How To Evaluate Your Digital Marketing Agency Like A Buyer

Think Like A Buyer When Evaluating Your Digital Marketing Agency

Did someone say, “seller’s market”? Yes, indeed, we did. Now, does that mean your agency is automatically at the top of every potential buyer’s list? Unfortunately, not. Or, “thankfully not”, is what we ought to be saying since making the right kind of match happen is where long-term success rests. In other words, long-term success is about making sure that you don’t even begin the buyer-seller dance with buyers who aren’t suited for your offering. So, how can you make sure that there is an alignment of offer and potential buyer, how can you improve your digital agencies valuation, and finally, does your agency offer what a buyer wants? 

Think Like A Buyer When Evaluating Your Digital Marketing Agency

We’ve put together a list of key items that will entice just about any agency buyer, and that an agency owner can consider as transactional glue on their way to seal the deal. 

Retainers Over Projects: Retainers spell income visibility. Projects, while potentially lucrative in the short term, also spell potential volatility. To keep them coming in, the required sales effort and associated costs add to the challenge of making a dependency on projects look like an attractive prospect. Of course, a mix of both is not in and of itself unattractive, but keep the balance solidly tilted on the retainer side. Pay special attention, all you SEO and PPC agencies, as this speaks directly to your business model.   

Year-Over-Year Growth: This isn’t Silicon Valley, and your agency is not a SaaS startup. Agency buyers are not the VC types looking for triple-digit percentages growth. Steady does it – because steady growth means managed growth. It means your growth was not part of a fad or a fluke. And it means that your growth is not only sustainable but responsible. Growth is not an isolated metric; it’s tied to everything from hiring and overheads to your value proposition and your sales cycle. When all these things are in line, your year-on-year growth will be a sign of stability, skill and success.

Sustainable Margins: In line with this kind of well-managed growth, come sustainable and reasonable margins. Reasonable because repeatable. No buyer wants one-off success. Buyers are looking for structured businesses, not side gigs. That means functioning operations and an engine room that keeps churning out an EBITDA of 20-35% – with some margin for crisis-based deviation.  

Processes Over Relationships: Processes mean success is business-owned and won’t leave the business as an owner takes their final bow. Success that is tied up in specific relationships, is not transferable – and not repeatable. Think of it this way: can a new owner, with the same skills as the current one, continue to scale your agency? That’s your litmus test right there. 

Challenge Yourself to a Pre-Mortem and Improve Your Digital Agency Value

There are plenty of buyers available on the market right now, so that won’t be where the failure to sell your agency lies, so challenge yourself to this pre-mortem scenario: it’s 6 months from today and you weren’t successful in finding a buyer in spite of actively trying to sell your agency. What did you do wrong? Turn our buyer’s wish list into your seller’s checklist to improve your digital agency value and make sure your agency’s offering is aligned with what buyers are after. 


Why Honesty Is Essential When Selling An Agency

Are you selling an agency? There is one thing above all else that you can do as an agency owner to help make the sale of your agency, and the ensuing transition period, as smooth as Sunday morning jazz: Be Honest. A serious buyer will always do their homework – and a minimum 45-day due diligence period is guaranteed to reveal anything they weren’t able to uncover upfront. Better still, find out what is of particular importance to a buyer so you can be transparent about those key issues in particular. Not entirely sure what those are? We have a pretty good idea.

Selling An Agency Rule #1: No Surprises

Align your communication with your true intentions once you are no longer at the helm. If your aim is to keep the transition short, don’t communicate that you will be available for the long haul after the sale to try and get the deal done. Adapting the transition period to how long an agency owner will be around is crucial to make sure the necessary ground is covered. If you are unsure about the ins and outs of the transition period, you can read our piece on that here.

The same goes for what you plan to do once you have walked away. If you plan to start a new agency, you will need to put a workable non-compete agreement in place first. It’s not unlikely that a new agency could be your next move, after all. You have the founder’s DNA inside you and have lived and breathed marketing in some form or other for years. Of course, it’s only tempting for an alternative next move to be early retirement and more time spent with your growing guitar collection, but if what you’re going to do is start a new agency, start on the right foot.

A further point to be clear on is the role of employees and where the client relationships sit. If owners are essential to maintaining these, this needs to be addressed. Buyers will typically interview senior employees to get the low-down anyway, so all the more reason to be upfront about relevant roles and relationships. An agency’s employees will be the ones staying on to deal with anything that was not handed over cleanly and openly. Just one more reason to keep all the stakeholders – and not just the one shareholder – top of mind when communicating your sale.

Managing Expectations

Like with any other transaction and business relationship, success lies in the alignment of the objective value of an asset and the perceived value. In other words, managing expectations is the key to making an agency sale a win-win. There are enough buyers for every type of agency so making the right match based on the facts of the business will be the key to making your sale a success for all involved.