I’m working with an agency owner to think through his exit strategy. He’s 52 years old and doesn’t want to retire for at least 15 years. You may think he’s crazy to be planning that far out but the crazy ones are actually the ones who wait too long. Because he’s ahead of the curve, he has the luxury of exploring all the options and laying the groundwork to keep those options open as his agency evolves and grows. I’ve seen so many agency owners who get close to their retirement age only to discover that they haven’t set up their business to be able to deliver what they would ideally like. The owner I’m working with now wants to sell his agency to an employee or group of employees. But there’s no one in his shop today that would be an ideal buyer. So we have to recruit/hire and train his eventual buyer. That doesn’t happen in a year or two. It’s definitely a long term strategy but because he’s starting so young, there’s no reason we can’t make it happen. We started our work by asking/answering some key questions. You might run yourself through these to see how many of them you can definitively answer. Do you want to sell the agency or is it your intention to use the agency as an ATM machine making as much money as possible each year, and grow your wealth outside the business? Do you want to completely exit the agency and be 100% retired (or doing something else)? If you want to retain some ownership — what would your involvement look like once you take on other owners? Do you want to build your agency [...]
I know it seems like common sense and your brain may agree — but your mouth often takes a different path. If you’re struggling to work with some of your team members, odds are you have not embraced the idea that employees need clarity. Truth be told — most agency leaders struggle with this, especially if they are offering constructive criticism or even tougher — disciplinary action. One group of employees that really needs you to get good at the whole clarity thing are your millennials. They come into your agency with very different ideas about how employees behave, what success looks like and how they can contribute. They’re eager but raw. But if you really find a way to be straightforward and very directive with your feedback, I think they will surprise you. Be it millennials or any other group of employees, agency owners and department heads can be vague, passive-aggressive, or just absent in their management style (you may well be the exception to the rule) and I think there are a few reasons for that. In a recent blog post, I dug into what gets in the way of us being more clear and then offered up some tools we can use to get better at it. Check it out and let me know what you think.
You've probably heard me say it a million times, but timesheets are the source of foundational data that you need to to run your agency in a fiscally responsible way. They may have nothing to do with billing. You can value price, project price or sell your work for chickens...that is not my point nor is it the reason timesheets matter. They matter because they are a measure of the efficiency and effectiveness of your team. Your people (W2 people) are your most expensive resource. If you do not know if you're using your resources well, if they are performing at a high level, or if/when you need to add more resources -- then you are operating your business in the dark. I totally get that no one likes timesheets. I have never met an agency employee or owner who does. But without them -- I promise you, you are leaving money on the table. Every month. Timesheets that are not done daily are 67% less accurate than daily timesheets. So let's assume (humor me) that you've decided that daily timesheets are a mission critical focus for the agency. You want to be able to use all of the other agency metrics that are based, at least in part, on timesheet data. But, your folks don't do their timesheets every day. Maybe they don't do them at all. Or, if you are like most agencies, most people do them once a week or so. But you always have some stragglers who are a few weeks out. How do you change the culture? I have seen many agencies from from zero to hero in this arena in 2-3 months using the carrot and stick combo I [...]
Many agencies are struggling with what I have termed “stale employees.” These are seasoned pros who have probably been with your agency for a long time. They were incredibly talented and valuable back in the day, but their skills have not evolved as your agency and the marketplace have. Odds are, they’re someone who has stuck by you through thick and thin as your agency has gone through its ups and downs. Which is why you’re ignoring the issue. But the truth is — this employee is typically one of your more expensive salaries and they are contributing less and less. Not only is this team member costing you money but odds are, they’re going to cost you some of your most valuable employees too. American Express’s Open Forum asked me to dig into the issue and offer some solutions. If you’ve dealt with a stale employee — I’d love to hear how you resolved it.
Given that it's the Monday after a holiday weekend, I have one question for you ... Where were you? Most agency owners can barely squeak out a long holiday weekend, let alone a family vacation. And even when you get away, you aren’t really disconnected. There are lots of issues with this reality and the costs are significant. It’s tough on your relationships, you’re super stressed, and if something doesn’t change... your agency isn’t sellable. But other than that, it’s a great strategy. So what do you do about it? That’s what iMedia asked me to write about and my answer was — you embrace the 50-20-30 rule. In the article, I describe how I believe agency owners should be spending their time and how to actually own a business as opposed to just having a stressful job. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon. Click here to register.
Most agencies use the the accrual basis method of accounting because it aligns more closely with how our businesses actually run and gives the agency owner more realistic numbers and metrics, so their decisions are better informed throughout the year. In the cash method of accounting – the day a business gets a check or cash from the client, it recognizes the revenue. This works well in a retail world. I walk into the grocery store. I pick up milk and bread and give the cashier some money. At that point, they have actually earned that money. Our transaction is complete. But in our world – in many cases, when a client gives us money, we haven’t actually earned that money. If the client asked for the retainer or the media pre-payment back, we have to return the money because it’s not ours yet. We haven’t done the work. But in the accrual model of accounting, transactions are accounted for when the transaction occurs or is earned, regardless of when the cash is paid or received. (Note: most agencies convert to cash for tax purposes.) Let’s play this out. You send a client an invoice for $30,000 which is 50% of a project’s fee, after they sign the scope of work. They send you a check. Your bookkeeper should book that $30,000 as a liability. Again – if they ask for the money back the next day, you owe them the $30,000. If your bookkeeper books that as a sale or revenue (like they would in the cash method) it would tell a lie. It would say that you did $30,000 worth of work in that month and you can spend that money without risk [...]
If your advertising agency culture sits on either end of two extremes, you don’t need an engagement survey or a high-priced consultant to confirm your reality. You can feel the energy when things are amazing, and you can smell the stench when things are rotting away in your business. But what if things are somewhere in between? What if you’re unsure if things are heading in the right direction? Or what if you’re confident they’re really good, but you want a heads-up before you suddenly realize you’re whiffing six-day old cod? You might need that engagement survey, and you may need that consultant. In the meantime, here are three danger signs that will tell you if your advertising agency culture is in trouble: YOU’RE EXPERIENCING "MEGO" A journalist friend once had an editor who routinely rejected poorly written copy because it produced what he called MEGO – My Eyes Glaze Over. In other words, it was boring. Are your organization’s vision, mission, and values creating MEGO? When you read the statements to employees, do they say, “Yes! That describes us so well!”? Or do they roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, right. That’d be nice.”? It’s great to have statements that set the bar high, but most employees have a pretty sophisticated BS meter. If you acknowledge the gaps between where your advertising agency culture is and where you and others want to take it, most employees will help you make it happen. If you’re trying to prop up your culture with $10 words, however, you’ll lose respect and trust. YOU’RE BEGGING FOR RECRUITS When your culture is strong, healthy, and vibrant, your employees become your best recruiters. They sing the company’s praises every chance [...]
The tone and outcome of the sales conversation are set into motion by how well you uncovered your prospect's needs early on. It’s impossible to adequately sell if you don’t even have a clear understanding of what your prospect needed in the first place! While that sounds like a no-brainer, many sales pros rattle off their list of differentiators and wait for the prospect to be impressed instead of asking clear, concise questions and listening to their responses actively. There are two types of need you can uncover during these interactions: aspirational needs and frustration needs. Aspirational needs include things that the prospect wants and does not yet have. Frustration needs are born out of the pain points the prospect is experiencing with their current solution that they’re looking to solve. Uncovering your prospect's needs is simpler than you think Believe it or not, the four key questions that drive the uncovering the prospect's needs portion of the sale are pretty simple. The first three should be answered by the prospect and the last one, which may be the most overlooked, should be answered by none other than you! So, let’s dive into the four questions you must ask to uncover your prospect's needs. 1. What do they need? Straightforward, right? So many sales pros tell leads what they need instead of asking the lead what they think their needs are. If you believe in your product or service and if you know it like the back of your hand; it’s easy to assume that your prospect knows they need it. But you need to ask thoughtful questions to see where they are at. You don’t need to bury the question here; you can simply [...]
True or false? Anyone involved in the advertising process can be held liable under most regulations and statutes that govern false advertising. Oh. so. true. The advertiser, the Agency, and anyone else involved who knowingly, or sometimes negligently, fails to follow the rules, is on the hook. In addition to traditional and digital advertising, when you think about the current state of influencer marketing, and the tangled web of risks around each brand and #ad campaign, it’s easier to visualize the vulnerability of agencies when it comes to implementing these tactics. False claims and advertising can lead to financial, legal, and brand loyalty and reputation issues. It can also completely disrupt your Agency’s relationship with a valued client. But what exactly are the rules around false advertising and where do they come into play? Understanding False Advertising False advertising involves the stating of untrue claims about the performance, reliability, functions and features of whatever product or service is being promoted. This not only applies to the way a product works, but also includes its origin and the way it is manufactured. It isn’t just outright lying in advertising that gets you in trouble with regulators, but also making claims or omissions that could mislead regulators, competitors or consumers. Actual False Claims: Stating information that is clearly false and incorrect. Misleading Claims: Messages that allude to or imply incorrect information that can mislead the buying audience. Unsubstantiated Claims: The presentation of information that can’t be verified, including that of competition. Four Ways Your Agency Can Get Into Trouble 1. No substantiation of claims Do not make any claims about the product or service that you or your client cannot verify. Sources such as product research, consumer [...]
Agencies everywhere are finding new business development to be a greater and greater challenge. And, unfortunately, the business development strategies of most agencies are destined for failure. 1. Unattainable growth rates are often needed to achieve agency growth objectives 2. The investment required and the low odds of winning pitches is debilitating 3. The stress on organic growth is intense and rarely achieved 4. Too much reliance is placed on a small group of senior “sellers” 5. Difficulty “standing out” in pitches leads to expensive, wasteful theatrics 6. Cold calling experiences are generally unsuccessful and de-motivating If you experience some of these challenges, your team is not alone! Most agencies face these challenges – hence an opportunity exists to re-invent the industry’s new business development strategies. The Problems with Agency New Business Development Strategies Today Most agencies approach new business development in a three step fashion that is fundamentally flawed: 1) Competitive Pitches and Reviews These are by far the biggest area of focus for most larger agencies. Reviews get most of the business development resources – in people, focus and money. Reviews, however, can be a fools’ paradise: you must make it through the questionnaire stage against a dozen other agencies just to be a finalist (1 in 12 odds) – and then, upon becoming a finalist, the odds are generally only 1 in 4 that you will win. If you do the math, there is a 2% chance of being awarded the business at the time you receive the questionnaire. There must be a better strategy! And yet, while this is such a bitter place to invest – because many of the largest accounts are awarded through a review – it is easy [...]