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Who is in your posse?

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 [...]

By |August 3rd, 2020|

Do you have traction?

I’m a big fan of the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s a business parable that outlines a systematic way (EOS or the Entrepreneurial Operating System) of running any business. It’s incredibly well suited for agencies, because it forces a discipline onto a leadership team that is often plagued with wearing too many hats, running from fire to fire every day, and a tendency to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects. The result of the hats, fires, squirrels and shiny objects is that many internal projects (how long did it take you to deploy your agency’s last website) get delayed or never get done. At AMI, we weave a lot of Traction’s elements into our coaching and when our clients look back over the previous twelve months, they are astonished at how much they accomplished. The EOS methodology leverages the power of focus and shared accountability and man, does it work! If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’ve had internal projects (revising processes, an employee handbook, updating your website, improving your agency’s marketing or business development efforts, etc.) that are dragging on and on. We'll be talking about some of the Traction principles at our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) workshop and how they intersect with you making more money every month/year. It’s designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with two full days of learning the tricks and tips on how to operate your agency for maximum profit using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |December 30th, 2019|

How to spark creativity on demand

I believe that one of the most challenging aspects of our work is the forced creativity. We have no time to wait around for a muse or to stand in the shower all day, hoping that inspiration will strike. Every day we need to be creative. Now. And I mean that in every sense of the word. The word creative no longer belongs to the creative department, if you even have one. Whether it is a strategy, a media channel decision, a messaging hierarchy or finding the right combination of words to get an uptick in Google Adwords — every single person in your agency needs to push past the mundane and expected ideas and find that diamond in the rough. Oh yeah — and they need to do it in 60 minutes. Or by tomorrow. Or in between meetings. I had an interesting conversation with Jason Keath, founder of the Social Fresh Conference about this struggle and from that, I captured 4 strategies to spark on-demand creativity in an article for Hubspot. Give one or more of them a try and let me know what you think.

By |September 16th, 2019|

Your employees are hungry to learn

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.

By |August 26th, 2019|

How are you controlling scope creep?

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.

By |July 8th, 2019|

Is podcasting the new business tactic for you?

I had a great conversation (podcast) with Stephen Woessner, the host of Onward Nation about the value of podcasting, how my podcast Build A Better Agency has served my business and why I think it’s a strategy worth considering for any agency owner who is trying to establish a sustainable new business effort. Take a listen here. In the podcast, I talk about how podcasting creates a position of thought leadership and gives you a chance to connect with your prospects in ways you haven’t even imagined. It’s also killer for content creation. If it’s crossed your mind, the episode might be worth a listen. FYI — The AE bootcamp that we’re doing on September 24/25th won’t be offered again until 2020. So if you’d like your newer (5 years experience or less) AEs to actually understand their role in helping the agency and their clients make money and learn how to make that happen consistently — sign them up before we fill up! Register them today here!

By |May 27th, 2019|

8 Lessons For Entrepreneurs (That I May Have Learned the Hard Way)

Happy Anniversary to me. Yep, eight years and two months ago  (May 1, 2010) I re-entered the world of entrepreneurship by starting Converse Digital with a mere two weeks notice, no money in the bank, no investors, no credit line, a wife, four kids, a big mortgage payment and lots of private school tuitions. I’ve learned a lot along the way and today I wanted to share some of those lessons for entrepreneurs with you. 1) You Need an Entrepreneurship Runway The common rule of thumb for starting a business is to have at least a few months income in your bank. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t have the luxury so many of my fellow entrepreneurs have, where they don’t take a salary out of the company for months or years, instead reinvesting all profits to quickly grow the business. Nope, Converse Digital had to be cash flow positive from day one. But this lack of runway has been a blessing and a curse. It’s been a curse because I’ve never really had the chance to strategically grow the company. Sure, here and there we launch little initiatives like our Social Reconnaissance Products…or our CIBER product (that I don’t even have a full webpage live for yet – just a quick landing page), usually after they’ve been on the drawing board for months or more. But on the flip side, that lack of runway makes you scared. Every day you wake up expecting the other shoe to drop — for a client to fire you or cut their budget, or for that big project you were counting on to NOT come through, or my "favorite" — a client falls way behind [...]

By |July 3rd, 2018|

Three Ways I Fill My Travel Lulls With Pockets Of Productivity

In the last year, I boarded a plane at least once 48 weeks out of 52. And I’m not alone in my travel habits: In 2016, Americans went on close to 460 million business trips. I used to be convinced there was no way to get actual work done between the noise, the close quarters, and the constant interruptions of travel. Deadlines, however, don’t care about your travel plans. I have more than 200 emails to sift through, a podcast to produce, and content to create in addition to client work. When I’m in on-site meetings with clients, my focus is on the person in front of me; travel is the only time left to get the rest of my work done. But working while traveling doesn’t have to be a nightmare. I’ve learned how to maximize travel time, whether I’m waiting in line, stuck in a taxi, on a crowded flight, or sitting in an airport terminal. Others who struggle to stay productive while traveling can learn, too. Track your progress anywhere, any time. Whether you’re on the go or in the office, using an omnichannel platform to communicate with your co-workers and keep track of project statuses is crucial. Important information should be accessible to you whether you’re working on your phone as you wait to go through customs or you’re making use of a terminal’s Wi-Fi. I use Wunderlist, a productivity tool synced across devices to assign tasks to myself and keep my to-do list updated. Its interface is simple, and it helps me keep track of tasks, communication with co-workers, potential podcast guests, blog topics, and any other information I might need. Smartphones, of course, are another godsend for traveling businesspeople. [...]

By |January 30th, 2018|

EOS Model: Why Your Agency Needs a Visionary and an Integrator with Mark Winters

Most agency owners are visionaries – able to see the future and come up with idea after idea to keep their agency on top of things. But most agency owners struggle to move those ideas forward on their own. They need an integrator to help them get things done – to wade through the details and processes. The integrator is the one to follow through and put the visionary’s ideas into practice. This perfect combination of visionary and integrator is what my podcast guest Mark Winters focuses on in his book, Rocket Fuel. Mark is a Certified EOS Implementer, working with agencies to identify this combination of the “visionary” who makes it up and the “integrator” who makes it happen and puts them together within a framework that will get your agency to extraordinary. See how identifying the visionary and the integrator in your agency can push you to the next level of success by learning: The “visionary” and the “integrator” from “Rocket Fuel” by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters How visionaries and integrators can build trust so that integrators can take control of what visionaries create What business owners need to do when they are an integrator and they need a visionary (most owners are visionaries) If you are a visionary, how to determine if you have an integrator on your team and what to do if you don’t The seven-step visionary integrator connection process for finding the right integrator How to know if you’re going to be able to sell your agency to your integrator or not (and what your exit plan can look like in both scenarios) Things that make visionary-integrator relationships fall apart The five rules and five tools for [...]

By |September 21st, 2017|

Accelerate Agency Vision by Getting on Your Soapbox

Agencies are beautiful, chaotic places to work. The nature of creative client work means the agency is always in a state of flux, growing and pivoting as clients do. The ability to adjust quickly is critical to survival, but it makes it all too easy for the agency vision to get lost in the daily shuffle. Recently, I worked with a mid-sized agency in Chicago that had good people, solid work, and consistent clients. The problem was that they were stuck. After a few years of stagnant billings and staff size, the owner decided to make a few changes. He instituted monthly “state of the agency” meetings, where he outlined the agency’s long-term vision and updated the staff on financial goals. He also established quarterly and yearly meetings that allowed the team to discuss goals and establish concrete action steps for achieving them. In the four years since instituting those changes, the agency has seen double-digit growth every year. Employees are happier and more energized, and the company is making a name for itself. On the surface, it seems really obvious:  You need a clear vision to grow an agency. But it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and, when you do, you often miss clues that something is about to go terribly wrong. Why It’s Important to Look Up Agencies that stay in tactical mode all the time will almost certainly miss warning signs that they’re wandering off-target. This is what I like to call “shiny object syndrome.” With digital marketing, there seems to be a new “shiny object” every year. Focusing on your overarching vision will keep you from chasing every shiny object that comes along and help you pick [...]

By |September 8th, 2017|