I’ve been thinking a lot about origin stories lately. Each of us us a sum of the people and experiences that shaped us early on. It’s that combination of influences that create something unique. I’m a sarcastic, single malt Scotch drinking, Disney lover because of my Dad. I’m a music loving, bear hugging teacher because of my Mom. I’m a voracious reader because of an early teacher, Mrs. Vandiver. All of those (and many other) truths add up to make a one of a kind human being. A person I can’t really deny or hide. It’s just who I am. The more boldly I own that — the more authentic and unique I am to others. That’s true for our agencies as well. When we stop using the generic (full service, integrated agency) language that makes us sound like everyone else and really hone in on what makes us unique — we stand out. Every agency has a well-earned point of view that influences how they work and who they serve best. Unfortunately, many agencies don’t drill down deep enough to discover that point of view or unique position. I wrote a story for Forbes on how an agency can define what makes them different from all of their competitors. What’s keeping you from taking a stand? Why not embrace what your agency is truly all about? This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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.
You know those days or that meeting or event where, when it’s over, you think to yourself... “That was so awesome. I love days like today. We totally knocked it out of the park and I feel so energized and pumped. What a great day!” What makes a day that kind of day for you? Are you putting together a new service offering for the agency? Creating a financial dashboard for your leadership team? Tinkering with the code on a new site? Representing your agency by serving on a prominent board? Mentoring some young talent in your shop or are you developing a new brand for a client? Whatever it is, and it’s going to be different for each of you — that’s your zone. That’s the kind of work that fills your bucket and energizes you. And odds are, you don’t get to do it very often. Agency owners have a pretty long list of must-dos. But one of your must-dos should be getting into your zone. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you get to spend all of your days doing client work. There’s plenty of work that only you can do and you have a responsibility to do it. But I do think you need to know what connects you to the business and what makes you fall in love with the business all over again — and be sure you don’t rob yourself of that experience. I’d love it if you’d take some time to identify your own zone. Once you know what it is — figure out how to get a taste of it once or twice a month. Plan for it. Calendar it if you can. Make [...]
Being an agency owner is tough in today’s world. Clients and employees are more fickle and demanding, the margins get tighter as you try to keep everyone happy and well cared for, and the learning curve is steep. I get all of that — both from my own reality as an agency owner and from working with 250 or so of you every year. But, on those days when you want to sell your shop for a nickel or as April 15th approaches and you’re writing the IRS a check for their pound of flesh, I want you to slow down and look at your world from a different perspective. First — I want you to remember all of the ways your agency funds your life. I’m a big fan of doing what I call a Total Compensation Report for our employees at the end of every year. This report adds up ALL of the ways your people get compensated from their salary, costs of benefits, time off, perks, etc. Many of your people have no idea how well they are being paid. The truth is the same for you. You think about the money you take home in a paycheck or dividend but you forget about all the other ways your business provides for you. One the tough days, I think it is a very healthy exercise to add up all the ways your agency pays you, from paycheck to travel to cell phone to all the other perks that come with the business. When you see that number (and for most of you, the salary part is one of the smaller components) — it makes the rough days a little easier. But, it’s [...]
I was in a FB group for agency owners today and someone posed the question "what is your number one tip for people starting their agency up?" I said, "Understand agency math and set up your financials and dashboards does you ALWAYS run a profitable shop." To which, of course, someone asked me to elaborate. Given that we teach a 12 week course for newer agencies (which is currently running as I write this) and hold an entire two day workshop on all things agency math/money, I was trying to figure out how to sum up some of the core lessons quickly. I decided I'd share some short videos I've done on the topic and a free ebook resource. So...what do I mean by understanding agency math so your financials and dashboards are correct and will help you always stay profitable? Here you go: Videos: AGI defined AGI per FTE Your top line is not the only way to grow your bottom line Is your boat at risk? (Overstaffing costs) Why timesheets matter Billability versus utilization What are you leaving on the table? Ebook: 5 mistakes that cost agency owners money ebook Hope these help!
I don’t believe there is an ideal size for an agency. But there’s probably an ideal size for your agency, based on your goals, ambitions, age, client mix, and the role you want to play in your own shop. Whether you want to have no employees and just use contractors or you want an agency of 100+ FTEs — your structure needs to support the machine. As you grow your agency — the processes, systems, and roles that got you to that size will not survive the next evolution. Many agencies make the mistake of outgrowing their work systems without anticipating that they’re going to need to make changes as the headcount increases. I tackled this subject for Forbes and I’m hoping the article is useful to you. Be careful that you don’t equate growing your agency with growing the number of bodies in your shop. That’s certainly one way to grow. But, growth doesn’t have to mean more people. It can be about better efficiency, better profitability, or new services. So no matter how you grow, recognize that things need to change to support the shift. Otherwise, things break down. It’s like being a teenager and going through a growth spurt but trying to squeeze into your elementary school clothes. Pretty soon, the seams can’t take it anymore and embarrassing things happen. The same is true for your agency. You don’t want your hard work to accidentally result in a faux pas that costs you money, a team member, or a client.
Our business is rife with myths. What clients will and won’t do. Which channels are dead long before they are dead. But the one that I think is most dangerous to your business is that it can’t survive without you. I know too many agency owners and leaders who are afraid to leave the office for more than a day because they are convinced disaster will ensue. I am constantly encouraging agency owners to book the trip to Paris, to go on the African safari, or to take a few days off around their son’s graduation. Don't worry, I follow my own advice. This past Spring Break, despite a huge level of demand, I took the week off. In fairness, I worked a couple hours a day while the kids slept (young adults can be counted on for uninterrupted mornings!) but for the most part — I was “out of the office.” I slept more that week (11.5 hours one day alone!), put more steps on my Fitbit (we averaged 20K a day) and rejuvenated my energy. When I did sit down for those few hours to get something done — I was better, faster, and more efficient. Best of all, my team handled all of the fire drills, drama, and client issues that I thought I had to be around for. If you honestly believe your team can’t handle your absence — then it’s time to start training them to do just that. Here’s a smart way to ease them in. One day a week: Work from home, a coffee shop, or anywhere that you can be productive. Turn off your email notifications and your phone. Turn both on at lunch and at the [...]
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.