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.
I can remember early in my career I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t seem to get it all done. My boss started laughing. Like belly, starting to cry laughing. At me. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “Drew, it’s never all done. This isn’t a 9-5, leave when the work is complete sort of job. You need to learn how to work smart but also not let the inbox (back then it was a literal inbox) get in your head. When you can get it all done, there’s a problem.” I’ve spent my entire career, as I imagine you have, trying to define and refine my own work habits to be as effective as possible. I have a much better sense of how I work, when I am most effective at certain tasks, and how to cleanse my palette so I stay fresh throughout the day. But, there are some days, like when I’m on planes all day (pre-COVID), that work has to get done and the time is now. Much of my job requires writing and I can’t wait for quiet, a muse, or inspiration. It’s due and it’s due now. Thrive Global asked me to share how I pack my plane trips with productivity and while my specific circumstance is probably not yours — I’m hoping these tricks and tools will be helpful in your quest to make the most of your workday. Being more effective and efficient is a key component (among many) in our Advanced AE and AE bootcamps (Sept 1-2, 3-4) as well. An AE needs to get the most not only from their own day but in how they frame up the work for the [...]
A couple years ago, I updated my OS on my laptop and it literally ate any email sent to/from me after 2015. I went through several weeks of trying to get back to all of the people who had emailed me and never heard back. They probably thought I had no manners but I promise — I was raised better than that. This illustrates a point that I teach regarding email. We depend on email too much and we assume it’s more reliable than it is. Which is ironic, given our own inboxes and how much clutter we dodge throughout the day. I was talking to an agency owner the other day and she was lamenting that their new business efforts are falling flat. As she described their efforts it was pretty clear that the problem was they were tossing the ball into the prospect’s court by email and then just waiting for it to bounce back. This is also a huge problem with your AEs. In our AE Bootcamps, one of the best practices I stress is not to just use email to shift the burden to the client/check the item off their To-Do list. Your AEs need to be adept at quickly accelerating a conversation beyond email. If you’re not coaching to the advantages and foibles of email with your team, you should be. If you’re not building out a more robust communication matrix with prospects and clients, you should be. If you would like your AEs to learn more about this best practice as well as many others, there is still time to sign up for one of our virtual AE Bootcamps here or here! This was originally published in the weekly [...]
I believe agencies need to shift their own (and their clients’) content creation from a cost to a money-making machine. Every agency I know is creating content but few are monetizing it. Honestly — that’s mostly because the content created is generic and lousy (did you write a post about the new Pantone color — if so, I am talking to you!) and any agency could swap out our logo and insert theirs. But... I digress. Agencies need to come to understand that they absolutely have to get serious about their content and in fact — need to be producing what I call cornerstone content. Think meaty, informative content that defines your agency’s point of view and unique way of working. That’s typically: A book the owner authors A podcast A video series A very provocative/prolific blog Primary research you commission/design It needs to be significant enough that it can be sliced and diced throughout the year into bits of micro-content for your agency. Done well, it can absolutely be a game-changer for your agency. Hubspot asked me to write about my experience launching the podcast and how it impacted AMI. You can check it out here. Hopefully, it will light a fire under you to make THIS the year you stop writing generic blog posts and start getting serious about investing in content that can drive money to your door. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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 [...]
Study after study tells us that CMOs rank lead generation as their #1 priority and one of their biggest sources of frustration. So if we practice the tired “what keeps you up at night” exercise — I think we know the answer. Most of our clients and prospects need to generate more qualified leads and they admit that they don’t really have the tools or know how to do it. I speak at conferences where I am surrounded by agency owners who drive leads for their clients. But even among these agencies — there’s still a lot of discussion on how to develop a better strategy and how to help the clients embrace the technology that is part of the solution today. The truth is, many business leaders and many agencies (maybe you?) haven’t yet embraced the 2020 version of driving leads for our clients. There are lots of reasons why (cost, complexity, lack of content, etc.) but the truth is — if our agencies don’t figure out how to deliver on this need, someone else will. I don’t believe it’s optional today. A story I wrote for Forbes on marketing automation highlights this topic. How are you bringing new leads to your clients and what role does marketing automation play in that model? By the way — this isn’t just a challenge for our clients. How are you driving right fit prospects (not just anyone who walks in the door) to your agency? This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I have had several phone conversations recently with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their business development 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. In our Best Practices of Agency Owner’s workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) in March, we’re going to show you some strategies for actually controlling your days so new business happens on a consistent basis. We’re also going to walk you through how to construct a business development plan that is actually sustainable and successful. Be sure to grab a seat if you think it would be helpful! This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
Given the amount of competition out there, the challenges of landing a new client and the struggles with keeping the clients you have – I totally get the hunger to have the right answers. After all, that’s what they’re paying us for, right? Our expertise. Our years of experience. Our guidance. I want to suggest that while all of that is true – our expertise, experience, and guidance should show up in a different way. It’s not about the answers we provide, it’s about the questions we ask. When we are meeting with a prospective new client, the sentence I love to hear more than any other is “I’ve never been asked that before.” That means I am adding value. I am taking them in a direction they haven’t been before or coming at their issue from a different perspective. And odds are, the closer I am getting to the best answers. Many agency owners are frustrated that they’re the only ones who can do strategy inside their shop. I believe that’s because they’re the only ones who know how to ask questions that go beyond the surface or the expected. If you recognize your shop in that description, it’s time to teach your employees how to ask better questions. It helps if they’re naturally curious. Is their brain wired to wonder? That’s a critical trait when you hire. But if you have some team members who aren’t, then you need to help them exercise that muscle/develop that habit. Here are some tips you can offer as you’re coaching them. Keep it open-ended: Try to keep the conversation going by asking questions that require a longer response than a yes or no. Certain words trigger [...]