You know the drill. Client or prospect calls. They have an urgent need and you drop everything to figure out how to help them. About a third of the way in — when you need something (copy, assets, information, etc.) from them, suddenly there’s a grinding halt and you wait. And wait. It’s part of agency life. Unfortunately, so is that sucking sound you hear as the profits get drained from the project because of the delay. The longer you tread water, the more the work costs you and it’s difficult to recoup the expense of trying to cajole your client into giving you what you need. The delays aren’t always on the client. Sometimes an outside force creates the lag time. But either way — your agency ends up holding the bag. You can greatly reduce that drain on your profitability if you anticipate it up front and build a contingency into your scope documents/contracts. In another blog post, I shared some language you can use to protect yourself from these delays. Feel free to use it verbatim or modify it to fit your agency’s voice. But don’t leave yourself more exposed than you need to be. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE Bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.
It’s annoying and expensive when clients pull the plug on a project before you can recoup all of your upfront investment. And yet it happens all the time. So much of our work requires a huge investment on our part on the front end and when a client stalls or does a 360 and cancels the work — we often get left holding the bag. I wrote a blog post about this challenge and offered some language you can include in your contracts and/or scope of work documents that will help protect you from losing money in this situation. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.
In my mind, as you read that sentence, you were thinking “Are you kidding? I just paid THIS year’s taxes. Why are we talking about 2019 taxes already?” Which of course is my point. If you’d like to pay less tax than you did this past year, you can’t wait to until late December to put some strategies in place. I find that most agency owners have very conservative tax preparers. They’re much more concerned about making it easy for them than they are in actually giving you good advice about how to structure your business in the most tax advantageous way. I had a CPA like that and paid through the nose for years. Fortunately, I realized the mistake I was making about a decade ago and have cut my tax liability to a fraction of what I used to pay. There’s no reason why you can’t do that too. We will talk tax strategies in our owner workshop this fall (October) if that’s of interest. Whether you join us or not — it’s time to evaluate your tax prep pro. If he/she isn’t actively meeting with you every quarter to review your financials and look for ways for you to protect yourself from unnecessary taxes, it’s time to go shopping. We all have to pay taxes but it shouldn’t add up to more than we need to pay.
Most agencies use the the accrual basis method of accounting because it aligns more closely with how our businesses actually run and gives the agency owner more realistic numbers and metrics, so their decisions are better informed throughout the year. In the cash method of accounting – the day a business gets a check or cash from the client, it recognizes the revenue. This works well in a retail world. I walk into the grocery store. I pick up milk and bread and give the cashier some money. At that point, they have actually earned that money. Our transaction is complete. But in our world – in many cases, when a client gives us money, we haven’t actually earned that money. If the client asked for the retainer or the media pre-payment back, we have to return the money because it’s not ours yet. We haven’t done the work. But in the accrual model of accounting, transactions are accounted for when the transaction occurs or is earned, regardless of when the cash is paid or received. (Note: most agencies convert to cash for tax purposes.) Let’s play this out. You send a client an invoice for $30,000 which is 50% of a project’s fee, after they sign the scope of work. They send you a check. Your bookkeeper should book that $30,000 as a liability. Again – if they ask for the money back the next day, you owe them the $30,000. If your bookkeeper books that as a sale or revenue (like they would in the cash method) it would tell a lie. It would say that you did $30,000 worth of work in that month and you can spend that money without risk [...]
If you’re operating your agency with the goal of achieving the performance metrics of 55/25/20 recommended by the AMI, it’s easy to see in any given month just how well the agency is performing. Those three numbers should be the basis to guide your decisions on everything from personnel to pencils. Setting goals is great, sharing agency performance goals though, that has the power to change everything. One of the most important questions agency owners should be asking themselves is a simple one: How many of your agency staffers understand or are even aware of those numbers and how they drive a healthy, sustainable enterprise? Is it just a few—perhaps your finance person and your number one key executive? That’s the most common answer, and it’s also a big mistake. As an owner, if you’re hesitant to educate everyone in the agency about the numbers, you’re literally managing with one hand tied behind your back. Here’s how sharing agency performance goals changes everything, empowers your team, and sets an exciting path for the future. Sharing Agency Performance Goals—Financial Transparency Fuels a Growth Mindset In coaching sessions I have with agency owners, one of the first things I want to uncover is the owner’s comfort level with financial transparency. If the owner is new to AMI, I’ll take them though the metric; 55 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) is the target for the agency’s fully loaded compensation, 25 percent utilized for overhead, and 20 percent profit. For those who already know the formula, I work to understand just how deep this foundational knowledge runs throughout the agency. As an agency owner for 30+ years, I get the hesitancy about “opening the kimono.” A common concern [...]
Is tax season really over? While the filing deadline for individual and corporate taxes has come and gone (unless of course, you’ve extended), from a strategic standpoint, tax season may be over, but the need for tax planning is really an omnipresent one. There’s always a sense of relief once taxes are filed. It’s an annual chore that, dare I say, nobody loves to do. But everyone I know loves when it’s done. They like getting it checked off their list so much that very few clients want to talk or think about taxes or tax planning for the rest of the year. That is, until tax time comes around again. But that is, in my opinion, a mistaken. In fact, paying attention to your tax situation outside of tax season is worth more than you might think. A few people I know even made it their hobby to figure out ways to pay less in taxes. I’m not suggesting you must go that far. But you should have a good understanding of why the traditional “tax season” doesn’t mean anything to you and your agency business and how agencies can benefit from tax planning. The Misnomer of “Tax Season” Other than getting your own taxes filed at the beginning of each year, “tax season” is a misnomer for anyone outside of the tax preparation industry— where the term got coined in the first place. Tax season is really tax FILING season. Which is an important distinction, so you know where your focus should go. Yes, it’s important to get your tax return filed on time. But keep in mind that filing is the end of a year-long cycle where you should be seeing results [...]
Agency owners are, for the most part, some of the bravest people I know. They have put everything on the line to start/own their agency and every day, they face and move past tough decisions. But if there’s an Achilles Heel for most owners, it’s the staffing issue, especially if your agency has hit a rough spot. It’s ironic but in a typical agency, the higher a person’s salary, the less billable client work they do. They’re running a department, doing admin work or chasing after new clients more than serving your clients. I’m not suggesting their work isn’t valuable. It just isn’t billable. What balances that out is that most of your younger, less expensive employees are very billable. Their billable hours cover the non-billable hours of the more senior staff. If you look at all of the hours your agency employees (including the owner) works — you need to be at 60% billable overall. Most agencies struggle to get into the 50-55% range. Which is why you aren’t making the kind of money you’d like to make. Unfortunately, many of you are out of proportion. You’re over-staffed in general and in particular, you’re top heavy. You might have a large leadership team or multiple owners. On top of that — you’ve got an employee or two (or more) who have been with you for a very long time. You’ve given them regular raises and now, if you’re honest with yourself, they’re overpaid. Odds are, their skills sets and energy aren’t really what they used to be. But you feel a loyalty to them and so they stay. You’ve been okay with a net profit that’s nowhere near the ideal range and you’ve stayed [...]
Want more money in your pocket -- measure what matters. Many agency owners want their agency to be more stable, more profitable and more predictable. The truth is -- you can have all of that but it doesn't happen by accident. You've heard the expression "if you want it to matter, measure it" and that's absolutely true. Here are some metrics you should consider tracking on a consistent basis as you grow your agency. Weekly: Timesheets completed (all time, billable and non-billable): Your goal should be 95% or better. This means yours too, agency owner. Monthly: Gross billings: No specific metric but measure it against your annual goals. AGI: No specific metric but measure it against your annual goals. AGI ratios: Your AGI should be spent in this approximate ratio 55-60% People (all expenses tied to your staff. Salaries, benefits, payroll taxes etc.) 20-25% Overhead (Day to day operating expenses like rent, travel, professional fees, etc.) 20% Profit (EBITA) Profitability by client (It’s reasonable to shoot for a 10% minimum) AGI/FTE (your goal is $150K in AGI for every FTE) Write up/offs (are you adding profit to jobs or writing off time. Track both) Billable % (Overall staff billability should be 75% or higher) Utilization – what you actually billed (Overall staff utilization should be 60% or higher) Quarterly: Employee Satisfaction (On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend working at the agency to a friend?) New revenue ratios (70% of new revenue should come from current clients) New clients/sales: No specific metric but measure it against your annual goals. Average spend per client (you should set a minimum acceptable quarterly spend) Annually: Client retention (Goal should be 80% or higher) Employee [...]
As an agency owner, there’s one thing you learn quickly: It’s not necessarily how much money you make, it’s how much money you keep. And much of that has to do with having a tax strategy that works for you, your family and your agency. “The money that matters most is the money you get to keep and spend,” says my guest Jason Blumer. Jason is a virtual CPA who specializes in working with agencies. He challenges his clients to grow their agencies while at the same time keeping more of the money they make. From tax strategies to employment benefit plans to the metrics that matter, Jason touches on all aspects of an agency’s financial life and some best practices for protecting what you’ve worked so hard to earn. Join Jason and I as we dig deep into small business and agency finances with: How Jason and his team got into the agency niche Mistakes agencies and agency owners make regularly Why going virtual doesn’t automatically save your agency money How to legally save your agency money in taxes in ways that make sense for your agency How to manage small business finances at your agency Employment benefit plans which benefit agency owners P&L and AGI numbers to know Why you shouldn’t be struggling to make payroll if you have a strong value proposition Why being a successful creative director doesn’t mean you should open your own agency Why you need to be willing to sacrifice services, clients, and your team How to know whether the metrics that you’re tracking are worth tracking Things most if not all agencies should track Why you should outsource your accounting Jason’s recommended resources Jason Blumer is [...]
Most agencies offer some level of web development – whether you do it in house or outsource it. Unfortunately, few agencies have actually figured out how to make a profit doing web development. Scope creep, unexpected technical snags and constant client changes make it tough to build a profitable web department. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My podcast guest Brent Weaver from uGurus is dedicated to helping agencies and web dev shops actually build a sustainable and profitable business focused on creating websites for clients. Brent and I will help you learn what it takes to make money in web development by explaining: Why agencies have a hard time making money creating websites for clients How to make a profit doing website development and design Why bad discovery leads to scope creep Why you should spread discovery over multiple meetings rather than one long meeting Why you need to niche down to find the quality and quantity of clients that you need Why you need to treat your website (and your clients’ websites) like a kid Working with your clients to develop a web strategy that fits their budget Establishing a communication pattern with your clients Not letting clients delay because a website isn’t perfect How to focus on the right platforms How to know whether to bring web-dev in-house or use a partnership What agencies need to know about the web to capitalize on the opportunities out there Brent Weaver became obsessed with creating websites when he was 15 years old. He realized he could create and share information with anyone in the world with the click of a button. His first business was a web design agency turned marketing firm. [...]