No more than 50 clients. Ever.

WordPress Agency Thinking.

Without love, hard-won clients leave. Spreading yourself too thin is the fastest way to lose the love.

The traditional feast-famine cycle that agencies go through is the most destructive trap of making a success of being a WordPress specialist agency. But it’s one that most fall into.

Great client care requires time and skill and patience and experience. Finding all together is a pretty tough call. Yes, we’ve all seen the shiny websites that promise the earth and bang on about their “blue-chip” client base but frequently what’s delivered is second-rate crap from low-skilled over-worked staffers.

When you’re considering hiring an agency, WordPress or otherwise, then you’d be well advised to find out a bit more about who is actually going to do the work, and how many other clients will be vying for their attention. You can be sure it’s not the flash salesman in the nice suit – the minute you’ve signed up he’ll sod off and go hunting elsewhere.

The first rule then is to avoid sales people. Speak to a head of department, or better still the CEO – this is an important decision and getting the wrong agency will be a nightmare. Perhaps spend time engaging with the web-site and social media and see how the company really operates. Talk to their clients.

WordPress is the new kid on the block and very few companies can honestly stake a claim to more than a year or two of in-depth WordPress experience. Seriously. Look to validate longevity claims and real expertise levels.

In many cases, WordPress support queries are handled by WordPress Experts (juniors, really) who have been on a 3 week course, 6 months ago. It’s a complex and large platform, and not learned overnight.

Once you identify the WordPress wizards, make sure you can directly communicate with them – be that email, support desk or phone the importance of direct contact cannot be overstated. The absolute last thing you need is to be filtering conversions via “account” or “sales” teams.

Watch what you pay. A typical WordPress Agencies P&L looks like 1/3rd on staff, 1/3rd on services/fixed-costs and 1/3rd profit (a decent agency will plough half the profit back into R&D). So if you pay £90 an hr then you should expect a £30ph skill level – that’s not senior-level staffing levels.

To get great skills you should be paying between £125 and £175 per hour (London adjusted – maybe a tenner less elsewhere). If you’re paying only £50 then you’re buying into a dead duck or low-cost labour (equates to circa £15k salary).

Too much competition

Not all WordPress Agencies charge more than £100 an hour. So how do they survive? Assuming that there is enough supply of low-cost WordPress “experts” who’ll work for less than £20k a year then it becomes a scaling exercise. Keep piling on the work, the marketing, the new customers and keep the treadmill going. It can be a race to the bottom, but it certainly scales as long as the customer inflow is greater than the outflow.

Obviously, in such a productionised environment the better staff leave and the remains are exactly that, the leftovers. It’s nigh on impossible for an agency to motivate these individuals so instead they introduce a grim modern-day facsimile of slavery where the only winner is the non-working bosses taking the dividends and expensed conference trips.

This is the old school. It’s still around, but thankfully dying due to the availability of good Freelancers under that £50ph tipping point.

Never more than 50 clients?

Our approach, having tried several, is to employ a boutique approach. We carefully choose our clients and they carefully choose us. Then we lavish them with the best skills, experience and guidance money can buy. This builds long term relationships that are mutually beneficial.

But we don’t scale it. Purposely.

If we scaled it (and we have tried) it very quickly loses the boutique feel and we get swamped in administering, rather than loving, clients. So we’ll never have more than 50 clients, and never acquire a new client to the detriment of an existing one.

We continually look to recruit the best talent out there, and for that we pay over the market rate – quite a long way over the market rate, actually. But we get first-class people who directly interact with our clients and collectively we form great long-term relationships.

Not everyone thinks this way. We don’t even think we are right, it just suits us and our clients really well.

By Martin Dower