Okay -- so not only is it new, it's our first. Check out the Foundations mini course! Having a strong foundation for your agency is critical any time but right now, it may be the difference of surviving or not. Whether you are new to the agency owner game or even a few years in -- I promise, there will be plenty of takeaways. We've cherry picked some key metrics, decision points and techniques that every agency must employ to be successful. Foundations is a 12-week mini course that is a combo of video lessons (with some homework, downloads, etc.) and a weekly live Q&A call to talk about how you're implementing what you learned earlier that week. We are starting our next 12-week cycle the week of October 5th. Calls are every Monday night at 7 pm central. At this point, we only have a small handful of people registered which means this is pretty much going to be like private teaching/coaching for you for 12 weeks! We'd love to have you join us!
Every year, I get to hang out with 30+ digital team members from various AMI agencies hailing from California to Connecticut and everywhere in between. They come together once a year to pick each other’s brains, learn about new tools, and share best practices. One of the things that impresses me the most about them is that their focus is bigger than tools, tactics, and techniques. They’re also asking about agency new business strategies, how to help the agency’s social media get on track, and how to streamline processes so the agency is more profitable. These are employees who care about their agency and the agency’s performance. As I listen to them strategize together on how to bring even more value to the shop and your clients, I also identified some unspoken needs that would make their work easier and better. Require everyone in your agency to get some basic digital certifications so they have a better understanding and can work together better in identifying opportunities, writing proposals, and spec’ing projects. Use your agency as the test dummy — try video, voice, social experiments — but be out there and be bold. Be smart about tools versus time. You may be saving a buck or two by having them do something manually but if there’s an automated tool out there — use it so they have more think/learn time. Keep your own digital saw sharp — there’s always something new to learn and as their mentor and leader, you chart the course. I’m impressed and encouraged by the drive, curiosity, and hunger that these professionals display. It is definitely to your advantage to help them help your agency!
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.
In the last couple weeks, two agencies I’ve been working with onsite, every quarter wrapped up our first year together. As part of their homework, they had to prepare a PPT deck of every goal that they had crushed as a leadership team. I have to tell you — it was impressive. I take no credit for their efforts other than holding them as capable and accountable. They did all the hard work. I promise you, if I’d shown either agency owner the list of what they presented a year ago and promised them they’d get all of those items done (and done well) they would have laughed out loud. They’d never achieved so much in a mere 52 weeks before. So what was different? Their intentions. They entered into this year-long experiment by making a commitment to each other that they would not drop the ball or let each other off the hook. And they didn’t. Here’s what else made their efforts so successful. They didn’t over commit. One single focus per quarter and they weren’t allowed to chase any squirrels until their original commitment was complete. Regular accountability meetings. They met and reported on their progress. There was no tolerance for excuses, evasion, or the usual “well, we know you’ve been busy....” Measure what matters. We set up a list of metrics and they measured themselves against them every week. They were never surprised and they found that they anticipated shifts faster and better. They decided together which needs should get priority attention. There were no lone rangers, not even the owner. They worked in concert to assess what the agency needed most and what was needed to get it done. They stopped [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
First, let's dismiss the idea that timesheets are somehow unnecessary. It doesn't matter how you bill, from time and materials to value pricing -- you still need accurate, daily timesheets. Timesheets actually have very little to do with billing. They're really all about effectiveness and efficiency. Let's say your agency is dropping 20% to the bottom line. Some would suggest that as long as your agency is profitable, there's no need for timesheets. But without those little buggers, how will you know which projects were contributing to the profitability? How will you know if your estimates are spot on or a huge miss? How will you know which employees are super stars and which ones are spending twice as much time on a job as they should be? What if your profit could be 28% and you're settling for 20%? Worse...what if you profitability could be 15% and you're settling for 3%? No one likes them but everyone likes the data and insights they provide. But how do you get your team to actually do them. Here's a foolproof system that has brought dozens of agencies from 23-45% daily compliance to 95-100% daily compliance. Step one: Review your timesheet tools (software, job numbering/naming convention, and task codes. If you have more than 10-12 billable tasks and/or more than 8-10 non-billable tasks, then you need to trim it down. Let them use the comments section to be more specific. You need to make doing timesheets easy and convenient. Step two: Hold an all staff meeting and explain that daily timesheets (weekly timesheets are 67% less accurate) are required for every employee, including you the owner and that you will be implementing a new program to encourage/reinforce [...]
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 [...]