Episode 385

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One of the most common traps we fall into as agency owners is making decisions based on our fears. Every day we have to make hard choices, and it’s easy to fall victim to a fear-based narrative when trying to make everyone happy while keeping a business afloat.

But fear not — I have some advice for you that will help you see the bigger picture of where you are likely making fear-based decisions for your agency. This week, my goal is to help you identify the most common fear-based business decisions, understand why this happens almost universally, and learn some tricks to rewire our thinking around these decisions.

As you listen to this episode, take stock of when you’ve made decisions out of fear. Fear of losing a good employee, fear of losing money, fear of missing out on a good project or client — and see if you can find a better approach to tackling even just one of these examples.

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.
fear-based decisions

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The biggest, worst fear-based decision agency owners often make
  • Acknowledging the truths behind our fears and putting action behind them
  • Financial decisions (and mistakes) we make when we’re afraid
  • How we hand over control to our clients when we’re acting out of fear
  • The vital role of client and employee satisfaction surveys
  • The psychology behind fear-based decisions
  • Why you should step away from a problem and ask for help
  • How to rewire our thinking around decisions and get out of the fear narrative

“You're trying to avert a disaster by making the fear-based decision, but instead, you just create a whole new disaster.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X
“When you leave too much money in the business out of fear, you end up burning through your personal money, which should be out of the business and building wealth somewhere other than inside the agency.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X
“At the end of the day, let's remember that our number one job is to run our business profitably enough that it survives until tomorrow.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X
“It turns out we are hardwired to make our decisions based on fear. So we have to know how to come around that with logic and with other coping techniques.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X
“There are all kinds of reasons why we allow a fear to help us make a bad decision, or we allow fear to cripple us and not make a decision at all, and we shouldn't be beating ourselves up about it.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:


Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and, if you want, down the road, sellable. 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 with Agency Management Institute back with another podcast, another episode of Build a Better Agency. This is a solocast. So for those of you who are regular listeners, you know that a solocast is when I come out and I am all by myself, just you and me hanging out together, talking about something that is either on your mind or maybe on my mind that I want to put on your mind.

No guests this time. So just us chatting about something that I think will be of value to you and is important. I have teed up quite the topic for that today.

But before we get into that, a couple of things. Number one, as you know, at every solocast, we give away a free workshop. The way you win a free workshop is you leave a rating or review for this podcast wherever you download the podcast. So that might be Apple Podcasts, it might be iHeartRadio, it might be Google, wherever you find us, I know we’re in all kinds of places.

So wherever you do that, you leave a review about the podcast. Then what I need you to do is I need you to take a screenshot of the review, because you have some sort of username that allows you to have an account where you download the podcast. But I love horses more than men. 32 doesn’t tell me who you are. It tells me something about you for sure, but it doesn’t allow me to match you up with your name or your agency.

So take a screenshot, shoot me an email with the screenshot at [email protected], and then we will enter you in the drawing. You stay in the drawing until you win a free workshop. So our workshops are about $2,000 a piece. And so, it is a worthy prize for a three-minute exercise of leaving a review.

I promise you, I actually read all the reviews. I find them informative, valuable, gratifying. So I see you out there leaving the reviews, and I am appreciative of it. So if you’ve already left a review, you don’t need to do it again because you’re already in the drawing. But let’s say you used to listen on Apple Podcasts and now you’re listening on Google or somewhere else, feel free to leave another review on a different podcast site, and then send me the screenshot. Your name will go back in the hat again. But we never empty the hat. So sooner or later you will win. You will win a workshop.

All right, so this solocast winner, actually from 2021 … So again been in the hat for about a year and a half now … is Sharon Petry from Vision Creative Group. So, Sharon, I’m going to reach out to you and let you know that you won the workshop. You can choose whichever one you would like to join us at and we will be glad to have you there.

All right, so everybody else, get your name in the hat, leave a rating and review. It doesn’t even have to be nice. I mean obviously I’m hoping it’s nice, and if you’re a regular listener, I’m hoping there are reasons why you come back. But honest review is an honest review, and I promise no matter what you say, we will put your name in the hat.

So the other thing I want to do is I have been kicking off every podcast telling you about some of the speakers that we have coming at the Build a Better Agency Summit, which, of course, as you know by now, is May 16th and 17th. If you are an AMI member, silver, gold, platinum, virtual peer group, key exec group, live peer group, then you are welcome to Family Day on the 15th. That’s when we’ll start right after lunch, we’ll have three speakers, and then we’re all going to head out for dinner together.

But if you’re not a member, but you want to come to the main conference, that is Tuesday, May 16th, and Wednesday, May 17th. We have a killer lineup of speakers.

And so, one of the guys who’s going to be doing a breakout session about hiring is a guy named Noel Andrews. Noel actually owns a company called jobrack.eu. So Noel’s whole career has been about hiring and managing people. So he’s done it in large corporations, startups, and in his own businesses.

JobRack allows him to help American-based companies hire as employees, not as 1099s, hire employees who live in Eastern Europe. And so, he and his team have placed … They only work with agencies. They have hired more than a thousand team members and placing people who have high levels of skill, a lot of programmers, digital folks, things like that, coming out of Eastern Europe with a great command of English language. I’ve talked to some of the people who have used Noel. I’ve talked to him. He actually was a guest on the podcast a while back. It’s really a great model.

But, anyway, he’s going to be onsite at the summit talking about how you can explore hiring people from other countries and what you need to think about and know about, because everybody’s struggling to find good people here in the States. So this may be a very viable option for you.

It’s obviously, as you might imagine, a financial advantage to hire someone in another country because you can help them make a very good living at a fraction of what that same skillset would cost in the United States.

So all kinds of good reasons to think about that as an option for your hiring, but another reason to show up at the summit to meet Noel and to hear from him how that’s done and best practices around that. So anyway, he’s a great guy. You will be delighted to meet him. Really enjoyed getting to know him.

All right. So let’s talk about what I want to talk about today. It’s not really, I don’t know, an upbeat topic, but I think it’s a really important one. One of the things that I observe on a pretty regular basis … And we do a lot of coaching with agency owners and agency leaders. I’ve spoken to the other folks who coach like Danielle. There’s a common theme and we see it in our succession work and all kinds of other places.

But there’s a common theme that I think happens without us paying very much attention to it and without us really recognizing what we’re doing, and that is decisions based in fear. It shows up in all kinds of places in your business. This may not be you. You may be a go big or go home person. You may not ever find yourself worrying about the business, worrying about your people, worrying about biz dev, worrying about finances.

But, honestly, if that’s you, you are a rarity in our business. I think for the rest of us, there’s some worry and there’s some stress around making good decisions and making the right decision. Oftentimes I see folks making decisions based in fear.

What made me think about this was a conversation I had with an agency owner who wanted to offer an employee stock in the company. They wanted to give them an equity position in the company, not a big position, 1%, 2%, but they wanted, number one, to give it to them, which if you have heard me ever say this before, I’ll say it again, is never a good idea. It never works out well. I can tell you all kinds of horror stories, but not on today’s episode.

But, anyway, he wanted to give this person some equity because he was afraid, underline, that this person was highly sought after. A lot of people had been trying to poach this employee and he was afraid he was going to lose this employee. And so, his solution was to lock up this employee with equity.

First of all, it doesn’t work that way. If you give somebody 1% or 2%, they’re happy to quit and have you buy their stock back. So, number one, that’s not a great solution. But, number two, more importantly, I said, “Well, is this somebody that you would really want as a business partner? Remember, if you give them equity, they have access to the finances. They get to sit in board meetings or leadership-level meetings.”

We started talking about what it meant to actually have them as a partner. He was like, “Well, I’m not sure that I want them as a partner, but I don’t want them to leave. And so, I’m willing to take them on as a partner to keep them from leaving.”

That, my friends, is foolish. That is fear-based decision-making. You all know, if you’ve ever made a decision based in fear … Sorry. If you’re watching the video, we have three cats and a dog, and we’ve been fostering puppies this week. So I just plucked some dog hair off my shoulder.

But you all have made decisions based in fear. You know what they are. You know the consequences of those. You know that very often the decision based in fear was one of those decisions that you knew was not actually a good or right decision. We’re going to talk about some of the places where that fear-based decision-making really shows up.

But all of you can think of, I suspect, one decision you made based in fear. It might have been to take a client that you had no business taking. It might have been to hire someone or fire someone or offer someone equity. I’m going to talk about some of the ways I see it showing up in all of you.

But you also know that very, very, very rarely does that decision work out. Fear-based decisions are typically a disaster that is just around the corner and you’re trying to avert a disaster by making the fear-based decision, but you just create a whole new disaster.

So here are some of the places where I see decisions that are not in the best interest of the agency, not in the best interest of the agency owner, not in the best interest of the employees, but they’re based in fear.

I will say the biggest one is giving and/or selling shares of stock to someone who you know is not going to be either, a, a good partner or, b, able to run the business if you step away, or, c, able to ever keep buying stocks that are stuck in this weird minority position because you’re not going to give them the rest of the company.

Setting a hook in someone out of fear and giving them things that you don’t really want to give them, whether it’s equity or benefits or a raise, or whatever it may be, very seldom works out for you. Typically how that works out is if they’re going to leave, they’re going to leave anyway. There’s really nothing we can do other than create an amazing work environment with great opportunities, with fair compensation, with flexible benefits, with a recognition of people wanting to keep getting better at their craft and supporting them in that, seeing them as whole human beings and understanding how the rest of their life impacts their work and how work impacts the rest of their life. That’s the best shot you have at, if you will, setting the hook in an employee.

But the truth of the matter is that I see a lot of employment decisions around, “I’m afraid they’re going to quit,” or, “I’m afraid they’re going to quit. So you know what? I can’t have a conversation with them about their behavior, or about their tone of voice, or about how other employees don’t enjoy working with them because they don’t do their fair share of the work,” or whatever it is. We make all kinds of fear-based decisions around the fear of losing people.

I think one of the truths for all of us is, sooner or later, just about every employee we have is going to move on to something else. Yes, you will have some lifers. If you have an agency for a long time, you’ll have a handful of people that stick it out with you for 10, 15, 20 years. But the lion’s share of your employees are going to leave.

Your job is to create an environment that is so enriching and so engaging and so supportive, but also there’s a lot of candor and honesty and coaching and mentoring. Coaching and mentoring only comes when you have honest conversations, when you have candid, hard conversations. So you can’t be afraid of doing those things. It actually diminishes what you’re trying to do, which is create an environment where people want to stay. So we make all kinds of people decisions based in fear that end up biting us in the rear end sooner or later.

We also make a ton of finance decisions when we are afraid. So we might overpay someone because we are afraid they’re going to leave us, or we might overstaff because we’re concerned that the rest of the team is going to get burnt out and leave, even though the data shows us that they’re not working more than 40 hours and that they are not putting in overtime or working on the weekends or working at night.

We sometimes make decisions based on wanting to be … We’re afraid we’re not going to stand up to our peers. We see that sometimes in the peer groups where people will make decisions or spend money in a way that is the business equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. You know what, only you know your full finances and only you know if you can afford that thing, whatever it is, or that new person, or the move, or the new office, or whatever it may be. Only you know that.

It doesn’t matter what other people think about how you spend your money. As long as you’re paying attention to the financial KPIs and the ratios that we teach, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.

I also see people having a fear of not having enough. So one of the mistakes actually that many agency owners make, and we’ve talked about this several times on the podcast, is that you keep too much money in the business. You are so afraid that the big gorilla client’s going to leave or something else is going to happen, something catastrophic is going to happen. And so, you need to have months and months and months and months and months of money in the bank. That’s just not accurate.

So if you have no gorilla client, we’ve talked about this before, but you have no client that’s more than 20% of your AGI, you need to keep two months of operating expense. So loaded salaries and all your overhead expenses, two months of operating expense in the business. Then I want you to keep another two months out of the business. So put it in your personal name. It’s already your money. You’ve already paid tax on it. You leave it in the business, you’re going to waste it. You’re basically giving away your own money.

So get it out of the business, put it in a money market account or something else that’s super liquid . If you have to, lend it back into the business. So now you have a four-month runway. The only reason why you’d need more than four months of runway is because you’re not brave enough, hence another fear-based decision, to let people go if something bad happens to the agency and you have to downsize, you have to manage expenses.

So financial fear-based decisions sometimes are spending too much, but they are just as often, and maybe even more often, there you keeping too much in the business and then making foolish decisions because you feel so fat and happy about how much money you have in the bank that you don’t do the things you should do like laying somebody off or cutting expenses or putting a check on travel expenses, or whatever it may be.

But when you leave too much money in the business out of fear, what you end up doing is you end up burning through your own personal money, which should be out of the business and building wealth somewhere other than inside the agency.

So we have a lot of fear-based decisions around people, around finance. We also see it around biz development. So in terms of finding new clients, a lot of fear-based decisions get made around which clients to take.

So you’ve been in a dry spell, you haven’t won anything for a while, you are perhaps a little overstaffed because you’ve really been chasing after some new clients for a while and haven’t won, and a client comes along, a prospect comes along, and they are not a good fit. You know you get that weird spidey sense, that weird gut message telling you this is not a good fit for us, but you want to make payroll, and you don’t want to have to lay anyone off, and you don’t have to make big cuts. So you take on that piece of work and you take it on knowing at some level that this is not going to work out well.

Usually what happens is you can’t make them happy, you overservice them to make them happy, they fire you anyway, you didn’t make any profit on the job, and you burned out your people because you exposed them to a bad client, or you take somebody outside your niche or you take somebody that just really doesn’t help you stay on the course with your goals and your vision for the agency. You do that because you are afraid of making hard decisions inside your business.

Another thing you’ll do is you will have a prospect, you will have a proposal in front of them, they hem and haw about the price, and you capitulate on price because you don’t want to lose the opportunity. But now what you’ve done is you’ve just bought a non-profitable client and you’re going to service them for as long as that project takes. From the very get-go, there’s no way you could make money. But it was easier than not winning somehow, and it was easier than not having the cash flow of their money even though it’s really, at the end of the day, a negative cash flow because you are spending more money to earn the money than the money’s actually worth. So lots of fear-based decisions around biz dev.

Another one that I see all the time is when you do have a gorilla client, you allow that client to lead you around by the nose. Whatever they want you to do or they want you to offer or how they want you to price, then you do it.

So we were with a client the other day, an agency, and they had just been called to a big corporate meeting. They have a piece of business with a large international brand. The international brand called all of the agencies together and said, “We are ready to give you your 2023 contracts, but we need you to reduce your hourly rate to X.” X was less than what the agencies were getting paid in 2022 by about 20%, and that was the only way that they were going to get the contract.

What was really interesting about this story was how the agencies reacted to this declaration of here’s your new billable rate, take it or leave it. Some agencies tried to negotiate, other agencies said absolutely not. A few agencies said, “Yup. Thank you very much. We’ll do that,” knowing full well that they were not going to be able to be profitable at that billable rate. But they wanted that big gorilla client either for marquee value, for the name, for cash flow, whatever.

But at the end of the day, let’s remember that our job, our number one job, is to run our business profitably enough that it survives until tomorrow, so we can keep everybody employed, we can take care of our clients, we can take care of our families. If we continually run our own business in the red, then what we do is basically we work ourselves out of a job. We have to let everybody else go. We have to tell our clients they have to find someone else because we were not mindful of the fact that we have an obligation to run a profitable business. I see that all the time, that fear-based decision around clients and biz dev.

Another place where we see a lot of fear-based decisions is in offering new services. So I was on a coaching call with a client and he’s in a business that … They did a very smart thing. He offers a very clear deliverable and they defined an industry that they could serve with great knowledge and incredible service and just really having a depth of understanding about that business. So not only what they do, but who they do it for are both niched.

When they defined that a few years ago, though, what they did for the clients was pretty unique. Now what’s happening is time has passed, other agencies have figured it out, and now it’s becoming more and more of a commodity. So we were talking about how that’s changed sales and pricing and all of that. He said, “I’ve been thinking about making this pivot,” and he described how he wanted to pivot the business.

I said to him, I said, ” You should be really proud of yourself that you’re even brave enough to think about this,” because for a lot of people to go step out on a limb and offer a new service when you don’t know if it’s going to be profitable, you don’t know if your team’s going to be good at it, you know there’s going to be some trial and error and some pain in that trial and error. But sometimes we have to step out on a limb. I mean imagine if you didn’t offer some of the services you offer today because you didn’t offer them five years ago. You would be out of business. ”

So we have to find ways to step aside from that fear and say, you know what, Amazon Marketplace is something we don’t know a lot about, but our clients really need it. And so, if we don’t learn how to do it and we don’t sell it to them, then somebody else is. So am I going to get stuck in my fear that we don’t know it, we can’t be good at it, we can’t make money at it, fill in the blank, whatever the fear is that’s playing in your head, or am I going to step out? Am I going to be brave enough to explore this, to test it, to beta it, to offer it to somebody and see if it’s something where we can make money? So that’s another fear-based area.

If your agency is growing, like many of you are, and you’re getting to a point where the processes and systems that got you to where you are today are buckling under the weight of the new size of your agency, in many cases agencies will embrace that and they will develop new systems and processes. But we also see a lot of agencies who get stuck in the way they’ve always done it. They’re afraid of trying something new or trying a project management software, or bringing in a project manager, or whatever it may be that would be the right solution for them to continue to grow their business.

But they’re so afraid of doing something new or bringing in something new or using a new tool, or they get a lot of grief from the employees because they’re afraid of the new thing, the new person, the new tool, that the agency owner gives into that and says, “No, we’re not going to do that,” or, “We’re going to try and do it in our old way for another six months or a year.” All you’re doing is crushing your own agency under the weight of actually the growth and opportunity that you created. But instead of that being a great thing, it becomes this monster that is causing pain because it’s causing change. And, boy, do we fear change sometimes. So we see it in operations.

Last but not least, we see it … And there are other places, but I think you’re getting my point. I think another place that we see it is agencies’ disinterest in either doing client satisfaction surveys or employee satisfaction surveys. I get it, sometimes you hear things that you do not want to hear. They sting, they hurt, you take them personally, but they are all ways for you to learn more about what your clients want, how they perceive who you are, what you do, how you price, how you deliver your team, all of that. So, yes, it can be painful to ask those questions, but not asking them out of the fear of what you might hear is a whole lot more dangerous than asking and learning from what you will hear, good, bad, and ugly.

All right. So those are some of the ways that fear shows up. Another way they show up is in the succession planning around who you pick to buy your business, whether you decide to buy your business or not.

The price point that you think your business is worth. We see a lot of people who maybe didn’t manage their own finances well, or they had a bad couple runs in the stock market, whatever it may be, but they’re not financially personally in a place that they want to be. And so, they’re so afraid for their own financial future that they put the purchase of their agency at risk because they’re unwilling to accept what the agency is actually worth.

And so, we see this a lot of times with outside buyers. Outside buyers come in with their own valuation, their own opinions, and, honestly, anything you’re selling is worth what the buyer is willing to pay. And so, you clinging to a hope that your agency is worth more money and being afraid of if you don’t sell it for more money, you’re going to be in trouble often turns into then you don’t sell it at all, which is a lot more trouble. Even if I wanted $2, I’d rather have a dollar than no dollars. But we see that fear-based decision-making in succession in all kinds of pieces there, but especially around pricing. And so, again, all of these decisions that are tainted by fear, that are driven by fear and uncertainty lead to a lot of problems inside the agency.

So I want to talk a little bit about why we are so prone to make fear-based decisions and how we can talk ourselves through it and out of it. But first let’s take a quick break. We’ll come back and we’ll talk about the psychology of fear-based decisions.

Hey everybody. I promise I would not keep you more than a minute. But I want to make sure you know that at AMI, one of the things that we offer are virtual peer groups. So think of it as a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table, figuratively in this case, is an agency owner. So you have to be an agency owner to belong.

The virtual peer groups meet every month for 90 minutes on Zoom. This was not a COVID creation. It was pre-COVID. You see the same people in your cohort every time, so you get to create relationships with them. It is facilitated by AMI staffer Craig Barnes, who has owned his own agency for 25 or 30 years. So plenty of great experience both from Craig but also learning from each other.

So if you have any interest in learning more about how that works, head over to the AMI website and under Memberships, you will find the virtual peer group. You can get all the information there, all right? Okay, let’s get back to the show.

All right. We’re back. We’re talking about decisions based in fear and how fear gets such a grip on our heart. By the way, I don’t want to imply that when we make fear-based decisions, it’s out of ignorance, it’s out of stupidity, it’s about not knowing what we’re doing. It’s not that. It is an emotional response. It turns out we are hardwired to make our decisions based in fear.

And so, we have to know how to come around that and over that with logic and with some other coping techniques that we’re going to talk about in a minute. But first I want to talk a little bit about why we make decisions based in fear.

We are wired to have basically what is known as a negativity bias. And so, what that means is for generations and generations and generations ago, we were primed at that time to focus more on the signs of danger rather than pleasure, pleasantness, goodwill, good fortune. So this trait is hardwired in our DNA from our ancestors to be on a constant lookout for danger and to know that it was a better idea to make safer choices, to not take risks, because it was so hard back then to manage danger and to manage risk. And so, we actually cling to that warning sense that we get because it was, back then, part of how we … It was self-preservation.

But now they’ve done studies, and what’s really interesting is when someone says something negative or when we say something negative to ourselves, which is probably where most fear-based decisions start, that those words stick with us much longer than the positive aspects or positive words we hear throughout the day.

So because of this negativity bias, we cling to bad news, warning signs, danger signs, red flags, worries, and it is harder for our brain to get past that primal brain and focus on the more highly evolved intellectual process of making a decision that we just emotionally react with a, “Nope, that’s not a good idea,” or we start thinking about all of the things that could go wrong. We just need to understand that that’s just part of our DNA. So we have to figure out a way for us to overcome that.

Another reason why we tend to make decisions based in fear is because we don’t want to lose. When I say lose, it’s not really like the game of losing. It’s about losing opportunity. It’s about losing finance. It’s about losing future opportunity for pleasure or gain. We don’t want to trade a decision today if it means that we are likely to lose something that we value. So it might be an employee, it might be money, it might be a client. We don’t like to lose. Again, we are hardwired to attach a sense of true loss to all kinds of things inside our business that allow us to make decisions based in fear because we’re clinging to whatever that is that we think we might lose.

Then there’s another effect that they call the endowment effect. The endowment effect is when we attach importance and emotional connection to things in our life, whether they actually are worthy of that emotional connection or not. And so, it feels like a bigger deal when we are really at risk of losing something tangible.

So unlike loss aversion, which could be a loss of opportunity or risk, the endowment effect is really about losing something tangible. So an employee, money, the opportunity to do a client project or something like that, it might be risk or loss aversion, and the opportunity of losing a client that if I make this decision and I make a bad decision, I am literally teeing up the opportunity, I’m using that word on purpose, that we would lose that client. And so, I don’t want to take that opportunity because I don’t want to lose that possession. I don’t mean people are possessions, but you understand what I’m saying, that possession which I assign a great value. So one of the techniques we’re going to talk about is really asking yourself what is something worth and is it okay to risk losing that?

So sometimes we also don’t make decisions out of our intellect or even out of our heart, but we let fear get in the way of that is because we don’t want to lose the opportunity for something better down the road. So we don’t want to spend our money now because we might get something later.

So when Kelsey was little and we would go on vacation, when she was really little, “Buy me this, buy me this, buy me this.” I wised up to that pretty quick and I gave her a budget. I would say, “Okay, you have $25 for this vacation or $50 for this vacation to spend on whatever you want to spend it on. I’m not going to question it, whatever it is.” Well, that worked out great in that she didn’t ask me for more money, but we spent so much time in the store because she couldn’t make a decision. She was so crippled.

By the way, sometimes the decision that we don’t make is also fear-based. In this case, in my analogy, it was was it this Minnie Mouse or this Minnie Mouse? She was so crippled that she might pick the wrong Minnie Mouse that she got stuck and she couldn’t make any decision at all. So that’s that fear of better options.

So lots of reasons why we make fear-based decisions or we let fear cripple us from making decisions. I should have said that earlier, but that’s just as big a risk is not making a decision at all.

So what I’m saying to you is there are all kinds of reasons why we either allow fear to help us make a bad decision, or we allow fear to cripple us and not make a decision at all, and we shouldn’t be beating ourselves up about it. We’re not a bad person. We’re not stupid. It’s not about ignorance. It’s not about having courage or being brave. It really is just that that’s how we’re hardwired as human beings is to really pay a lot of attention to danger signs and fear and red flags and all of those things. That has been hardwired in us for many, many, many generations. It doesn’t mean that we should succumb to it, but it also doesn’t mean we have to beat ourselves up over it.

So let’s just acknowledge that all of us have this little fear bug inside us that raises its ugly head when we have to make big decisions and it makes us question those decisions, makes us focus too much on the risk or the lack of safety, or fill in the blank, and it blinds us to making a better decision. So if that’s the case, then how do we begin to make decisions that are not based in fear? How do we catch ourselves when we’re in a fear-based place and how do we overcome that?

So a couple of things. First of all, acknowledge, recognize, see that you are feeling some fear around a decision and you are feeling that and you’re feeling the influence of that fear to either not make a decision or to make what intellectually feels like a bad decision, or feels like a risky decision, or feels like a super safe decision. But recognize fear’s role in that decision.

I will tell you that one of the best ways to recognize that is to share it with somebody else, somebody in a mastermind group, a coach, a business partner, a leadership team, your spouse, whoever it may be. But talking about the fact that you are feeling this malaise of fear and that it is influencing how you’re seeing a potential decision is a great step. So I want to acknowledge that this scares me a little bit, or I’m really worried about these consequences, or I’m feeling like I have to do something because there’s this looming danger and I have to protect myself or the agency or employee from that danger.

So acknowledging the fear, number one. Number two is to step back and to do the intellectual exercises of really examining the decision from a 360 point of view. And so, if you will, metaphorically putting it in the middle of a table and walking around it and saying, “Okay. What if I decide this, what would happen? What if I decide this, what are the opportunities?” and asking yourself questions that force you to look past the fear.

What’s the opportunity of making this decision? What is the cost if I don’t make this decision? What is the risk of relationship or what is the risk financially of all of these things? Really looking at it from almost like an experiment, like an intellectual experiment, and walking all around it and seeing all aspects and sides of this decision. Obviously you’re not going to do this with every decision. You’re going to do it with big decisions.

Another thing I want you to do is I want you to remember your why. For some of you, your why is your moral compass. For some of you, your why is a set of values. For some of you, the why might be the agency’s values or mission or vision. But whatever that true north is for you, however you know that you’ve done something right, that it feels in alignment with who you are and how you want to be perceived, whether that’s you personally or the agency, understanding what that barometer is for you and then making the decision based from that, and asking yourself, if you feel fear is really gripping your heart and it’s keeping you from moving forward, or it’s pushing you in a direction that, at some level, you feel might not be the right choice, you need to grab that decision and you say, “Okay, wait a second. Is what I’m about to do or is not doing anything in alignment with my moral compass, in alignment with our values? Is it in alignment with my why, if you will?

If it’s in alignment with that, then you can be pretty confident that it is not just a fear-based decision, but that you have other reasons for doing it as well. But if it’s out of alignment, that’s probably a pretty good clue that fear has a good grip on you right now and it is propelling you into a decision that is going to cause a problem down the road.

Another great way to dispel fear in decision-making is to just walk away. I don’t mean walk away like don’t do anything. What I mean is literally walk away, like I am not in a mental place where I can make a great decision right now. Maybe I need a thinking partner or a thinking buddy. Maybe I just need some fresh air. Maybe I need to put this away till tomorrow and I need to sleep on it.

There could be all kinds of ways that you walk away, but if the decision doesn’t have to be made in the moment and you’re feeling yourself stuck or transfixed in a fear, or that you’re making a decision based on a worry, just walk away. Give yourself 10 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours and then come back to it again. I think what you’re going to see is that your perspective has changed a little bit, that you have given yourself the space to recognize what fear was propelling you to do or paralyzing you from doing. I think you can look at it in a much better way when you come on back.

Then the last suggestion I’m going to make is probably my favorite, which is get other people involved. If you have to make a really big decision and you feel like the consequences are really big and you really don’t want to do it wrong, but you’re also afraid of not doing anything or you’re afraid of doing the wrong thing, then surround yourself with some folks who can help you think it through and acknowledge … Again, now we’re going to go …

So say to them, “Look, this is a big decision for us. It has huge financial implications,” or, “This is going to impact people’s lives,” or whatever it is, “I want to make sure I do this right, and I feel afraid. I feel the fear of doing it wrong. And so, I need some outside counsel, some third opinions, some third-party opinions of the situation. Let me describe for you the situation, ask me questions, and then really help me think this through.”

Here’s the deal. If you lean on someone else to do that and you’re willing to be vulnerable enough to say, “I’m afraid I might be making the wrong decision. What do you think?” then when they are in that position, they’ll know that it’s safe to come to you. We all know that it is so much easier to see other people’s issues and the right path for them with great clarity than it is sometimes to see our own.

So rely on some trusted advisors, mentors, coaches, peer group members, mastermind, leadership team, somebody in your family who’s a great thinker and who can help you catch your breath and slow down and really think through the decision from a different perspective than fear.

So acknowledging your fear, remembering your why, that moral compass, that code of conduct or the values you have, and making sure you’re in alignment, walking away when you need to, not forcing yourself. I mean that’s one of the ways that I know that I’m coming from a place of fear is if I feel compelled that I have to decide right now. That is fear grabbing me and trying to force me into making a decision before I’m smart enough to recognize that it’s fear-based. So walking away and giving yourself some breathing room is a great way to call out that fear and to see it for what it is.

Then last but absolutely not least, involving other people in the decision-making, or at least in helping you think through the decision, so that you make a good decision based on what’s right for you, your family, your agency, your team, your clients, and that you are willing to step away from that primal brain that is always triggered to have that negativity bias, and see the opportunities to see the bright side, to see the silver lining, to see what is there inside that decision that is worth taking the risk if that’s what you’re feeling, that it’s worth taking a chance, that it’s worth having a hard conversation with someone, that it’s worth holding steady on your pricing, whatever it may be, really allowing yourself to see that decision in a more clear light and to shove that fear out of the way so that you can make a really good rational decision.

I know that all of us, every single one of us, sometimes make decisions based in fear. And you know what? Sometimes that’s probably the right response. But you don’t want it to be so reactionary that you can’t tell whether or not it’s right. If it is based in fear and then you go through all of the things we’ve talked about in this solocast, and you still think that’s the right decision, then your fear was well-founded. Sometimes fear is exactly what we should be feeling in a situation and sometimes we have to push past that fear to take the risk to take the chance. But sometimes we also have to listen to the fear.

So really being able to step aside from the emotional impact of the fear and be able to look at it from an intellectual, rational point of view. I’m not saying emotions don’t have a role in decision-making, by the way. That’s not what I’m saying. But what I’m saying is fear should not have a big role in our decision-making. It can be a warning sign that we pay attention to, but then we need to bring our rational self into that.

We need to push that primal brain aside. We need to bring our rational self and decide if what we were afraid of is really that big of a deal and are there other ways that we can mitigate the risk and still make the decision we want to make for the betterment of the agency, the employee, our family, our team, and ourselves?

So acknowledge that we all have some of that in us. Acknowledge that every one of us has given into that fear on occasion. Set a goal to catch yourself next time and to try some of these techniques to understand why you’re afraid and how to manage the fear and get it out of the way so you can actually make a great decision.

All right. That’s what I have for you today. Go forth and make brave decisions and make rational decisions. Trust that fearmonger inside you to give you red flags, but understand that they magnify the risk and the fear just because it’s how we’re wired. So you need to be able to ratchet it back and really do an assessment of how great the risk or how big the danger or how great the loss, whatever it is, really is before you make that decision.

All right. Before I let you go, I want to do a couple of things. Number one, I want to remind you, do that rating and review so you can get your name in the drawing for a free workshop. Number two, a big shout out and thank you to our friends at White Label IQ. They’re the presenting sponsor of this podcast and have been for several years. We’re super grateful to them.

They do white label PPC design and dev. And so, I know for a lot of you, PPC and dev, in fact I was just talking to a bunch of agency owners and we were talking about how profitable PPC work is. But for many of you, it’s really hard to hire someone who’s good at PPC. Number one, you may not need them or, number two, you only need one person full time. So you have a department of one. When they get poached, and they are going to get poached, then all of that intellectual knowledge about your clients goes right out the door. That institutional knowledge walks out the door. Number three, they’re expensive.

So if you are feeling like you need another PPC or dev person, and you’re like, “You know what? Either I can’t afford them or I can’t find them, or I don’t even know how to interview them to know if they’re any good because I don’t understand what they do,” or, “I don’t want a department of one, but it’s all the volume of work we have,” White Label is a great alternative to that. So going to them and saying, “Hey, I want to experiment with this. I want to try this with a partner before I hire someone.” Maybe I’ll never hire someone because at their prices, it may be less expensive for you to work with them than it would be to hire a highly compensated individual to have them on the staff full time.

So if you’re in that situation where you either don’t have a dev department or PPC department, but you want to start offering that, or maybe you only have a department of one, or maybe you’re the revolving door and your PPC person just keeps leaving and you can’t really be sticky with the work because all of that knowledge of all your clients walks out the door with him or her every time they walk out, White Label might be a great solution for you.

So check them out. Go over to whitelabeliq.com/ami, because if you’ve never worked with them before, they’ve got a deal where you can get some free hours on your first project. So you can actually experiment for free, and that sounds like a pretty great deal.

Anyway, they’re lovely people, super smart. I’ve known them for years and I trust them implicitly with my own agency’s work, with AMI’s work. They serve a lot of other AMI clients. So good, good people. Check them out at whitelabeliq.com/ami.

All right. Last but certainly not least, I know I love doing these podcasts, but I love doing them because you’re out there and you’re listening. You let me know that you like the content and that it’s valuable and that you learn things and you take what we talk about and you apply it. I love that. I love that you take this to heart. I love that you come back every week. I am grateful for that, very, very grateful.

I know you’re busy. I know you have lots of resources out there, so I feel very privileged that you choose us in your resource set. So thanks for listening. Please do come back next week. I’ll have a guest with me next week to help us think differently about our businesses. But ,in the meantime, I’m around, [email protected]. I’ll see you next week. Thanks.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefit survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.