Fourteen years ago my best friends and I started a creative agency we dubbed Pelago. We started out as many do, trying to get whatever work we could by offering a wide array of creative services. We were a full service agency, right from the start. We had computers, ambition, and a decent amount of creativity on our side. Should have been easy, right? It wasn’t.
It turns out being a full service agency is a lot harder than it looks. For starters, we didn’t have enough people to offer the full spectrum of creative services. We could only focus on a small number of creative jobs at a time. And if those jobs were too diverse, we would find ourselves getting pulled in opposite directions. Driving out to do a press check then hurrying back to finish some HTML coding was an inconsistent way to work.
The more frustrating part was taking on creative jobs you really didn’t want to be doing in the first place, just to pay the bills, then finding out it still wasn’t enough to pay the bills. Something had to change. We spent some time thinking through every aspect of our agency and realized we weren’t passionate enough about our work. We were passionate about some of it, but not all of it.
What we loved doing was web design and development. Enough so we wanted to do it to the exclusion of everything else. And that is what we did. The moment we started focusing on web-related jobs everything got easier. We had clients we loved, rewarding work, and profit.
Focusing in on our core strengths was so successful that we continued to narrow down our services even as they related to the web. We discovered that we were really good at the backend stuff. The coding, the databases, the server configurations. And we started focusing more on development work. We still did some design, but most worked with clients who had already hired a designer or an agency, but still needed someone to build out the nuts and bolts.
Why is specialization so effective? It seems counter-intuitive. Casting a wider net should yield more of a catch, right? The truth is that a narrow, deeper net still yields a lucrative catch, with less effort. Here are some reasons why focusing on your agency’s core strengths works:
- Smaller agencies can work more effectively
Agencies with only a few people will find it difficult to focus on too many different types of work. Juggling too many details at once will leave a small team feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. Focusing on your core strengths will give your small team the space they need to do their best work.
- More focus equals more discipline and more expertise
It is difficult to become an expert on more than one thing at a time. Trying to do your best in different disciplines will only result in you becoming a “Jack of all trades, master at none.” Focusing on fewer creative services allows you to really hone in and become an expert. As a result, you end up being the go-to agency for that type of work.
- Plays to your strengths
We all have something we are really good at. You should be at an advantage, because you’ll already be ahead of the game. Now is your chance to become even better at it. Focus on what you are already good at, and easily become an expert.
Focusing on our agency’s core strengths helped us succeed. We may very well have failed had we not made the change. If you find yourself at the helm of a small creative agency, consider focusing your efforts on your core expertise. It may seem scary at first, but it’s a lot easier than trying to be all things to all people.
Photo credit: Bart Everson