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Karl Sakas on How Agencies Can Navigate and Thrive Despite Budget Constraints

Updated on March 26, 2024

6 Min Read
Karl Sakas Agency interview

With over 600 agencies across 36 countries turning to him as their trusted advisor, Karl Sakas has earned the title of “agency therapist” among his clients. Jay Baer, a prominent figure in business growth and customer experience strategy, describes Karl Sakas as “one part confidante, one part ass-kicker.”

Karl specializes in guiding agency owners through the intricate landscape of building profitable lifestyle agencies or scaling toward multi-million dollar exits.

Today, we’re thrilled to welcome Karl Sakas to talk about the importance of marketing expenditures allocated carefully and how agencies can navigate and thrive despite budget constraints.

Let’s get started…


1. Can you introduce yourself and share your experience in coaching agencies, specifically helping them navigate and thrive despite budget constraints?

Hi, my name is Karl Sakas, and I help agency owners work less and earn more while rewarding their best employees. Coming from a background in agency operations, I’ve advised hundreds of agencies on every inhabited continent. In addition to my 1:1 client work and group programs, I speak at conferences like INBOUND and the Bureau of Digital. I’m writing my fourth book on agency leadership.


2. In your coaching sessions, what specific challenges have agencies commonly faced when dealing with limited budgets, and how do you guide them through these obstacles?

Limited-budget clients tend to have high expectations relative to their budget. Agency salespeople—whether the owner or a team member—can be tempted to cut prices to win deals. I understand the temptation, but this sets a dangerous precedent. Instead, continue the conversation—focusing on finding ways to meet a narrower version of their goals without hurting your profit margins.


3. Which agencies have you mentored in the past, and who are the founders of these agencies?

More than 90% of my client list is confidential, but several clients have shared about our work together. This includes Ashley Quintana & Jake Fisher (BridgeRev), Chris Dreyer (Rankings.io), Chris Heiler (Landscape Leadership), Dale Bertrand (Fire&Spark), Mike Belasco (Inflow), Mike King (iPullRank), and Rhoan Morgan (DemandLab).

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4. Could you provide real-life examples of agencies successfully implementing creative strategies to thrive within budget constraints under your guidance?

When clients say they have a small budget, that’s not always true. Sometimes, they need to see the value the agency offers. That’s what happened in my work with Ashley Quintana and Jake Fisher, founders of the agency BridgeRev in Oklahoma City. I helped them raise prices and restructure their team.

Ashley noted:

“We had positive comments from the team saying, ‘I feel like I have bandwidth to think again. I can get stuff done. I don’t feel like I’m underwater all the time.’ The team was a lot happier when we made that shift in team structure.”

5. Given budget limitations, what practical advice do you offer agencies to prioritize their expenditures for maximum impact and efficiency?

Shift the business development conversation from price to results. What is the client trying to accomplish? Is there a smaller-scope option that would help them while still profitable for the agency? Sometimes, this requires walking away if meeting the client’s expectations is impossible.


6. How do you assist agencies in identifying cost-effective opportunities for growth in a competitive landscape with budget constraints?

If your clients don’t have money, look elsewhere in the client industry. I compare this to fishing. Are you fishing in the wrong spot or the wrong river altogether? If no one in your target industry has money, it’s time to consider changing industries.


7. Can you share insights into negotiating and effectively managing client expectations when working within budget constraints?

Talk with clients about their budget and their goals. Give them several options—where the biggest option exceeds their goals, the middle option meets their goals (even if it’s more than their budget), and the smallest option meets their budget target (but you call out that it won’t reach their goals).

Whichever they choose, you’ve structured each option to be profitable. During delivery, be sure your team pushes back (diplomatically) when something is out of scope.

Instead of saying a direct “no,” you can say something like:

“That’s a great idea. It’s not part of the current scope, but I’m glad to explore it. Would you like an estimate for that?”

8. Talent acquisition is crucial. How can agencies attract and retain skilled professionals when competing with larger firms despite potential budget constraints?

Agencies need to strike a balance between delivering profitability without compromising on quality. They can find efficiency by hiring senior team members who coach and develop junior colleagues, hiring team members from countries with a lower cost of living, and potentially using AI and automation to work faster.

But be careful about joining a race to the bottom. When budgets grow again, you don’t want to have hollowed out your entire business. Either way, highlight the benefits of working at your firm. They won’t get stock options like at a tech firm, but they can see the impact of their work immediately—instead of waiting months or years to see the impact while battling corporate bureaucracy.


9. Can you provide examples of agencies successfully repositioning their brand or services to thrive in the market despite financial limitations?

Early in our work together, I recommended Rankings.io pursue a narrower niche within their existing experience. This strategy change helped them grow significantly. When agencies might grow 10-20% a year, Rankings.io grew from $2MM to $12MM in revenue in four years—that’s almost 60% every year.


10. Discussing risk management, how do you approach it with agencies facing budget constraints, and what strategies do you suggest for mitigating financial risks?

When the client signs to move forward, include a “sales exclusion” section in the paperwork for the client to acknowledge the things that are NOT in the scope they chose. Beyond that, empower your client-facing team to enforce the scope. If your team member says “no,” but you overrule them to say “yes,” you’re doing favors to no one.


11. How important do you think enhancing visibility is for agencies in attracting new clientele, and what strategies do you recommend to achieve this without a substantial investment in traditional marketing channels?

Practice what you preach. If you’re a content marketing agency, create and share great content. If you’re an SEO agency, your own SEO should be amazing—and you can write about it so people can “see” what might otherwise be invisible.

But it’s not just about the technical work. Share high-value marketing that speaks directly to clients’ business problems. When my newsletter subscribers say it was like I wrote the latest issue just for them, you know your marketing is on target.


12. Do you think agency partnership programs can help agencies increase online visibility without spending too much of their limited budget? What benefits might agencies gain from such partnerships?

Partnership programs help agencies reach prospects who might not otherwise find them. Partnership involvement can also be a form of social proof that is a positive factor in the prospect’s buying decision. And if the agency gets direct referrals from the partner, that’s even better for revenue.

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13. When it comes to boosting online visibility on a tight budget, how do you suggest agencies balance between organic methods and paid strategies?

When agencies have a small marketing budget, it makes sense to focus on organic activities—primarily on the agency team’s time. But time is money, and sometimes, paid strategies—like conference sponsorships or advertising that directs people to a specific lead magnet—can help get results faster.


14. In addition to yourself, are there any other agency coaches you would recommend we reach out to for an interview?

David C. Baker inspired me to pursue becoming an agency consultant. And his son Jonathan Baker is doing great work on agency M&A.


15. Lastly, what straightforward advice would you give agencies aiming to navigate and thrive in the industry while dealing with budget constraints?

Ask yourself: Is running your agency the best way to reach your long-term goals in life? If yes, consider what short-term changes you’ll need to grow now and in the future. If not, consider whether it’s time to shift your energies to something you find to be more rewarding.

Good luck!

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Abdul Rehman

Abdul is a tech-savvy, coffee-fueled, and creatively driven marketer who loves keeping up with the latest software updates and tech gadgets. He's also a skilled technical writer who can explain complex concepts simply for a broad audience. Abdul enjoys sharing his knowledge of the Cloud industry through user manuals, documentation, and blog posts.

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