Specialize… or else: Why agencies should specialize by industry

Written by: Karl Sakas

Want your agency to still be in business five or ten years from now? Specialize… or else. As I recently shared:

Clients like hiring specialists. There are some exceptions—for instance, mobile app development is so in-demand right now that app developers don’t need to specialize in specific industries, and an agency that dominates a small geography may find success as a regional market leader—but think about your own experience as as consumer.

If you needed heart surgery, you wouldn’t hire a general surgeon. If your insurance was good enough, you wouldn’t hire a cardiac surgeon, either. You’d hire a cardiac surgeon who’s done your exact procedure 500 times before. When they have a choice, people tend to hire a specialist.

When you specialize, you are more likely to find the clients you want, because they’re more likely to find you.

Make no mistake—with thousands of agencies to choose from, your marketing clients have a choice! Let’s look at the full lineup of benefits for digital agencies.

Benefits to Client Industry Specialization

I help clients who already specialize, and I help clients who want to make the switch from generalist agency to specialist agency. Here are 6 ways industry specialization makes life easier for you and your team.

Close deals faster.

On the agency side, I occasionally met sales prospects who wanted an agency that didn’t have prior industry experience. But that was rare. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes—it’s easier for someone to sell their boss on hiring your agency because you’ve done 20 similar projects, as opposed to saying, “They’re really creative. We should take a chance!”

Build better PM processes.

Tourism Tiger—which specializes in websites for tour & activity operators—has an industry-specific onboarding template that simplifies collecting content from clients. As owner Mat Newton shared on his podcast, this means a less-experienced PM can handle data collection, ensuring the client’s happy while minimizing content delays.

Create content marketing that resonates.

It’s easier to create meaningful content when you focus on a client industry. For instance, Kuno Creative can do articles like “How to Create Compelling Content for a SaaS Company,” because they’ve narrowed their industry focus. Otherwise, you’re writing just another “Top 5 Pinterest tips” in a crowded market of a million of the same.

Rank better in search.

Your prospective clients are searching for marketing agencies by industry, not by your process or by what qualities make them a good client for you. More people are searching for “real estate marketing agency” than “marketing agency that helps people communicate really difficult topics and that’s nice to work with.”

Have better client conversations.

New clients eventually realize when you don’t know their industry (if they even hired you as a non-specialist in the first place). Clients want to feel like they’re in good hands. Being a good marketer helps, but being a good marketer who knows their specific industry challenges is even better. You want to maximize client retention, right?

Do better client strategy.

When you know the core challenges a client faces, it’s easier to focus on how to help them stand out. That’s true whether you’re doing branding, web development, or SEM.

Objections to Industry Specialization

Some agency owners tell me they don’t want to specialize, because they like doing a variety of work. Or they’re in a small geographic market and there aren’t enough clients to help in any one industry.

I understand your concern. Let’s look at those.

Specialization doesn’t mean “no variety”

As one client said, “I don’t want to make law firm websites for the rest of my life.”

Industry specialization does not mean “no variety.” It’s more of a challenge to be creative when the industry is set.

And you’re going to connect with clients better, because you know their industry, rather than an agency that parachutes into a client industry and spends the first few weeks getting the lay of the land.

Specialization doesn’t mean “too few clients”

There are lots of clients out there. You need 10-20 active clients, not 1,000 clients.

As I mentioned above: When you specialize, you are more likely to find the clients you want, because they’re more likely to find you. On the whole, it’s better to have inbound clients than outbound clients.

If you’re in a small geographic area, you’re right that you can’t specialize while also serving only local clients. Thing is, clients in your area aren’t thinking like that. Some want a local agency—in which case, they might hire you. But others want the best agency, even if means hiring someone who’ll work remotely.

Making the Shift to Industry Specialization

Switching your firm from generalist agency to specialist agency isn’t an overnight job. It requires changes to your business structure, your marketing, your internal processes, and more. (Here’s my advice on how to choose a client-industry vertical.)

Yet, if you don’t start soon, you’ll regret it in the future. It’s no fun to run a business that has to cut its rates because it can’t compete, or that goes out of business because the marketing industry has changed and you got left behind.

Want help making the switch?

Let’s do a short Q&A call to see if I’m a match based on your situation. Anything you share is confidential. Please contact me to set up your call.

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