Episode 419

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One of the most common questions we still receive is about how to decouple yourself from the day-to-day grind of agency life and finally get to focus on being an agency owner. Many of us became accidental entrepreneurs and owners, and now that we have teams to lead, it can be hard to stop doing the old work that got us started on this journey.

This week, Lien De Pau is giving us a roadmap for successfully decoupling ourselves from the daily grind so we can start focusing on biz dev, sales, admin, and other tasks that often get put on the back burner in favor of things that we could easily delegate or outsource.

The key to growing (and eventually selling) an agency is to get out of your own way and become irrelevant to the business. Join us to learn how to start advocating for your own success as an agency owner and get out of the daily grind holding your agency back from reaching its peak potential.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

agency owner

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The mindset work that begins the process of removing yourself from the day-to-day
  • Hiring out your weaknesses to others
  • Letting go of your ego getting in the way
  • The 5-step roadmap to decouple yourself from the agency
  • How creative agency owners can productize their services to facilitate SOPs
  • The roadblocks agency owners face when stepping away from the day-to-day
  • Acting like an entrepreneur vs. an employee
  • Leveling up as an entrepreneur
  • How agency growth is linked to your success in the decoupling process

“One of the things that I had to learn as an entrepreneur is to hire my weaknesses out. And to hire the best that I could get.” - Lien De Pau Click To Tweet
“Many agencies and agency owners have their own approach to doing things. If you can nail that process, fine-tune it, then you have the keys in your hand to scaling your business beyond yourself.” - Lien De Pau Click To Tweet
“You can't scale or outsource tailor-made, custom-made work. Because by definition, it doesn't allow that.” - Lien De Pau Click To Tweet
“The question to ask yourself is, ‘Even if I am the best, is this holding me and my company back to grow into the best agency in the world? Do I want to be the best thing? Or do I want my agency to be known as the best one in this thing?’”- Lien De Pau Click To Tweet
“At every level of letting go, there's an exercise of putting your ego back in check and making sure it's not holding you back on your growth journey.” - Lien De Pau Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Lien:

Resources:

Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to Hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.

And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the U R L? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If you haven’t been there for a while, come on back. If you haven’t joined, join in to the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of the money you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute, back with another great episode of Build a Better Agency. So glad you’re here. Today’s topic is one that I have talked to with literally hundreds of you before, and I have a great guest who’s gonna help us uncrack the code to this challenge that you are facing. But before we do that, I wanna remind you, I haven’t talked about this for quite a while, but we have a tool. It’s an assessment that you can discover the health of your agency in five key areas, how your account execs are doing, sales, credibility, staff, and transforming your business, your agency, into a business rather than a lifestyle, which is ironic given the topic that we’re gonna talk about today.

So it takes you five minutes to answer the questions, and you’re immediately gonna get an email back, sort of telling you where your weak spots are and your strengths are. And then we’re gonna send you some resources. All of this is absolutely free. We’re not trying to sell you anything that will help you strengthen some of the areas where you have some room for improvement. So all you have to do is go to agency management institute.com/assessment 2023. So again, agency management institute.com/assessment 2023. And then give it five or six minutes to answer the, the questions. I think we estimate it takes six minutes and we will immediately give you your results and then email you some tools that will help you improve things.

So hopefully that’ll be helpful. So speaking of turning your agency into a real business rather than a lifestyle, for many of you, you struggle with the idea of how do I get myself as an agency owner or leader out of the day-to-day enough that I can actually do my job because I’m not doing the things that I need to on the administrative side, on the sales side, on the growth and innovation side, because I’m so busy serving clients or doing something that honestly is not in my job description. So I’m sure a lot of you recognize yourself in that. So we have a guest today. Linda Paw is former agency owner who figured out how to crack the code, how to step out of the day-to-day and become the owner operator, the founder, the visionary of the business, and spend a lot more time working on the business than in the business.

And so I wanna learn from her for all of us, how we can do that better. And so I’m gonna pick her brain a little bit about some methodologies that she’s developed from her own experience and now working with other clients, helping them do the exact same thing. So I think you’re gonna find this super useful. You might wanna grab a pen and paper, ’cause I think it’s gonna give you some ideas of what you can do if this is something you wanna do. And again, certainly up to you, if you wanna stay entrenched in the day-to-day work, you own the joint or you help run the joint so you can make that decision. But if you wanna get out of the day to day and you wanna have more time to do the work that is unique to you, then this might be just the episode for you.

So let’s get to talking to Lynn and start learning from her. Okay, let’s do it. Lynn, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you for having me, Drew. It’s such an honor.

So will you give everybody a little sense of your background and your expertise before we, before we dig in?

Yeah, absolutely. I currently assist online entrepreneurs and, and agency owners how to scale their service-based business to sell. But my backstory is I, I am a little bit of a, how do you say, unexpected entrepreneur. Like I, I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family, but at some point in my career, I gained a few skills that I thought were useful for other people and other businesses. So I started as a freelancer, turned very quickly into a consultancy business slash agency. And as I think a lot of your listeners might recognize, I really struggled to scale the business beyond myself.

And the consequence of that was, you know, I started a business and an agency because I wanted to have the personal freedom and the flexibility, but I didn’t have any of those,

Right? You didn’t give that to yourself.

So I was like, I must be doing something wrong, but I have no idea how to change this. And then this is back probably 2010, 2011. So we’re talking quite a long decade ago. And the change for me came when I actually read the book, the Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris, where he explains a very different way of doing business with like automations and outsourcing and delegating and all of these things. And that was a turning point for me to really make a change in the way that I was running the business. And for me to be able to scale it beyond myself and beyond a very small, small core team basically.

Now I don’t have that agency anymore. I have moved into being more of an online educator and a coach ever since then. But that’s kind of like where my story started.

So what was the biggest aha for you when you sort of looked at how you were running the business versus the outcome that you wanted?

Yeah, so I, I always wanted to, or my intention with being my own boss was having more freedom, right? I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people become either a freelancer or, oh, most of us start off as being a freelancer and then we grow into building an agency when we become a little bit more successful, right? Right. But, but my intention was always personal freedom. But the reality of running a business is that, I mean, I, I never knew how to run a business. Nobody taught me that I was an engineer from backgrounds. I didn’t have any entrepreneurial friends. So basically I went with the hustling grind mode that you see everywhere, right?

Which is just like, you’re just trying to cope with the work and do your best and, and hope your clients are happy and satisfied and even raving about you. And that’s kind of like how I went along. I didn’t know any other way. And back in those days, there wasn’t much information around growing or scaling an an agency. So all I saw around me from the few entrepreneurs that I knew was it’s just all hustle and grind and, and you’re not in it for the freedom basically.

Right? You’re pretty tethered to the work then all of a sudden.

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I think on top of that, for those of, of us or or the listeners that you have, when you start an agency from a skillset that you have built up up previously, maybe in the corporate world or from your career, your main goal is to serve your clients. But when you do that well, there’s just more and more clients showing up, and then there’s more and more admin that shows up as well on top of that. And, and then it becomes really so much of a bottleneck because there’s just so many hours that you can actually get the work done in order for your clients to be happy.

So obviously you cracked that nut, you’ve figured out how to get out as an agent, as an agency owner, how to get out from under the daily grind. So what’s the, what’s the way to begin thinking about how to do that?

There’s a couple of things that are, I think there’s, there’s both, like there’s a five step framework that I always use, and I’m happy that for us to dive in a little bit deeper there. Yeah. But that’s like the practical, how to get started on doing this. And then there’s also the mindset work that I think you have to do as an agency owner. And one of the things that I really had to get myself comfortable with was the idea that I’m not that important.

Hmm. That sounds uncomfortable.

It’s highly uncomfortable. Yeah. But I think a lot of people will recognize that, right? Like, because we start from a skillset that we have, we have raving clients and that gives us the idea that we are the only person in the business that can get the job done, right? Whatever the job is that needs to be done. But really realizing that you are not as important to the success of this business and the growth of this business, realizing that and and being comfortable in that space will allow you to grow beyond basically your wildest dreams, I would say.

So that sounds like one of those things that is easy to say and hard to do. It’s so how’s, how does someone begin down that road of sort of seeing themselves differently inside the business?

Yeah, I think for me it has always been around asking myself the question, how can I hire people or get supported by people who are better than me?

Hmm.

And that’s something that you need to learn like Hiring for for better rather than for people that you think you can teach or still mentor or have possibilities, but still need to live up to those possibilities. For example. So this was one of the things that I had to learn as an entrepreneur is to hire my weaknesses out basically, right? And to hire the best that I could get.

So that solves the, I’m not good at accounting, so I’ll hire an accountant. But to your point, if your skillset is, let’s say an agency owner is really great at strategy, right? So that’s their, that’s not a weakness for them. That’s their strength. How do they begin to shift the mindset that someone else, because I think a lot of folks get stuck in this, which is there are certain things that we do as an agency that I’m the only one that can do at the level I do it. Yeah. And a lot of times it is a strategy kind of play. So how do I, how do I shift my mindset even if I hire, well, how do I shift my mindset that, that Bob is as good at strategy as I am?

Yeah. So one of the things that helps there is that it’s accepting the fact that Bob might be as good in strategy as you are, but he might do it differently,

Right?

And that is one of the things that we often struggle with. It’s like, if it’s done my way, that’s the best way. Right? And, and that might be true. I’m not even challenging that that might be true. The question then to ask yourself is, what is my way, right? How do I work? What is my unique capability of like a mixture of like passion, a skillset vision that I have that I bring to the table? And kind of unraveling that approach that makes you, you and what some people might call the magic that someone has. But I’m a ne I’m an engineer from backgrounds and I do believe in magic.

But on the other hand, I also do believe that each and every single one of us has a specific way of getting things done and helping our clients. Yeah. And once you can get around what that specific way is in how you serve your clients and really start thinking of My magic follows a specific process of how I get things done for my client, once I see through that process and I start to understand what that process looks like, I become in a position where I can either train someone in that process so they become like me, or I’m, I’m Hiring someone who’s better than me.

But often a lot of agencies and agency owners, they have their own approach on doing things, right? That’s what makes them unique, right? Right. So if you can kind of nail that process down, fine tune it, then you have the keys in your hand as to scaling your business beyond yourself.

Yeah. Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about the roadmap. So you said there’s a five step roadmap to, in essence, kind of decouple ourselves as owners from the day to day of our business. So if you will walk us, walk us through those steps.

Yeah. So it’s a five step framework that is easily, I think, easily understood, maybe not as easily implemented. It requires a couple of iterations.

Again, an easy to say, hard to do,

Right? Like if, if it would be easy, everybody would be doing it and know one would be listening to this podcast, right? So, right, right. But I, I love how you phrase it. It’s about Decoupling yourself from the business, right? And I think the first step that you should do as, as an agency owner is to audit your time. What are you really spending your time on on a day-to-day business? And I’m not talking like just on a high level helicopter view, but really like take your agenda if you’re using Google Calendar or, or Outlook calendar or whatever calendar that you’re using, is to really audit what you’re spending your time on and to look on on that.

And the second thing that you then do is kind of catalog or sort the things that you’re spending your time on. So is it sales? Like maybe you had like a one-on-one meeting to close a deal with a client. Okay, that’s the sales category, right? And then maybe you spend 15 minutes on shooting a video that is gonna be turned into a reel to be posted on your Instagram account, for example. Okay, that’s 15 minutes of marketing efforts that you did. And then maybe you spent an hour looking at your invoices that weren’t paid yet and you’ve done all the payments that needed to be done. That’s an hour of accounting work that you did and so forth and so on. So you’re kind of like gonna really put the time that you spent and that you, you, that is eating up your day-to-day hours into specific categories.

That’s step number two. Because that will help you to kind of do step number three, which is the prioritization of what to tackle first, right? And some people go about tackling the thing that takes the most time up in their calendar, which is a good approach because if you can take these things out of your calendar, you will liberate a lot of free time in your calendar, which is amazing. Other people choose to tackle the things first that they don’t like. Yeah. Maybe they don’t spend a lot of time on it, but it’s a really burden and they keep on like, like procrastinating on this thing. Yeah. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it really just feels very disaligned with their skills.

So there’s not a good way or a bad way, way in prioritizing you. You can choose whatever. And then the first step is to kind of, or the fourth sorry step is to draft an S op. This is what I was telling you earlier on. It’s like, what is the thing that I’m actually doing here? Like how is the process actually looking like

This is, this is where your engineer brain comes in. Right?

Exactly. So back in the days, there is a a gap between me being an entrepreneur and me graduating as an engineer. I used to work as a process optimizer for big corporations. And I think this really was the key for me to be able to scale my agency because I could think in a process, and a lot of creative agency owners struggle with that. Like they don’t see the process behind the work that they do. But if you think about this, if you’re doing an activity, let’s say like you spend an hour doing accounting work, ask yourself the thing, what were the F five steps that I did here, right?

That I followed through in order to get this job done, which was like getting these bills paid or whatever the job was done. So you write down the five steps that you did and each time you do that activity yeah. You see like is, are these five steps still the same five steps that I take? Yes they are, or no, they don’t. I’m gonna tweak them a little bit. Yep. And those five steps kind of become your way of doing this thing, your procedure, if I can call it that way. Right? And once you have that thing, you can move into step number five, which is either you’re gonna look at, can I automate this thing that I just did?

Can I automate these five steps that I did? And if not, could I delegate them to someone else? And if I delegate it to someone else, then well here I have it written out what actually the job is that needs to get done. Or like, right, the five little tasks that are important in order to get this job done. And you could do this for accountancy, things that you do. You can do this for marketing stuff that is in your agenda. You can do this to team leading stuff that is in your agenda. You can do this to basically any single task that is in your agenda. So you kind of reiterate that process over and over and over again. You always go back to the next task that you can then write an ss o p and then either automate and delegate.

Once you’ve done that, you kind of go back to another task and then you go through that thing over and over and over again until you liberate yourself basically.

So that sounds great. If the task is, if whatever I’m doing is very task oriented, like, like you said, paying bills, right? I, you log into bill.com, you, you look at the list of bills you, you know, like that to me is very, is that left brain, right? Left brain, like it’s like things, it’s like to-dos, right? But for a lot of agency owners, the thing that they spend a lot of time in is they’re creating something or they’re creating a strategy, or they’re coming up with a creative concept, which is, I think, harder to articulate.

’cause a lot of it is just things banging around in your head until some good ideas come out. So how do you help people who create, create an s o P around that creation when it’s not so obvious? I mean, without a doubt, they’re still doing things to get an outcome. So I, I know there’s a way to create an S o p, but it’s not as linear or task oriented as some things that we do.

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a great question to ask. And I think one of the, the biggest hurdles on that journey is when you have an agency that does a lot of, all of the projects that you do are tailor made and custom made for your clients,

Right? Right.

Every single one of them. And that’s where the biggest challenge lies. So what can help there? I mean, I always say you can’t really scale or outsource