The 7 Components of Happy and Healthy Agency Culture

Metacake, founded in 2011, has been an ecommerce growth agency for quite some time now. We’ve been able to help grow some of the most influential brands in the world, but we’ve always been reluctant to use the agency title. It just doesn’t fit what we’re doing. We, instead, like to call ourselves an un-agency. We seek to do agency differently.

Traditional agencies have a lot of downfalls, with unhealthy client relationships and crazy working hours. But there are also a lot of great things about working for an agency, with exciting new projects coming in left and right and the opportunity to work with a ton of cool brands.

We’ve worked intentionally to create a company that takes the good of agency life and leaves the bad behind by fostering a happy and healthy culture.

Here are 7 components we have found to be crucial in building a healthy and stable un-agency.

PS – most of these work for any business type.

1. Create a Ton of Value

If you aren’t amazing at what you do, it’s hard to keep clients happy. And if clients aren’t happy, they put the pressure on. As an agency then, you’re just trying to survive and get as much money out of the relationship as you can before the other shoe drops and you’re fired. This is the type of relationship we try to avoid.

Creating a ton of value for your clients fosters healthy relationships. Be an expert, and share that expertise with your clients.

2. Be Picky About Clients

At Metacake, we only work with brands that fit well with our culture and share certain values (we even have a formula for this). We look for clients that recognize our expertise and value what we do as a team. We, in turn, value the brands that we work with and recognize their expertise. This is an important balance. Not only is a balanced relationship important for enjoying what you do (and remember we are all people behind phones and screens), but it is a critical part of creating success. It’s unrealistic to think that you can hire any partner to do something for you successfully without your investment. Success comes from a true partnership.

3. Learn to Say No

We say no, a lot. We say no to the wrong clients. We say no to the wrong projects. We even say no (ok, more like voice our disagreement) to clients we are working with when they want to do something that is not in the best interest of their stated business goals. It is important to be able to say no.

4. Diversify

Traditional agencies rely on just a handful of core clients that make up 80%+ of their revenue. This creates a culture of fear. If you lose just one client, your company could be in serious jeopardy.

At Metacake, we diversify so that we are not overly dependent on any one client or revenue stream. This gives us the freedom to make decisions not based on fear and has a massive benefit to our clients which is a vast amount of experience that we can put to work on their business.

5. Invest in Your Brand

Build a memorable brand around your agency. Know who you are and what makes your agency and your team unique. Invest in sharing this with the world to attract clients that are a good fit and foster a positive culture on your team.

We love what we do. We love ecommerce and working to grow great brands. That is why we are all here. We are so much more than the services we provide and it’s important to communicate that both internally and with potential clients.

6. Save

A lot of businesses don’t save. We do. We store up money for winter so that we can be a stable and healthy company. Financial health and security is important for any business. In line with diversifying, this allows us be picky about our clients and walk away from projects that aren’t right for us.

7. Stick to your Terms

We have very specific terms and on the vast majority of them we won’t budge. If a client won’t respect our terms, we have walk away. It’s in both of our best interest. This has nothing to do with being stubborn or arrogant. It has everything to do with the fact that we work within a proven framework and that’s how we create success. If we can’t work within that framework, we can’t create success. That’s the bottom line. This can be hard to do when you are first starting out. But if you’re truly good at what you do and know what it takes to do that thing, you need to be strict on your terms.

Payment terms is a big one, since we work in an industry that is historically very unhealthy in this area. We have learned over the years how to mutually protect us and our clients, especially when it comes to payment terms. Accounts receivable is a huge liability for most service businesses because there will always be people that can’t or won’t pay. We get paid electronically in advance of the work to be completed. This actually has a TON of benefit to the client. First, if a partner is willing to do a bunch of work without being paid, they probably aren’t that good or mature in their business. Second, this allows us to focus on driving success and not on chasing after late payments or worrying about keeping our lights on, and FOCUS is a necessity if you’re going to see success. Third, this also allows us to spend our resources in the right places to help drive success rather than expending unnecessary energy collecting checks and following up on unpaid items. We believe in working efficiently. If restaurants sent out invoices and waited for checks to arrive do you think they’d be in business? Make no mistake, the health of your partner is CRUCIAL to the success of your project.

At the end of the day, building a happy and healthy agency is hard work. It might be easy to set up an agency and get some quick wins with a few clients, but to build a lasting business with a good culture, you need to build intentionally. Otherwise you’ll be swept into a toxic agency life.


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