Every fifth podcast — I’m doing a solocast. That’s just you and me, having a conversation about a topic that I know is on the minds of agency owners. For this solocast — we’re going to dig into a topic that I probably dive into every single week with agency owners — some good old fashioned time management and how to manage your client work.
How should an agency owner spend his/her time? As you know and are probably a example of — most agency owners struggle with extracting themselves from the day to day enough to actually work on the business. Too many agency owners are too deeply engrained in the work of the agency, which prevents them from running a successful and scalable agency.
“If you are still serving clients, you are not servicing the agency.” That’s the bottom line. You are diminishing YOUR bottom line. Instead, you need to build an agency that someone would want to buy some day. An agency where you are dispensable.
In this podcast, I’ll outline where you should invest your time and what vital priorities you can knock out if you do. We’ll talk about your role in new business, in mentoring your team and much more.
To listen — you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (http://buildabetteragency.com/drew-mclellan-solocast-episode-1/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below.
If you are going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. This is going to be a little different. I don’t have a guest with me today. I am going to just talk to you about something that I think is important for us to have a conversation about. So, this is just you and me having a conversation around something that I talk to a lot of agency owners about and I want to make sure that you and I have the conversation as well.
So, as I am teaching workshops or in networks with agency owners, one of the topics that often comes up is how overwhelmed agency owners are with all the things they have to get done in a day. And so, inevitably, the conversation then comes around to how are you spending your time? And often I will say that much to the agency owner’s dismay, I chastise them for how they are spending their time. So, brace yourself, because you may feel that as well.
For many of you, you are spending way too much time on client work. And if you are in the weeds of client work, you cannot, you absolutely cannot own or run a successful, scalable agency. It is just impossible.
There are a couple exceptions to this rule. So number one is if you are a small, small shop, three, four, five people, then oftentimes you are right. Everybody has to be hands on deck and doing client work. Or if you have multiple partners in the business, then one or two of the partners can be involved in the client facing work as long as one or two of the partners is taking care of the things we are going to talk about in this podcast. But for the lion’s share of you, you are solo owners in agencies larger than a handful of people and you have got to get out of the weeds of client work.
Quite honestly, I think one of the reasons why you haven’t is because you are really good at it, and it is reassuring to be good at something. And so, you can do client work with your eyes closed. You always know the right answer; you know what to do. Regardless of your discipline, whether you are a creative or on the account service side, you are good at it and clients gravitate towards you. So it’s very gratifying. But the truth is that if you want to grow your agency, you’ve got to get out of that rut. If you are still serving clients, you are not servicing the agency. That’s just the bottom line.
So, here is a good Litmus test. So, if you got hit by a bus or abducted by aliens, what would happen to your agency’s monthly AGI? If you say that it would really drop or it would really be cut in half, or whatever language you want to use, then congratulations. The truth is that you have just created a company, so that you could have a job. And it is no different than the job before you started the agency, other than you work for a bigger jerk of a boss because your other boss always paid you. When you’re the owner, sometimes you don’t get paid. Or you are the one who is working until 8, 9, 10 o’clock, midnight while everyone else is going home. So really all you’ve done is traded one job and one boss for another job and boss. And guess what? This job and this boss are worse than the one you had before. You are probably working worse hours for worse pay.
That is not right. You have taken all the risk of starting an agency. Your name is on the bottom line on the line of credit. You are the one that sweats bullets about making payroll. So there is no reason why you should work yourself to the ground because you are spending your time doing the wrong things. You need to stop being willing to tolerate burning the candle at both ends and in the middle to get it all done because you think that you need to stay involved in client work.
Not only is it a lousy job for lousy pay, but the truth is you can’t grow your agency because, I hate to break this to you but you know how in traffic meetings everybody talks about the bottle neck and they kind of look around. Well, what they are not saying to you is you are the bottle neck. You are the sticking point. You are the big, black hole where they drop stuff off and they have no idea when it is coming back. Or it always comes back at the 11th hour, right before it’s due to the client. And you know what? You are probably good enough at what you do, you can pull that off.
But not only are you not doing the things you should be doing, you are also short changing the client by doing the things at the last minute. But even worse, the biggest danger in all of this is you are setting an example to your employees that that’s the way they should behave. And the truth of it is you are probably the only one in your agency who can pull it off. For everybody else, they are not quite good enough or quite fast enough to pull that off or they end up doing something that is B level work, rather than A level work that you can start doing in your sleep.
So you’ve got to start setting this example. The truth of it is I want you to stop getting so involved in the client work that you are getting in the way of your agency scaling and growing. And by the way, the more embedded you are in client work, the less likely you are building an agency that anyone would want to buy some day. So, you are literally strapping this thing around your neck and dragging it around the block yourself, rather than you concentrating on where you should spend your time and letting your team concentrate on where they should be spending their time.
So, let me tell you how I believe agency owners should be spending their time. This is my version of the agency owner job description. So, granted it’s ideal. I am not suggesting you will ever have a week that is exactly like this. I know better than that. But if most of the week is, or it’s somewhere in this ballpark, I promise you, you will be amazed of the results.
So, let’s look at the big chunks of time and where you should be spending it. About 50% of your time as an agency owner should be spent on your business. I know, I know you don’t like it. I know you don’t want to do it. I know most of you are chasing the mythical, magical beast that is the new business guy. But I am here to tell you that a) it is a myth, b) for the 1 of 80 or so agencies that can find a new business person who actually can open doors, most of those people are good door openers, but they are not great closers. There’s no better closer in your agency than you.
And the truth of the matter is, business owners and business leaders want to talk to other business owners and other business leaders. They want to have holistic conversations around business problems and there is no one at your shop who is as well-equipped as you are to have those conversations. I am telling you that agency sales is a role that you were born to play. You don’t have to be pushy, you don’t have to be aggressive. You just have to be helpful and you have to be smart. And you are already both of those things.
When you help a business owner or a marketing leader, I promise you, you will see profit come out of that, when you step back into your business role. And again, if you want to have a new business person who is knocking on doors and opening doors, and teeing up opportunities, fine. But do not expect them to close as successfully or as often as you can. Number one, they are not going to hit it out of the park as often as you do. And number two, they are not going to be able to command the same price that you can.
So, after you spend 50% of your day on new business, where else should you spend your time? Well, about 20% of your time should be spent mentoring your staff. When I teach AE boot camps, one of the common things that I hear over and over, and over again from your staff is they want more from you. Not more money, not more time off, they want more of you, more of your time and attention. They want to be like you. They want to be as good as you are and they know the only way to do that is to learn from you.
I am a huge proponent of one-on-one meetings. So, the way those work very briefly is that it’s the direct report meeting with their supervisor once a week for 20 minutes. The direct report is responsible for that meeting. So there is a form that I’ve written about it on the website, www.agencymanagementinstitute.com, or you can shoot me an email and ask for it.
But there is a form you can modify for any position in your agency and it looks at things in three ways. The top portion of the form, it asks about big picture goals. So, what are you working on this quarter? So that person, your direct report is to tell you what they are working on, what they are trying to get better at, and what they are actively doing to get better. Then you can start giving them feedback and coaching them, and catching them doing it right. So all of that is a great conversation.
Then, the next part of the form is asking them about what they are working on now and what is getting in their way of being successful, and what can you help them do to move whatever obstacles are in the way. And then finally gets down to the nitty-gritty of is there anything I should know? Is there any change with a client? That sort of a thing. I promise you, in and out for 20 minutes.
The other advantage of that is when your employees know that they have some dedicated time with you, they are much less likely to interrupt you repeatedly throughout the week. They will save it up for their one-on-one meetings. So that is another bonus. But the biggest bonus is you cannot grow your agency if you can’t grow your people. And you can’t grow your people just by hoping that they get it by osmosis. You need to take some time and pour some energy and attention into your people, so that they can get better.
All right. So, you’ve done your business, you’ve done some mentoring, now what’s next? Well, you know what? You need to run the business. You need to be looking at the financial metrics, you need to be looking at some dashboards, you need to be making sure that you are crunching the numbers and that you are in the right ratios of how many employees per $125,000 of AGI, all of those sort of things. You need to be tracking and paying attention to these so you know that your agency is healthy. By the way, this is not just you. This is you and your leadership team getting together on at least a quarterly basis, if not more often, looking at the goals that you’ve set and how you guys are coming on achieving those goals. And if you are nowhere near it, then putting a plan in place to get you closer to the goal by the end of the quarter.
Again, this is not about you getting quagmired in the minutia. This is not about you data entering stuff into the accounting software system. This is about you looking at the bigger picture and being able to make very good, decisive and quick decisions around the data that you have. But obviously, in many cases someone else, a CFO, a bookkeeper, a head of account services will be serving up that data to you which is exactly how it should be. You need to be a nimble and attentive leader. And when you have the time to do that, you can move your agency in the right direction and you can react to things very quickly.
The last two pieces that I have for you are very critical. The first one is you are the keeper of your agency’s vision. You need to know where you are taking the agency. You need to have a one-year plan, a three-year plan and you need to have milestones between now and the three-year or now and the one year of what you need to do episodically throughout that course of time to get where you want to go. And then you need to make sure that you share your vision inside your agency.
So remember, employees want very much to work for a place that has a purpose, that has a reason for existing and you need to be communicating that with your employees. And you’re going to have different levels of conversations around that with different employees. Obviously you and your leadership team are going to have different conversation than you are going to have with the rank and file. But you absolutely should be talking to everybody about it on a regular basis. Not once a year, not even twice a year. Minimum quarterly and ideally monthly. You will be driving people towards that vision because you are all looking at it in the exact same way and you are all looking in the same direction.
And last but certainly not least. You need to spend some time loving on your clients. Now this is not daily client work. This is not you taking change orders or working on their media. This is about you hanging out with the decision maker on the client side and doing something away from the office. So, it is golf, it’s the theater, it’s a ball game, a spa day, whatever you and the client like to do together. Maybe it is just lunch or drinks, but it is just you asking them, “Are we doing a great job?” “Are we exceeding your expectations?” “Is there anything else that my team can and should be doing for you?” But then also talking to them about their goals and how they are being evaluated and look for these great opportunities where you can tee up ways that you can make your client look like a super star and hopefully bring some more work back to the agency. But this is you talking business with your clients, helping them identify some of their bigger objectives and some of the obstacles that are in the way, and helping them figuring out how to move those obstacles so they can get to you and achieve and exceed those expectations.
I know that it sounds like a lot. I know not once did I say fill out a meeting report or call a client back, or do… run to the creative department to see how they are coming on an ad. Absolutely right I didn’t say that, because you know what? That should not be your job. And the longer you stay quagmired in account service, the more you have to acknowledge that you are choosing not to grow your agency. You simply cannot grow it if you are into day-to-day weeds and if you are creating the bottle neck.
So I really welcome you to give this some thought, to maybe make some minor small little time management tweaks in your day. So again, even if you just build in a half an hour a day for new business right now and sort of exercise that muscle a little bit, and maybe you start these one-on-ones with your direct reports. And by the way, you have your leadership team doing this with their direct reports.
This should be something that is infused throughout your entire organization. And maybe set up some coffees or drinks, or golf, or whatever with some of your best clients in the next month or two to have that conversation with them and to let them know how much you appreciate them. And to be able to say to them, “You know what? Here is what we love about you as a client. You allow us some creative freedom. You don’t have unreasonable deadlines.” Whatever it is you love about them. And then say, “Is there somebody else you know like you that would be a great fit for us?” There is nothing wrong with having that conversation either.
But loving on your clients, having the one-on-ones and getting out of the day-to-day business, if you concentrate on that, then you can circle back around with the visioning and some of the other things. Don’t wait too long. I am talking months, not years. But please, start to migrate yourself over to this job description model where you are really doing what you are best at, which is leading the troops, which is thinking big picture and vision sort of things. It is about connecting with clients. It is about bringing in new and better, and bigger clients in the door, but it is not servicing clients.
I hope this podcast on how you manage your client work and how spend your time at your agency was helpful. I’d love to hear from you, firstname.lastname@example.org. if you have questions or if you disagree or agree, we’d love to hear from you. And next week, I will be back with another guest who is going to have some pragmatic, practical things to talk about to help you make your agency bigger, better, stronger and more fun to work at for you. Because you know what, again, you are taking all the risks. You should get the upside too. That is what I want for you. Thanks for hanging out with me today. I will talk to you soon.
That is all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you are there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.