I remember my parents lamenting how quickly time passed and, as a kid, I thought they were crazy. Every day seemed to crawl along. Now, I get it. A blink ago it was December and we were all planning our amazing 2020. Little did we know what 2020 had in store. Now, we’re almost to December again. How are you coming on those plans? If you’re a typical agency — you’re behind. Distractions, especially this year, (both worthy and the squirrel variety) have drawn your attention and your time away from your biggest priorities. It’s not too late but it is time to get serious about it. Here’s what I’d like you to do: Pull together any planning documents you developed for 2021 Schedule a 2-3 hour meeting with your leadership team A week ahead of that meeting, send them all the documents with your assessment of the agency’s progress on each goal Ask them to come prepared to discuss: Is this still a priority? (For each item) What do we need to do to get this back on track/keep on track? Who needs to own this goal/initiative? If we only accomplished one of these goals — which one matters the most? Have an open conversation around these questions and then revise your plan. Odds are, you were more ambitious than is reasonable. So get realistic with yourselves and get back on track. Note — if you don’t have any planning documents — that does not mean you should disregard this. You can still pull everyone together and create a plan for the new year. It’s time to build a rock-solid foundation for your agency. Think about how to strengthen your current client relationships, increase [...]
At the beginning of most of my engagements, I start by sending the client team a questionnaire that helps me establish a baseline understanding of how the agency approaches business development—strengths, weaknesses, skills, and areas of resistance. In it, I ask them to describe their ideal client. Here’s a sampling of what I hear more often than not: “Open-minded, seek out expert advice, and take it, challenge us with problems they can’t solve, value our time and expertise.” “Really smart, and motivated to get things done.” “Collaborators who recognize the importance of strategic planning and thoughtful execution.” “They provide us with direct access to key decision-makers. They’re collaborative, value our opinions and input, and have a healthy balance of practical and aspirational thinking for their brand.” “They’re ‘brand collaborators’—marketing-led companies looking for a long-term, transparent partner to challenge the status quo and collaborate on integrated solutions.” “They trust us, respect us, and like spending time with us. Discussion is always thoughtful, relaxed, and challenging. It never feels like we’re not on the same team even when we disagree.” “They are appreciative of the work we do and pleasant to work with.” These are pretty idyllic descriptions. And not necessarily unrealistic. Every agency deserves to work with clients like these. The problem is, these descriptions are limited in their ability to help you find ideal clients. I began to consider why agencies default to describing ideal clients in this way. What I realized is agencies tend to frame the question as "who are we best served by?" when the question I’m really asking is “whom do you serve best?” Understanding the distinction between the two has big implications for the effectiveness of your new business outreach. Who is [...]
...you don’t go anywhere! I’ve spent the last several weeks with agency owners in our peer network meetings. As a part of that meeting, the owners have to present their financials (show P/L, Balance sheet, etc.) to the group. They also have to report sales progress, staff issues, and a host of other metrics. It’s always an interesting lens from which to see the agency owners. I am reminded of what a rare breed they are. We all get frustrated and discouraged sometimes. There have certainly been moments in time when I would have gladly sold my agency to you for a nickel. But not very many and that malaise never lasted very long. Because you’re an owner (if you are one) you forget how unusual you are. The risks you have taken are not risks most people are willing to accept. The emotional roller coaster you ride on a daily basis isn’t a ride most people can stomach. There is a blend of fortitude, resilience, and confidence in you that you take for granted but the truth is, it’s a very uncommon combination. Agency ownership is hard, even on the good days, but it’s relentless when things aren’t going your way (which, by the way, is inevitable). Your unflagging enthusiasm, “it will get better” belief and most of all, your willingness to be very uncomfortable for as long as it takes, is your secret weapon. Why am I reminding you of all of this? Because you think everyone is wired the way you are. But you are a rare breed. And that’s okay. But the misperception that everyone is like you can cause some trouble. It creates expectations that your employees often can’t meet. [...]
Attracting and retaining talent is likely a challenge in this unprecedented time. The coronavirus pandemic forced agencies around the globe to go fully remote whether they were ready to or not. Only 16% of HR professionals say they were ready to go 100% digital. Right now, it’s imperative to control what you can, and when it comes to hiring, you still hold the cards. By shoring up your hiring process now, you’ll strengthen your talent recruitment and onboarding processes in a way that sets you and future employees up for success. I recently wrote an article for Business 2 Community about this very topic. I hope you take the time to read through it and let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing back from you!
Agency owners are, for the most part, some of the bravest people I know. They have put everything on the line to start/own their agency and every day they face and move past tough decisions. But if there’s an Achilles Heel for most owners, it’s the staffing issue, especially if your agency has hit a rough spot. It’s ironic but in a typical agency, the higher a person’s salary, the less billable client work they do. They’re running a department, doing admin work, or chasing after new clients more than serving clients. I’m not suggesting their work isn’t valuable. It just isn’t billable. What balances that out is that most of your younger, less expensive employees are very billable. Their billable hours cover the non-billable hours of the more senior staff. If you look at all of the hours your agency employees (including the owner) works — you need to be at 60% billable overall. Most agencies struggle to get into the 50-55% range. Which is why you aren’t making the kind of money you’d like to make. Unfortunately, many of you are out of proportion. You’re over-staffed in general and in particular, you’re top-heavy. You might have a large leadership team or multiple owners. On top of that — you’ve got an employee or two (or more) who have been with you for a very long time. You’ve given them regular raises and now, if you’re honest with yourself, they’re overpaid. Odds are, their skill sets and energy aren’t really what they used to be. But you feel a loyalty to them and so they stay. You’ve been okay with a net profit that’s nowhere near the ideal range and you’ve stayed in the [...]
There is a lot to be stressed about right now—the pandemic, recession, you name it. However, we as agency owners should spend our time strategizing for the future after the COVID-19 pandemic instead of focusing on our worries. You can do this by completing an agency owner life plan, developing a one-page business plan, creating a business development program, or showing your employees and clients more attention. Any combination of these preparations will prove successful for yourself and your agency in the future. I recently wrote an article for Brand United about strategizing in our current pandemic to make sure your company does well when it is over. I hope you take the time to read through it and let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing back from you!
Agency Management Institute partnered up with Orbit Media to do a quick poll of agency owners to find out what the initial impact of the coronavirus had been on their agency. Since everything seems to be changing hourly – it’s important for you to know the time frame that this data relates to. Most of us in the states started working from home between March 10 and March 16th. We launched this poll on March 25th and closed it a couple days later. Our goal was not to conduct proper research, obviously, but instead just to take a pulse on how things are going out there. I also wanted to compare how the general population of agencies were faring on comparison to the 250 or so AMI agencies that I’ve been communicating with on a daily basis. Our survey was completed by 122 agency owners or leaders. There was an almost even split between agencies that were all B2B, all B2C and mixed and the agency offerings were equally mixed as you can see in the chart below. One thing is certain – every agency’s work level is being affected by the coronavirus, but I think it’s important to point out that almost half (42.93%) are having either a net neutral or positive effect. I think it’s incredibly tempting and easy to only see the doom and gloom in all of the news stories, conversations and most dangerously – what we tell ourselves. Less than 20% of agencies reported a very negative or near disaster impact. So far. That perhaps that is the key phrase at this stage. But, we have to control our lens on this situation or we'll be paralyzed. [...]
I think agency leaders and owners are incredibly generous people. I’m always astonished at how you take care of your people, often to your own detriment. You give to them in ways that mean you get a little less. It’s just who you are. So as I thought about this week’s message, I decided I might be able to help you scratch your natural tendency to show your gratitude in this crazy season we find ourselves in. Odds are you’re pretty good at saying thank you directly to your people. But I’m going to suggest you try a different tactic. Identify one of your super stars and take a few minutes jotting down what they do that is so valuable to you. If you can, capture a story of something that really illustrates their talent and value to you. Now, take that story and write a letter of gratitude to their spouse, kids, parents or whoever you think would be most proud to hear it. Tell them how awesome your employee is and acknowledge the sacrifices (missed dinners, Mom out of town, etc.) the family has made to allow your employee to thrive. Thank them for their willingness to let your team mate give their best to the agency and your clients. If you want to — include a gift card so they can all celebrate how amazing your employee is to you and for them. Don’t tell your employee you’re going to send the letter. Let it be a surprise. I think you’ll be stunned at the impact your letter has — both short and long term. It’s a gift they will cherish for a long time, as will their family members. And honestly [...]
One of the more interesting takeaways from the research we have done over the years is the juxtaposition between two beliefs that our clients have about account executives. The first was that about a third of the respondents felt that AEs were too pushy when it came to sales and that was off-putting. But that same group of clients expected (not wanted) their account exec to bring them new opportunities. How our AEs sell matters. When they go at a client in the context of their business challenges and an opportunity that their business can take advantage of — it’s welcome. When they go in talking about agency services or new “stuff” that we can make for them, it feels like a pushy sales effort. I know that you know the difference. I know that you can have that level of conversation. But you can’t be the only person in your shop who is capable of doing that. How are you helping your AEs learn the language of business? Are you encouraging them to spend time on the factory floor, so to speak? (You can’t always bill for this time but it always comes back to you) Are you sending them to your client’s big industry trade show so they can listen to the speakers, walk the exhibit floor and absorb the business? Are you surrounding them with the trade pubs your clients are following? Are you having these sorts of strategic discussions in your one-on-one meetings? This level of learning will not happen by accident. And while some of your account execs will intuitively understand they need to do this work, others will not. You’re going to have to not only show them what [...]
What’s that old adage — nothing kills a business like growth? I’ve seen agencies get way too close to the edge more than once. Managing growth is no easy task and scaling your business requires something that many agency owners struggle with — getting out of the way. Entrepreneur Magazine asked me to offer some tips for successfully scaling your business. I’d love to hear any additional ideas or life lessons you’ve learned around this topic. As business gets better — more and more of you will be faced with this potentially treacherous opportunity. Another challenge that comes with a stronger business is dealing with the financial implications including operating your agency for maximum profit, using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. We will be covering all of these topics and more in our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) workshop this March. This workshop is built for principals only and it can be especially valuable for agency principals that came up through the agency ranks and would benefit from additional knowledge about how to build and operate a profitable agency. I hope you can join us. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.