Increase your profits with the right agency business model: Think, Teach, Do

Written by: Karl Sakas
Use my "Think, Teach, Do" agency services framework to grow profitably!

Use my “Think, Teach, Do” agency services framework to grow profitably!

Want to expand your agency’s services? It starts by understanding that everything you sell fits into just three categories.

Those three agency service categories are: Think (strategy), Teach (training & empowerment), and/or Do (implementation).

Understanding this business model will help you upsell your existing clients, get more referrals, and retain your best clients longer. Let’s look at what each of the three mean.

Agency Services Framework: Think, Teach, Do

Start by putting yourself into your clients’ shoes—why do they hire your agency? From their perspective, they need just three types of things:

  1. Think (strategy) — Your client is saying, “Tell me what to do”
  2. Teach (training & empowerment) — Your client is saying “Teach us how to do it ourselves.”
  3. Do (implementation) — Your client is saying, “Do it for me”

You may choose to do just one or two of these, and not every client will need or want all three. But recognize you’re making an important choice—the services you choose to offer has an impact on profitability, the sales process, recruiting, project management, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the three options.

Think (strategy): What to Know for Your Agency

Think (strategy) — Your client is saying, "Tell me what to do"

In “Think” (strategy), your client is saying, “Tell me what to do”

Strategy can include high-level strategy (marketing plans, content strategy) and lower-level strategy (“what do we do when X happens?”).

You might do a paid discovery project (strategy) before doing an implementation-oriented project. Aspects of strategy can happen during implementation—for instance, doing research before doing a monthly SEO or PPC retainer.

Strategy Deliverables

Deliverables tend to be less tangible in this area—meetings, phone calls, reports, and plans. You’re getting paid for your advice (what you tell them to do), not the literal deliverable itself.

What You’re Selling via Strategy

You’re ultimately selling peace of mind—when your client feels like they know the right way forward, they can proceed in confidence.

Teach (training & empowerment): What to Know for Your Agency

In "Teach" (training & empowerment), your client is saying, "Show me how to do it myself."

In “Teach” (training & empowerment), your client is saying, “Show me how to do it myself.”

Training services lets you make money from clients who are otherwise a poor fit—big clients who prefer not to hire an agency, and from clients who decide to take things in-house after working with your agency. Empowerment also includes helping the client hire their new in-house employees.

Training & Empowerment Deliverables

Deliverables focus on training, documentation, and follow-up Q&A. The focus is knowledge transfer, but unlike strategy, you typically need to do it so that the client can do it without your ongoing help.

As you develop training services, you have opportunities to create information products to let you make money from future clients. For instance, if you create a training on how to administer WordPress, you could record a version of that to sell to clients who don’t want to pay for live training.

On the empowerment side, you might advise clients on recruiting—or even provide recruiting services yourself.

What You’re Selling via Training & Empowerment

You’re selling self-sufficiency. If you’re providing ongoing Q&A support (and charging for it!), you’re also selling peace of mind—that if they get stuck, they know they can call you for help.

Do (implementation): What to Know for Your Agency

In "Do" (implementation), your client is saying, "Do it for me."

In “Do” (implementation), your client is saying, “Do it for me.”

Implementation is less glamorous than strategy work. It’s often easier to sell (because clients have a good idea of what they need already) but it’s more of a commodity than strategy.

Implementation Deliverables

Deliverables tend to be tangible. This could include web development, marketing automation setup, monthly deliverables on an SEO retainer, content creation, and more.

What You’re Selling via Implementation

Implementation is about getting things done—things the client doesn’t have time (or internal resources) to do themselves. The “don’t worry about it” in implementation is that the client can check things off the to-do list.

Choosing Where to Focus at Your Agency

You may find yourself inadvertently getting into new areas based on client requests—for instance, training their new employees when a client takes a project in-house, or doing strategy work to help an implementation client figure out where to go next. But the ideal is to be more strategic (no pun intended) about the services you provide.

What combination of service categories (Think, Teach, and/or Do) is right for you? The answer depends on many factors, but here are some things to consider.

Think (strategy) can be the most lucrative but it’s also harder to sell until your agency builds a track record of giving strategy advice. Plan on using case studies instead of a traditional image-driven “portfolio” page, because strategy is more about results than pretty designs. Expect a longer hiring process for freelancers and full-time people, since it’s harder to assess quality advice from strategists than implementers.

Teach (training & empowerment) is a great way to get paid by people who wouldn’t hire you to do strategy or implementation. They’re also a way to continue getting revenue from clients who’ve decided to take your agency’s work in-house; in my experience, the “get up to speed” process takes their internal team a lot longer than expected. Consider that you’ll need to invest non-billable R&D time in creating training materials, and that someone on your team who’s a good implementer may not be a good trainer.

Do (implementation) is relatively easy to sell—and relatively easy to staff—but you’ll get tired of being seen as a commoditized “order taker.” Think about when you go to the pharmacy—your doctor has already decided what drugs you should take (strategy). Although pharmacists check for drug interactions and can advise on taking the drug, a pharmacist is primarily providing an implementation service.

Question: Which of the three service categories (Think, Teach, and/or Do) do you provide at your agency?

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