Iliyana's Blog

#INBOUND15: 8 Key Takeaways for Agencies

[fa icon="calendar"] 13-Sep-2015 17:03:08 / by Iliyana Stareva

INBOUND15 and my agency partners

I just had the most inspiring week of my life! INBOUND15 blew my mind!

My goal for INBOUND was to meet with dozens of my agency partners and, of course, attend some sessions of the super notable speakers. In reality, I barely made it to any sessions and my INBOUND15 week transformed into a non-stop conversation experience. My FOMO on the sessions was completely overhauled by me having the best partners in the world who are sharing with me their notes, their recordings, their learnings. My relationship with them is a constant exchange of ideas and information that goes both ways and leads to some fantastic discussions that bring about more ideas, more inspiration and more growth.

Reflecting on the conversations that I was having with them during this fantastic week, I’ve identified eight key drivers and attributes that an agency needs to have if it wants to be the next Gold, Platinum or Diamond HubSpot partner, or simply strives to be a successful and profitable agency for the long run.

My #INBOUND15 Reflections: 8 Key Success Factors for Agencies

#1. Complete business transformation

The successful agencies are those who first and foremost undergo a complete transformation of their business model – and that’s, of course, the biggest hurdle. In HubSpot’s world that’s often deciding to go the inbound route only; for other agencies it’s about making the conscious decision of where you want to be in three years from now and what you want to be known for. It’s often choosing to go digital and ditch the old traditional world of outbound tactics and deciding a particular industry or core competency that you want to excel at and specialise in.

Having a clear direction and being 100% focused is key because if you don’t know where you’re going how are you going to get there (or anywhere), how are your people going to help you get there? Your positioning is crucial both externally and internally: clients will know what you do and what you stand for, employees will know your values and align their work with your mission.

The longer you wait to make the decision about where you want to go, the further away you’re going to be from becoming a sustainable, profitable, scalable and known agency.

#2. Being your own best client

I can’t say this enough: whatever services you offer – content creation, PR, social media etc. – you need to, you have to be delivering those to yourself, ALWAYS. You need to nail content and you need to nail the numbers. You need to prove first to yourself that inbound works. Why? Because first you need to learn the methodology; second, you don’t want to experiment on your clients, and third, you want to be perceived as credible and trustworthy – how are you going to do that if you’re offering services to your clients that you don’t seem to be doing for your own business?

Also, do you want be seen as an expert in your field, as a thought leader? In the digital era, that happens with content, A LOT OF CONTENT. Take my Finish partner Sales communications, for example – they’ve got over 140 videos on their YouTube channel (and shot one of them at Central Park the other day before coming to INBOUND15), they blog regularly, they run their own podcast called HubSpodcast, they used Periscope to broadcast INBOUND15. This way they generate 100% of their business through inbound ONLY – and they’ve so managed to grow 3x their revenue in a year. The best part – their customers are some of the happiest HubSpot customers. Why? Because they trust the agency’s expertise and knowledge in inbound seeing how well it works for the agency itself.

#3. Hiring the right people (at the right time)

This one is hard but so crucial. If you want to build a scalable agency you need people not just with the right skills (because skills can be thought) but with the right attitude, the drive to learn and grow, the willingness to be involved in your agency’s future and the desire to challenge you how to move forward.

Finding the people that are a good fit for your business and your clients is one thing, getting them at the right time is the second part. You need to be able to plan in advance and start your recruiting process as soon as you decide to transform your business. Because once you’ve made that step, the clients will come and you will need to be able to service them well. Getting clients through the door is the easier bit, truly making them happy and driving results on an ongoing basis is the magic you need to build a scalable business. And you need people to do that. As an agency owner, you shouldn’t be doing project management or service delivery, nor should your employees work in the evenings and weekends to handle the workload.

#4. Strong agency culture

Having a clearly defined agency culture has two key benefits: it helps with processes and it helps with hiring and training.

Your culture needs to be based on your core values that you need to make abundantly clear so that your people can recite them. These core values will guide everything they do and the way they deliver the work. They will guide how you teach and train your people too. Having defined that will also determine your hiring standards – you will be able to better decide whether the person you’re evaluating will be the right fit for your team.

One important thing to remember here is that if you’re going the inbound route, then you need 100% inbound buy-in not only from your execs but everyone at your agency. Inbound needs to be embedded within your culture, processes and standards.

#5. Saying “no”

As human beings, we have this innate need to help. In the business world, that translates into the need for more profit and more clients. But one key step when undergoing your business transformation is the ability to say “no” to the WRONG clients. You don’t want to be working with companies that don’t have the budget or the willingness to grow, or those who don’t trust your expertise and want it done their way. These clients are not worth your time nor effort, and as my partner Jani from Sales communications says, “Let them be another agency’s problem”. The agencies that choose to say “no” early on are the ones set for upward success – I am very proud of my relatively new German partner Trialta who mastered this lesson within their first six months of being a HubSpot partner.

Another thing that agencies often forget is that being able to say “no” applies to your team too. Sometimes you need to make the hard decision and let the wrong employees go – for example, if you’re transforming your agency into inbound, the people who don’t believe in inbound or get it have no place in your agency, they’re only going to hold you back. Is that what you want?

#6. Top-notch ongoing client servicing 

Sadly, agencies often forget that it’s not just about creating that tremendous service offering plan that gets the client through the door; it’s about delivering these services on an ongoing basis and driving real results. With inbound, it’s all about the numbers. Having very, very clearly defined processes on servicing clients throughout the retainer year is crucial: What does the kick-off meeting look like, have you set up KPIs with the clients, do you perform regular performance review calls with them etc.?

To retain clients, you need to delight them. Here’s something you may not like, but my partner Sales communications is right: you need to spend more, not less time with your clients. Build AND document these processes of onboarding, retaining and renewing and learn to be efficient at them and always optimise.

#7. Charging for value, not hours 

The main thing that stood out to me during the International Partner Panel at the event was that all participating agencies at it have moved away from hours-based pricing to value-based pricing – you charge for the value you create and the results you drive, rather than the time spent on an activity. Bear in mind that these four agencies are all one small step to Platinum, they have completely reinvented their businesses and are on a fantastic growth track in their countries: Mexico, UK, Australia and Finland. So  you see, values-based pricing works if you make it work, wherever you are.

#8. Drive to learn and share the knowledge 

The very key thing that is at the centre of all of the above is the drive to learn and the motivation to grow by sharing knowledge internally with the team and externally with the world to be helpful and position yourself as an expert. You shouldn’t be afraid of competition, this shouldn’t be stopping you but motivating you even more. Inbound is a movement, but it still needs the bandwidth to spread, especially outside the US, and this needs to happen collaboratively. I love what The Brand Manager are doing here. As a HubSpot partner, they became the HUG leader in Perth. The first HUG user group event they run, they had 15 people attending. Six months later, they had 80 people attending. Isn’t that remarkable?

As you can see, it doesn’t just stop with gathering the knowledge; it’s way more about sharing it with your employees, with your advocates, with your clients. My super successful partner Zooma are well known for that – they are educators, they teach and EMPOWER their clients to be experts on their own.

Those who want to grow are willing to invest the time to learn and go to events like INBOUND15, where they’re blown away by more learning, tremendous networking and exchange of ideas. Then, they go back home totally inspired and excited and actually IMPLEMENT the ideas. That is what a successful agency is – a living, breathing, always growing and continuously learning people-driven organisation.   


I am in awe of the people I met at INBOUND15. I am inspired too and I am proud of all my partners willing to learn, stand out and be different.

This is the time to start your journey as your own unique agency of the future.

Or as my partner Structsales did, to start his journey into family life – Oliver proposed to his girlfriend Emily at the end of his talk and she said “Yes!” A marriage proposal – that’s a first for INBOUND!


Want to be a better agency? Check out HubSpot's Partner Program


Topics: Inbound Marketing, Brands and Business, Inbound PR, Agencies

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is Global Partner Program Manager at HubSpot, focusing on aligning HubSpot's expanding global teams to better service the agency partners and smoothly roll out changes to the program. She spends her free time dancing salsa or writing about Inbound PR, Inbound Marketing and Agency Business, expertise gathered from years of agency experience and agency business consulting across Germany, the UK and Ireland.