Andy Strote has successfully run multiple creative agencies, and I’m just starting as a freelancer. So when he reached out to do an interview, I didn’t have to think twice.
As usual, I read the book before the interview. I was just blown away by the practicality of this book. “How to Start a Successful Creative Agency” is to creatives what “The Embedded Entrepreneur” is to bootstrappers. The value per dollar is insane.
Writing to share
Andy had held a position in a few creative agencies before he started working as a freelance writer. After six years of running solo, he joined forces with a designer and started his first agency. Having grown the company to 30 employees, they sold to a big IT company. Following the sale, Andy started from scratch with a new partner, and they built another 28-employee agency before Andy retired.
Now, he still takes on short projects, but he’s more dedicated to writing and sharing his knowledge.
With many years of local and international experience, ranging from print, TV and radio to everything digital, be sure he has a thing or two to say about creative agencies.
You may think the creative book market is overloaded with books, but you’d be surprised how little information there is about the business aspect of running an agency. And that’s where Andy steps in.
His goal with “How to Start a Successful Creative Agency” is to bring clarity around issues like maintaining client relationships, billing, estimating and keeping the finances under control.
“Be creative in your work, but predictable in your processes.”Andy Strote — How to Start a Successful Creative Agency
Writing the book
As he has worked as a freelance copywriter for years, it won’t surprise you that Andy likes writing. So a few years ago, he started writing about and taking notes on his experience. He didn’t have the exact idea of writing a book yet, but he knew it could happen somewhere along the line.
In the Canadian summer of 2020, he finally got started. Andy began with a quick outline and a list of topics. Next, he gathered his notes and added some more until he had a clear picture of what he wanted to discuss. Then, he created a table of contents.
The early outline gave him clarity, but there was still some chaos. New ideas and topics kept streaming in, and Andy did a lot of rewriting. That wasn’t a problem, though. As a copywriter, he was used to writing and rewriting all the time. It’s part of the process.
For about nine months, he dedicated most of his time to his book and, as it suits a creative leader, he got professional help during the final stages.
Andy hired a designer for the cover and many extra pairs of eyes for the content. First, he counted on a small community of beta-readers, but he also hired a professional editor and proofreader. He adamantly recommends everyone to do the same because there are just too many things one pair of eyes won’t notice.
Self-publishing is more practical than going with a publisher. And for new writers, it just makes way more sense.
Andy has a friend with a senior position at Random House. Even he advised Andy to self-publish. Here’s why: the risk is too big on both sides. The costs are too high if it doesn’t work out, and if it does, you barely get anything as the author.
When you self-publish, however, your book is more “evergreen”. You promote it for as long as you want. The publishing house won’t do much promotion after an initial launch event and a few weeks of publicity.
For the exact same reasons, many artists start their own labels.
Promoting “How to Start a Successful Creative Agency“
Andy is using his marketing knowledge to promote his book on Twitter, Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and his website. He’s betting on SEO to drive a part of the sales in the future.
Promoting is something he would improve with a second book, though.
He would focus more on pre-sale activities and building an audience before the launch. For that, he’s considering writing in public and assembling a bigger feedback group.
And for the readers, he has this message: Book reviews on Amazon are critical. Consider writing one when you finish a book. As a writer, of course, you should try to convince your reader to write one.
Writing tips and tricks
Andy’s writing tools:
- Vellum: Ebook design software.
- Reedsy: Hire professional editors and proofreaders.
- Grammarly: Make sure the editors don’t have too much work.
- Microsoft Word: text processing.
The more I talk about these tools, the more similarities I’m seeing. Arvid also used Reedsy; almost everyone uses Grammarly; Cole is another Word user. There might be many new (and better?) writing tools, but people stick to what they know. Even our 14-year old Prabhsimrat uses Word.
Getting started with your book
Start with an idea and do some research. Is it a book, an article, a blog post? Is it big enough? Should it even be a book?
Another question: Is there any competition? If so, read it. Then decide if it’s worth writing another book about it. And improve where necessary.
Andy’s writing tips:
- Don’t delete what you won’t use now. You may want to go back to it later.
- Writing goals are great, but not always. Some days you just need a break.
- You have to like writing. If you don’t like it, don’t start. Because you’ll throw a lot of stuff out, and it will be depressing.
- Hire an editor to find repeating and contradicting statements.
His secret might sound familiar: It’s years and years of writing. To be an author, you need the ability to sit down and write. Don’t look at the blank page. Just start.
Some freelancing tips
The first time you’re writing for a client, go through the first revision with them. Then, get them on a call and explain your choices. Listen to their expectations and interpretation. You’ll save yourself a lot of time in the future and get on the same line from the start.
“How you write your estimates is how you run your company.”Andy Strote — How to Start a Successful Creative Agency
Whether or not you become successful as a freelancer or creative agency depends mainly on your estimating and invoicing. Here are some tips.
- Always ask for money upfront with new clients.
- You can give volume discounts, but you need to tie them to fast payment.
- Always follow up.
- Pick a mark-up rate between 12-15% for work you’re outsourcing.
- Get paid for meetings. Your contact at a big company is also getting paid for their time.
How about the future?
Andy’s not thinking about writing a second book yet. “How to Start a Successful Creative Agency” still has a lot of potential he wants to exploit first.
I love his mindset of not looking at the book as a finished product but as a work in progress—as part of a bigger picture.
In the future, he might do an updated version based on new insights and feedback. He’s also exploring the possibility of creating related material such as templates for invoicing and giving estimates.
Andy is on his way to building the full creative agency starter pack.
Book: How to Start a Successful Creative Agency
Author: Andy Strote