3 Steps to Stop Inflicting Help On Your Agency Team

The aroma of vegetable soup wafted up the stairs to my office. Moments later, my wife called, “Dinner’s ready!” “Mmmmm … I love homemade soup,” I thought. Rushing down the stairs and past the pantry, I spied a tube of crackers, grabbed them, and headed for the dining room. My wife sat at the table, waiting for me, smiling. Her smile vanished as she saw the tube of crackers. “Oh, this isn’t good enough? I really tried to get everything you like. I even brought out the oyster crackers …” Confused, I looked at her. Then, I looked at the table. She had arranged a beautiful spread of crackers, sliced cheese, chips & dips, salsa, veggies and grilled sandwiches to go with our soup. And there I stood, tube of crackers in hand, inflicting help. Acting Without Asking Inflicting help occurs when the helper acts in a way they feel as helpful but the recipient does not. It often stems from the helper not asking if, how or when someone would like to be helped. Instead, the helper jumps in and acts without asking. “But, I was only trying to help!” I was trying to comfort her. “I didn’t know you had all this out. I smelled the soup, saw the crackers, and grabbed them to be helpful.” We quickly sorted things out and went on to have a great meal together. Looking back, it was an interesting interaction, and it holds some lessons for agency managers. Because too often, well-meaning agency owners or managers inflict help on their teams. And when we realize what we’ve done, we might exclaim, “But, I was only trying to help!” Step One — Stop and Look Inflicting help is almost [...]

By |July 31st, 2018|

Hey agency owner — are you noticing the signs?

I’m writing this note from South Africa, where I am on a photo safari vacation with my daughter. We’ve spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill and even some mating leopards! (And yes...that elephant is THAT much bigger than that Land Cruiser!) I’ve been fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scan the dirt for tracks, examine the foliage to look for breaks and even test the temperature of dung to determine what animals are nearby and how long ago they came through.   The clues are so subtle that it’s amazing when they spot them. But the rewards that come from that attention to minute detail is the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) or it being just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off.  I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting?  I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present.  Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to is the speed at which they work.  Slowly.  Sometimes painstakingly slowly.  As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning.  But then I began to understand the method to their madness and saw [...]

By |July 24th, 2018|

Can You Keep A Secret? Nondisclosure Agreements in the Agency-Client Relationship

Creative agencies such as marketing firms, website developers, and advertising and design groups can often be reluctant to approach the issues of confidentiality and intellectual property rights ownership with prospective business clients. Those who set agency policies may feel that asking for a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) is too off-putting during business development discussions – as if bringing up such matters might sully the burgeoning trust that is being established in the working relationship and create an uncomfortable tension. Others feel that such agreements aren’t actually enforceable (yes, they are), or that a prospective client will always refuse to sign them (some will sign, some won’t). While some of these concerns are well founded, there are good reasons why creative agencies should still pursue a nondisclosure agreement. Let’s take a look at three of those reasons, below. Three Reasons Your Agency Should Utilize a Nondisclosure Agreement First, a nondisclosure agreement sends the professional message that the Agency respects the confidentiality of all parties involved. Integrity always makes a company shine brighter, don’t you think? How can an NDA protect everyone? Simply make the confidentiality provisions mutual so that both the client and the Agency are protected. In this way, the Agency’s client feels valued and is also subconsciously reminded that he or she is working in a private relationship. Secondly, an NDA offers a convenient opportunity to address rights ownership issues in writing prior to a pitch, proposal, or a new business discussion. Many agencies worry about protecting their intellectual property during the new business process as well. A mutual nondisclosure agreement can include helpful language about the Agency’s rights to the concepts and work it discloses, prior to actual engagement by the client. Thirdly, a [...]

By |July 10th, 2018|

How to Position Your Agency for Success

Every day across the globe, agencies are working hard to differentiate their clients and help drive their clients’ growth. These agencies use the art and science of positioning to help their clients stand out from competition in an important and authentic manner. Sadly, most of the agencies doing this fine work have not worked the same positioning magic for themselves, in spite of the fact that they compete with dozens—if not hundreds—of other agencies on a daily basis. There is an abundance of talented and effective agencies who have failed to differentiate themselves. As a result, they are missing out on the significant (and very profitable) growth opportunities triggered by a compelling brand position. So, how to position your agency for success? Let’s talk about it. The Challenges of Agency Growth As you no doubt know, there are numerous challenges when it comes to growing an agency today. These challenges include: • More competition • Greater complexity • Difficulty expressing the uniqueness of your agency • A more educated and informed buyer who does his/her agency research without your knowledge Most agencies face these challenges. There is, however, an opportunity to address these challenges by positioning your agency in a truly unique, compelling and differentiated fashion. In this paper we will share the learning we have regarding how to create such a differentiated position for any agency by leveraging best practices that we have learned from our 28 years of agency related consulting. The Great Agencies of Old Most agencies today face the challenge of how to effectively position their firm and how to present their agency in a compelling, client-centric manner. It was not always like this! The great agencies of old stood for [...]

By |June 5th, 2018|

Sharing Agency Performance Goals—It Changes Everything

If you’re operating your agency with the goal of achieving the performance metrics of 55/25/20 recommended by the AMI, it’s easy to see in any given month just how well the agency is performing. Those three numbers should be the basis to guide your decisions on everything from personnel to pencils. Setting goals is great, sharing agency performance goals though, that has the power to change everything. One of the most important questions agency owners should be asking themselves is a simple one: How many of your agency staffers understand or are even aware of those numbers and how they drive a healthy, sustainable enterprise? Is it just a few—perhaps your finance person and your number one key executive? That’s the most common answer, and it’s also a big mistake. As an owner, if you’re hesitant to educate everyone in the agency about the numbers, you’re literally managing with one hand tied behind your back. Here’s how sharing agency performance goals changes everything, empowers your team, and sets an exciting path for the future. Sharing Agency Performance Goals—Financial Transparency Fuels a Growth Mindset In coaching sessions I have with agency owners, one of the first things I want to uncover is the owner’s comfort level with financial transparency. If the owner is new to AMI, I’ll take them though the metric; 55 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) is the target for the agency’s fully loaded compensation, 25 percent utilized for overhead, and 20 percent profit. For those who already know the formula, I work to understand just how deep this foundational knowledge runs throughout the agency. As an agency owner for 30+ years, I get the hesitancy about “opening the kimono.” A common concern [...]

By |May 29th, 2018|

You Must Treat Your Agency Like A Client To Truly Define It

In a saturated market of lookalikes, potential clients don’t want to hire the same agency everyone else is hiring; they want something different. To stand out and provide that experience to its clientele, an agency's leaders must identify what makes their point of view special and then use that differentiator to win new business. When our agency first began this process, we looked back to past experiences with clients and the common threads of those interactions. We discovered that we often helped clients optimize their marketing spend and focus on a different target audience than they thought they needed. The more we realized how effective this approach had become, the more we learned to match our clients’ return on investment to it. Eventually, that unique point of view led to our new tagline, "Create a love affair with your customer," which tells clients exactly how we can help in ways no one else can. Dare to be different. Agencies might provide similar services, but no two agencies are interchangeable. Consider this: If your agency exchanged logos with another, would anyone notice the difference? If not, you probably haven’t established the right point of view, which could be costing your new business clients -- as well as preventing your agency from owning its niche. None of us want to compete on price alone, however. “The cheap agency” is not a differentiator anyone covets. To provide the best service for a fair price, agencies must take a stand on what they do well and what they believe in. Sometimes, that means placing clients’ needs ahead of yours. No agency can serve every client equally well. By developing a standout point of view, agencies will naturally put off [...]

By |April 25th, 2018|

How To Level Up Your Agency And Gear Up For Growth

Doubling your agency’s size from roughly 35 employees to 65 employees serves as the leveling-up stage where you take on bigger and better clients (and often better employees to serve them). As an owner, you’re no longer in the weeds like you might have been with 12 to 35 employees. Instead, your main focuses are business development and finance. In my experience, business development is about making the C-level connections that drive business. It might occasionally require “roughing it” on the golf course or riding waves with an eclectic client, but keep an eye on the big picture: According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses created two-thirds of the jobs added in the last five years. You’re doing important work out there on the ninth hole. Sharing The Leadership Load When your agency reaches the 35-to-65-person stage, owners must be OK with being removed from the day-to-day decision-making loop. Your former department heads will probably become vice presidents to make room for more skilled and senior employees underneath them. While client satisfaction and retention remain important, a variety of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) will move into the spotlight. A team with diverse backgrounds and expertise will be especially driven by numbers, and you’ll often see incentive pay (likely in the form of a bonus program) directly tied to KPIs. Along with more rigid compensation structures, scaling up to the 35-to-65 stage requires structured responsibilities, and the agency becomes almost like a factory in terms of how jobs are brought in and where they’re assigned to from there. This doesn’t mean saying goodbye to creativity; it means, instead, that onboarding work and accomplishing it on time (and on budget) must now become [...]

By |April 18th, 2018|

The Work-Life Balance is Dead: How to Achieve Perfect Work-Life Blend with Scott Beebe

The work-life balance is dead in 2018: it’s time to work towards work-life blend. When I was a kid, my “work dad” would come home from the bank in his three-piece suit and he’d go upstairs and my “home dad” would come downstairs in jeans, looking for his martini and the download of our day while my mom cooked dinner. Sounds very Leave it to Beaver, doesn’t it? It really was. My dad didn’t have a computer or a cell phone. I can remember the only time the office called him at home – the bank building was on fire. But other than that – there was complete separation of work and home life. We do not have that luxury. We carry our laptops home and even when we don’t, that pocket-sized computer means we can work 24/7.   At best, we can strive for work-life blend. Our personal lives will seep into the work day and our work will seep into our personal time. But for many agency owners, what that translates to is that you are always on and always working. That’s not only unhealthy for you but it’s unhealthy for your business. You can’t grow your agency if you have to do everything that’s mission critical. Everyday I talk to agency owners who bemoan the fact that they can’t get everything done because they are too entrenched in working in the business, which means they do not have the time they need to work on the business. If you hear yourself saying (or thinking) “I am the only one who can do XYZ” then you know your agency is broken. Whether you’ve hired super junior people and then not invested in them [...]

By |March 8th, 2018|

Your boat can only carry so much weight

Agency owners are, for the most part, some of the bravest people I know.  They have put everything on the line to start/own their agency and every day, they face and move past tough decisions. But if there’s an Achilles Heel for most owners, it’s the staffing issue, especially if your agency has hit a rough spot. It’s ironic but in a typical agency, the higher a person’s salary, the less billable client work they do. They’re running a department, doing admin work or chasing after new clients more than serving your clients. I’m not suggesting their work isn’t valuable. It just isn’t billable. What balances that out is that most of your younger, less expensive employees are very billable. Their billable hours cover the non-billable hours of the more senior staff.  If you look at all of the hours your agency employees (including the owner) works — you need to be at 60% billable overall.  Most agencies struggle to get into the 50-55% range.  Which is why you aren’t making the kind of money you’d like to make. Unfortunately, many of you are out of proportion. You’re over-staffed in general and in particular, you’re top heavy. You might have a large leadership team or multiple owners. On top of that — you’ve got an employee or two (or more) who have been with you for a very long time. You’ve given them regular raises and now, if you’re honest with yourself, they’re overpaid.  Odds are, their skills sets and energy aren’t really what they used to be. But you feel a loyalty to them and so they stay. You’ve been okay with a net profit that’s nowhere near the ideal range and you’ve stayed [...]

By |February 6th, 2018|