Happy Birthday: reflections on starting an agency in a recession, one year on

By: Jackie Fast

Date: 13 June 2011

We’ve just had our first birthday – a very big moment for us all!

While waiting for our bottles of champagne to arrive at our birthday celebration, I thought about the past year and what I could have done better or differently.

I have been asked many times how I made the leap into setting up my own sponsorship agency, so I thought I’d jot down some of my tips as a birthday gift to all those thinking about starting up any service-based.

Tip one: Understand your agency’s value proposition

Without a full understanding of what your business does, it’s going to be next to impossible to explain, let alone convince others to buy into your service. Clearly identifying what it is you do, who you’d like to work with, and knowing what you can’t/won’t do is incredibly important. Do your research and find out what else is out there and what your competitive edge is. And then, as someone I regularly go to for business advice says, “Make sure you can explain all this in an elevator between the ground floor and arriving on the first floor or else forget it.”

Tip two: Use a cash flow

The number one failing of a business is not having enough cash flow. Not only understanding how to put one together, but also using it to identify how to develop and grow your business moving forward.

With an educational background in finance, I thought I understood this fairly well, but a textbook understanding of cash flow and how it actually relates to your business turn out to be very different. I’d highly recommend speaking to someone who has done it before and get them to help you tailor your cash flow to reflect your business objectives.

Tip three: Shout about what makes you unique

If you are considering starting out on your own, I am assuming you already know what will make you different from your competitors. If you don’t know, then it might be worth reconsidering whether or not you should be going it alone.

When you do know what you do better than the next guy, make sure to tell everyone you know. This can be through your website, word of mouth, articles, profiles, credentials, your company blog and actively using social media such as Twitter. Your unique selling point won’t ensure you’ll land every client that comes along, but it will help you get your foot in the door.

Tip four: Outsource

Working until the wee hours of every night for the past year has not been my idea of fun, but I did anticipate it and assumed it was part of starting your own business. However it did takes its toll, especially on tasks that I wasn’t particularly good at – such as invoicing and filing. I finally made the decision to outsource some of our non-core activities and it has made a world of difference – allowing me to work on what I do best – being creative and building relationships between brands.

Tip five: Love what you do

It is not always easy working in sponsorship and there can be a lot of rejection – both from prospective clients as well as prospective sponsors. If you don’t love what you do, then you won’t make it past the long hours and what seems like an extraordinary amount of copywriting that I never knew existed (website, blog, articles, emails…) to find yourself sitting in the VIP room at the Hammersmith Apollo realising that you helped build this. 

Jackie Fast is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and managing director of Slingshot, a specialist sponsorship agency.

You can read more about opportunities for sponsorship on Marketing Donut.