January 20, 2024

Agency culture: The heartbeat of your creative business

As the founder of a digital agency, I intimately understand that agency culture is much more than something the sales department made up to sign more clients—it's actually the heartbeat of any creative business.

Agency culture is the unique blend of values, ethics, and practices that collectively guide and influence the behavior and decisions of an agency's team. From the meticulous care with which we tend to our clients to how we lead and empower our employees, agency culture is always present. It acts as a compass, aligning the actions and mindsets of the whole team with the overarching goals and vision of the business.

Cultivating a potent agency culture doesn't happen by mistake. It's a deliberate skill that requires dedication and a strategic approach. By fostering a positive work environment, an agency not only improves team morale but also sets the stage for superior client service and business growth.

Let's learn more about agency culture and how you can cultivate the most beneficial environment for your business and team.

Agency Culture

Key takeaways (TL;DR)

  • Agency culture is the core ethos that guides every aspect of an agency's operations.
  • A strategic approach to fostering positive culture benefits employee morale and client satisfaction.
  • An adaptable culture is crucial for staying ahead in a dynamically evolving industry.

Defining agency culture

To be clear, when I speak of agency culture, I'm talking about the collective heartbeat of a business—the shared values, ethics, and goals that pulsate through every individual and every project.

It's a force that shapes professional relationships and the quality of work delivered to clients. Agency culture isn't some abstract concept—it's the tangible attitudes and behaviors that manifest daily within a workspace.

In my experience as an agency founder, the core values I set forth from the beginning created the cornerstone of our strong agency culture. They weren't just words on a website but daily practices that guided our actions.

Whether it's integrity, innovation, or collaboration, a business's core values should align with its broader vision—the future it's striving to create—and its mission—the path it follows to reach that destination.

Understanding that organizational culture goes beyond a fun office environment, I always focused on fostering an atmosphere where my team could thrive both professionally and personally. Introducing personal stories and insights into our work helped us stay relevant and trend-aware. This practical approach was instrumental in scaling my agency to seven figures and empowering our team to do their best work.

Above all, a company culture that's built on trust and mutual respect isn't just about internal dynamics—it radiates outward, influencing how clients perceive and engage with a business.

Building a positive and productive agency culture

Along the way, I've learned that cultivating a positive and productive agency culture is paramount. It's about more than just policies—as an agency owner, you're creating a space where creativity blooms, well-being is essential, communication is open, and collaboration thrives.

Here are my rules for a positive and productive agency culture:

Rule #1: Always foster creativity and innovation

If you own an agency (or have spent any time working within one), you know that creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of the business. Constantly focusing on these two elements enabled me to attract top talent and let their ideas shine. I always encouraged my team to trust their instincts and supported them with the necessary resources to do their best work. This meant empowering team members with the autonomy to experiment and take calculated risks, ultimately leading to differentiation in the market and connections to clients who may have never heard of us otherwise.

Rule #2: Enhance well-being

The well-being of my team is something I took seriously. Understanding that our "9-5" work was just one facet of life helped open up the floor for conversations about mental health and work-life harmony. Acknowledging that every individual's needs are different, I made it a point to support an environment prioritizing physical and emotional health however it looked to our team. It made a world of difference.

Rule #3: Make communication and collaboration easy

Clear and constant communication forms the foundation of effective collaboration. As a leader, I found it vital to create an atmosphere where feedback was encouraged and celebrated. Each team member had a voice, reinforcing the interpersonal relationships crucial for a cohesive collaboration. Teamwork comes naturally when everyone feels they are heard and valued.

The impact of culture on business growth

Building a strong agency culture was crucial to my success—influencing hiring, retention, and the bottom line. By focusing on fostering a healthy environment, my agency not only attracted creative talent but also significantly boosted our financials.

Attracting and retaining talent

Attracting talent starts with a culture that promotes creative freedom and recognition. In my agency, we implemented a transparent policy for compensation and structured opportunities for growth, which proved to be magnets for top talent. This not only filled our space with innovative minds but also created a competitive advantage in a market where creative skills are at a premium. We offered professional development and recognized individual contributions—leading to lower turnover and the feeling of more ownership across all team members.

Driving financial success

Focusing on agency culture directly impacted our financial results, too. Clients resonated with our values and dedication, choosing us repeatedly for our consistent quality and the fresh perspectives our satisfied team members brought to every project. This client satisfaction and repeat business were pivotal in growing 45royale's bottom line, proving that a strong culture can directly influence agency growth.

Overcoming challenges in agency culture

In managing my agency, quickly recognizing and addressing internal challenges was crucial to providing a thriving cultural environment. Here are a few strategies for overcoming common cultural obstacles you might encounter along the way.

Remote working

For us, and now for most of the world, remote working was the norm. I always joke that we employed remote work as a strategy before it was cool.

But with remote work come a bunch of new challenges—especially with keeping your culture alive and well. There's a lot of information out there now, but here are the two biggest things we found that fed agency culture and led to a feeling of belonging in a remote-first business model.

  1. Regular check-ins are a must: Yes, autonomy is great, but regular check-ins help with alignment and being heard. Don't do this over the phone or text! Make sure to schedule video calls for 1:1's and even have options for co-working over Zoom. Just knowing that someone else is "there" with you brought out a lot more creativity, exploration, and empathy from our team members.
  2. Spend time and money on software that makes you feel connected: We always explored new software as it was released. If we thought there was an opportunity to elevate our relationships with our remote team members, we gave it a try. There's so much great unifying and collaborative software out there now—give it all a try and incorporate what works into your daily workflow.

Handling failure and encouraging risk-taking

I have always believed that an agency culture that welcomes risk and learning from mistakes is essential for improvement and innovation. Encouraging my team to take calculated risks and not fear failure led to greater creativity and decisiveness within the agency. The team developed greater resilience and a more progressive culture by openly discussing mishaps and extracting valuable lessons from them.

Practices we established:

  • Embrace failure: We cultivated an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning. Reframing this took the pressure off and led to some fruitful outcomes.
  • Innovation incentives: We always tried to reward team members who propose bold ideas, even if they don't always work out. We'd rather encourage innovative, out-of-the-box thinking than to stifle creativity. Again, this reframing helped us win over some great clients, and we could sign people we only dreamed of because of it.

Conclusion

In my journey of scaling an agency to seven figures, I've realized the core of success lies intricately woven into the fabric of agency culture. I've seen firsthand how the beliefs and customs within an agency powerfully shape everything from daily interactions to long-term goals.

My actionable insights for fellow leaders are as follows: Cultivate an environment where feedback is valued, and continuous improvement is the standard. This leads to a dynamic atmosphere where creativity and excellence are the norms. To do this, ensure that your agency's values align with daily operations, inspiring every team member to embody these principles.

Building agency culture is an ongoing process that calls for actual, genuine involvement. I take pride in this personal touch, knowing that the success of my agency—and those we helped—is deeply rooted in a culture that we deliberately nurtured every single day.