s birthday after speaking with them for 45 seconds, but it also means that when it is necessary for me to create or execute a strategy for an industry I am unfamiliar with, I can learn what is needed for me to do my job and do it well.
I urge you if you are considering or debating the idea of narrowing a marketing service agency down to only having single-industry clients to instead spend some time looking at your aptitude for learning about varied industries as the need or interest arises for you in your business.
I personally do not subscribe to the idea that marketers are only capable of marketing well if they are singularly specialized. I unsubscribed from that school of thought after 10+ years of firsthand experience. Luckily for you, you don’t have to spend the next decade thinking that’s the only way to do it well. You’re welcome.
One of my main redeeming qualities, aside from my obviously charming sense of humor, is my versatility. I am a highly organized individual and business owner who knows that at the drop of a hat, gear-switching comes with the territory of doing important work in the world. It’s a great and motivating feeling to know that you are capable of being relied upon to step in or step up in situations outside of your “defined role”. I am a firm believer in the idea that asserting and offering yourself in areas of need that you know you have a strength is the most effective way to show that you’re able to execute said things. I love a good resume, portfolio, or performance report as much as the next guy. It’s the most analytical way to assess the past performance of some one or some thing. What though does that do for us in the moment?
When a need is pressing? Or an idea is born and you’re in the very early stages of exploring that idea?
Well, not much.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily keep a rolodex of my network of peers’ resumes on my phone to quickly search and reference. Instead I rely on where I’ve experienced character strengths. Sometimes those strengths can be easily translated to the need at hand because they exist in a very parallel way. Other times, it’s so much more about what I’ve been exposed to that has had a strengthening effect.
In closing, I offer you this nugget to noodle…