We always have choices

I’ve been recording the video lessons for our new Foundations mini course (for agency owners in their first 5 years of existence) and I’m noticing there is a recurring theme woven into a lot of what I am teaching. Choice.  And for every choice, there is a consequence. I think we forget how fortunate we are to have as much control as we do over our own destiny.  We sometimes respond or act as though the world is whipping us around and we’re not able to get what we want, but often that is because of the choices we’ve made. We decide: If our agency is back at the office or still working virtually Who our agency serves The kinds of people we hire How much money we make (are you going to enforce change orders or be overstaffed, etc.) If we’re closed for the week between Christmas and New Year’s How robust our 401K program is If we have enough prospects in the pipeline (never forget — this is a choice) Can we as owners truly disconnect from the business while on vacation You get the idea.  We talk about many of the above items as though they’re being done to us.  I think it’s healthy to remember that we as agency owners actually control how things play out in our shops.  If you don’t like an outcome — odds are you need to do or decide something different. Now, choice does not come without its little sister — consequence.  Every choice we make yields a new consequence and sometimes more than one.  I am not suggesting this is simple or easy.  But I am reminded you (and me too!) that if there’s something [...]

Are your clients thankful for you?

In a previous newsletter I told you about a business partner that was making it tough to love them because we were paying the price for their growth through mistakes, lack of attention to detail, and dropped balls. That triggered a series of emails from some of our other partners who asked, “was that about us?”  The answer in all cases was no because I had forewarned the partner who inspired the article so they already knew.  But the fact that so many had to ask got me thinking. A few thoughts…  If you aren’t 100% positive that your clients are happy, you should ask.  Ideally, through a third-party who can get past the “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” stage but even if you ask them yourself — don’t wait until you get some hint of trouble like a purposefully vague newsletter article. When you hear “everything is okay” the translation is everything is actually not okay.  It means there’s room for improvement. You’re at risk if you are okay.  Dig deeper into any “okay” or “fine” responses you get. You want an ecstatic response, not a lukewarm one.  Okay is lukewarm at best. As Maya Angelou said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Man, does that matter.  You can do everything well or right and if your client doesn’t believe you genuinely care about them and their business, it isn’t enough.  On the flip side — when your client does know how much you care, you earn a lot of grace for when things do not go according to plan. Does your [...]

RE:Think Innovation is the book you need to read right now!

I'm not that definitive about a specific book as a general rule, so you know this one is special. But if there’s anything I know about 2021 and beyond — the agencies and organizations who consistently deliver big and bold ideas that solve new problems are the ones who are going to win the day. We've always known this truth.  If there’s one thing every agency has to be able to do, it’s innovate. We are paid to be creative thinkers on command. We have to be able to generate ideas on a regular basis that serves both the agency and our clients. But now -- in 2021? It's survival.  Both for our agencies and the clients we serve. One of the biggest challenges in terms of being able to do this consistently is that it’s usually only the agency owner or a handful of leaders who can do this work. What if everyone in the agency had the skills and confidence to be an innovative thinker? We’re reinventing everything right now and what an amazing time to be front and center with ideas that will light the way. Carla Johnson’s brilliant book RE:Think Innovation will remind you that you were born with the ability to innovate but it got dampened along the way. Fortunately — Carla wrote this to show you how to awaken it in yourself and your entire team. This book will show you how to do it, how to teach it and how to sustain and scale it. The book launches today… and you can get all kind of goodies if you order today! To hear my podcast interview with Carla, go here. To register for the workshop Carla and I [...]

Your Biggest Roadblock

Last week’s newsletter about many agency owners needing a break and using the summer lull to replenish yourself so you’re ready to push seemed to strike a nerve.  I heard back from many of you that you’re pretty sure I am spying on you through the window or have bugged your office.  (I promise — neither!) Here’s the sad part of all of that.  Most of you won’t get away.  You believe you can’t leave or the sky will fall.  For every one of you that will book the flight, rent the cabin, or plan the spa day — there will be far more of you who just keep gutting it out and getting more worn down each day. The biggest roadblock that is preventing you from replenishing yourself is you. This isn’t about the money.  You don’t have to spend a dime to re-charge.  Take a week off and take your kids to the local pool, museums, and parks.  Sleep late, read a trashy novel and binge watch something.  Go visit your parents and let them spoil you rotten.  Whatever it takes — just give yourself a breather. I really want to challenge your belief that the agency cannot survive without you for a few days.  Your team will rise to the occasion. Your clients will understand that you can’t work 365 days a year.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finally convinced an agency owner to take some time away and after they return, they’re so proud of their crew and how they tackled whatever came their way.  Not only do you need the respite, but your employees need to know you have confidence in their abilities.  Hand them the [...]

Why automation is your greatest ally – if you use it right

Marketing automation encompasses many different applications, including automated lead nurturing campaigns and personalised touchpoints, among others. The key is to determine what makes the most sense for your company initiatives and follow these three steps to build rapport and provide value to potential clients throughout the sales process. In this piece I recently contributed to MarketingTechNews.net I discuss how when used properly, marketing automation can make your sales process more efficient and scalable.

Building Trust When Faced with Ambiguity

Navigating ambiguity is a primary concern for any leader. When the world is changing around us at an unprecedented rate, even the best leaders may struggle to set priorities, communicate clearly, and drive the vision. Nothing splinters clarity like the urgency of our recent global pandemic, and when ambiguity goes unchecked for many months, trust in leadership will crater. In this uncertain climate, it has never been more important for businesses to build trust.  Without a clear plan, employees get confused, lose productivity, and feel less committed to the company and to their morals. In the absence of clear expectations, trust between leaders and team members inevitably breaks down. Leadership teams that don’t achieve alignment may end up executing entirely disconnected visions. This leads to more ambiguity, loss of trust, and a never-ending downward spiral. Trust is the antidote to uncertainty. An explicit focus on building trust is the only way to successfully lead through ambiguity. Here are four ways to tackle ambiguity by actively building trust: Share “the Why”  So often on a demanding project, communication is the first thing on the chopping block, sacrificed to the demands of speed and deadlines. Urgency serves as justification for not taking time to communicate critical information. One of the first to go tends to be “the why.” In other words, why are you making one choice over another? Why are you taking one person off of the project and leaving the team to pick up slack, for example? When people don’t understand the rationale behind their leader’s actions, trust goes out the window.  In the absence of a clear explanation, people will always gravitate toward the most negative possible interpretation. Not only will trust go down, [...]

Are you tired?

We’re about to round second base on the year and kick off towards home plate. Does the idea of pushing yourself to accelerate and notching it up a gear seems daunting right now? Are you tired? You’ve been pushing hard since mid-January and my guess is that your tank is about out of gas. Before you round that bend, you might need to re-fuel. Not sure if you’re running on fumes? Look for these signs: It’s tougher to get excited about new work, email inquiries, or even awesome client results. Your attention span is shrinking. Every shiny object, squirrel, and Netflix series is calling your name. You’re not walking the agency as much (if you're back in the office) — when you get in, you isolate yourself and hunker down in your office. You’re having a hard time getting revved up to chase new opportunities. You aren’t as productive. Just getting through your must do list is a bit of a struggle. Many of you will misinterpret these signs as indicators of age, waning interest, or perhaps that it’s time to hang up your cleats. For 99% of you, that’s just not the case. It just means you’re tired and need to recharge. Agency owners are not so great at that, so you need to be intentional about it. Here’s how to get the energy you need to round the bend and finish strong. Plan a getaway to someplace that will fill you up. Based on budget, family responsibilities, health issues or other factors — this is going to be very unique to you. But every single one of you has the capacity to get away for a few days, unplug and reboot. Your agency [...]

How comfortable are you with discomfort?

When we think back on those first few years of owning an agency, somehow the tough parts get muted. We remember the late-night pizza strategy sessions and the euphoria of signing that first big deal. But somehow we forget being one mistake or choice away from having to call it quits. That period of discomfort — though some of it was genuinely painful — helped us transform a mere idea into a real, living thing that served real, living people. Yes, we made mistakes in those early days, but we also took creative leaps into the dark, solved problems every day, and instilled happiness in others. In doing so, we changed the world just a little bit. That is the power of discomfort. We took those leaps of faith because we had everything to lose if we played it safe. The risk seemed like the least risky choice of all. I wrote about the need to get comfortable with discomfort for Smart Insights. What are you doing to stay uncomfortable? How do you help your team get comfortable with the discomfort? I’d love to hear your thoughts.   This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

How are agencies making money these days?

I get asked some variation of this question every single day. Successful, profitable agency owners ask it. Agency owners that are struggling with having their work commoditized ask it. What they’re really asking me is “what are agencies selling that is profitable” but of course the answer is much more complicated than that. The answer is some agencies are making money selling everything from print ads, brochures, Google Adwords, strategic planning, package design, branding, and everything in between. Other agencies are fighting to hold their head above water, selling the same list of services. It’s not as simple as knowing that clients are hungry to buy crisis communications plans (which they are, btw) and beating the streets with that offer. If your agency is bloated with too many people or your ability to accurately estimate and track a project’s profitability in real time is non-existent, it doesn’t matter what you sell. But, let’s assume you have the right people in the right seats and you have systems in place to make sure you get paid what the project is worth. (Both criteria are topics for another conversation down the road). Now — what’s the short answer to that complicated question? What agencies seem to be able to sell for a premium price these days (in no particular order): Amazon ads and product placement on Amazon Employee recruiting campaigns Direct mail campaigns with a digital overlay Video (ideation, creation, publishing) A paid social media strategy Research and all of the tactics that are borne from those new insights What I think agencies should be selling more of and earning a premium price: The creation and management of a true content strategy where the brand thinks of [...]

After A Brutal Year For Everyone, What’s Next For Agencies?

The year 2020 was an arduous journey for agencies, so I know that you feel completely overwhelmed. Now isn't the time for more to-do list tasks - it's time for some acknowledgment. In this piece I recently contributed to MediaPost.com I discuss reflecting back on 2020 to realize your accomplishments, take a rejuvenating break, and when you're ready how you can prepare to start 2021 off strong.

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