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.
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 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 skill 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 in the [...]
There are days (and we love them) when price isn’t a barrier and that prospect gladly signs on the dotted line and off we go. But, we’ve all had the experience of being in front of a prospect who is excited to work with our agency until the conversation circled around to dollars and cents. The minute we went from helping them slay their dragons to how much it was going to cost — something happens to the energy in the room. Those kinds of conversations are what have driven a small number of agencies to try to come up with a different pricing model that eliminated the connection to selling time by the hour. We have some AMI agencies that have created a subscription model. Others have created a points system where they, in essence, created their own points system. If you’ve read the book The Marketing Agency Blueprint by Paul Roetzer, you may be familiar with this idea. Paul and his team at PR 20/20 have been using their point pricing model for a few years now and through their agency education arm, offer a free download, Sample GamePlan that show you how their point pricing model works. Here are couple different articles on the idea of point pricing, if you’re interested in learning more. PR 20/20 article on eliminating hours from agency pricing Articulate’s explanation This was originally published in the AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
What’s that old adage — nothing kills a business like growth? I’ve seen agencies get way too close to the edge more than once. Managing growth is no easy task and scaling your business requires something that many agency owners struggle with — getting out of the way. Entrepreneur Magazine asked me to offer some tips for successfully scaling your business. I’d love to hear any additional ideas or life lessons you’ve learned around this topic. As business gets better — more and more of you will be faced with this potentially treacherous opportunity. Another challenge that comes with a stronger business is dealing with the financial implications including operating your agency for maximum profit, using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. We will be covering all of these topics and more in our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) workshop this March. This workshop is built for principals only and it can be especially valuable for agency principals that came up through the agency ranks and would benefit from additional knowledge about how to build and operate a profitable agency. I hope you can join us. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I live in the Midwest and as a result, I am fascinated by farmers. They can do everything right and in the blink of an eye — a hail storm, too much rain or on the flip side, a drought can wipe out all of their efforts. It seems like the riskiest and most frustrating business model in the world. But I can’t deny that our world of agency life has some similarities. Agency owners and leaders work their tails off to chase down new clients, to keep the clients they have, to attract and grow the right team members. But then we make mistakes that either erode or completely eliminate all of the effort and the potential profits from those efforts. I identified some of these money mistakes in an article for Hubspot Mistakes that Will Bankrupt Your Agency. Check it out and put a plan in place to eliminate those mistakes from your agency’s SOP before you pay too great a price. If you know that your agency could use a tune-up (right structure, operating systems, staffing, actually making a double-digit profit, etc.) why not spend two days with us talking about these topics? Our workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) is designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with best practices, practical tips, and hacks that will help you make more and keep more of what you make. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
When you’ve worked in your own agency for 20+ years, it’s hard to fathom doing something different. And yet, we all have that vague (or not so vague) impression that we’re working and planning for something. Some talk about retiring in the traditional sense. Other agency owners talk about the next chapter — be it teaching, writing a book or going on the speaking tour. Others have aspirations that are a complete 180-degree shift from where they are today. Wineries, B&Bs, and other dreams loom large among my agency owner clients. I’m currently working with several owners who are in the process of thinking through/planning for that transition. Most of them are in their 50s. No — they don’t want out any time soon. But they realize that this is not the sort of thing that should be left to the last minute. I’ve never had an agency owner say, “Gee, I want to sell my agency” and voila in 12 months, they were sipping a Mai Tai on a beach with their buy out money. Ideally, you’d give yourself about a ten-year ramp to go from initial thoughts to closing the deal. And by the way, closing the deal for many of you will simply be to pick a retirement date and lock the door behind you. That requires it’s own plan so don’t think you’re off the planning hook. Other than waiting too long to get started, the biggest mistake I see agency owners make is that they don’t know what that next chapter is going to be. It’s pretty tough to get excited about walking away from your baby if you don’t have something new and exciting to look forward to exploring. [...]
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 best compliments my agency ever received came from a client who said he never felt like we had our hand in his pocket. We were putting his interests ahead of our own. And while that’s a great way to build trust, it’s not sustainable. They always want a little more. Sure, it indicated we were satisfying our client, but if clients are satisfied with your work, you may be in trouble. Clients don’t want to be “satisfied” with their marketing agencies. They want to be wowed. And that means they want to be over-serviced. That’s a very fine line we walk. There’s a danger there. Offer too much, and you could be hurting your agency’s future. I explored that very thin line in an article for Spin Sucks (Gina Dietrich’s excellent site) and identified some ways you can dance on the line without crossing over to the dark side of actually giving away your work. I’d welcome your input into this challenge that every agency faces. Now that we've passed the halfway mark for the year, I know you’ve got a ton of items on your To Do list before year-end. But I also know you can get worn out from grinding it out 24/7. Be sure you take some time for yourself. Replenish your energy by sharing the Fourth of July holidays with those you love. Invest in those relationships that have nothing to do with your shop or the pile of work on your desk. The work will be there when you get back from some R&R.
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.