Episode 210

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In the agency world, there are days where it seems like tomorrow will never come. It’s easy to get fixated on what is broken or what else needs to be done. There’s always one more tweak and THEN things will be good.

Actually, no matter where you’re at in the ebbs and flows of agency life, it’s all pretty good.

Even on your worst day, you have it better than most. The problem is, we often fail to realize that. We get tunnel vision digging ourselves out of holes and preparing for the next fallout when things are going well.

In this solocast of the Build a Better Agency podcast, I share the story of a conversation I recently had with a friend who just sold his agency. His perspective was so telling and for me, so inspiring.

My hope is that it will give you a fresh look at how to approach agency ownership, no matter what the day brings.

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.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why some agency owners fail to enjoy the ride
  • How to show gratitude and the impact it will have on your agency
  • How to recognize the privileges of being an agency owner or leader
  • Why it matters that you slow down and appreciate your role
  • Different ways that you can improve as an agency leader
  • How to articulate what your clients and employees mean to you

The Golden Nuggets:

“Even on the worst day, there are so many things about owning an agency that we do not stop to appreciate.” - @DrewMcLellan Share on X “Everything that we measure becomes everything that matters. But when was the last time you stopped to measure the intangibles?” - @DrewMcLellan Share on X “When we show up as grateful people, it affects our own spirit just as much as it impacts anyone else. The biggest beneficiary of showing gratitude is you.” - @DrewMcLellan Share on X “Once you realize that you’re not going to be at the top or the bottom forever, you can slow down and appreciate what it means to be an agency owner.” - @DrewMcLellan Share on X

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year, Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

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Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Speaker 1:

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. Thank you so much for coming back for another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am excited to hang out with you today and tell you what’s on my mind. A couple things I want to give you a heads up about before we talk about today’s topic. First one is, we’re throwing a little party, it’s called the Build a Better Agency Summit. It is in May of 2020, which seems super far away, but it’s actually only about 200 days away. And we are going to have about 200 to 250 agency owners and leaders, we are going to all come together. We are going to listen to some amazing speakers, who are going to talk about things that they have never talked about in public before. In terms of how they built their business, how they monetized their business, how in one case they sold their business.

We’ve got folks coming to talk about the nuances of the legalities of influencer marketing. We have someone coming in to talk to us about getting your business ready to sell, maybe even up to 10 years before you actually want to sell it. Like what should you be doing now or what should you be thinking about now, if you want to sell it in another decade or so? So, amazing speakers, but also you as the participants are going to be teaching. So, one of the segments of the workshop is called a round table. So, each table will be hosted by a subject matter expert, might be a subject matter expert on investing in real estate with your agency funds. It might be an expert on BizDev or how to grow your leaders, those kinds of things.

You’re going to sign up for which topics matter most to you and then you’re going to join other agency leaders around the table with this subject matter expert. And you’re all going to talk about some of the things you’re doing around this topic, that are working. And then, the subject matter expert is also going to do some teaching about what they know is effective. So, if you come to the Build a Better Agency Summit, you need to bring both your student and your teacher hat, because you’re going to be doing both. You’re also going to meet some of the most amazing agency folks that I have ever known, both inside the AMI network and folks that are just avid listeners of the podcast, or attend our workshops, but everybody in some way or shape or form, as part of the AMI family. And I think you’re going to be really impressed with the caliber of people, but also how much you learn and how inspired you are by all of them and the conversations that you get to have.

So, here’s the deal head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com. The very first button on the navigation bar is BaBA Summit, click on that, and you can read all about it. If you are an AMI member, we have the AMI Family Day on the 18th, and if you’re not an AMI member, so that’s a gold member or above, or in any of our peer groups, then the main conference is May 19th and 20th. It’s in Chicago and it is going to be a blast. And if none of that sounds appealing to you, what we’re going to do Tuesday night, to hang out together in a more casual social setting is we’re going to combine darts and drinks. So, that alone is going to be worth the price of admission. I really hope you’ll join us. We are at about 25% sold out right now, so please don’t wait.

Also, you know how conferences go? The tickets just keep getting more expensive. So, if you are inclined to join us, grab your ticket now while it’s as cheap as it’s going to get. All right? The other thing I want to remind you about is that we, every month on my solo cast, we give away a free workshop, either a live workshop or one of our on-demand workshops. And the winner of that workshop is someone who has left a rating and review for the podcast anywhere. So, it could be on Google, it could be on iTunes, it could be on Stitcher, wherever it may be. And again, remember what I need you to do is take a screenshot of that review and send it to me because all of you have funky usernames and I can’t match a username like dachshundlover1010 to the fact that you are agency owner in Wisconsin. With your email address, I can’t do that.

So, send me a screenshot and let me know that you left the review and we will put you in the drawing. All right? So, this month’s winner is Becky Chumley from Evolve Impact Group. So, Becky, I will be shooting you an email, but if you hear this before I get a chance to do that, congratulations. Be thinking about which workshop you would like to attend, or if you would like to take advantage of one of the on-demand courses that we have. All right. So, let’s talk about today’s topic. Today’s topic is near and dear to my heart, actually, and I want to talk to you about it, just you and me. So, this is one of my solo casts, no guest, although it’s going to feel like maybe we have a guest with us because I’m going to be referencing someone as I tell you a story, but it’s just you and me.

And this is a topic that I address with agency owners, one-on-one quite a bit, but we probably don’t talk about it enough as an industry and we certainly haven’t talked about it enough on the podcast. So, I want to fix that right now. Let me tell you a little story of how I decided that this was the topic we were going to talk about. So, I was at a conference and I bumped into an old friend named Mitch Joel. So, Mitch and I have known each other since, oh, gosh, I don’t know, ’04, ’05, ’06, something like that. When a handful of agency owners started blogging and I happened to be one of that handful and it was Mitch and me and Ann Handley and Jay Baer, and some other folks like that, and it was a very small universe. And so, we were all reading each other’s content and commenting on stuff to each other and sharing out each other’s posts because it was very new and there was very little activity actually, at that point, which seems odd when you say that today.

But anyway, I bumped into Mitch at the MAICON conference this summer, and I knew that Mitch had just sold his interest in the agency that he owned. And so, I posed a question to him, but let me first tell you a little bit about Mitch’s trajectory and how he got started. So, Mitch and some buddies launched a very small, a handful of people agency, in Montreal called Twist Image in 2000. So, when I met him, the agency was four or five years old and had a bigger handful of people, but still a handful of people. And they were a digital shop and Mitch was one of the very first people who really understood the power of creating a position of authority.

So, not only did he have a blog, but he wrote a book, he launched a podcast. He was always out there teaching what he knew. And as a part of that positioning, what that allowed him to do was attract bigger and bigger prospects and clients, and grow his agency. So, by about 2013, 2014, Twist Image had added an office in Toronto and was about 100 people and WPP came a knocking. So at that point, WPP was in a huge acquisition mode. In fact, the year that they bought Twist Image, I think they bought 60 or more agencies in that single year. So, they were gobbling up for them what was a lot of small agencies, to build out this global footprint, to compete with some of the other big box agency holding companies.

Mitch retained his position at WPP. And then, what happened is in 2015, WPP cordoned off a bunch of digital agencies. So, it was about 11 digital agencies that they decided they wanted to brand as sort of a sub-brand under WPP called Mirum. M-I-R-U-M. And Mitch was named the President of Mirum Canada and so, he stayed there until 2018, when his earn-out and buyout were complete, he decided that it was time for him to exit the agency. And so, Mitch left the agency in, I believe it was late 2018, but anyway, by the time I saw him the summer of 2019, he had been out for about six months or more. So, we were chatting about a variety of things and I said to him, I said, “You know what? You’ve been out of the business long enough, the day-to-day of the business anyway, long enough, what do you regret or what do you miss, or what do you think about when you look back on your time at the agency?”

And it didn’t take him long at all, to answer the question, it was clearly something that he had thought about and he said, “You know what, Drew?” He said, “If I could do it all over again, if I could go back and be in the agency, the one thing that I regret that I didn’t do more of, is I didn’t enjoy the ride. That when we were kicking it and we were taking names and we were landing clients left and right, and we were doing amazing work with a stable, amazing team, on the best of our days, all I could think about was sooner or later, the other shoe’s going to drop. And I worried all the time about when that was going to happen and what we were going to do. And when the times were not so great and things were lean, I was worried every day about how I was going to pull us out of the nosedive and get us back on top, and get us back to the winning position that we were used to.

But never in either of those scenarios or the times in between, did I actually stop and appreciate how amazing it was, what a privilege it was to own an agency. And all of the benefits and freedoms that I had, on top of making a great living, on top of being able to take care of my family, but I didn’t just stop and enjoy the fact that I was doing work that I loved, with people that I loved, for clients that we loved. And I just never allowed myself permission to just be happy. It seemed like I always had to worry about something.”

And you know what? All of you are exactly the same way. When I bump into you at a conference or a peer group meeting or a workshop, and I say to you, “How’s business?” And you say, “Ah, we’re having our best year ever, but you know what? Can’t last forever.” You never stop the sentence at, “We’re having our best year ever.” Or when I bump into you and I say, “Hey, how’s business, how are you doing?” And you say, “Ugh, we are having a rough patch. I’m not sure how much longer or how much deeper of a hole, or how many more times we can be the bridesmaid,” whatever it is that is ailing you in that moment, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this. This is just grueling. This is tough work.” Absolutely it is. But even on the worst day, even when the clients are saying, no, the employees are taking jobs at other places, there are still so many great things about owning an agency that we do not give ourselves permission to appreciate.

That’s what I want to talk to you about today. I want to talk to you about how to put the joy back into the work. And I think every one of us deserves to be joyful and happy and grateful about the fact that we get to do what we do. Yes, we chose it at one point in time and we choose it every single day, but we get to choose it. Not everybody has that privilege. Not everybody has that opportunity. So, I want to talk about how do you … And I’m not saying stop looking at the numbers. I’m not saying stop worrying about new business. I’m not saying stop being frustrated when your clients are poaching your employees. I’m not suggesting any of that. Despite my deep and abiding love for Disney, I am not suggesting we sprinkle pixie dust over our agencies and not see the reality of what is there, but you know what? Whatever we measure, ends up mattering.

And one of the things we never measure and we never stop to quantify or value are all the great things that come along with being an agency owner or an agency leader. So yes, I still want you to look at the metrics. Yes, I still want you to pay attention to AGI and the ratios to make sure that you’re profitable at the end of every quarter and every year. Absolutely. But I also want you to measure and pay attention to the joy that it is to be an agency owner. So, here’s some ideas that I want you to at least consider. I’m not suggesting you do them all, but I want you to consider them. And the first one is, I want you to savor it. I want you to slow down a little bit and on your way to work every day, and I know this is a hard habit, but on your way to work every day, I want you to think about what is one thing about your agency, could be a client, could be an employee, could be that somebody refilled the snacks in the break room.

I don’t care what it is, big or small. What is one thing on your way to the office that you are grateful for? I promise you, it’s going to change the way you walk into that office, or you’re a virtual agency, it’s going to change how you show up on that Zoom call or whatever it is. But what is one thing that you’re grateful for? The other thing I want you to do is, I want you to start making a habit of spreading your gratitude. So, I am suggesting a couple of ways. Number one is, I would love to see you once a week, shoot an email out either to your entire team, celebrating something that happened that week. Because you know what? They’re in the grind too, and they take a lot of their cues from you.

So, if you’re walking around worried, if even when things are great, if you’re walking around looking for that next shoe to drop, then that’s the habit they’re going to get into as well. And you know what? That does not help culture, that does not help retention. So, why not make Thursdays, Thankful Thursdays? And why not, in the afternoon, just email everybody on your team to say, “You know what? We had a great meeting with client X, Y, Z today and/or this week, and they could not stop praising the new creative that we took to them about a month ago. They are so excited to share it with their stakeholders, with their customers, with their audience. And they thanked us three times. And so, I was so proud of being the president of this agency and being able to accept their gratitude, and I want to make sure I pass that forward.”

It doesn’t have to be that big. It could be that you want to give a shout out to somebody because they actually did all the dishes in the kitchen, and you were really grateful that you didn’t have to do them. Right? And don’t be snarky about it. Don’t make it like, “Because I didn’t have to do them this week, finally.” Just stop at the gratitude. Right? But send an email once a week and celebrate something, give them a reason also to see the joy in the business.

Another great thing to do is send individual thank you’s to your team. So again, maybe it’s once a week, maybe it’s once a month. And by the way, if you don’t put these on your calendar, you’re not going to do them, you know how crazy busy you are. So, calendar these things, but maybe on Thursday of every week you ask yourself, “Have I thanked someone at the office for something this week? Have I praised them? Have I acknowledged them? Have I thanked them for something they’ve done?” Even if it’s they’re the first ones in and they start the coffee, again, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. The big deal is that you noticed and stopped and said, “Thank you.”

So, you can simply stop and say, “Thank you.” If you are a thank you note writer, you could hand write a quick little note or you could shoot them an email. Or a lot of agency owners will keep a stash of $25 gift cards in their desk, and maybe you walk up to somebody and you say, “Hey, I just really appreciate the fact that I know you’ve been staying late a couple of nights last week, to get the big project done. So, take your family out for ice cream. Here’s a Dairy Queen gift card.” Whatever, the specifics don’t matter. The specifics have to be true to you, how you are and how you show up. But the fact that you give a gift card or not or you write a handwritten note or not, irrelevant, it’s all about saying thank you. And honestly, the biggest recipient of that, thank you, is going to be you.

When we show up as grateful people, it changes our attitude and mood as much as it does anybody else’s. And by the way, here’s some other ways to savor the joy that is the privilege you have of being an agency owner or agency leader. Don’t just keep it inside, take it out to your clients. So, there’s several things you can do. I love the idea of you having breakfast or lunch or something with a client once a month, just to say, “Thank you. We appreciate your business. You guys are so much fun to work with. My team is so proud of the work we get to do for you.” Whatever it is, whatever that truth is, say it and say it once a month and make a habit of it.

Here’s one of the things that I know about gratitude and about joy, the more you look for it and the more you find it, the more naturally you find more of it. So, if you start out just looking for one little thing, pretty soon, five things are going to hit you right on the forehead and then 10 things, and then 15 things. It’s all about what