A couple of months ago I spent two days sequestered in a conference room with 45 agency employees that all have “digital” in their job description, their daily work or on their long list of responsibilities. They were from 20+ different AMI agencies and the reason we were all together was that they wanted to pick each other’s brains. In advance of the meeting, they put together a nine-page discussion guide of all of the topics they wanted to cover. Nine pages! I can’t tell you how impressed I was with these professionals. For two days, they shared, questioned, taught, learned and grew. They were so hungry to get better, to help their agencies get better and to help their clients knock it out of the park. I know there are times when you, as an agency owner, get frustrated with your employees. They don’t always work in the way you want them to work. Or they may not burn the midnight oil at the office like you used to do. And they definitely are bolder about asking for what they want than we were in our early days. But I am here to tell you — they love their work, respect you and genuinely want to keep adding to their skills. So take heart — your team is as committed to their craft as you were when you were their age. My experience also reinforced one of the biggest takeaways from our AMI/Audience Audit research findings. The most important benefit from your employees’ point of view is educational opportunities and the chance to sharpen their saw. That’s good news for your agency and for you.
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.
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 [...]
There’s a talent shortage in the agency business. I can’t remember a time in recent years when agencies were hiring as much as they are today and having as much trouble finding the right fit employees. You’ve heard the adages about the costs of a bad hire and, if anything, they underreport the costs. But today, those costs are even greater because not only does the bad employee do incredible damage to your shop — they also leave a gaping hole that’s tough to fill. Unfortunately, in most cases, our bad hires are our own fault. We’re horrible interviewers. We talk way too much and we spend more time trying to convince the candidate that our agency is a wonderful place to work than we do discerning if this candidate will serve us, our team and our clients. We also don’t test the candidates well. iMedia asked me to expand on that idea in an article about how to get interview tests right. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts. If our hiring practices could use some work, our onboarding could absolutely use an overhaul! Once you get a team member who is dedicated, committed to your team and clients and is hungry to keep getting better — don’t just bury them in work. Our research talking to over 950+ agency employees showed us that the #1 factor your employees consider as they decide whether or not to stay with you is if you’ve offered them educational opportunities. At AMI, we’re always looking for ways to help you build the team you already have. Our Advanced AE bootcamp gets rave reviews so if you want to enhance the skills of your AE crew — it’s [...]
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 [...]
One of the biggest threats to your agency’s profitability and long-term existence is giving away the farm by over servicing clients, bad estimates, not issuing change orders and allowing clients to change the rules mid-game without any penalty or cost. Don’t get me wrong - I think it’s okay and smart to over-service certain clients on certain projects. I’m not suggesting you put military order into your agency. But conservatively — I believe most agencies can put another 10% to their bottom line if they rein in scope creep. The good news is — it’s easier to fix than you might think. I explored how scope creep happens and how agencies can contain it in a recent article for Hubspot. Take a look and see if you can find a strategy or two that you can implement in your shop to help you slow down the bleed. The article contains several concepts that I teach in the Advanced AE bootcamp as well. Your account executives should be managing their clients’ budgets and profitability. That means they need two things — the financial data to know how they’re doing AND the tools/knowledge of how to manage both the clients and your internal team so that they aren’t writing time and money off every job. Our next Advanced AE bootcamp is in September (September 9 & 10 in Chicago) and you can register your AEs here.
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.
As we struggle to find and keep great employees, we need to do a quick self- assessment. Are you creating an environment that breeds trust and connection among your team? Especially with you and your leadership team? MediaPost asked me to explore how agencies can create a culture of trust and connection and I’d love your thoughts on my recommendations on the topic. So, how do you find out if your environment is one of trust and connection? You ask. We have built an assessment tool that will help you measure the health of your agency in five key areas - account service, finance, Bizdev, staff management, and agency owner happiness. We're aggregating a large number of agency owner participants so we can come back to you this summer with a comparative analysis of where agencies ranked on these issues. And so you can compare your rankings with other agencies. All you need to do to take the assessment is click here. Just a few minutes of your time and you will get your results as well as a follow-up email with your results. Later this summer I will be letting you know that we're going to do a webinar where we will walk you through the results and you can compare yourself to everybody else and see how you're doing.
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.