Episode 120

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It’s funny what a single question can do. I was all set to record this week’s solocast about the content from the workshop I taught earlier in the week and then someone asked me a question that took me in a completely different direction. The direction of how much agency owners need a posse.

I’ll get to the workshop content next time but for this solocast I followed the nudge of the question and talked about how agency owners can surround themselves with people who understand the grind and who can make the journey a little less lonely and frustrating.

We’ll talk about the different kinds of groups out there that serve as coaches, mentors, support teams and accountability buddies. We’ll explore why this matters and how it can serve you and your business. But most of all we’ll talk about how much easier life and work can be when you have a posse!

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 — 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, Forbes, 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:

  • The pros and cons of local business networking groups and what you can hope to get from one
  • The importance of creating genuine connections inside your posse so they become your greatest supporters on both the best and worst days as a business owner
  • How to build a mastermind group from scratch and fill it with the right peers
  • The accountability that comes from having a strong peer group
  • Being a good member of a peer group is about giving first. You will gain in proportion to what you give
  • Why being an agency owner is one of the toughest jobs in the world and why AMI was started to give agency owners other owners in noncompetitive markets to confide in
  • The virtual and in-person peer networks that AMI offers to pair agencies up with other agencies in non-competing markets


The Golden Nugget:

“The best thing about owning your own business is that you’re accountable to no one. The worst thing about owning your own business is that you’re accountable to no one.” – @DrewMcLellan Share on X


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Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

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 Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. 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 another episode of Build a Better Agency. This week is one of my solo-casts, so no guests today, just you and me. As you can see behind me, I am in a hotel room if you’re watching the video. Obviously, if you’re just listening to the podcast, you cannot see behind me, but you can clearly tell that I’m in a hotel room. And actually, I am at Walt Disney World in Florida, and I just wrapped up teaching a two-day course with Stephen Westner from Predictive ROI called Creating Content that Generates Revenue.


  Before I tell you about that and talk about what I want to talk about today, I want to remind you that every week we do a giveaway, so many of our guests are authors or have courses or have other sorts of offerings that they very generously give us to give away to you. And so if you go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway, all you have to do is enter your email address and you are in the drawing, not just for this week, but for every week. So if you’ve already gone and done it, no need to go do it again. But if you haven’t done it, you might want to think about doing it this week because later this month, probably in about a week or so, the drawing we’re going to do and the prize we’re going to give away is a seat at our advanced AI boot camp on March 8th and 9th in Chicago.


  So that’s a $1,700 course that we are going to give away absolutely for free to someone. So there is no reason at all, why you wouldn’t want to sign up for that. Yes, you have to get your person to Chicago, your AE to Chicago, but other than that, the course itself is free, a couple of nights of hotel and you’re good to go. So make sure you run over and do that.


  Okay. So now I want to talk to you a little bit about … So I had this whole thing planned, my solo-cast, I knew what it was going to be about. I was going to talk about the workshop and some of the big takeaways, and it was really a great workshop, a lot of energy, a lot of discussion. As you can imagine, a lot of talk around the whole idea of not only creating content but creating content that actually generates revenue for your agency and also how to create content for your clients that generates revenue. So it was a slam dunk. I knew that’s what I was going to talk about. But then somebody asked me a question today, and what they said to me was “Drew, what do you love most? You clearly love teaching these workshops. What do you love most about it?” And that changed today’s solo-cast topic.


  Because in answering his question, what I realized is there are a lot of things I love about teaching workshops. I love that people come in and they’re all wide open and ready to learn and that somewhere along the way, in the two days, light bulbs start going off and they start getting ideas and they start getting excited, and they take back with them, not only some new ideas or some new plans or some new tactics, but they take back a new energy that they are fired up about running their agency and about the work they’re going to do and these new things that they’re going to bring back to their shop. Love that.


  What I really love most is actually accidental, sort of accidental with air quotes. What I really love most about teaching the workshop is I get to be in a room with 25, 50, 70 agency owners, leaders, whoever it is, and I get to watch the magic that happens when they’re in a room together and they begin to realize that not only are they going to learn from me and my co-presenter, if I have one, but more importantly, they’re going to learn a lot from each other. And here’s how that works. So somewhere along the way in the first morning, someone will ask a question and then someone else, other than me or my co-presenter will have an answer or a suggestion or an example that they share, and all of a sudden the dynamic starts to change. And next thing you know, people are sharing ideas. They’re sharing resources. I’m hearing people say things like, “Oh, I have a template for that. I’ll send it to you. Give me your email address.”


  Because remember, these people haven’t met in many cases before. And so if something cool happens in that room, and what happens is it’s a safe place, you’re in a non-competitive environment, and all of a sudden you are surrounded by people who do what you do and understand the ups and downs, the joys, the pains, the cost, the real cost of owning an agency. And all of a sudden you don’t feel so alone. You don’t feel like you’re hanging out there all alone. And that was the premise that AMI was really started on 20-some years ago, was this idea that owning an agency was the loneliest job in the world. It was like being a lighthouse keeper and that really, there were so few people that you could talk to. You couldn’t really share a lot of what was going on in your head and in your heart with your employees. You couldn’t share some of it with your family because they didn’t understand the business. You couldn’t share it with your peers because they were your competitors, so you ended up doing it all by yourself and that felt really lonely.


  And interestingly, it feels equally lonely on the good days and the bad. So on the bad days, when things are just hitting the fan, it stinks to have to face that alone and not to have anybody to sort of problem-solve that with you. And on the good days, when you score a huge client after you’ve been chasing after them for two years, it stinks for no one to really understand how hard that was, how amazing it was, and why you are so excited about it regardless of the dollar amount.


  So what I really want to talk about today actually is the phenomena that happens in that room and how I want that for you. I want you to be a less lonely business owner. I want you to surround yourself with other people who understand the journey that you’re on the burdens that you have, the joys that you have, and there are several ways that you can do that. So you absolutely can do it locally through something like a Vistage group, or a chamber group, or Rotary, or Kiwanis, or any of the other sort of business sort of networking groups that are there.


  I will say this, a group of 50 people in a room is very different than a group of 20 people in a room. So be mindful that what you get out of a larger group, like a Rotary is very different than what you get out of a smaller group, like maybe a Vistage or a Young President’s Club or something like that, that’s more intimate, right? So more of a board of directors size of a group, nothing wrong with that at all. The upside of that is it’s local and that you can physically be in the same room with those people on a regular basis.


  The downside of that is they don’t understand our world. They sort of do, they understand the idea of owning a business, but a lot of the nuances of owning a business, a lot of the metrics of owning a business, the dashboards that we use, the way we measure success is unique to our industry. And so one of the things you give up if you decide to do it with a local group that is more generic in topic is you’re going to talk about more generic business things. Can you learn a lot? Absolutely. Can you make great friends there who are very supportive? Absolutely. So I’m not saying that that’s not a good choice. You just need to understand what the pros and cons of that are.


  Another option is a group like AMI. And it doesn’t have to be AMI, there are several agency networks out there. Now, at AMI we offer two options for you. We have a virtual owner peer group. So imagine six agency owners who are in a committed group, so you’re going to see the same people over and over, you’re going to get together once a month, but you’re going to do it on Zoom, and you’re going to talk about challenges. You’re going to share best practices. You’re going to learn from each other. You’re going to share resources and tools. And that’s going to be facilitated by an agency owner who works at AMI. And so that’s one way to get that and to get more specific industry support and connection rather than the broader group.


  AMI was founded on the in-person agency-owner peer networks. So the way those work for those of you that aren’t familiar with it, the way those work is 12 agencies from noncompeting markets make a commitment to each other, that they are going to physically get together twice a year. So they spend two and a half days together in the spring and two and a half days together in the fall. And they literally, it’s very quickly open the kimono. So they have to show their full financials to each other. So they pass out P&Ls and balance sheets. So there’s no blowing smoke up anybody’s skirt about how business is because you can see it in black and white. They share challenges. They problem-solve together. We bring speakers in. We talk about best practices. They share the best idea that they’ve had in the last six months, the thing that’s made them the most money or saved them the most money, so all kinds of things happen there.


  But what really happens there, and in both cases in the virtual side and the in live side, and I suspect in the Vistage groups and some of those other things, what really happens there is the connection, that you begin to build relationships with people who genuinely are invested in your business, who genuinely are excited for you when you land a new client, and who genuinely are as devastated as you are when a big client walks out the door or a key employee leaves. They get it and they share in both your joy and your misery. And quite honestly, what happens in those groups is much bigger than a professional relationship.


  So as many of you know, before I owned AMI, I was a member of AMI. So I was a member of one of these peer groups for many, many years. And I will tell you that some of the people that were in my original group have gone on to other things. They either have sold their agency, or they’ve done something different. They have also, some of them are still in a peer group, so in a network. So I went from being their peer to being their facilitator. And are those people absolutely the ones that when my business was absolutely in a tailspin, they were the first people I called? Are they the ones who celebrated when we landed big victories? Absolutely. Were they the people who helped me avoid so many mistakes? You bet. But they also became some of my dearest friends.


  And so that’s when now all of a sudden a peer group is much more than a peer group, right? And that’s when the support is amazing and safe and confidential. And that’s what I want for you. I have another idea of how you can do that. And we’re going to get to that right after this quick break.


  One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AEs in our AE boot camps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach. If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency, to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to AE boot camps, and a plethora of other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com\livetraining. Okay, let’s get back to the show.


  All right, we are back. And where I left off was talking about the Agency Management Institute owner peer groups. A great choice, but there are other ways for you to get this as well. In some cases, if there’s not a pre-existing group out there that fits your need, I am a big believer in mastermind groups. So you can build one from scratch. And that’s how I have started both of the mastermind groups that I’m in. So I’m in one that is local to me, so these are guys that live in the community that I live in, and we’ve been together for over a decade. And I’m in one that is virtual. These are people who are scattered all over the country and we get together on Zoom once a month for our meeting.


  So there are some commonalities that come into play around a mastermind group. And the first one is you really do have to have the same intention, the same reasons for joining. And for me, the reasons were a mix of, I want to learn, I want to support other business people, I want to create a relationship, but most of all, I want someone to hold me accountable. I got a lot of things going on. It’s easy for me to let myself off the hook of deadlines and I wanted to be accountable to somebody. I have often said the best thing about owning your own business is you are accountable to no one. The worst thing about owning your own business is you are accountable to no one. So a mastermind group holds you accountable to the things that you’ve said. So we all went in with the same intention.


  So when I started the one with the guys locally, there were four of us in the group and all of us were business owners and we absolutely had the same intention. We also had the same commitment level. We didn’t know each other very well. Two of us knew each other sort of, but we were really at best sort of acquaintances and I would say even sort of casual acquaintances at that. But anyway, so we made the commitment that we were going to get together once a week, three hours every week, and we were going to do that for a year, and at the end of the year, we would decide whether or not the group was providing a lot of value. Because that’s a lot of time to invest, right?


  So we did that. We got together every week. We were very committed. We didn’t miss a meeting unless somebody was sick or on vacation. And if somebody missed it, the rest of us got together. And we had a very set format, so everybody would get a certain amount of time. They would bring everybody up to speed on what they had been committed to the last month. So they would again, be held accountable for what they said they would get done. They would give everybody an update on what they were working on and they would then identify what they wanted us to hold them accountable for, for the next month. And then there was a lot of discussion, a lot of brainstorming, a lot of pushing and pulling on ideas in the middle of your update, right? So you’d say, well, I’m thinking about writing a book, and then you would have a big discussion about whether or not you should write a book, what the book was about, that sort of thing.


  So all kinds of really great ideas, all kinds of really great discussion, but it always ended with, “Okay, what are you going to do by the time we get back together, and how can we help you do that?” So that structure worked great. And at the end of the year, I told you we’d been together for a decade, so obviously, at the end of the year, we decided that that would work. Interestingly, now, we don’t get together. We probably see each other maybe four or six times a year, and the rest of the time we get together over phone or on Zoom because all of us now travel extensively. And so that was not true 10 years ago, but today for all of us, it’s true, so now we have to get a little more flexible. But we have the foundation of the groups so locked in that we can be flexible now and we can still hold each other accountable.


  Also, what happened somewhere along the way is one of the guys who owned a business decided to sell his business and go back into an employment situation, so he left the group because not that we didn’t love him, but because we wanted only entrepreneurs in that group. Again, we wanted like-minds and like experiences in the same group. So now it’s down to three of us, and the three of us had been together probably five or six years on our own. So that’s super important. All of those elements are super important.


  When I started the online group … Oh, by the way, those guys and I are not in the same industry. So we do some of the same things. We’ve all written books, we all speak, but we have very different audiences and very different industries. So there is commonality to our business, but we are not all in the same business or we don’t all serve the same audience. So that was great. And I love them and I would never give that group up. I absolutely can attribute a lot of my success to those guys and the decisions they helped me make. But I wanted to surround myself again, much like AMI, I wanted to surround myself with peers who serve the same audience, who understand what it’s like to be offering consulting services into agencies, so I formed an online group of myself and two other professionals who serve the same audience, who serve agencies. We have the same rules in terms of process and how often we get together. We do it on Zoom. But other than that, it’s exactly the same.


  And I can tell you we’ve been together for a couple of years now and without a doubt, that’s been super helpful. It’s been amazing to have somebody who does what I do help me think about how to do what I do better. So whether it is a Vistage group, a Rotary club, an AMI owner-peer group, whether you build your own mastermind, how you surround yourself with peers who believe in you, who support you, that, I’m not so concerned about. But I am concerned, I am hopeful that you will find the time and find the way to build yourself a peer network that supports you so you are not alone. You are not the lighthouse keeper. You are not wondering who can I pick up the phone and call when you’ve had a tough day or you have a tough decision to make, or when you’ve had a great day and you just want to celebrate. I want you to have that around yourself. I want you to have those people, those peers to lean on and to get support from.


  And quite honestly, I want you to have the relationship. So I told you I have been in the AMI group I was in for a long time, over a decade before I bought AMI, and now some of those folks are now my clients in essence and some of those folks have moved on. I absolutely will tell you that I am not at all sure that my business would have survived and thrived the way it did and the way it does today if I had not had my AMI peer group. Those people taught me so much about running a business.


  And I thought I knew a lot until I got there and I realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and all the best practices, and all the dashboards and all the metrics that matter. I learned so much from those people. They absolutely helped me maximize opportunities. They helped me dodge many a bullet that I absolutely would have walked right into if it weren’t for them. They talked me off the ledge on the days when I would have sold my agency for a nickel and they were the first ones to cheer for me when something went well.


  But beyond that, those people became my dear friends. They are people that I love. They are people that I count on and they are people who have proven to me over and over again that it is far easier and better to do this when you do it in a collective, when you do it as sort of, not a team necessarily, because obviously they’re not walking into your agency and doing work for you, but when you have support and you have peers that you can reach out to, to literally say anything from, “I am updating my HR manual, do you have one that I can borrow so I can steal from your stuff?” Or, “Hey, we’re doing a pitch for this kind of an industry, do you have some samples that I can look at because I want to make sure that we are being consistent with that industry’s expectations,” to,” Hey, we are jammed, does your copywriter have any time on their hands, and can I buy some time from you?”


  Whatever it is, from the trivial to the super important, having those people have your back, believe in you, and be a phone call away. And by the way, they pick up the phone, they return the phone call because you are important to them and vice versa. And that’s a great point. This is not a one-side street. You cannot get a lot from a peer group if you don’t give a lot to a peer group. So if you’re going to show up whether it’s to a Vistage group, or your Rotary club, or an AMI peer network, or a mastermind group, and you are there to suck everybody’s brain dry and to get all the ideas you can, and you’re not also there to share, and support, and teach, and cheer, and console, when that is needed, then you know what, that group’s not going to work for you and you’re not going to be a member of that group for a long time. This is a full-contact sport. If you’re going to jump into one of these groups, you have to be ready to give absolutely as much as you get.


  And then as you, I can imagine and as you know, from your own experiences, the more you give, the more you get. So it just keeps expanding on itself. It just keeps getting bigger and better because you keep pouring more of yourself into it and you keep getting more out of it. So I’m really hoping in 2018, that this is a priority for you, that you figure out how to surround yourself with people who understand the work that you do, who understand the importance of the work that you do, who understand how hard you work, and who understand the emotions behind all of that and support you through all of that stuff. Because at the end of the day, this is tough work. Running an agency is not easy. And the more you can share those experiences and the more you can have somebody to help you carry the burden of the bad days and help lift you up on the good days, it makes the whole thing a lot easier and a heck of a lot more fun. And I want that for you.


  So please, any of those ideas or if you have a different idea that I haven’t thought of, make sure you surround yourself, make sure you’ve got a posse who believes in you and who’s going to go to battle with you. Everybody needs a posse. And I want this year to be the year that if you don’t have one, you get one.


  If you happen to be somebody who already has a posse, you’re already in an AMI peer group, you’re already in a great Vistage group, you already have a great mastermind, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take a minute and shoot an email to those people and let them know how grateful you are for the support they give you and the things that you’ve learned from them and the fact that you can count on them. Make sure you take really good care of those people in that group because it is a gift and it is something that should not be taken for granted and it is something that you should nurture and grow. So if you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, say thank you to them for being there.


  All right, that wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Hopefully, you found it incredibly helpful and inspiring, and that you are ready to go out and do some great things. I also want to talk to you about another tool that we’ve built that I would love to offer you. So, as you’ve probably heard me preach, I believe a lot of agencies chase after the wrong new business prospects. And I think we do that because we have not taken the time to clearly define who our sweet spot clients should be. And the way you do that is by looking at your current clients and then developing out who your prospects should be based on your best current clients. So we’ve put together a sweet spot client filter, say that five times fast, that I would love for you to take advantage of and for you to use inside your shop to figure out exactly who you should be targeting for new business.


  To get access to that free tool, all you need to do is text AMI for Agency Management Institute as you might imagine, AMI, text that to 38470. Again, text AMI to 38470, and we will get the sweet spot client filter out to you right away. Thanks again for listening. If I can be helpful, you can find me as always at [email protected]. Otherwise, I will touch base with you next week with another great episode. Talk to you soon.


Speaker 1: And that’s all for this episode of AMI’s build a Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t miss an episode, as we help build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.