You know those days or that meeting or event where, when it’s over, you think to yourself... “That was so awesome. I love days like today. We totally knocked it out of the park and I feel so energized and pumped. What a great day!” What makes a day that kind of day for you? Are you putting together a new service offering for the agency? Creating a financial dashboard for your leadership team? Tinkering with the code on a new site? Representing your agency by serving on a prominent board? Mentoring some young talent in your shop or are you developing a new brand for a client? Whatever it is, and it’s going to be different for each of you — that’s your zone. That’s the kind of work that fills your bucket and energizes you. And odds are, you don’t get to do it very often. Agency owners have a pretty long list of must-dos. But one of your must-dos should be getting into your zone. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you get to spend all of your days doing client work. There’s plenty of work that only you can do and you have a responsibility to do it. But I do think you need to know what connects you to the business and what makes you fall in love with the business all over again — and be sure you don’t rob yourself of that experience. I’d love it if you’d take some time to identify your own zone. Once you know what it is — figure out how to get a taste of it once or twice a month. Plan for it. Calendar it if you can. Make [...]
Being an agency owner is tough in today’s world. Clients and employees are more fickle and demanding, the margins get tighter as you try to keep everyone happy and well cared for, and the learning curve is steep. I get all of that — both from my own reality as an agency owner and from working with 250 or so of you every year. But, on those days when you want to sell your shop for a nickel or as April 15th approaches and you’re writing the IRS a check for their pound of flesh, I want you to slow down and look at your world from a different perspective. First — I want you to remember all of the ways your agency funds your life. I’m a big fan of doing what I call a Total Compensation Report for our employees at the end of every year. This report adds up ALL of the ways your people get compensated from their salary, costs of benefits, time off, perks, etc. Many of your people have no idea how well they are being paid. The truth is the same for you. You think about the money you take home in a paycheck or dividend but you forget about all the other ways your business provides for you. One the tough days, I think it is a very healthy exercise to add up all the ways your agency pays you, from paycheck to travel to cell phone to all the other perks that come with the business. When you see that number (and for most of you, the salary part is one of the smaller components) — it makes the rough days a little easier. But, it’s [...]
I don’t believe there is an ideal size for an agency. But there’s probably an ideal size for your agency, based on your goals, ambitions, age, client mix, and the role you want to play in your own shop. Whether you want to have no employees and just use contractors or you want an agency of 100+ FTEs — your structure needs to support the machine. As you grow your agency — the processes, systems, and roles that got you to that size will not survive the next evolution. Many agencies make the mistake of outgrowing their work systems without anticipating that they’re going to need to make changes as the headcount increases. I tackled this subject for Forbes and I’m hoping the article is useful to you. Be careful that you don’t equate growing your agency with growing the number of bodies in your shop. That’s certainly one way to grow. But, growth doesn’t have to mean more people. It can be about better efficiency, better profitability, or new services. So no matter how you grow, recognize that things need to change to support the shift. Otherwise, things break down. It’s like being a teenager and going through a growth spurt but trying to squeeze into your elementary school clothes. Pretty soon, the seams can’t take it anymore and embarrassing things happen. The same is true for your agency. You don’t want your hard work to accidentally result in a faux pas that costs you money, a team member, or a client.
Our business is rife with myths. What clients will and won’t do. Which channels are dead long before they are dead. But the one that I think is most dangerous to your business is that it can’t survive without you. I know too many agency owners and leaders who are afraid to leave the office for more than a day because they are convinced disaster will ensue. I am constantly encouraging agency owners to book the trip to Paris, to go on the African safari, or to take a few days off around their son’s graduation. Don't worry, I follow my own advice. This past Spring Break, despite a huge level of demand, I took the week off. In fairness, I worked a couple hours a day while the kids slept (young adults can be counted on for uninterrupted mornings!) but for the most part — I was “out of the office.” I slept more that week (11.5 hours one day alone!), put more steps on my Fitbit (we averaged 20K a day) and rejuvenated my energy. When I did sit down for those few hours to get something done — I was better, faster, and more efficient. Best of all, my team handled all of the fire drills, drama, and client issues that I thought I had to be around for. If you honestly believe your team can’t handle your absence — then it’s time to start training them to do just that. Here’s a smart way to ease them in. One day a week: Work from home, a coffee shop, or anywhere that you can be productive. Turn off your email notifications and your phone. Turn both on at lunch and at the [...]
A few of the agencies we’re working with have committed to building a leadership team and actually holding each other accountable (you all let each other off the hook way too often) for the internal goals they’d agreed needed to be tackled that quarter. So, how do you create that leadership team? It’s not about tenure or titles. It’s about who can actually advance your agency. Who is a holistic thinker, rather than protecting his/her department? Who offers off the wall solutions that force the entire group to step way out of their comfort zone? One of the best litmus tests? Who is an influential mentor inside your shop? Who loves to teach and celebrate others? Who lives your core values? Disregard age and title. Who is proving to you every day that they’re ready to lead? I got very prescriptive in an article I wrote for Spin Sucks so you can build a team around you that is equipped to take you and your agency further, faster. I’d love to hear if your leadership team strategy is aligned with mine or if you’ve taken a different approach. You can’t grow your agency alone. Grow your leadership team as you grow the agency. They'll serve each other (and you) well. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
In the last couple weeks, two agencies I’ve been working with onsite, every quarter wrapped up our first year together. As part of their homework, they had to prepare a PPT deck of every goal that they had crushed as a leadership team. I have to tell you — it was impressive. I take no credit for their efforts other than holding them as capable and accountable. They did all the hard work. I promise you, if I’d shown either agency owner the list of what they presented a year ago and promised them they’d get all of those items done (and done well) they would have laughed out loud. They’d never achieved so much in a mere 52 weeks before. So what was different? Their intentions. They entered into this year-long experiment by making a commitment to each other that they would not drop the ball or let each other off the hook. And they didn’t. Here’s what else made their efforts so successful. They didn’t over commit. One single focus per quarter and they weren’t allowed to chase any squirrels until their original commitment was complete. Regular accountability meetings. They met and reported on their progress. There was no tolerance for excuses, evasion, or the usual “well, we know you’ve been busy....” Measure what matters. We set up a list of metrics and they measured themselves against them every week. They were never surprised and they found that they anticipated shifts faster and better. They decided together which needs should get priority attention. There were no lone rangers, not even the owner. They worked in concert to assess what the agency needed most and what was needed to get it done. They stopped [...]
When I started my agency back in 1995, I was the perfect combination of arrogant and ignorant. “How hard can running an agency be?” I thought to myself. Well, as you might guess, I found out in a hurry. There were some terrifying “can I make payroll?” days and even more “I wonder how we should do....?” moments. I joined AMI (back then it was Agency Management Roundtable) back in 1999 and felt like I had been thrown a life jacket. I was surrounded by other agency owners who understood my world, had answers to my questions, and were happy to be the support system I needed. I learned best practices, a financial dashboard I could update and understand, and best of all — had a safe place to explore new ideas, share the stinkers and commiserate/celebrate depending on the day. That’s why I run AMI today. I get the power and value of a peer group that genuinely cares and a leader who understands the trends, teaches the best practices, and makes connections that lead to business growth and profitability. Everybody needs that kind of a life jacket, especially today. AMI has had agency owner peer groups that meet in person twice a year for over two decades. But that kind of travel and time commitment doesn’t work for everyone. So, we have an alternative — a virtual owner peer group. These groups are a little smaller (6 agencies) and meet monthly via Zoom, which we all should be proficient at by now. You’ll get the same leader-led discussions and coaching and I believe you will form the same kinds of bonds that our current peer group members enjoy. We offer them in multiple [...]
We are living through what feels like a surreal moment in time. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I have to stop and think “Is this real? Am I really on house arrest, wearing a mask to the grocery store, and feeling offended when someone stands within three feet of me?” It happened to me today. The weather has finally warmed up and I was in the backyard, trying to exhaust the puppy so I could get some work done. I took in a deep breath of fresh air, laughed at the puppy pouncing on the ball I’d thrown, and thought, “today is a good day.” It felt perfectly normal. And then I remembered. It’s like my mind knew I needed the break and so, for a moment or two, it gave it to me. This past week was the first time since COVID-19 really hit the US that I was not on the run from 7 am - midnight, or later. Like all of you I’ve been busy, I haven’t had time to react to the crisis and what it’s doing to our world, our industry, our agencies, and our families. Many of you had to scramble to get your team set-up to work from home and then you were dealing with the client pauses and cancellations and from there, you went right into applying for financial aid in whatever country you’re from. We’ve been so busy trying to keep our head above water, we haven’t had a moment to step back and process what is going on. But I expect that for many of you — that pause will come this week or next. And in that pause you [...]
I'm worried about you. I can feel the strain and stress when I talk to you or you ask a question in one of our open mic webinars or I get your text at 1 am because we're in different time zones and you can't sleep. The covid-19 crisis is a mother and there's not an agency on the planet that isn't feeling the effects. It's not all bad news. Many of you are busier than ever. Lots of agencies are hiring and every day, I get a text from an agency who landed a new account. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of you have watched 50% or more of your AGI walk out the door and you're wrestling with managing the agency to the numbers -- knowing that may mean you have to lay some people off, despite the Paycheck Protection Program loan. Most of you are somewhere in the middle. I see this in my own interactions with all of you and we saw it in the poll we took of about 125 agency owners, asking about the impact of covid-19 on their agency. All of you are used to dealing with tough times -- when a key employee walked out the door or your gorilla client gave notice. You weathered those situations and got your team through whatever came next. But part of what make that more palatable for you is that you knew what to expect. One of the most disconcerting aspects of our current crisis is the unknown. Agency ownership already has an element of that baked into it, but not like this. I think most agency owners are in a constant state (even if they're crazy [...]
In our owner peer group meetings, one of the things we always do is share a recommended app, tool or book. It’s a really easy way to discover some new ideas and tools for getting better without lots of trial and error. One must-read book has surfaced to the top over and over again and it’s become an instant classic among my agency owners. I hear them referencing the author’s terminology and more important — I hear them changing their communication patterns for the better. Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a framework that shows us how to be both a better boss and a better colleague. The book is packed with eye-opening truths and practical suggestions that will make you feel like she’s been spying on your office. You’re going to recognize yourself in many of her stories and examples and best of all — you’ll see the way to significantly improving how you work with others, give feedback and get the best from your team, your business partners, clients and yourself. Couple reading this book with starting the one on one employee meetings I keep harping about (because they are that important!) and you can have a great 2020! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.