You have probably said or at least heard the agency-centric expression “new business cures all ills,” and it’s pretty accurate. Will it fix fundamental problems at your agency? Unfortunately, no. Those are still on you to solve. But it does fix a lot of cash flow challenges, too much time on our hands bickering, and morale issues. I believe that agency owners need to invest a significant amount of their time and attention to biz dev and yet, when I get into most shops, to say the effort is haphazard is an understatement. Most of you have a reactive new business program, which means you respond to what walks in the door through referrals, RFPs, etc. One of the areas where I see the least amount of prep is in that initial conversation. You go to all of that effort to get the meeting. I want to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks about seven steps you can take to improve that first impression, whether it’s a coffee meeting or a full RFP presentation. My guess is that some of them will just be a reminder but hopefully a few will inspire you and your team to tweak what isn’t working. Making some minor tweaks in how you show up may be all it takes to move you from being the agency that hears “we really liked you but we went a different direction” to “We can’t wait to work with you!” This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I remember my parents lamenting how quickly time passed and, as a kid, I thought they were crazy. Every day seemed to crawl along. Now, I get it. A blink ago it was December and we were all planning our amazing 2020. Little did we know what 2020 had in store. Now, we’re almost to December again. How are you coming on those plans? If you’re a typical agency — you’re behind. Distractions, especially this year, (both worthy and the squirrel variety) have drawn your attention and your time away from your biggest priorities. It’s not too late but it is time to get serious about it. Here’s what I’d like you to do: Pull together any planning documents you developed for 2021 Schedule a 2-3 hour meeting with your leadership team A week ahead of that meeting, send them all the documents with your assessment of the agency’s progress on each goal Ask them to come prepared to discuss: Is this still a priority? (For each item) What do we need to do to get this back on track/keep on track? Who needs to own this goal/initiative? If we only accomplished one of these goals — which one matters the most? Have an open conversation around these questions and then revise your plan. Odds are, you were more ambitious than is reasonable. So get realistic with yourselves and get back on track. Note — if you don’t have any planning documents — that does not mean you should disregard this. You can still pull everyone together and create a plan for the new year. It’s time to build a rock-solid foundation for your agency. Think about how to strengthen your current client relationships, increase [...]
One of the most frustrating things for agency owners is finding and keeping good employees. Before the pandemic, many agencies were having an amazing 12-18 months in terms of business development but those same agencies were actually choosing to tamp down their new business efforts because they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to staff for it. That’s a crazy position to be in. When a right fit client knocks on the door, you don’t want to say “thanks, but no thanks” because you’re afraid you can’t convince someone to work for you. I think it starts with having a very candid conversation with yourself. Given all the options out there, would you want to work for you? Many agencies (and corporate communications departments) are paying attention to what today’s employees value, especially given the pandemic, and modifying the work world. Here’s what you are competing against: Flexible work hours (everyone needs to be in from 9-4 but you can start earlier or stay later, based on your life’s needs) Permanent work from home options Unlimited PTO An AGI (or another metric) based bonus program Educational opportunities Student loan reimbursement 401K match A suite of insurances (health, dental, disability, life, etc.) and the agency provides at least partial payment Paid time off to serve the community or agency led community projects Bring your dog to work privileges A stocked snack room, with both healthy and not so healthy options Knowing that you can get some or all of that at the agency down the street (or from one of your clients) would you work for you? If you’re an old-school agency owner, I know you might be growling at that list. And if you [...]
When the pandemic hit, AMI agencies hit back. Hard. They got very innovative to help their clients survive and thrive and they did the same for themselves. I find their ingenuity infectious and inspirational. I'm betting you will too. They embraced the idea of building genuine thought leadership that would help their clients and prospects and in doing so -- they attracted new clients and grew their agency as well. Check out their smarts! Moxxy invested in research that served their niche -- the produce industry. The research helped their prospects and clients understand the shifting trends of consumers in a post covid world. LoSasso shared their smarts on B2B usage of connected TV, helping their audience understand why connected TV is the most important innovation for B2B media in 2o years. Axia PR launched a new podcast to help their PR clients understand today's PR and the power of doing it well. Willow Marketing launched a research project aimed at helping their association clients and prospects understand the different types of members and how their view their association membership. Hollywood Branded conceived of and created a remarkable virtual event called the Marketers Content Playbook with over 100 speakers to help marketers learn how learn how to leverage their content marketing opportunities. This is just scratching the surface of what AMI agencies did since March. And they're just getting started!
...you don’t go anywhere! I’ve spent the last several weeks with agency owners in our peer network meetings. As a part of that meeting, the owners have to present their financials (show P/L, Balance sheet, etc.) to the group. They also have to report sales progress, staff issues, and a host of other metrics. It’s always an interesting lens from which to see the agency owners. I am reminded of what a rare breed they are. We all get frustrated and discouraged sometimes. There have certainly been moments in time when I would have gladly sold my agency to you for a nickel. But not very many and that malaise never lasted very long. Because you’re an owner (if you are one) you forget how unusual you are. The risks you have taken are not risks most people are willing to accept. The emotional roller coaster you ride on a daily basis isn’t a ride most people can stomach. There is a blend of fortitude, resilience, and confidence in you that you take for granted but the truth is, it’s a very uncommon combination. Agency ownership is hard, even on the good days, but it’s relentless when things aren’t going your way (which, by the way, is inevitable). Your unflagging enthusiasm, “it will get better” belief and most of all, your willingness to be very uncomfortable for as long as it takes, is your secret weapon. Why am I reminding you of all of this? Because you think everyone is wired the way you are. But you are a rare breed. And that’s okay. But the misperception that everyone is like you can cause some trouble. It creates expectations that your employees often can’t meet. [...]
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!