I live in the Midwest and as a result, I am fascinated by farmers. They can do everything right and in the blink of an eye — a hail storm, too much rain or on the flip side, a drought can wipe out all of their efforts. It seems like the riskiest and most frustrating business model in the world. But I can’t deny that our world of agency life has some similarities. Agency owners and leaders work their tails off to chase down new clients, to keep the clients they have, to attract and grow the right team members. But then we make mistakes that either erode or completely eliminate all of the effort and the potential profits from those efforts. I identified some of these money mistakes in an article for Hubspot Mistakes that Will Bankrupt Your Agency. Check it out and put a plan in place to eliminate those mistakes from your agency’s SOP before you pay too great a price. If you know that your agency could use a tune-up (right structure, operating systems, staffing, actually making a double-digit profit, etc.) why not spend two days with us talking about these topics? Our workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) is designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with best practices, practical tips, and hacks that will help you make more and keep more of what you make.
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.
It’s a rare agency that does not incur any travel for either themselves or their clients. Because travel norms are very different for everyone, it’s important that the agency have a written travel policy that clearly spells out the processes, boundaries and expectations that come along side that employee’s travel on behalf of the company. In our work with 250+ agencies a year and our annual salary and benefits survey that is answered by almost 1,000 agency leaders – we were able to pull together what seems to be the “norm” for most US based agencies. Each agency owner will want to review and modify these policies to fit their own culture, budget, expectations and unique circumstances. In some cases, I’ve just listed what seems to be the common policy and in other cases, I’ve given you some commentary like 30% of agencies do this or that. My goal is not to give you an off the shelf set of policies but rather a framework from which you can build your own travel policy for your agency. AGENCY TRAVEL POLICIES (modify for your own shop) Allowable Expenses Most agencies will pay or reimburse the employee for all reasonable business expenses incurred while traveling on behalf of the agency. Agencies will typically not pay for upgrades i(n rental car classes, hotel rooms, flight classes) without prior approval. The exception to this is international travel. Most agencies will pay for business class plane tickets for travel of 6+ hours. If an employee chooses to live in a different country, the agency does not pay for their travel back to the agency’s home country for meetings (internal or client-facing). Meals and client entertainment are typically on a daily [...]
Hey there — folks have been asking me what tools I use to create our weekly videos, so I thought I would spell it out for you. Here’s the equipment I use. My criteria for anything I am using is that it has to be durable, reasonable small, and lightweight because every week, I am throwing it all into my suitcase and taking it on the road (except for my phone!) And I did not want to spend an arm and a leg. I'm sure you could go higher quality, but this works for me. Camera: My iPhone X Microphone: Shure MV88 iOS digital stereo condenser microphone (plugs into my phone) $149 App for the filming: Shureplus MOTIV video (get in app store) Tripod: Fotopro Phone Travel Tripod $23 (I needed two -- one for the camera & one for light) Lights: Rotolight NEO on-camera LED light $149 15 foot extension cord: Amazon recommended $7 I use an app on my iPhone (Shureplus MOTIV Video -- tied to the microphone) to record the video. For a long time, I was relying on natural light but some of the videos were just too dark so I decided to invest in a light (hence the 2nd tripod and extension cord) box which is about 4 inches square and about an inch and a half thick, so easy to pack. I don't use any sort of teleprompter. Honestly, I don't script these out. I have an idea of the main point I want to make and I just shoot from the hip. Usually, I shoot it a couple times before I'm happy with the flow of the message, but I am rarely shooting for more than 10 minutes. [...]
In an AMI network meeting last week, the big topic was employee recruitment and retention. If your agency isn’t struggling with this issue, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Agencies (and it seems all businesses) are fighting tooth and nail to find and keep productive, committed employees. Many of you are looking for so long that you end up compromising just to get someone in place. And we all know how well that usually works. Overall, agency owners are incredibly generous with benefits and flexibility. But there’s a new benefit that I want to make sure you’ve got on your radar screen because it may be worth considering as a recruiting tool. One of the things we talk about in our Managing Millennials workshop is that all employees (but particularly millennials) love to have “brag-worthy” benefits and this one is definitely brag-worthy. The benefit is student loan repayment. You can read more about it in this Forbes article and see some examples of how it is being positioned and packaged. Employee recruiting and retention will be a major discussion at our owner’s workshop (Best Management Practices of Agency Owners) this coming March in Chicago. Registration is open if you’d like to hear how other agency owners are reducing their workweek, actually getting to their family events and putting more profit on the bottom line.
I know there are agency consultants who will tell you that timesheets aren’t necessary. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. I totally get it. No one likes doing them. But they are an important management tool for you as you run your agency. It has nothing to do with how you bill clients or if you’re still billing by the hour (which I hope most of you are not doing) or project versus retainer billing. It’s about resource management. Your agency may be profitable and everything seems to be running smoothly but the truth is — you don’t know. You don’t know if a few superstars are carrying the weight of a handful of slackers. You don’t know if someone is putting 50% more billable time on jobs than the estimate calls for. You don’t know if you’re over-servicing clients or if one of your employees is struggling with some aspect of their job. You are in the dark. Timesheets illuminate what’s really going on in your business. Marketing Agency Insider asked me to write an article about timesheets, how to get your squad to do them and how important they are to the success of your agency. I don’t want hate mail but I would love to hear your thoughts. Be gentle — remember, I am just the messenger! If you’d like a healthier, heartier bottom line — timesheets are not optional.
Before the recession (we when utter that phrase, I suspect we look like old men in overalls, smoking a corncob pipe and rocking on our porches but...) there were many agency owners who swore that they would never work with outside contractors. They believed that the quality and integrity of their work relied on having all of the work done by employees that toiled under their roof. Today -- I know very few agencies who still cling to that belief. Most agencies today have a stable of contractors that help them augment their offerings and skill sets. (Not to mention remote employees, etc.) The truth is, and our research shows this, that when an agency of 10 or 20 or 50 employees calls themselves a "full-service, integrated agency" their prospects do not believe them. The prospects know how complicated and specialized marketing has become and they know that it's pretty challenging to have every discipline under our roof and to deliver against all of those needs at the highest levels. The great news is -- there are plenty of freelancers, strategic partners, and solopreneurs that we can hire to help us serve clients better. The rub is when we walk the thin line of are they really an employee or are they a contractor. Should they legally be getting a W2 or a 1099 (in the US) from you at the end of the year? Independent contractors are generally outside the coverage of various laws that apply to the employer-employee relationship. Which means that it's easy to get into trouble if you do this wrong. This is especially important when it comes to issues like pensions and retirement accounts, workers compensation, and wage and hour [...]
When I started my own agency is 1995 I was about 30 and the perfect combination of arrogant and ignorant. “How hard could running an agency be? If you knocked it out of the park for your clients and delivered results, everything fell into place, right?” As you might imagine, that blissfully ignorant attitude got a very fast course correction. I learned very quickly that being an agency person and running an agency were two very different things and I’d better learn how to run a business if I wanted to survive. One of the truths that quickly became apparent was that whether you are a one-man-band or have 500 employees, the numbers matter. Most of you are probably tracking the basics like gross billings and hopefully AGI. I’ve previously talked about the AGI ratios and how that money should be divided amongst your people expenses, overhead and profit. If you’re not monitoring those — get on it and get on it now. But those metrics are not enough. There are some other indicators that will tell you very quickly how healthy your agency is/isn’t and what you need to do to get back on track. An article I wrote on this topic for Hubspot’s blog back in 2016 is as relevant today as it was three years ago. In that article, I identified 5 overlooked metrics that every agency owner should be monitoring. By the way, you shouldn’t be the only one watching these metrics. Your Account Execs should play a role too. At our AE boot camps, we help your AEs understand how they can help the agency get stronger, more profitable and understand what you need from them every day. We’ve got [...]
When an agency shows a profit, one of the first inclinations of the agency owner is to pay a bonus to the staff. I applaud that instinct. But I don’t think you should do it simply because you have a little extra money. I believe you should have a bonus program that serves your agency every single day, whether you pay out any money or not. I think there are several elements of a successful bonus program: They should not be an end of the year thing. They should influence the employees to behave in ways that serve the agency year-round It needs to be simple and explained over and over (every month/quarter) It should be used to teach employees to think like agency owners (focused on the same metrics you do) It should be based on one or two metrics that accurately measure the financial health of the agency The metrics should be measured/achieved or not every month The metrics should be set in a way that your team hits the goal more often than misses (should be a stretch but a reasonable stretch...ideally they’d hit the metrics at least 7 or 8 months of the year) Bonuses should be paid quarterly (with most of the $ accumulated for an end of the year payout) to keep everyone motivated/focused The owners should hold an all agency meeting every month to report on financials/success on bonus program for the month/YTD At AMI, we have a specific bonus program that we teach in our workshops, owner peer networks etc. It’s based on two metrics. The big number in our opinion in terms of an agency’s health is AGI (Adjusted gross income — Look here for more [...]
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 [...]