Episode 10

podcast photo thumbnail



Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has also owned and operated his own agency. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an active agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year, give 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 — he 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, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”


What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why planning ahead is so important and why your agency can’t ignore it
  • The Agency Owner Life Plan
  • The One Page Business Plan
  • Steps you can take to hold you and your leadership teams accountable on the goals you set together




The Golden Nugget:

“It's dangerous to assume that everything will go according to plan.” – @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Drew McLellan shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!


Subscribe to Build A Better Agency!

Itunes Logo          Stitcher button

Ways to contact Drew:

We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

Speaker 1: If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.


Drew McLellan: Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. This is one of my solo cast. So again, this is where I don’t bring another guest into the mix, it’s just you and me talking about something that I think needs to be on your radar screen. And today we’re going to talk about planning. So I’m recording this podcast, regardless of when you’re listening to it, I’m recording it in December. So I’m looking out ahead at the year coming. So hopefully you’re listening to this in real time, but even if you’re not, regardless of when you’re listening to this, you can initiate planning at any point in your agency. And this is one of the areas where agency owners often fall short. You’re so busy running the business, and especially at the end of the year, you’re so busy wrapping things up and trying to tie all the loose ends together so that you have a great and prosperous year, that one of the things that often suffers is your own agency planning for the next year.


  And I think it’s a dangerous thing to assume that everything’s going to go according to plan. Because if you’ve been in the business for any length of time at all, you know if there is one constant in agency life it’s that it is inconsistent at best. And I think one of the ways to try and balance out that inconsistency and to continue to build your agency to be bigger, better, stronger. And remember when I say bigger, I don’t necessarily mean more bodies, I’m talking about a bigger bottom line. But better and stronger is to do some planning for the year ahead, and to then follow that plan throughout the year.


  We advocated AMI a very simple plan. I think one of the reasons why business owners in general, and by the way, a lot of my words today are going to sound very familiar to you because they’re the same speech you give your clients all the time when you’re trying to get them to do planning for the upcoming year but somehow we don’t look in the mirror and give the same speech for ourselves. So that’s my job today is to give the speech that you give to your clients, to you. So I believe one of the reasons why agencies don’t plan better for the future is because they seem to make planning a bigger deal than it needs to be. And I think they kind of try and create the Mona Lisa of business plans. And I’m a simple creature and I try and keep things really simple. And so at AMI, we have created a one-page business plan. And do not tell me that you don’t have the time or the resources to fill out a single page of paper. But I actually have two plans I want you to do.


  So the first one that we’re going to talk about actually puts you front and center. So you own an agency and you’ve taken all the risks. And as you know, because I’ve been preaching it, I believe if you’re willing to take the risk, you also should be able to reap the rewards. So the first part of what I believe should be your annual plan is a plan that you do yourself around your life. And then the second piece we’re going to talk about is the plan for your agency. So in the show notes, you’re going to find a link to two PDFs. And the first one is called the life plan. And let me just walk you through it and tell you what it includes. You can disregard any or all of this. I try very hard not to get two new agey or kind of woo-woo on you. But I do want you to be thinking about that your agency is supposed to serve you and your family and your goals and that’s why you’ve taken all this risk.


  So let’s start there and figure out what you want to get out of this coming year and then how the agency can support that. So in the document called life plan, you’re going to see some things. So the first one is asking you if you have sort of a life vision or motto or creed. In the example I’ve given you. So there’s a document that’s blank for you to fill out. But I also have shared with you my examples. So I wanted you to see what it looks like. So you’re going to see what my life motto and creed are. But if you have one great, put it in there. If you don’t have one or don’t want to have one, you don’t need to do that.


  So the next question is, five legacies that you want to leave. So I believe that we are on this planet to leave our mark, whatever that may be. And I hope that you are living a life of purpose and that you too want to leave your mark on the world and the people that matter to you. So I’m asking you to identify five legacies that you want to leave. These are big picture things. So for example, one of mine is to be a giving and helpful teacher/coach in all that I do. So these are big broad things, things that if you will, probably some of you have done the obituary exercise where you had to write your own obit. And what would people say about you? That’s what I’m looking for here are the five legacies, things that people would say about you that sort of mark your lifetime and what you meant to this planet and to the people that were here. So, five legacies you want to leave.


  And then the next thing, what are three things you’re going to do in the coming year to contribute to those legacies? I believe that our legacies are things that we get better and better at and we contribute to in little bits and pieces all through our life. But I also don’t think that happens by accident. So I think being really purposeful about identifying what it is you’d like to do in the coming year to make those legacies more robust and more true is a great thing. So there’s that. And then your 2016 mantra. And so what I mean that is, I like to start every year with identifying three words that are going to identify my priorities for the year. So whatever those might be, whatever the three most important things are. And again, you’ll see what mine are, but any three words that sort of sum up what you’re trying to accomplish in 2016. Or if you’re listening to this later 2017, or whenever that may be.


  The next one is asking you for three SMART. So specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive goals for my professional life. So identify three goals that you can actually measure, and you will be able to tell yes or no if you hit it or not for your professional life. And then as you might imagine, three SMART goals for your personal life. And then the last thing on the life plan is five people I want to spend more time with to help me achieve these goals. So I am a firm believer in that the people you surround yourself with have great influence on the life that you lead. And so as you look at these goals and what you want to accomplish, not only this year, but in terms of the legacy throughout your life, who are people that you would like to have in your life on a more regular basis? That might be somebody from a mastermind group, it might be a peer, it might be a family member, who are really going to help you and encourage you to achieve those goals.


  So that’s the life plan part. And again, I’d go somewhere quiet and I would probably read through the plan and jot down some notes and then kind of let it soak for a little while, a couple of days or maybe even a week and then come back and fill it out. And I think you’ll be surprised at how much you know the answers to these questions, even if you’ve never thought about them before, at some level, you do have the answers to these questions in your head and in your heart, and I’m just trying to get you to write them down. Why? Because we all know, and again, this is something you preach to your clients, when we write it down and we commit to it in that way, something magical happens and we actually get much further in accomplishing those goals.


  So I want you to write it down. I want you to commit to it. Even if you don’t share this with anybody else, even if this is just between you and yourself, I’d love for you to write it down so that it is something you can look back on on a regular basis. If you have an accountability buddy or a mastermind group or something like that, this might be something you share with them and ask them to hold you accountable to it. So anyway, I finish that one up first because I think that will also help you when we get to the agency one page business plan.


  So when you look at the one page business plan, which you will also be able to download in the show notes, you’re going to see that it wants you first to identify your agency’s positioning line. So again, remind yourself how you differentiate yourself from other agencies. And by the way, being a full service fully integrated agency is not differentiation. You all say that. So figure out how you position yourself to make you look different and unique and be the right choice for certain clients. And then it asks you for in six areas to identify the number one goal that you would like to accomplish in the coming year. So those areas are a leadership management goal, a staffing goal, an internal systems goal, a financial goal, a new business goal, and an agency marketing goal.


  So in each of those, I want you to identify the number one thing that if you did one thing in each of those areas, what would have the most impact on your business? And again, those should be SMART goals, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. So identify a goal. So for example, maybe the leadership management goal is that you want to elevate one of your leadership team’s ability to manage people. That that’s one of your goals, whatever it may be. Or that you want to have regular leadership team meetings, or you want to create a leadership team, whatever it may be.


  And then under each of the goals, there are two other questions. The first one is, what is the biggest obstacle to getting this done? And then the second one is, what are my first two action steps? So first I want you to identify six goals. So one goal in each of those categories. And then I would like you to identify the largest obstacle. What’s in the way of you getting to that goal done? And underneath that, what are the first things you need to do to get started on that goal? Whatever that might be.


  After you’ve done all that, you’ll see off to the left on the sheet, there’s a little line in front of the names of each category of goals. And what I want you to do there is I want you to rank those goals in order of importance to your business. So let’s say that you are on an accounting software system that served your purposes great when you are 12 people in the agency, but now that you’re 32 people in your agency, QuickBooks or whatever you’re using, Peachtree, just doesn’t cut it anymore. And so your internal systems goal is to implement a new software for accounting, and to get everybody on board with time sheets and purchase orders and all of that sort of thing. Some of the things that you haven’t been doing.


  So let’s say that’s the most important goal for you. You believe that will have the most impact on your business. Then you would put a number one in that little box or on that little line next to that. So I just want you to rank the goals because the truth is, here’s what happens. Much like all new year’s resolutions, we get all heady about what we want to accomplish in the year ahead. And we get so ambitious that we create a plan that there’s no way we can do. And if you try and accomplish all six of these goals at once, you’re going to be paralyzed with being sort of overwhelmed and not being able to get to it all. And at the end, you just sort of ended up doing nothing.


  So what I would like you to do is I would like you to identify these goals in terms of priority, and then tackle them one at a time. So if your new business goal of getting a new business program and process in place, or maybe your new business goal is about revitalizing your monthly e-newsletter or whatever it may be, if that’s the number one thing, then tackle that and focus on that until it’s done, and then move on to the next goal. My suspicion is, you can probably get most of these goals done in the first half of the year. And then if You’re feeling ambitious, go through the exercise again for the second half of the year. But even if it takes you all year to move these rocks out of the way, to use a traction term, if you’ve read the book Traction, even if it takes you all year to accomplish these goals, imagine how different your business is going to be a year from now if you actually follow suit.


  So what I would recommend is that you fill out this one page business plan, and then if you have a leadership team or kind of department heads, I would give each of them a blank one, and I would ask them to fill it out on their own and then bring everybody together and have a discussion about what everyone identified as the critical goals in each of these categories. And then as a group, agree upon which one, not two, not three, which one goal in each of these buckets is going to be your first priority. And then together, go ahead and rank them. And so by doing that, you now have a committed team who understands exactly where you’re going and what you’re going to work on first.


  And then, and this is not part of the form because it would be more than one page and then it wouldn’t be a one-page business plan, then I want you to create a little action plan of how you’re going to get the first goal done. And again, do not make this complicated. Do not make this the Mona Lisa. Just get it down and get it so that you know exactly, you and the whole team knows what needs to be done and who’s going to do what when, and who’s accountable to who. How are you going to report back? How are you going to know that you’re moving forward on this goal? And how will you know when it’s done? And then you do the same thing for the second goal and so on and so on throughout the year.


  And I promise you, if you do these two things, these two simple pieces of paper, I think 12 months from now, whenever you’re listening to this, 12 months from now, you’re going to look back and say, “Holy buckets, I can’t believe I got all that done. I can’t believe I have moved the needle that much in such a short period of time.” And that will not happen if you don’t write this stuff down, if you don’t commit to it, if you don’t share it with others and ask them to hold you accountable, it just doesn’t get done. So please, please, please take the time to do this planning. If you have a leadership team, involve them in the agency business plan half of the planning, and have an awesome year because you have done that.


  Invest in yourself right now so that 12 months from now you can look back and say, “I remember when we were there and I really like being here, right where we are now.” I promise you that’ll happen if you carve out the time to do this. If you have any questions about either form or you want to talk them, you know how to reach me, I’m [email protected]. I’m always happy to have conversations about these sort of things. If you are enjoying the podcast, I’m hoping that you will subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. And if you are so inclined, when you go and you leave a review and a rating on either iTunes or Stitcher, that helps other folks find the podcast and I would greatly appreciate that as well.


  So please go download both of those forms and dig in and dig deep inside yourself to find the answers that really are going to serve you and your family and are going to justify all of the angst and the risk and the nights that you don’t sleep, because you own an agency. There’s got to be an upside to all of that, and I really believe there is. I think it’s a great life that we build for each other and part of that is about being purposeful. So go ahead and fill out that life plan and that business plan, and then go make the next 12 months absolutely awesome because you are on track and you have a plan. I’ll talk to you soon, and I will see you next week on the next Build a Better Agency podcast.


Speaker 1: That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free ebook and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients and doesn’t consume your life is possible, here on Build a Better Agency.