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.
We’re all blogging, writing newsletters, trying to speak at conferences, etc. We’ve got content coming out of our ears but content does not equal thought leadership. If you and 1,000 other agencies all blogged about the new Pantone color of the year — that’s content, not thought leadership. No one is going to pay you to create that. But genuine thought leadership that makes me better at my job? Now that you can get paid for! Think about how much more motivated you and your team would be if your content actually made you money and helped your clients as well. Check out an article I wrote about thought leadership and the fine line we walk to get it right. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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.