Episode 150

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Before we dive into today’s topic — I first want to say thank you for your listenership and loyalty! We are downloaded in over 85 countries and I’m grateful for every listener. This solocast is Episode 150 of Build a Better Agency and I’m grateful for your time and the conversations we’ve had over the last three years.

Way back in Episode 35 (in early 2016), we talked about the employee shortage and the challenge the shortage was creating for agencies and agency owners. If anything – things have gotten tougher.

As you know, I see the financials for about 120 AMI agencies a year. I review their P&Ls, balance sheets, ratios, and some other information. And I will tell you that even though agencies may have had a good year financially in 2017 — they didn’t actually get to keep a lot of the money they earned. And the reason why they didn’t is because their employees are taking more and more of that money. This is happening because of scarcity. The truth of it is…scarcity wins. And right now, your employees are in control.

There are fewer good agency employees than there are agency needs and jobs. And I don’t think this is going to change any time soon. I thought it might be helpful if I shared how some agencies are addressing this challenge. I will walk you through some creative benefits employees consider to be brag-worthy, as well as the benefits that scored at the top of our research with over 1,000 agency employees. The truth is, 401k programs and insurance coverage no longer differentiate you from your competitors — they are table stakes.

Here’s the reality — we have to understand what today’s workforce wants and you have to make sure that your culture and your benefits package match those expectations if you want to attract and retain the talent you need to grow your agency.



What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How to attract and retain quality talent using today’s tools and why you need to build a pipeline for talent in the same way you build a pipeline for new business
  • How long you should reasonably expect your employees to stay with your agency
  • What are some brag-worthy benefits that will get your employees talking about your agency with their fellow professionals
  • How you can provide your employees the opportunity to have flexible work hours or work from home days without losing the valuable in-office collaboration
  • Why your employees will actually take less time off if you provide them with unlimited PTO
  • Why we cannot dismiss the changes in the needs of today’s workforce as just a millennial thing
  • What your employees consider to be the most important thing keeping them in a job – or – how they decide to accept a job they are offered
  • How treating all of your employees fairly does not mean you have to treat them all equally
  • Why just because someone is good at their job does not mean they’re going to be good at supervising other people doing that job
  • What are “boomerang employees” and why you should consider circling back to them

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

AMI works with agency owners by:

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

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

The Golden Nugget:

“The most important thing you can do to invest in your employees is to give them your time, your attention, and your mentorship. Share your expertise. Nothing is stickier to your employees than you.” - @DrewMcLellan Share on X


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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. Actually not just another episode, episode 150. When I look back over the episodes, it’s amazing what we’ve talked about. And I’m excited to be here with episode 150. This episode is a solo cast. So as you know if you are a regular listener, that means it’s just you and me chatting about something that I’m talking to agency owners about every day. And I want to make sure it’s on your radar screen. If you’re new to the podcast, welcome. Normally I have a guest with me and I spend the hour picking their brain and trying to learn everything I can from them on your and my behalf. But every fifth episode it’s just us. So that’s one of these episodes.


  So we’re going to talk about a critical topic. So way back episode about 35 I think it was, I talked a little bit about back in 2016, I talked a little bit about the employee shortage and the challenge that that was creating for agencies and agency owners. And quite honestly, it hasn’t gotten better. If anything, it’s gotten to be even more challenging.


  So I wanted to do a reboot on that. Obviously new content, but I want to talk to you about what agency owners are doing today to try and find and retain great talent. And I also want to talk to you a little bit about what it is that the employees are looking for, what I’m hearing them talk about. And one of the things that we talk about in AE boot camps as we talk about how fortunate they are and some of the perks of working at an agency. So they obviously give me a lot of feedback about what’s important to them. And I want to share that with you.


  But first, I want to get a couple of things on your radar screen. So if you have not signed up to do the podcast giveaway … so every week, we give away something to our podcast listeners. So many of our guests are authors, or are experts, or teach courses or things like that. So they’re very generous in giving us some of their items to give away. We also give away some AMI items.


  So one of the things that we’re going to be giving away over the course of the next couple months is we’re going to be giving away one seat to each of the workshops that we have coming up. And we have quite a few. So let me tell you quickly about them. And then I want you to go sign up. So if you’ve already signed up, it’s agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway, if you’ve already given us your name, you’re already in the drawing, you don’t need to worry about it. But if you haven’t, this is the week to go do that. Because we’re going to start giving away workshop seats. And these workshops seats sell for 1,700 bucks. So this is not a small little prize. All you have to do is get yourself to the city where the workshop is and put yourself up in the hotel that we get a great rate at, and you’re all set. So the tuition is completely covered on our end. So make sure you go agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.


  All right, let me tell you. So quickly in September, we have a workshop for agency owners and leaders called Best Management Practices of Successful Agency Owners. And that is September 27th and 28th in Chicago. And we spent two days talking about everything on the operational side of the agency. Money, people, process, policies, systems, leadership teams, the structure of your agency. We cover it all. So that’s a great broad view workshop on how to run your agency more profitably. And then December 4th and fifth, we will be down in Orlando on Disney property with Money Matters. And Money Matters is for two days, all we do is talk about money. So everything from financial metrics, to how to know if your agency is financially healthy. What are the metrics you need to look at to decide if you actually need to add staff, or if you have inefficiency inside the staff you already have? What are some tax strategies that will allow you to keep more of the money that you make? Pricing strategies, proposal strategies. Biz dev strategies. We again, cover everything tied to money over those two days.


  This is a great workshop for owners, for CFOs, bookkeepers, accounting types. Anybody who touches or thinks about the money in your agency. And again, we’re going to be giving away a seat.


  Also, we have some great workshops in January coming up. So we have two new business workshops with the Mercer Island Group folks. So if you’re not familiar with them, they are an agency search firm. They help brands find the right agency, and they manage that process.


  So as a result, Robin and Steve Boehler see all kinds of agency presentations. They see the winners, they see the losers. They also do agency consultation. So they understand our world in a really unique way. So they’re actually doing two two-day workshops. They’re back to back. You can attend one, you can attend the second one, or you can attend both of them for a bargain price.


  So the first one is called Incoming to Income. And it’s all about how do you respond to RFPs, how do you write proposals that win? And one of the things I’m super excited about is they’re going to show us some written responses that won the business and dissect why they won. They’re also going to show us some written responses that did not win the business, and dissect why they didn’t get picked. So that’s going to be January 15th and 16th, also down in Orlando because it’s January, on Disney property.


  And then two days later, the 17th and 18th, they’re doing a workshop called Show Up Ready to Win. And again, they’re going to talk about presentation styles, and how to get that first meeting, and what to talk about in that first meeting. And again, what I’m super excited about is they’re going to take a presentation that an agency made that won the business. And they’re going to dissect it and show us why it won. And they’re going to show us some losing presentations and point out all the things that they did wrong so we can fix our presentations. So again, that’s January 17th and 18th. And yes, of course you can sign up and just go to these things. I’m just telling you you have a shot at winning a free seat. So if you can, get signed up.


  And then right afterwards, the next week, I’m doing a workshop with Robert Rose. Robert Rose helped co-create Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World. And he and Joe Pulizzi wrote the book Killing Marketing and a couple other books that are really talking about the future of marketing. And Robert has a whole list of things that we as agencies need to be very mindful of as we think about how to build our agency out for the future. So I think of this workshop is how to future proof your agency. How do you make sure that what you are starting to offer and starting to build in terms of your skill sets are what clients are going to want in the future? And that workshop is January 23rd and 24th, also on Disney property in Orlando. In sunny Florida in January.


  So please sign up to win a free ticket. That’s my point. Agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway. I want to see all of your names. The good news is a lot of you have not taken advantage of this. So your odds of winning are pretty good. Many of you have already won. That does not mean you are out of the running. We don’t pull your name out of the hat and then you’re not in the hat anymore. So if you’ve already won something, awesome, you could win again. But honestly, given the volume of you that listen, I’m sort of surprised at how few of you have taken advantage of this. So get your name on that list and have a shot at winning one of these great workshops. And if you don’t win of course, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com. You can read more about them. You can register. We would love to have you regardless of how you get there.


  All right, let’s dig into the content, shall we? So 2017 was for many agencies a very good year. So as in our agency peer networks, I see the finances of all of my agencies. So I’m looking at a PNL, and a balance sheet, and some other information from about 120 agencies. And I will tell you that many, many agencies had their best year. If it wasn’t their best year, it was still a very good, healthy year. However, many agencies didn’t actually get to keep a lot of that money. And the reason why they didn’t is because the employees are taking more and more of that money.


  So the reality is things get more expensive and currency shifts. And right now, one of the currencies that we are struggling to monetize is the people that we have on staff. And this is one of the reasons why many agencies have moved to a hybrid model where you’ve got some employees and you have some contract labor. And I’m a proponent of that model if it makes sense for you. It’s a great way to move a fixed cost into a variable cost category. So up into the cost of goods, rather than below the line into your adjusted gross income numbers.


  But every agency, most agencies anyway need some employees. And just know that if your employees are getting more expensive, if your employees are coming to you having done some searches on the Google and find that they believe that they’re being underpaid, you are not alone. I’m having this conversation with agency owners every single day.


  So what do we do about that? The truth of it is scarcity wins. And right now, the employees are in control. There are fewer good agency employees than there are agency needs and jobs. And I don’t think this is going to change. We talked about this at the very beginning of the cycle two years ago. And I don’t believe it’s going to change. Particularly in some specific job descriptions.


  So art directors, not hard to find. Copywriters because of content, getting much harder. Digital folks, people who have certifications and who have skills in the digital arena, getting very expensive and hard to find. That’s just our reality.


  So while we can complain about it, while we can be frustrated by it, at the end of the day, this is just the reality of doing business for us. So this is no different than rent or paying the heating bill.


  So we’ve got to figure out ways to attract the right talent. And more important you all know just like a client, there’s very little ROI in the first few months. And in some cases in the first several months of a new employee hire. Just like there’s very little ROI oftentimes in a new client, you have to ramp up. And the same thing is true with your employees.


  So it becomes even more critical today that when you recruit, you recruit well. And when you hire, then you’re hiring people for the long run. That these are people that you want to invest in and that you want to keep.


  So right now, the problem is that your competition is everywhere. So you are being cherry picked everywhere. Many agency owners say to me, “I feel like I am the training ground for bigger agencies, for client side jobs. And increasingly, for my own clients. My clients are poaching my employees to build out internal agencies.”


  So if you’re experiencing any of this, we talked a little bit about some of this in the trends episodes that I did, 140 and 145. You’re not alone I guess is what I’m saying. I don’t know if that gives you comfort or not, but you are not alone.


  So the reality is many of those places, larger agencies, client side, they are offering some things that some agency owners have been a little leery about offering. But the truth of the matter is that you’ve got to be competitive. And right now, your competition is offering things like flexible hours.


  So what many agency owners have done is they have decided, we all give this speech about it, it’s super collaborative. Need to be able to have everybody in the room together to do the work. I get that. But we’ve got to offer some flexibility around that. So what many agencies are doing is they’re saying, “Okay, nine to four is basically when everyone has to be in the office. Or if you’re a virtual agency or a hybrid, has to be online and available. Everybody has to be available from nine to four.” If you want to start work at seven and leave at four, or you want to start work at nine and leave at six, that’s fine. So if you have to drop your kids off, or you have to check on your mom, or you want to work out before work or after work, whatever it is. Or maybe it’s a traffic pattern you’re trying to avoid. Whatever that may be, that agencies are beginning to recognize that like their competitors. And again, your competitors aren’t just other agencies. Now when we’re talking about employees, your competitors are everybody who might hire and employ your people.


  So flexible work hours is becoming pretty much the norm today, and agencies are going to have to wrap their head around this. We have to find a way to collaborate in a compressed period of time if we are going to be competitive in terms of employees.


  Another thing that agency owners are not excited about, you’re excited about it for you, but you’re not excited about it for your employees is work from home options. So some agencies have decided that every Thursday, I’m just making up the day, but every Thursday is work from home day. So everyone works from home on Thursday. Some agencies have gone to a four and a half day workweek, so they’ve added a half an hour or so to Monday through Thursday. And then they close down at noon or one on Friday so people are able to get out early and have a longer weekend. Other people are allowing people to work from home.


  Here’s what most of you are doing. If something’s going on in somebody’s life, the new washer and dryer is being delivered, whatever it is, you’re willing to let them work from home episodically. But most of you don’t have a policy that says, “Here’s our work from home policy.” And you’re going to have to get to that. And what that’s going to have to establish is how often can someone work from home? What’s the process of them letting the team know they’re going to do that? Do they have to ask permission? How many days a week or a month are they allowed to do that? And which positions are eligible for a work from home kind of opportunity. Some positions are less flexible about that than others. But to say nobody works from home ever today, it means you’re going to have a really hard time finding employees.


  And by the way, this is not just a millennial thing. I know a lot of times we dismiss it this is what the millennials want. So I’m being sort of forced to do this. These are employees of all ages. As you know, we went out and did some research a couple of years ago, where we talked to over 1,000 agency employees. And we’re hearing these demands, these requests, these needs from people of all ages. So it’s not just a millennial thing.


  Another thing that’s happening is many of your competitors who are fighting for the same employees are being very creative with time off. So very few places have sick days and vacation days anymore. Most people have blended that together to PTO, paid time off, which most of you have done. But what is now the trend is unlimited PTO. So basically, do not freak out. That is not as scary as it sounds. You have to have good rules around it. You have to have some boundaries around it. And I will include in the show notes a couple examples of unlimited PTO policies that have come from agencies’ handbooks to give you an idea of that. So don’t be afraid of that. It’s becoming more and more common.


  The truth is, and my agency, we’ve been unlimited PTO for I don’t know, 15 years. And I have lots of agencies that are on unlimited PTO. And the truth is without exception, your people take less time off with unlimited PTO than they do when you give them a set number of days. It’s sort of the all you can eat buffet mentality of I don’t have to worry about using up all my days because I have this unlimited supply. So I’m not scrambling to use them all. It’s not a use it or lose it sort of mentality. So it actually benefits the agency. And by the way, if someone quits or you fire them, there’s no accumulated vacation days that you have to pay out. So that’s a huge liability that all of a sudden goes off your books.


  Another thing that most of your competitors are doing, again, regardless of where they are in the space, client side or agency side, is that they’ve got some sort of a metric based bonus program. So it’s a here’s your salary and here’s your opportunity to earn more money based on your performance, based on the company performance. And there’s a lot of different models for that. Many of you have heard me talk about the AMI bonus program. But there’s lots of models, but having one is important.


  Here’s a biggie. Educational opportunities. When we interviewed those 1,000 employees, we asked them what was the most important thing for them to decide to stay at a job, your job, right? Or to take a job that they’re being offered. And the number one thing was not money. The number one thing was that they would be given regular opportunities to keep growing and learning. So that’s sending people to workshops, that’s letting them get certified. That’s allowing them to take time at work to do webinars or take other online classes. It’s honestly learning from you. It is lunch and learns. It’s you teaching them.


  One of the things without exception, one of the things that I hear at every AE boot camp is, “My agency owner is so smart, or has so much experience, or knows so much that I don’t know. I wish he or she had more time to teach us.”


  So this is not always about sending somebody off, putting them on a plane, and sending them to a workshop. It’s about creating educational opportunities consistently inside your shop. And not doing the passive aggressive thing of offering it, and then making people feel guilty for taking time away from their desk to actually partake in it.


  And with that, it seems like a really great time to take a brief pause. And then we will get right back to the show. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast and you find you nodding your head, and taking some notes, and maybe even taking some action based on some of the things we talk about, you might be interested in doing a deeper dive. One of the options you have is the AMI Remote Coaching. So that’s a monthly phone call with homework in between. We start off by setting some goals and prioritizing those goals, and we just work together to get through them. It’s a little bit of coaching. It’s a little bit of best practice teaching and sharing. It’s a little bit of cheerleading sometimes. On occasion, you’re going to feel our boot on your rear end. Whatever it takes to help you make sure that you hit the goals that you set. If you would like more information about that, check out agencymanagementinstitute.com/coaching. Okay, let’s get back to the show.


  Another hot benefit that many client-side employers are offering and very few agencies are at this point is some sort of student loan reimbursement. Kids come out of school today with so much debt. And many of your employees in their thirties and forties are still paying off their student loans. So a loan reimbursement where you’re literally sending a check to their loan provider based on criteria. I’m not just saying you just start writing checks, but based on criteria that you set up is a very attractive benefit.


  And one of the other things to remember is in today’s world, the number one reason why someone takes a job, not the educational opportunity, but that they find out about it and that they consider it. So long before they interview, long before they know about the educational opportunities is if someone they know who works inside the agency is bragging about the agency.


  So one of the things you have to think about is are my benefits bragworthy? So that’s actually a new term. And what it basically means is are your employees talking about work on their social media channels? Are they sharing pictures on Instagram or on Facebook talking about you as an employer and what they do at work? So whether that’s parties, whether that’s community involvement days, like maybe you do a build day for Habitat for Humanity, or when they get a check to pay off their monthly student loan payment. Whatever those are, those are bragworthy benefits. And you should really be thinking about that as you build out your benefit package.


  Obviously a 401(k) match and insurances, all of those today are table stakes. So for many years, agencies got away with not offering insurance. Or only having, maybe you got a simple IRA. Or you had nothing in terms of a retirement fund. I hate to tell you, but I think those days are gone. It’s going to be very hard for you to attract and keep the great employees that you want if you’re not offering those things.


  Many agencies also are pretty good about serving the community. We all donate our time. We do a logo for a 5K run or we do whatever. But what your employees want is they want time off. They want it to be okay for them to take time off and for them to be able to serve a non-profit that they care about. So paid time off to serve the community or agency-led community projects where during work hours, they don’t want to do this at night. They don’t want to do it on the weekends. That’s a big shift for us.


  So if you are my age or even in your mid forties or above, we were used to working nights and weekends. And that was just part of the deal. And today’s employees, again, of all ages are not really interested in much of that. Many of your employees do work at night, don’t get me wrong. They’re checking email, they’re answering client questions. But in terms of making a commitment and going, I’ve had a lot of agency owners say to me, “You know what? We try and hold these social events, beer o’clock or whatever it is. And when we do them outside of work hours, we’ll get tickets to a ball game or whatever it may be. We don’t get very much participation.” You’re not alone in that. There’s a shift in thinking about work time versus non-work time. And people are less likely to want to give up non-work time to do a work-related thing. So you’re going to have to bake some of these things into your workday.


  And believe it or not, one of the things that people love about certain agencies, and this is by the way where you have a huge advantage, and you’re going to laugh when I say this. But you have a huge advantage over the corporate client who is trying to steal your agency employee. I know this sounds ridiculous, but one of the highest rated things in terms of satisfaction was if they have a dog friendly work environment. If I can bring my dog to work, if other people bring their dogs to work, I can’t tell you how many of my agencies have a dog friendly policy. And it is one of the key reasons why their employees stay. You figure out the psychology of that. But I’m just telling you, it is a huge perk. It sets a tone in the office.


  And for every nine employees that love it, you’ll have one employee that is not an animal person, and doesn’t like it at all. But for most of your employees, this is a big deal. And by the way, I say dog. And that’s without a doubt the most prevalent animal in the office. But I have agency owners and agencies that have all kinds of different animals. They have an agency cat or a pair of cats. They have birds, they have other animals. But lion’s share of you, it’s a dog world. So just keep that in mind.


  And you know what? Again, this sounds ridiculous. But I’m trying to drill down to what really gets them to talk about your place. So again, if we’re thinking about bragworthy benefits, it’s much more likely that I’m going to put a picture on Instagram of me and one of my coworkers’ dogs than it is of me having a 401(k), right?


  But another bragworthy benefit is a well-stocked snack room with both healthy and not so healthy options. They all will tell you they want healthy options. But when you do a tally of what gets burned through and what you have to replace more often, it’s the not so healthy. But the point is that they get to eat and drink either for free, or a lot of agencies will have an honor system where you drop a quarter in a bucket every time you take a soda, whatever it is. But the fact that they don’t have to go anywhere to get a snack is a big deal.


  And of course, everybody wants more money. So you need to make sure that you are downloading, you have to really factor in when you’re looking at those salary surveys, you have to factor in the source. That’s one of the reasons why we do our own salary survey. And by the way, that’s going to be going out soon. So if you want a copy of it for free, you’re going to want to participate in it by giving us your data. And then we’ll be happy to send you a copy when we get it done. If you are interested in participating in the salary survey, send me an email at drew@agencymanagementinstitute. And I’ll make sure that you get a link to do that.


  But you want to make sure that the salary survey sources look like you. So you’re comparing apples to apples. And be mindful too, a lot of you will use Creative Group’s salary survey. And that’s fine, but remember that they’re a recruiting company. So their job for their own bottom line is to get the highest salary possible for the employee. So their numbers are always inflated. And if you get somebody else’s, whether it’s a generic one, it’s not agency specific, make sure that you can look at an agency your size in your region of the world. Otherwise, not helpful to you. So make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. But absolutely, salaries are going up. No doubt about that.


  I think the other thing that is super important that I want you to think about is how you treat your employees is important. And I want you to treat your employees fairly. But fair does not mean equal. You have some employees that are worth more to you than others that give 120% versus 90% or 80%.


  So you need to treat everyone fairly, but that does not mean you need to treat them equally. So you can also customize benefits. You can also customize rewards based on the employee and what matters to them. So for some of your employees, what may matter to them is that they get more time off for some more flexibility around their work schedule, for some more money. Whatever it may be, but make sure that you know your employees well enough that you can customize the way that they get rewarded.


  One of the interesting things that I have several agencies doing is they are building, think of it as a menu. They are building a menu of perks. And employees can earn points based on financial metrics, behavior, client outcomes, whatever it is. They can earn perks that they can then basically use to go shop in the stores. So they might be able to buy an extra day off, or they might be able to buy a half a day off. Or they might be able to buy an additional bonus. Or interestingly, what many of them want to spend their money on is more time with you. So lunch with you, dinner with you, whenever that is. Agencies are also travel. So many of you have American Express points. So it’s not a big deal for you to use your points to buy somebody a plane ticket. So they can trade their for points for plane tickets or hotel stays. So be creative in how you reward your people. We are in a creative business, so have some fun with the compensation model. Because your people are drawn to that.


  So the question I often get is how do I find good employees? Well, the number one thing I already told you is your current employees need to talk about your shop in a way that attracts great employees. So the more that happens … so again, the more you create an environment that is bragworthy in terms of the culture, the kind of work you do, what you’re like as a boss, what their direct supervisor is like, the better.


  The other thing is part of that mix is making sure that the people you have on staff who are leading others are well-trained and good at being a team leader. Just because someone’s good at their job, does not mean that they’re going to be good at supervising other people doing that job. Being a good leader as you know doesn’t come naturally or easy to everyone.


  So making sure that you invest in people and teaching them how to lead a team, teaching them how to grow people underneath them, how to encourage, how to support, that is not something that people just natively know. So the number one reason why someone leaves your place is because of their boss. So that might be you. Maybe you need the leadership training. Or it might be one of your direct reports who has people underneath them. So make sure that they are well-skilled.


  The other way you find good employees is lots of agencies are having really good luck actually using LinkedIn’s recruiting tools. So don’t forget about that. Many agencies are actually circling back to what we call boomerang employees. If you had a great employee who left you two, three, five years ago, and you would say to, “I would hire that person in a heartbeat.” Don’t lose touch with those people. Reach back out, find out what they’re doing. Many of you are probably connected to them on social channels. Oftentimes, the grass that they thought was greener on the other side of the fence is not. And they may have some interest in coming back. So cultivate those relationships.


  And even if they don’t want to come back, they may very well know someone else who would be a good fit for your shop. Because birds of a feather flock together. So if they were a great employee, odds are the people that they know professionally might also be great employees.


  The biggest thing is that you have to be constantly recruiting. Many agencies have created great relationships with their local colleges. They’ve upped the ante in terms of their internships. In fact, I’ve got one agency who every summer, they bring on five or six interns. And what they say to them is, “Look. At the end of the summer, one of you is going to be offered a job. So how will you perform over these next three months is going to be critical to you.” And that’s their way of constantly recruiting. Because even if somebody didn’t win the job because they weren’t the number one candidate, that person may be the right fit for either another opening you have. Or when you have an opening in three months or six months, you stay in touch with that person. So some agencies are getting very creative about how they grow their own talent or recruit their own talent through internship programs.


  The other thing that folks are doing is that they are interviewing all the time. Whether you have a job opening or not, when someone reaches out to you and their resume looks good, create a relationship with that person. Have coffee, have the conversation. Is it a time investment? Absolutely. Is it a kind of a pain? Absolutely. Do you need to have a pipeline of employees just like you need to have a pipeline of prospects in today’s world? Absolutely.


  The other thing I think you need to think about is how long can you expect to keep an employee? One of the things I think that most agency owners find most disheartening is when you have poured yourself into someone, and you’ve invested in them, and you’ve trained them, and you’ve spent money on them to get training, and then they leave after a year or two. But the reality is today’s employees have a different sense of what’s an appropriate amount of time to work someplace.


  So what we find is that there is a group of agency employees who are loyal to the core and who are also pretty content people. Once they find their groove, their attitude is, “You know what? The grass is the same everywhere you go, but everybody’s grass has different weeds. I know what our weeds are here, and I can tolerate them. I’m not sure what the weeds are in that other yard. And I don’t want to venture into that yard, because I might actually be hopping from the frying pan to the fire. I don’t want to do that.”


  That’s going to be about 30% of your employees. Most of your employees plan on being with you five years or less. I know that’s disheartening to hear. But honestly, them walking in the door thinking, “I’m going to be here for five minutes or less,” doesn’t mean that that’s actually what’s going to happen. You determine how long they stay by the environment that you create. But if you can keep an employee today for three to five years, that is a win.


  So one of the things we have to do as owners is we have to level set our expectations. We have to be more mindful of the reality. Of course you want your great employees to stay with you forever. And as many of you know, I’m super blessed. So my average tenure of staff is 17 years. So I have the good fortune of people sticking with me for a really, really long time. And I understand the benefits of that. But I have also invested deeply in making sure that … my whole goal is to ruin them for all other employers. All my people get poached all the time. And my whole thing is I want them to look at the job offer that they get, because I know they’re going to get them because they’re good at what they do. I want them to look at the job offer and go, “Compared to what I have now, no. Maybe it is more money, but all these other factors, I’m not going to get that anywhere else. So I’m just going to stay put.”


  So again, I’m following … and I’m putting on my agency owner hat now. I am following everything I’ve talked to you about. The flexible time, the unlimited PTO, the merit-based bonus program, the 401(k) with a match, all of that stuff. We’ve got it in spades. I really believe that it is my job to grow, nurture, and ruin my employees for anyone else. I want them to stay a long time.


  But, I’ve also had people come and go just like you have. So we have to be realistic about what’s possible. And for most of us, if somebody sticks around for five years, that’s a good run. And can you get some folks to stay longer? Absolutely. But you should be very satisfied if someone stays with you for five years and talks well about you after they leave.


  So again, kind of wrapping up, it starts with creating a culture that matches today’s expectations. It’s not just a culture where you have parties, and you celebrate birthdays, and all of that. It’s about understanding what the workforce today wants, and making sure that your culture and your benefits package matches those expectations.


  It is about treating your current employees well, investing in them. Again, in episode five I think, five or 10, I talk about the one-on-one meetings. Nope. I lied. It’s 15. Episode 15, the one-on-one meetings with your employees. That is the greatest investment. And by the way, it’s free. It just takes some time. So it’s either your time. Or if they don’t report to you, it’s their direct supervisor’s time. Every other week, sitting down with those people and having a one-on-one meeting with them, go back and listen to that episode. I give you the form they should fill out. I talk to you about the structure. Super easy to do, huge investment.


  I have never ever, ever, ever had an agency who implemented one-on-ones the way that we teach them and consistently did them that didn’t come back to me in six months and say, “Oh my God, I wish I had done this years ago. I can’t believe the difference. I can’t believe how much more I know about the business, about our clients, and learning so many things about my employees. We feel better connected. Morale is up.” by the way, you need to be tracking morale. You need to be doing employee satisfaction surveys. Whether you use TINYpulse or something else, you need to know if your employees are happy. And you don’t know if you just are watching. You want to be asking them so that they can give you some anonymous, candid feedback. You need to level set your expectations in terms of what’s possible and what’s likely to happen in today’s work environment.


  One of the other things that the employees tell us is they want to know where the company’s going. Why does the company exist? What are we trying to accomplish? So being really clear about your mission, and vision, and values, and goals, and repeating them often. This is not a one and done thing. Repeating them often so your employees understand what they are is critical to attracting and keeping good employees. And then of course, you need to be recruiting all of the time so that you always have a pipeline of potential employees.


  So with that my friends, I’m going to say good luck. I think this is one of the biggest challenges that we have. By the way, job descriptions, being clear about your expectations. I’m stunned at how many of you don’t do annual reviews with your employees. And the one-on-ones are a great way to truncate those annual reviews so that you do a quarterly review. So it’s not some big, hairy, three hour meeting. But it’s just this quarterly check-in. “What did you learn this quarter? What are you going to learn next quarter? What do you need to get better at?” That sort of thing. But your people want feedback, and they want to hear from you. They are desperate for your feedback. And oftentimes, we are running around like chickens with our head cut off, and we don’t really give them the feedback that they crave. And we have to do that. We have to catch them doing things, right? We have to coach them through the things that they need to improve. And all of that takes our time investment.


  And really, if there’s one thing you can do without spending another dime that’s going to have huge impact, start spending more time with your people. Get out of those client meetings. Let your people do the client work, and you spend more time on your people.


  They are the greatest investment in your business. Whether you have one employee or 300 employees, they are the greatest investment. They set the tone for whether or not you’re successful, whether or not you’re financially viable. And oftentimes, we neglect them.


  So it’s sort of like having a beautiful car that can get us anywhere we want to go. And while we put gas in the tank so that we give them their salary, we never bother to change the oil. We never bother to take it in for its tune-up. And then we wonder why after a while, it starts to underperform.


  Our employees are the same way. They need our time and attention. And sure, they need all these benefits and all these other perks that I’m talking about. But the number one thing you can do is invest in your employees. And give them your time, and your attention, share your expertise, offer them your mentorship. Nothing is stickier to your employees than you. 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 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 every episode. Talk to you soon.


Speaker 1: 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 midsize agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.