Episode 395

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This week, I’m covering an important topic I haven’t covered on a solocast before — agency owner work balance. Often, agency owners get pulled into too much of the day-to-day client work or aren’t correctly staffing the agency to get the support they need on the work they have.

There’s a formula you should be following for how you break down your workday or workweek to be a successful business leader, and I’m going to map it out in an easily applicable formula. It’s not always easy to get ourselves out of the daily client tasks, but the recipe I’m sharing with you today will help you block out more time for the things that matter the most.

If you’re not doing your job, nobody else is going to do it, either. And your job is the most important job in the entire agency. So tune in to learn how to map out your days better, get out of the day-to-day, and focus your attention where you’re needed most.

For 30+ years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies, and then started his own (which he still owns and runs) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops and more.

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 owners

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Getting out of the day-to-day client work
  • The percentage breakdown of how an agency owner should spend their day
  • Why blocking your time efficiently and effectively is incredibly important
  • The key factors that add value to your agency
  • How to shift to this new breakdown of work
  • Why biz dev is the most important task
  • How to delegate and divide tasks between you and your business partner
  • The importance of making yourself unavailable sometimes

“If you don't track your time, it's really hard to know how and where you are investing your energy.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“It is really, really hard to grow an agency without someone spending a lot of time on BizDev, client love, and growing the team.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“If you're taking all of the big projects, you’re letting your people walk behind you and clean up the messes or do the tasks. They're not growing, they're not learning, they're not being stretched, they're not being challenged.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“You should not be billable. You should not be serving clients more than 5% of your time. So you may have to rethink about staffing, you may have to think about hiring someone, whatever it may be.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“The other thing that I love about you managing your day is you are setting an incredible example for your team and helping them learn how to manage their calendar.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Drew:



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 what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market, bringing his 25-plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute, with another episode of Build a Better Agency. This week is one of my solo casts, so no guests this week, just you and me hanging out, talking about something that I think is important. And I have to tell you, when I was thinking about what I wanted to talk about, we’re coming off of a series of peer group meetings. So where we come together with agency owners, kind of like a mastermind or a Vistage group, only everybody around the table owns an agency from somewhere in the land.

And one of the, we ask certain questions every meeting that they have to present their information on. And so when I was thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about today, it occurred to me that one of the most important things that we talk about in these peer groups is something I have not done a solo cast on. So I want to correct that mistake and make sure we talk about this important topic. But before we do that, a couple of quick things, a couple little housekeeping things.

I want to give you a heads-up about two great workshops that we have coming up in July. Both of them are here in Denver. So we are partnering with Carla Johnson on July 11th and 12th, for a workshop called Rethink Innovation. So Carla is a brilliant, brilliant marketer, author, speaker who was fascinated with the idea that as kids we’re super innovative, give us a cardboard box and a wooden spoon, and we can turn it into a circus train or a truck or a house or whatever we want to. But over time, as adults, our ability to innovate on demand, starts to diminish. And it’s a series of reasons why, and Carla goes into some of the reasons why that happens to us.

But, by the time we’re adults, we are really using a fraction of our ability to be innovative. And so Carla studied sort of what makes someone innovative, and is there a methodology or a framework? Because you know what? It’s not just our business, but it’s certainly our business. But very few organizations in the world today don’t want their employees to be innovative. And it can’t just be one or two. For many of you in your agency, it’s you, you are the one that is the big strategic thinker, you’re the one that comes up with the new ideas, but everybody is waiting on you to do that.

And so oftentimes you’re a bottleneck to work getting done, and big ideas being presented to clients because you can’t be everywhere for everybody. So Carla studied how and why we are innovative and what gets in the way of that over time. And then how do we break that cycle? How do we reinvigorate our ability to be innovative so that everyone in your organization, from an intern to the CFO, to the creative director and everybody in between, can be innovative and can come up with great ideas that change the trajectory both of your client’s business, and also be innovative on behalf of the agency itself.

So anyway, she discovered some really fascinating things about what triggers innovative thinking, and she built a framework that you can sort of put yourself into any time that you need to come up with big ideas, to sort of invigorate your ability to think bigger and fresher, and in a more original way. And now has built a workshop for us that teaches that framework. So we taught this workshop, not February of ’23, but February of 2022, and people loved it. They raved about it, they took it back to their agency, they taught the framework to their folks. It’s now part of their regular process, and so we wanted to offer it again.

So the workshop is July 11th and 12th in Denver. You can register for it on the AMI website, just go to how we help, and then if you pull down, you’ll get to workshops and you’ll see it there. We would love to have you join us. It’s a Tuesday, Wednesday. July is a beautiful time to be in Denver. So if you are inclined to enjoy hiking or biking or the mountains, it’s a great time to come see us, and learn this framework that you can take back and show your folks. As always, there’s a discount if you want to bring more than one person. If you want to bring a team to learn how to do it, to bring it back to your shop, you are more than welcome to do that.

Then a couple of weeks later, on July 24th and 25th, we have a Mercer Island Group coming back to teach a workshop that we have taught for, I think four or five years. It’s called Sell With Strategic Insights. It is brilliant. So Mercer Island Group, if you’re not familiar with them, is an agency search firm. So they see hundreds of agencies pitch every year, as they help brands select the right agency. They also do a lot of consulting work with agency owners, but one of the things they’ve noticed is in the pitches, a lot of agencies, either aren’t talking about the strategy behind the creative or the media plan, or whatever they’re presenting, or they just aren’t explaining how it all comes together.

They don’t tell the story in a way that the prospect can sort of see how the agency put the pieces together. And again, much like we were talking about with innovation, many agencies find that strategic thinking, that coming up with the big aha insight for a prospect or a client, what they teach is equally useful with your own clients. Most people think about it as a Bizdev tool, but you certainly can use it with your own clients. But in most agencies, there’s a handful of you that come up with that big aha idea.

And so Mercer Island Group has built a framework of how you go from getting an RFI, an RFP or a request for a proposal, whatever it may be, and moving through a system, a systemized way of thinking about the prospect’s business, to come up with some strategic insights that really position you as an agency, that thinks bigger and better and comes back to the prospect, with insights that they didn’t have, that they are too close to the business to see. I think we’ve taught this workshop maybe five times. So we’ve probably had, I don’t know, I’m going to say 150 or 200 agencies go through the workshop.

We are at over $100 million of new AGI from people who have attended the workshop and applied the methodology they learned there. So this is absolutely a game changer. Many agencies have landed their largest client in their agency’s history. Some of these agencies were 25 and 30 years old, after going to the workshop and after starting to use what they learned in the workshop. So again, two amazing workshops to help you and your team think bigger, and to bring bigger, better ideas to clients, and for the agency itself. July 11th and 12th with Carla Johnson, Rethink Innovation, and July 24th and 25th with Mercer Island Group, Sell With Strategic Insights.

Okay. With that said, let’s talk about today’s topic. So whether you have run your agency for six months or six years or 20 years, my guess is that you as the agency owner are not spending your day in the ideal way. And I say that because in these peer groups that we have, everybody has to report how they spend their day, against the grid that I’m going to give you, against the sort of percentages of how I want you to spend your day. And very few agency owners are really at that point, even if they’ve been around for a long time.

There are a couple of things, there are a couple of caveats to this. Number one, if you’re not tracking your time every day, you have no idea how you’re spending your week, or your days. You think you do, but you actually do not. So again, I’m going to advocate for everyone in the organization, including you, to track your time. It’s fascinating, and you don’t have to do this in a high-tech way. Yes, you can use the software your team uses, but you can also just keep a notepad next to you and sort of record things, or be really diligent about editing your calendar to actually reflect how you spent your day, not how you intended to spend your day.

But if you don’t track your time, it’s really hard to know how and where you are investing your energy. So that’s number one. Number two, it’s so easy to get sucked into the day-to-day to put out fires, to be involved with client work. Many of you are still super involved in the day-to-day client work, whether that’s account service, or it’s creative or digital, whatever your background is. And the reality is, as the agency owner, you need to step away from that work. You can’t scale and grow the business if you are not doing your job.

So what I want to talk about today is, how you should spend your day, why it matters, and how you can shift from what you’re doing today to the ideal. Let me first tell you that as an agency owner, you have a very important job, and if you don’t do your job, most of your job cannot be done by anyone else. A lot of the things you’re doing today can be done by someone else and should be done by someone else, but the agency owner’s job is very unique to them. And we’ll talk about some variations to that theme, but for the most part, what I’m about to tell you is how agency owners should spend their day.

So I’m going to run you through the percentages, and then we’ll go back and talk about each percentage with some details. So 50% of your time should be spent on Bizdev. We’ll define that in a minute. About 15% of your time should be managing the agency. So that’s administrative tasks, looking at the financial reports, things like that. 20% of the time should be spent mentoring and inspiring your team. So that’s doing one-on-ones with your direct reports, but it’s also thinking about mission, vision, values. It’s about leading the all team meetings and getting everybody fired up.

So it is mentoring and inspiring your team. About 5% of your time should be spent on what we call client love, and I’ll define that for you. And then about 5% should be spent on client work or putting out client fires. So again, let me repeat that. 50% Bizdev, 15% managing the agency, all the administrative stuff of owning the business, 20% mentoring and inspiring the team, 5% client love and 5% client work, or putting out client fires. All right, let’s look at what each of those means and some of the activity that falls into them. And then after we do that, we’ll talk about why this is so important.

All right, so let’s talk about Bizdev first. So 50% of your time should be spent on Bizdev, but that’s a wide swath of activity. And what I mean by that is, that’s everything from producing thought leadership content that demonstrates yours, and the agency’s expertise in whatever niche you’ve decided or creating content. It’s basically output marketing output of some kind. For you, it might be a email sequence, it might be going to a trade show and speaking at a trade show, or walking the trade show floor of the niche that you serve. It might be writing an ebook or working on a piece of research or things like that. It’s also thinking about who should we be targeting in terms of our new business?

And putting together that list and doing the research or overseeing the research, to learn enough about these businesses so you can have intelligent conversations with them. It is responding to knocks on the door, RFPs, requests for proposals, those sorts of things, deciding which ones you should pursue and then pursuing them. It is picking up the phone and calling past clients to touch base with them, to continue to cultivate that relationship with a hope that they may invite you back to serve them again when they’re in a new role, in a new job, whatever it may be.

Or even at the old place that for whatever reason you’re not doing work with anymore. It is about networking. It’s about going to events where you know your right-fit clients hang out. It is time spent commenting on the social media of prospects, or writing LinkedIn articles, or fill in the blank. You understand what I’m saying, Bizdev is a wide range of things, but half of your time, 20 hours a week should be spent there at least, and that’s assuming you’re only working a 40-hour week.

15% managing the agency. That’s looking at the monthly finances, that’s any administrative tasks, that’s reviewing insurance policies with whoever’s handling that for you. That is looking at the lease renewal, if you’re renting a building. It’s all the things of just sort of managing the business. It’s getting ready for taxes, all of that sort of thing. About 15% of your time should be spent there. 20% of your time should be spent mentoring and inspiring the team, and that is oftentimes a mix of one-to-one activity and one-to-many activity. The one-to-one activity is really doing those one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.

So every couple of weeks you’re meeting with them for 20 or 30 minutes. They own that meeting. If you’re not familiar with the one-to-one model, episode 15 outlines that for you, it gives you a form. It is transformative for agencies that start to do this, the one-to-one meetings. They really are the complete game changer, in terms of how plugged in you are to the business, how your people aspire to grow and put growth goals together and actually work those growth goals. They really are remarkable, and they’re well worth the time.

On the one-to-many side, it is you thinking about the long-term vision of the agency and sharing that, that is about you having clear mission, vision values for the agency, and articulating those and sharing those, and participating in peer recognition programs that applaud your people for living by the values of the business. It is leading the all team meetings and get everybody psyched up about where the agency is going. So it’s those sort of activities. 20% of your time should be spent there. 5% of your time should be spent on client love. And what we mean by that is, you having a relationship and connection with somebody in your client organization, as high up as you can go.

So business owner or CEO, it may not be the person who is the day-to-day contact in the business. So as high as you can climb, you want to cultivate a relationship with them. And client love meetings are not meetings like, “Hey, let me walk you through the projects we’re working on.” Or, “I really want to get more of your business.” It’s a, “Hey Drew, we haven’t touched base for a while. I would love,” fill in the blank, “Go golfing, go to the theater, grab a drink, grab dinner, grab breakfast,” whatever is sort of what you think their norm would be, or what they would be comfortable doing.

“And I just want to talk about the work we’re doing, and I want to hear what’s going on inside your organization, and really just want to spend some time just shooting the breeze and talking about business.” Your goal with the client love meeting, whatever it is, drinks, golf, whatever, is not to get more work out of the client. Your goal is to build relationship with the client. So remember in their role, they don’t have somebody that they can just talk to about the business. They don’t have somebody that they can brainstorm with.

They get shot down all the time, and if their ideas aren’t practical and pragmatic, and on goal with whatever the topic of the meeting is, they don’t have someone just to think out loud with. And so this is your opportunity to help them do that. And it is a great way just to be their thinking partner, be their confidant, because you are one of the rare people outside of their organization that understands their work, that understands their industry, but isn’t an insider who can shoot them down, or use it for their political gain, or all the things that happen inside a client. So client love is just hanging out.

Now, oftentimes you will walk away with more work, but that should not be your goal, and you should be really clear with the client, “Look, this is not about the projects.” Yes, you’re going to ask them, “How are we doing? Are you happy with our team? Are we delighting you on a regular basis?” You’re going to have that kind of conversation, but at a really high level, and then mostly what you want to talk about is business, whatever their business is. But it’s not really about sniffing around for more work, even though that is often a byproduct.

And then the last 5% should be spent on client work and client fires. So again, you can hear with 5% how little of your day or your week or your month should be spent doing client work. That is the ideal that you have a qualified team that is able to take care of the client work without you having to get pulled in very often, but it is unrealistic to think that we would never get pulled in, that there’s never a crisis, or that there is never a project that’s so important that the team wants our input or wants us to review. So 5%. So that’s how your day should be really broken up.

Why these items? Why are these important? Well, I will tell you, and like I said in the beginning, number one, it’s important because if you don’t do this stuff, nobody’s going to do it. If you aren’t doing the Bizdev, if you aren’t managing the business and looking at the finance, these are things that you can’t abdicate to somebody else. These are things that are so important to you, to your family, to the financial outcome of the business, that you have to spend some time here, and you have to invest the effort.

Now some of you may have Bizdev people, that’s fine, but you still are going to be spending part of your day supporting them, helping them, look at reviewing their work, participating in the thought leadership and all of those sort of things. If you have a bunch of salespeople on your team, I guarantee you they need your time and attention, much more probably than they are getting. So don’t think that just because you’re not doing it all by yourself, it doesn’t mean that you can skip that part of the day.

All right, so why does it matter? Number one, because it’s your job to do, and if you don’t do it, no one else will do it. Number two is really, really hard to grow an agency without someone spending a lot of time on Bizdev, client love, growing the team. Think about every one of these things. Bizdev, managing the agency and making sure you’re running the business based on the numbers, mentoring the team and inspiring the team, client love and putting out fires and saving the day so you don’t lose a client. All of those things impact your agency’s ability to grow.

And so if you’re not doing your job, your agency’s growth is going to be stagnated because you aren’t taking care of business in the way that you need to. Another area where you are stunting the growth, is your staff. If you’re in all the work, and you’re taking all of the big projects, and you are letting your people kind of walk behind you and kind of clean up the mess or do the tasks, they’re not growing, they’re not learning, they’re not being stretched, they’re not being challenged.

And so for a lot of you, I hear you say, “Gosh, I wish my employees were thinking more like an agency owner. I wish they could do the strategic thinking, “I wish they could. I wish they could. I wish they could.” Well, guess what? You’re one of the main reasons why they’re not, because you’re doing it for them, and you’re in the way of them having to really stretch themselves and grow. Another reason why this is important is because it really impacts the value of your agency, when you go to sell your agency.

Some of the key factors that add v