I have had several phone conversations lately with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared about business development. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their new business activity, they all admitted that they’d taken their foot off the pedal. Sure — they all had great reasons why they didn’t do the follow-up or initiate the new tactic. You know what I’m going to say because you’ve said it to yourself. There will always be another reason/excuse. There’s always a fire to put out or something to be done internally. You have to carve out the time to work your new business plan and protect it like it’s your favorite kid’s birthday. It’s too easy to slide backward and once you lose the momentum, it’s back to the starting gate. Like exercise, it’s a lot easier if you work the muscle on a regular basis. By the way, this is never going to happen by accident or wishing. If you don’t calendar it out, your day is never going to suddenly free up. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I’m a big fan of the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s a business parable that outlines a systematic way (EOS or the Entrepreneurial Operating System) of running any business. It’s incredibly well suited for agencies, because it forces a discipline onto a leadership team that is often plagued with wearing too many hats, running from fire to fire every day, and a tendency to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects. The result of the hats, fires, squirrels and shiny objects is that many internal projects (how long did it take you to deploy your agency’s last website) get delayed or never get done. At AMI, we weave a lot of Traction’s elements into our coaching and when our clients look back over the previous twelve months, they are astonished at how much they accomplished. The EOS methodology leverages the power of focus and shared accountability and man, does it work! If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’ve had internal projects (revising processes, an employee handbook, updating your website, improving your agency’s marketing or business development efforts, etc.) that are dragging on and on. We'll be talking about some of the Traction principles at our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) workshop and how they intersect with you making more money every month/year. It’s designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with two full days of learning the tricks and tips on how to operate your agency for maximum profit using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
When you’ve worked in your own agency for 20+ years, it’s hard to fathom doing something different. And yet, we all have that vague (or not so vague) impression that we’re working and planning for something. Some talk about retiring in the traditional sense. Other agency owners talk about the next chapter — be it teaching, writing a book or going on the speaking tour. Others have aspirations that are a complete 180-degree shift from where they are today. Wineries, B&Bs, and other dreams loom large among my agency owner clients. I’m currently working with several owners who are in the process of thinking through/planning for that transition. Most of them are in their 50s. No — they don’t want out any time soon. But they realize that this is not the sort of thing that should be left to the last minute. I’ve never had an agency owner say, “Gee, I want to sell my agency” and voila in 12 months, they were sipping a Mai Tai on a beach with their buy out money. Ideally, you’d give yourself about a ten-year ramp to go from initial thoughts to closing the deal. And by the way, closing the deal for many of you will simply be to pick a retirement date and lock the door behind you. That requires it’s own plan so don’t think you’re off the planning hook. Other than waiting too long to get started, the biggest mistake I see agency owners make is that they don’t know what that next chapter is going to be. It’s pretty tough to get excited about walking away from your baby if you don’t have something new and exciting to look forward to exploring. [...]
For most agency owners, one of their biggest fears is losing that key employee who helps you run the show. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it’s a fair concern. Many long- term agency employees are being lured away by the stability of a corporate job or the thrill of a start-up. I did a podcast about how many agency owners consider offering minority partnerships as a way to lock in that senior team member. That podcast triggered a lot of conversation on social media and among some of our coaching clients. Forbes also found the topic of interest and asked me to put together some questions that owners should ponder before they extend that offer. The article that resulted from that exploration is here. I’d love to know what else you think should be part of the consideration set. Not to change the subject, but we're fast approaching the holiday season. Have you taken a break, enjoyed your family and friends and just unplugged for more than a weekend? If not, you have 6 weeks before the end of the year. Don’t miss the opportunity. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
We're getting ready to head into a long holiday weekend. Are you planning on unplugging? Really unplugging? I'm talking about focusing on recharging your battery, investing in your family and friends, and most importantly — doing something that makes you feel like a priority. Don’t worry — I am not giving up AMI and going into the Oprah business. I swear — this is very relevant to my day job. In fact, it may be one of the most important best practices that I preach. Agency owner/leader burn out is one of the biggest threats to the health of your agency. You have to understand your role in the agency. You are the epicenter. Your energy, your focus, and your contributions are what set the course. When you let yourself get too weary, too burdened or too overwhelmed — everyone feels it. They may not be able to articulate what they sense, but it absolutely changes the dynamics in your shop. I just had this conversation with two of our coaching clients — I believe your #1 obligation as an agency leader is to make sure you stay replenished, refreshed and that your head/heart is in a very good place. That does not happen by accident. Is protecting your state of mind a conscious part of your week? None of these things will happen if you don't commit to them, which means putting them on your calendar and paying for them in advance. We all know what happens to an open hour on your calendar. Here are some suggestions: Weekly: (3 measly hours) Take 15 minutes to write in a gratitude journal every day. You'll be stunned at how powerful this is Take an exercise [...]
Many agency owners and leaders ask me about the AMI networks so I thought I would explain them here in my weekly note to all of you. Very few people in your life truly understand the unique challenges and potential of running a small to mid-sized agency. If you’ve got a partner or two — you can kick ideas back and forth, but you’re all inside the same bottle. And just like we tell our clients — you can’t objectively see or describe the outside of the bottle from inside. This is why our agency owner peer networks are the cornerstone of AMI. By joining a network you get the best of both worlds. You get that outside perspective you really need but from someone who walks in your shoes every day. Each one has a mix of advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing shops, digital marketing, and design firms with the desire and drive to grow their business to the next level. Only one company from any specific geographic market or niche specialty is admitted to a network. This allows you to collaborate with people outside your bottle – to gain new perspectives and share ideas with other driven and passionate agency owners. The network is truly a safe and open harbor where valuable business connections and lifelong friendships develop. The networks meet in person twice a year (for 2 full days + dinner on the night before we start) and stay in touch throughout the year. They share resources, partner on business, seek counsel and enjoy each other’s support, and when needed, a kick in the pants. Your network becomes your advisory team, sounding board, and a group of great friends. At the in-person [...]
I don’t know a single agency owner who does not lament over the lack of time. Every one of us faces a daunting To-Do list and there are very few days when you push away from the desk and think “Wow, I covered it all today.” I am not going to promise you a magical solution to wiping out your To-Do list. But I can help you put a serious dent into it. The only way I’ve discovered to be uber-productive is to be ruthless with your mornings. For the last few months, I’ve been conducting an experiment. On the days where I carved out 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time in the morning, I crushed my list. On the days that I started with calls, meetings, or checking my email — I got significantly less done. Every night, I write down the three biggest things I need to accomplish the next day. I would get up and be working by 7 am and work for 2-3 hours without checking email, voicemail or picking up the phone/texts, etc. On my power mornings (as I’ve come to refer to them) I could usually get at least two of the three accomplished. I have a lot of all-day meetings so on those days, I might only get an hour in. But I’d try to knock out at least one of my must-dos before the meeting started. Now that I know the value of these morning sprints, I am marking off my calendar to protect that time as many days a week as I can. It’s a work in progress but the more I do it, the better my outcomes. The trick is the solitude. No team, no [...]
For many of you, the biggest pain point you are facing today is attracting and retaining talent. Agencies are really struggling to find strong prospects for their open positions and to keep their best players. I’ve even had agency owners tell me that they’re taking their foot off the new business gas pedal because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get the work done because of the staffing challenges. All of that means keeping the best players you already have on the team takes on an added importance. You can’t afford to lose a key teammate or be shorthanded. I spend a fair amount of time with agency employees and I think you might be surprised at what they want from you. They want: More mentorship from you (they want to learn from you because they admire your abilities) More training (this was their #1 criteria for job satisfaction) like digital certifications and our AE bootcamps More feedback when they’re trying something new More praise when they’re meeting or exceeding your expectations An opportunity to earn more (through defined, goal-centric bonus programs) when the agency does well A chance to stretch themselves with new challenges and by developing new skills As you can see, most of what they’re looking for won’t cost you a dime. But it will cost you some time and attention. I know what your days are like because my days are like that too. Don’t let your busyness cost you a key employee. Find ways to deliver on the list above to keep your team stable, happy and strong.
No one buys homeowners insurance because they actually expect to have a fire at their house. But they know if they wait until there’s a fire, it’s too late. So, on the very first day of homeownership — they buy the insurance as well, hoping they never have to use it. For some reason, agency owners don’t always apply this same logic to their business. If you have any sort of partner (minority, silent, 50/50, etc.) you need to have insurance in case that partnership goes south. Hopefully, it will never happen but an illness, a divorce, a midlife crisis or a myriad of other things could put your business in harm’s way. Without the proper partnership documents that outline how you handle any threat to the agency — you can be left holding the bag. I’ve had many conversations with owners over the years who find themselves in a position they’d have sworn could not happen. And yet it did. A good partner will welcome this conversation and exercise. After all, they’re at risk if you’re the one who gets sick, goes off the deep end or has personal issues that trickle into the agency. If you’re a 50/50 partner, your documents should also outline how to settle disputes when the two of you are on opposite sides of an issue and neither is budging. Don’t be the person standing on their lawn, watching their house burn to the ground, all the while wishing they’d purchased the insurance. Protect your partnership now — when there are no issues, problems or worries. It’s a much easier conversation to have when you can’t imagine ever needing it.
I have yet to meet an agency owner who did not have a generous spirit. Whether your clients live in your community or not, every agency I know does a ton of pro bono work for the non-profits in their area. My agency has always been that way too. But I have to admit, I got tired of always being asked and feeling like a jerk when I had to say no. On top of that, I felt that in most cases, we were just slapping a bandaid on the non-profit’s issue. A run logo here or a golf tournament t-shirt design there or even a simple website now and then. But I never felt like we were leaving a true mark — I couldn’t see how we were deeply improving the non-profit in the long run. So I created a completely different way of approaching pro bono work. A way that allowed us to create events that attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars to some of the charities — year after year. Long after we were done working with them, they were still reaping the benefits. And we got a little publicity for our efforts as well. I described the pro bono transformation we experienced in an article for Hubspot and I’d love to hear what you think. I believe we can do good, make it really last, and benefit from it as well. I love that combination!