Do you call yourself a “boutique agency”—or have you considered the label?
Instead of using “boutique” as shorthand for “small,” I dare you to fully commit to providing a boutique experience to your clients. The choice will help you build a sustainable agency.
Let’s look at what it takes to be a boutique agency, including a quiz to see how you measure up. (In this followup article, I give you a behind-the-scenes look at how I create a boutique client service experience.
Definition of “Boutique Agency”
In retail, a boutique is a small store that sells high-quality goods at high prices, with a high-quality customer service experience.
Under that definition, a boutique agency is a small agency that sells high-quality work at high prices, with a high-quality client service experience.
Quiz: Are You Truly “Boutique”?
How does your agency match up to my true “boutique agency” definition? I’ve identified seven questions to ask yourself (below). Give yourself one point for each statement that is true for your agency.
- “We have 5-20 employees.” AdAge defines “small agency” as an independently-owned agency with no more than 150 employees. I often see “boutique agency” used for firms with fewer than 10 employees. With more than 20, “boutique” is hard to sustain.
- “We do high-quality work.” Your work is both visually attractive and effective. Your work gets results for clients. And you have quality assurance (QA) processes that catch mistakes early, instead of making clients feel like guinea pigs.
- “We charge high prices.” In U.S. dollars, this would be a minimum of $50K for a website—but more likely $100K+. Branding is at least $40K, and you don’t do “just a logo.” For a marketing retainer, you charge a minimum of $5K/month—and most clients pay more—and you require a 12-month contract. If you charge hourly, your rates are at least $150-180/hour.
- “We keep client count low.” You work with no more than 20 active clients, and probably more like 10-15 clients (but without triggering a Client Concentration problem). Other than clients you choose to terminate, you also have a low churn rate—less than 10-20% annually, unless your business model focuses on project-based work.
- “We provide high-quality client service.” Your clients feel special. Instead of being reactive to client requests, you anticipate their needs. Your clients won’t think they’re your only client, but they feel valued, as if they were one of just a few clients (instead of 10-20 accounts).
- “We do inbound lead-gen.” You may have a salesperson, but most of your clients contact you first based on an inbound branding approach to self-marketing. When clients pursue you, they’re more likely to play by your rules—and see you as the expert.
- “We insist on ‘strategy-first.” Consider my Think/Teach/Do framework. Few agencies do zero implementation (Do), but boutique agencies have a reputation for their strategy work (Think). And their implementation is informed by strategy, not a client’s latest whim. Boutique agencies often do training and client empowerment (Teach), because clients see them as trusted advisors instead of interchangeable pixel-pushers.
CALCULATE YOUR SCORE: Add up your “yes” answers (+1 point each). If you got 5+ points, you’re probably a boutique agency. Low client count, high prices, and high-quality work are must-haves.
Was that the result you expected, or do you have further to go?
Even if you fit all seven items on the checklist, your agency needs a strategy to consistently provide great client service. Next, read a behind-the-scenes look at how I create a boutique client experience.
QUESTION: What’s your score on the “boutique agency” quiz? Click to tweet!