Agency people are lifelong learners. If you aren’t — odds are you will be “counseled” out of your role if you don’t own the joint and pushed out of the day to day, if you do. We can’t afford to stop learning in our world. It’s simply changing too quickly and to keep up, we have to make learning a priority. What I love the most about AMI is that in everything we do — you are learning from people who are actively involved in agency life. I’ve owned my shop for 25+ years and am still active there. Craig (who runs our Key Executive networks and the Virtual networks) also still has an agency and has been an owner for 27+ years. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The best aspect of AMI is that owners who attend our workshops, network meetings, webinars, etc. — are all both students and teachers. I love how owners are so quick to offer to share resources, forms, best practices, and connections with other owners. That spirit is the best of AMI and of our profession. If you don’t have a posse of other agency owners/leaders — I implore you to find one. If AMI works for you, great. If not, seek it somewhere else. But do not fight the fight alone. Looking for some places to learn from other agency owners/leaders? Build and Nurture your Agency's Sales Funnel— January 21/22 in Orlando on WDW property Running Your Agency for growth, profit & a little sanity — April 6/7 in Chicago Advanced AE Bootcamp –August 17/18 in Chicago AE Bootcamp — September 14/15 in Chicago Money Matters for Agency Owners — Dates TBD We’d love to help [...]
A couple of years ago, when we were able to be out and about and travel the world, I went on a photo safari vacation to South Africa with my daughter. We spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill, and even some mating leopards! I was fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scanned the dirt for tracks, examined the foliage to look for breaks, and even tested the temperature of dung to determine what animals were nearby and how long ago they had come through. The clues were so subtle that it was amazing when they spotted them. But the rewards that came from that attention to minute detail was the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) and just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off. I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting? I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present. Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to was the speed at which they worked. Slowly. Sometimes painstakingly slowly. As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning. But then I began to understand the method to their madness and [...]
Let’s be honest — sometimes the biz dev process can leave us feeling like we’ve somehow compromised ourselves to get a seat at the table. Hopefully, we don’t make compromises that actually left us feeling dirty but even with a sweet spot prospect, we can certainly feel like we’ve twisted ourselves into a pretzel or performed like a dancing poodle rather than being respected for how we can elevate the prospect’s business. I think it’s easy to forget that clients actually want their agency to have a point of view and an opinion about the work and the direction the client should pursue. We’re so busy trying to be invited to the dance that it’s easy to lose a little bit of ourselves. I wrote an article for Marketo about this idea that clients actually long for brave agencies and it’s our responsibility to walk with some swagger and confidence to the negotiating table, rather than acting like we’re grateful for the handout. When I look at the agencies who are knocking it out of the park from a biz dev point of view, they all have one thing in common — the courage to speak their mind. I’d love to hear your take on this topic and on the article. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
You have probably said or at least heard the agency-centric expression “new business cures all ills,” and it’s pretty accurate. Will it fix fundamental problems at your agency? Unfortunately, no. Those are still on you to solve. But it does fix a lot of cash flow challenges, too much time on our hands bickering, and morale issues. I believe that agency owners need to invest a significant amount of their time and attention to biz dev and yet, when I get into most shops, to say the effort is haphazard is an understatement. Most of you have a reactive new business program, which means you respond to what walks in the door through referrals, RFPs, etc. One of the areas where I see the least amount of prep is in that initial conversation. You go to all of that effort to get the meeting. I want to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks about seven steps you can take to improve that first impression, whether it’s a coffee meeting or a full RFP presentation. My guess is that some of them will just be a reminder but hopefully a few will inspire you and your team to tweak what isn’t working. Making some minor tweaks in how you show up may be all it takes to move you from being the agency that hears “we really liked you but we went a different direction” to “We can’t wait to work with you!” This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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. [...]
I very rarely meet an agency owner who doesn’t want to grow their agency. And of course, we translate that in our heads to mean more people and more money. But growth is much more diverse than that — and the other aspects rarely get as much attention or thought until those demands and/or opportunities are right in front of us. I haven’t touched a garden since I was a kid and my mom would make me weed for her — but I do know this. If you want the best yield, you prepare the ground and give it all the advantages you can. (My mom grew a zucchini so big the local TV station did a story on it.) It was as embarrassing as you are imagining, but clearly, I have earned that garden analogy. I was part of the Squash Squad.) Our agencies are the same way. If we want them to grow — we need to prepare the soil. Forbes invited me to write an article identifying some of the aspects of growth that you may not have thought of and what it takes to be prepared for it and as always, I’d welcome your feedback. And by the way — growing doesn’t have to correlate with size. We have several AMI agencies that grew by reducing their staff in half. Others have been the same size, in terms of FTEs for years, but continue to outpace the previous year’s performance. Not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but don’t think adding more bodies is the only way. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
Being an agency owner is tough in today’s world. Clients and employees are more fickle and demanding, the margins get tighter as you try to keep everyone happy and well cared for, and the learning curve is steep. I get all of that — both from my own reality as an agency owner and from working with 250 or so of you every year. But, on those days when you want to sell your shop for a nickel or as April 15th approaches and you’re writing the IRS a check for their pound of flesh, I want you to slow down and look at your world from a different perspective. First — I want you to remember all of the ways your agency funds your life. I’m a big fan of doing what I call a Total Compensation Report for our employees at the end of every year. This report adds up ALL of the ways your people get compensated from their salary, costs of benefits, time off, perks, etc. Many of your people have no idea how well they are being paid. The truth is the same for you. You think about the money you take home in a paycheck or dividend but you forget about all the other ways your business provides for you. One the tough days, I think it is a very healthy exercise to add up all the ways your agency pays you, from paycheck to travel to cell phone to all the other perks that come with the business. When you see that number (and for most of you, the salary part is one of the smaller components) — it makes the rough days a little easier. But, it’s [...]
Our business is rife with myths. What clients will and won’t do. Which channels are dead long before they are dead. But the one that I think is most dangerous to your business is that it can’t survive without you. I know too many agency owners and leaders who are afraid to leave the office for more than a day because they are convinced disaster will ensue. I am constantly encouraging agency owners to book the trip to Paris, to go on the African safari, or to take a few days off around their son’s graduation. Don't worry, I follow my own advice. This past Spring Break, despite a huge level of demand, I took the week off. In fairness, I worked a couple hours a day while the kids slept (young adults can be counted on for uninterrupted mornings!) but for the most part — I was “out of the office.” I slept more that week (11.5 hours one day alone!), put more steps on my Fitbit (we averaged 20K a day) and rejuvenated my energy. When I did sit down for those few hours to get something done — I was better, faster, and more efficient. Best of all, my team handled all of the fire drills, drama, and client issues that I thought I had to be around for. If you honestly believe your team can’t handle your absence — then it’s time to start training them to do just that. Here’s a smart way to ease them in. One day a week: Work from home, a coffee shop, or anywhere that you can be productive. Turn off your email notifications and your phone. Turn both on at lunch and at the [...]
A few of the agencies we’re working with have committed to building a leadership team and actually holding each other accountable (you all let each other off the hook way too often) for the internal goals they’d agreed needed to be tackled that quarter. So, how do you create that leadership team? It’s not about tenure or titles. It’s about who can actually advance your agency. Who is a holistic thinker, rather than protecting his/her department? Who offers off the wall solutions that force the entire group to step way out of their comfort zone? One of the best litmus tests? Who is an influential mentor inside your shop? Who loves to teach and celebrate others? Who lives your core values? Disregard age and title. Who is proving to you every day that they’re ready to lead? I got very prescriptive in an article I wrote for Spin Sucks so you can build a team around you that is equipped to take you and your agency further, faster. I’d love to hear if your leadership team strategy is aligned with mine or if you’ve taken a different approach. You can’t grow your agency alone. Grow your leadership team as you grow the agency. They'll serve each other (and you) well. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.