by Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly

I’ve been rethinking how I deliver what I do for clients. Hopefully some of my musings here spark a thought with you. I work in both digital strategy and agency management and pretty much all my work is delivered face to face. I get the occasional international gig but that’s been via Skype and Slack (hello LA and Melbourne, the view out the agency window looked great).

For the training element of what I do, I work with agencies, client teams, individual agency and business owners and students. Most of that has been on-site, face-to-face. Phil Mitchell in your office or classroom, what more could you want?

But that in-person delivery model is over for the foreseeable, so I’m looking at a new approach. Like everyone in business, the pandemic moved my cheese. If you don’t know that book, it’s an oldie but very relevant for these times.

And a different way of training is something I’m looking at for the MPA. We had conversations earlier this year about me delivering a series of ‘classroom’ training sessions for agency members. The pandemic put a stop to that approach. As it did for other class-based work that I’m involved with: tutoring for MMU and teaching for the CIM via Kirklees College. For the CIM in particular, it was a new gig for me and a new unit for the college. So I’ve been writing lesson plans, creating materials and figuring out how best to deliver online.

All of that got my thinking: what else could I deliver online, to pull in revenue? And not for the short term – whilst face-to-face consultancy and training is on hold – but to keep as a revenue stream in the future?

I found a few guides on setting up online courses. By the way, many suggested it’s a means to ‘passive income’. There’s nothing passive about the amount of work involved in creating any online course. And then marketing it. Luckily for me (and excellent timing) I have an ace ‘coach for coaches’ in Ian Brodie and he’s been looking at approaches to online courses.

I’m now converting the ‘modules’ in the agency transformation / growth side of my work into short lessons. They’re aimed at either start-ups (there are always start-ups in challenging times), agencies looking to reboot, or agency staff looking to boost specific skills.

To be honest I should have looked at doing this ages ago and ‘made hay’. But it often takes a jolt to make you rethink what you offer and how you deliver it. As Plato (sort of) said “Necessity is the mother of invention”, an apt phrase for these challenging times. And this from someone born in the time of the ‘plague of Athens’ epidemic.

Agencies will also have been jolted of late (an understatement, I know). And they (you) could also be offering ‘billable lessons’, to monetise IP. Especially where, in some cases, the delivery of creative or media services have been severely reduced. I know it’s not all contraction and bad news for agencies. I’ve supported two of pitches in the last couple of weeks and it felt great to help. And agency owners and teams will be focusing on other things initially, so other ways to create revenue won’t be front of mind. Things like steadying operations, addressing finances and reframing new business will take attention. As will supporting clients who are also having a tough time

But when the immediate fires have dampened, it could be worth looking at how else the agency could earn revenue. And that might be selling knowledge online. Examples, off the top of my head: ‘how to create and launch a brand’, ‘watchouts when planning campaigns’ and ‘how to engage customers’. Some of that is no doubt rightly given away for free now as a value exchange and part of a content marketing strategy. But some of that experience and wisdom could be bundled up into mini courses or as one-off online lessons.

Creating an online course won’t make up for a big client loss/es of course. But aside from any revenue earned it could boost SEO, keep the agency profile high and evidence intellectual capital. And do more for those than that seldom-updated blog.

Or if training isn’t your thing, you could look at harnessing the creative minds in the business to devise and launch physical products. Witness Offroadcode and Cutting Edge Knives. Or Joe Public and McNair shirts (now being awesome and supporting the NHS with PPE gowns). And Coudal Partners and Field Notes.

There are other examples out there of agencies making a sellable product. And some of those are digital products. But I’d suggest only doing that if the agency doesn’t have a pretty full order book and it won’t steal all the dev time. And I’d avoid trying to recreate Photoshop or SharePoint. I’ve lived through those ill-advised in-house projects (* shudders*).

Right, I’m off to upload session two of the CIM module. I used Microsoft Teams as the delivery platform, but that’s because the college I.T guys prefer it. There are any number of platforms available to get your expertise converted into short online courses to sell globally to others, so checking out some of those is my next job.