Is Buying An Agency Department A Good Way To Expand Your Offering?

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Are you thinking about buying an agency? What about just buying one department of agency to compliment your service offering? There are many reasons to consider acquiring another agency, like client lists or intellectual property. However, buying one for its resources made the most sense for this podcast guest. When a few red flags made him take a step back, he found he could structure a deal in the form of buying just the department he was most interested in rather than acquiring the whole agency. It takes the right circumstances and aligned interests, but it worked for both agencies involved.

Like many agency owners, Antoine Gagne started his agency, J7 Media, by accident. He hosted events that drove a lot of people in and realized he was good with social media. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram were still sort of new in Canada, so he started off selling social media management packages. He saw a lot of success in this market and eventually niched down to specialize in Facebook advertising. More recently, he has ventured to buy other agencies to expand his services.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Niching down to grow the agency.
  • When to raise agency prices.
  • Buying an agency department for the resources.
Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Getting to the First Million in Revenue and Beyond

In his beginnings, Antoine started an agency that offered social media management and content creation services. He eventually decided to focus on an area that was most profitable and where the agency really shined. As a Facebook ads agency, they were so specialized it was easy for clients to refer them to people looking for these exact services, which led to a stable sales cycle. Antoine really recommends figuring out one service that you’re good at and you’re able to sell repeatedly.

Once you settle on this, the key is to not give up, he assures. Keep going until it becomes easy for you to get more and more clients. At this rate, you will get to your first million in revenue. For Antoine, once you figure out how to keep it simple and go all-in on one service you do really well, you find that getting to the second million is actually easier.

When To Raise Your Agency Prices

Failing to recognize when it’s time to raise prices is a common problem for agency owners. Additionally, most fear this move will make them lose out on prospective clients.

To be clear, the point where you find a service you can sell repeatedly while improving and consistently getting better clients should also be the point where you get ready to raise your prices and think about your profit.

If you have an agency and you’re not focused on profit then you may be in the wrong business. The sooner you realize agency owners should not be looking primarily at just top-line revenue the better. In Antoine's case, the shift began with looking at the different parts of the agency and using this information to structure its prices. He figured out how much the agency was making from each department and then decided he wanted to make 40% net revenue from those parts of the business.

Next, he needed to decide what the agency should charge and how many clients it would take to meet the goal. It basically took some backward math to figure out how the pricing.

As to the fear of losing clients, all new clients agreed to the new price without further pushback. For their part, existing clients were gradually moved to this new price point at a different pace.

Why You Have to Focus on Net Margin Instead of Revenue

Getting J7 Media on the path to growth required a clear vision of the net margin Antoine was hoping for and adjusting the prices around it. A lot of people tend to start with the revenue in mind and plan around that. The problem comes when they don’t make any profit. This is a much more advisable way to go about it, especially if you plan to sell someday because your agency is valued on EBITDA.

It’s normal to start out with the revenue in mind and slowly get to the point where you realize you should be focusing on net profit. It’ll change the way you look at your business and the way you approach your agency growth. This mindset prompted Antoine to create new services to improve the profit margin instead of thinking about revenue. It was the starting point to grow into a healthier financial situation.

Why Buy an Agency Department, Not the Whole Agency

There are various reasons to acquire a company, like their client list or intellectual property. For Antoine and his agency, it was about resources. On one hand, they noticed their clients needed more from them. On the other hand, a lot of things had changed with Facebook and it no longer made sense being positioned only as a Facebook ad agency. Clients were now looking for a one-stop shop that could do all the media buying for them.

They looked into adding Google ads services, seeing this was the number one service clients needed at the time. However, they couldn’t just jump into this market 15 years later and become experts while still trying to figure out the Facebook changes. They ultimately decided to shop for an agency that could cover this new need.

Antoine met with a few agencies and ultimately decided to buy not an entire agency but just a department. They didn’t need all the different departments, so they structured a deal where they could acquire only the specific employees from this department and the transaction was good for both sides.

Structuring the Acquisition of an Agency Department

Some people have never even considered buying just an agency department but it could be the perfect solution in some cases. Keep in mind a lot of agencies have more than they can handle and would gladly sell just part of their operations.

Antoine was looking for a profitable Google ads department and in the negotiating process with this agency, he found out that employees in this particular department were not in love with that company anymore. The owner knew this and he knew it was a matter of time before he would lose these employees. In this way, the deal was beneficial for both parties.

He encourages agency owners to do this when possible and try to craft the best possible deal. Remember not everyone wants to keep their agencies. Many people have other interests or goals and want to try different things. If you come at the right time with the right offer, most of the time you’ll find interest and will be able to complete this transaction.

How Much Time Does It Take To Complete a Deal?

How much time will it typically pass between the moment you’re interested in a company and the time you conclude the transaction? It will depend on the size of that deal. Small transactions like purchasing a department for under $1 Million take just a few months to complete. However, other bigger transactions take more time. If you dedicate 5-7 hours a week reaching out to companies of interest, the meetings will come.

Antoine currently dedicates 5 to 10 hours a week to look at companies he would be interested in acquiring. At first, it can be overwhelming but he assures, that it’s not as hard as it seems and you could even end up wanting more.

Open Your Eyes To New Opportunities

We’re in a time of changes in the media buying space. A lot of things are changing and when things change many people quit. If you choose to be one of the ones who stay, then remember to open your eyes to the opportunities to buy agencies that are leaving a certain space.

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