Episode 351:

We all wish we had more time in our schedules, right? We long for a day without interruptions so we can just focus and do our best work. Or, even worse, we’ve finished all of our work, and now we don’t know what to do with ourselves. These are two different problems, but, according to today’s guest, both have the same solution that starts in our agency operations.

This is where Joe Martin has a thing or two to teach us. He changed how his entire agency operates and meets its goals by switching to a 6-week cycle work schedule. This means four weeks on, two weeks off, and a lot of room for adjustment and flexibility for maximum efficiency.

Today, he teaches us how this benefits every level of agency culture, how to begin implementing it into your agency, and why it’s so effective. We’ll also learn why it might not be the best idea to bring this structure into your dating life.

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.

Agency Operations

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How to maximize efficiency and productivity in your agency
  • Why it’s not about the hours we’re buying from employees, but rather their skills and ability to accomplish tasks
  • How to break the 40-hour work week mindset and have more productive employees
  • Why it’s important to learn what value you are offering to clients before implementing a strategy
  • What is a 6-week cycle, and why does it work so well for agency operations?
  • How to begin implementing this structure into agency culture
  • Why this structure is even better than the popular 4-day work week model
“If I don't know what I need you to do to move the organization forward, that's on me. That is my problem of being a bad boss.” — @hijoemartin Click To Tweet “The purpose shouldn’t be to buy hours, the purpose should be to buy results.” — @hijoemartin Click To Tweet “For me, it was this future idea of someday when I have kids, how can I actually spend more time with them and not let an agency overrun my life to the point where I say, ‘Man, I missed out on the best years of their life. That sucks.’” — @hijoemartin Click To Tweet “Every little decision we make has a ripple effect that we just don’t understand how much it messes with someone else’s day.” — @hijoemartin Click To Tweet “We're not solving world problems with six-week cycles. We're just getting a little more organized about them.” — @hijoemartin Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Joe:

Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute back with you with another episode of Build a Better Agency. This week’s guest is an agency owner who has taken a very interesting twist on the way we work. So we’re going to get to that in a minute, but first I want to tell you that due to popular demand, we have decided that in the rest of 2022 and 2023 and beyond, we’re going to offer both the AE Bootcamp and the Advanced AE Bootcamp twice a year, rather than once a year. So we just taught the Advanced AE Bootcamp just last week here in June. And we have the regular AE Bootcamp coming up in August, August 1st and second. So you can register for that, but we will have another Advanced AE Bootcamp in September and another regular AE Bootcamp in October. The other thing that we’re doing is we’re moving those bootcamps from Chicago to Denver.

So that’s the shift, is twice a year and also Denver versus Chicago. So don’t have the new ones up on the website yet. We’ll get them up in the next couple weeks, but I just wanted to give you a heads up that that’s coming. So every six months, we’ll have an Advanced AE Bootcamp and every six months we’ll have a regular AE Bootcamp. So you won’t have to wait so long to send your folks. So hopefully that’ll meet your need. A lot of you have been asking for it for a while, so we’re happy to be able to do that. So let me tell you a little bit about my guest, Joe Martin.

So Joe owns an agency and Joe, like many of you was super frustrated with the whole idea of how do we be more efficient, but how do we also build in more time to think and plan and be more thoughtful about the work we do for clients? And so he’s come up with a very interesting solution that I thought was worthy of us talking about. So with that, let’s get right to the conversation because I know you’re going to have a lot of questions and I have a ton of questions. So let’s do it. Joe, welcome to the podcast. I am excited to have this conversation. So thanks for being with us.

Joe Martin:

I’m excited to hang out with some people who are listening to this and have a little conversation together. Thanks for doing this Drew.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think everybody wants to be more productive and of course, everybody wants to be more efficient with their time. And it seems like this is the time of year when people are wishing they weren’t working quite as much, ’cause the weather is nice or they’re on a family vacation or it’s coming up. So it seems like really good time for us to talk a little bit about productivity and as you promise, being more productive and efficient and effective, which of course is going to lead to a happier, healthier life. So we’re going to go big with our promises today-

Joe Martin:

Real big, so big.

Drew McLellan:

So tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you came to have this knowledge that you were going to impart upon us today.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. Joe Martin from Chicago, agency owner myself. So hello fellow agency owners. Nice to hang out together here. And here’s what happened Drew. It was a Friday afternoon and it was around three o’clock and my developer came to me, and he is great guy, amazing guy. And he says, “Joe, I’ve finished all my work, what else do you want me to do?” Which first of all, who asks that question? Except for, I’m going to go back to the A+ employees here, the five star employee here.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Joe Martin:

So let’s go back to that concept. That person who came in, this dedicated employee, who said, “It’s three o’clock on a Friday, what else do you want me to do?” And I was like, hold on, hold on, let me find something. And I shuffled around looking for bullshit Drew, just what bullshit thing do I have laying around that I can give him to soak up these last two hours of his day-

Drew McLellan:

On a Friday afternoon.

Joe Martin:

On a Friday that he owes me. You owe me your time, every minute of it that I can take. And at that time, his new daughter was having a lot of problems with allergies, going to a lot of doctors, and she was only five months old. And I was just like, nothing, nothing I’m going to give you is more important than you going home and spending more time with your daughter right now.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

If I don’t know what I need you to do to move the organization forward, that’s on me. That is my problem of being a bad boss who’s not planning effectively enough for you to even know what you need to get done next. This is a me problem. And I think too many people try to solve it by saying, sit in your desk, nine to five. Instead of me working on myself to fix it.

Drew McLellan:

Do you think that’s changed since COVID?

Joe Martin:

It’s had to, it had to change because of COVID, that managers had to actually manage.

Drew McLellan:

Especially if people aren’t in front of you, right? You have no idea what they’re doing.

Joe Martin:

Yep. I worked at a major .com and at one point I sat there for three days with no work and it’s because I asked that morning, hey, what do you need me to work on today? Oh, if there’s a meeting coming up this afternoon, just sit tight. In the afternoon, rolled around, hey, what do you got for me? Oh, you know what? The meeting got pushed back to tomorrow. Just hang on, work on some stuff, we’ll get you to… It was just a waste. They were just taking my time. And who are you to take my time?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, but I think you’re right. I think for a lot of bosses, we equate that we’re buying 40 hours a week or the equivalent thereof of our people’s time for their salary. So as opposed to we’re buying, their skills to accomplish tasks or do whatever it is that their job is. And however long that takes.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. Let’s get all Moneyball. Let’s get all Moneyball on this because the purpose shouldn’t be to buy hours, the purpose should be to buy results.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

We want to buy the results of something that was done. It kills me that if I’m a full-time employee and I go in and I bust my ass from nine to five every day, and I get everything done by Thursday, do you know what my reward is on Friday?

Drew McLellan:

Boredom.

Joe Martin:

More work, it’s going to be boredom and more work. Where is the motivation here? We’re looking at it in the wrong way. It’s not about buying hours. It’s about buying productivity, it’s buying results.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think that’s probably, it’s interesting because I will talk to agency owners and they’ll say, I’ve done a good job of delegating and there are weeks when I don’t have as much to do. And I feel bad leaving the office. I feel guilty leaving when people are still working as opposed to, I got my work done, so I can go home or I can do something different or I can work on a passion project or whatever it may be. So I don’t think it’s just, I think we associate buying hours even about ourselves as owners and leaders.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. I agree. And it’s still how things have to be measured. Things still need to be measured in hours. We still need to understand productivity, how much it actually took to get something done, the costs involved. Like those things need to be done in hours, but have we planned out how we really need someone to use their hours in the best way?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

And I think that’s the step that doesn’t get done. It’s more of a figure it out and that’s less productive. It’s so much less productive that way.

Drew McLellan:

So how does one break that mindset? ‘Cause I mean, for a lot of people, they’ve grown up their whole career thinking about the exchange of salary for hours. So whether they started as an entry level person and they’ve worked their way up to middle management or management or ownership or whatever it is, that’s pretty ingrained in. So how does one change the perspective?

Joe Martin:

I think in this case it’s more about just a focus on results and not looking at, hey, was I there for 40 hours this week, but more about what did I get done? ‘Cause I think we’ve all had those weeks where we go in and we did so well, and we’re so exhausted by the end of the week. And we’re like, man, I did so much this week. And then you look back and you’re like, what’d you get done? You’re like, nothing, right? I didn’t get anything done. And I’m exhausted. And I did so much and I know I’m a hard worker. Why did I get nothing done? And it’s that mindset shift of let’s focus on what needs to get done coming up that week instead of trying to look at the end of the week of what was already done.

Drew McLellan:

So you think part of it is about planning and being intentional on the front end?

Joe Martin:

100%. Let’s look ahead. Every time tracking program out there lets you measure what already happened. It’s ridiculous that I haven’t been able to find one, if anyone knows one, please pass it along. I’m here, I’d love to know of which one helps you plan hours out with advance. Which one actually lets me allocate hours before it comes up. We have a solution we’ve created on our end, in our system that we use internally. But I haven’t found anything else that helps me look at where is my time already allocated this upcoming week?

Drew McLellan:

I think some project management software allows you to schedule team members into tasks or projects out ahead of time. So I suppose there’s some of that, but I think most people kind of manage that on their own. They do their post-it notes or their list of things they must get done in the next couple days and it’s very rudimentary.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. And what I see with agency owners doing a lot is we have those post-it notes that we have… I’ve done this myself. I have my little notebook with all my notes inside of it. And then I have a Dropbox Paper doc that I’m using for some stuff in Asana and I have things everywhere. But when someone says, hey Joe, do you have time for a call on Thursday? The only thing I ever look at is my calendar.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

And that only shows me what things I’m actually committed to in terms of time to talk to someone, but has no regard for the hour I need to spend on email. It has no regard for the hour and a half writing tasks that I need to get done that day. And so actually being able to visualize what’s coming up that week and knowing what hours are going to be spent on which tasks, I think is you asked just what’s that shift that needs to happen. And I’ll take that. I’ll take just a shift to looking forward just a little bit, just a little bit.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think we are, especially in our business, I think we’re so used to being reactionary, that it’s challenging for people to be more proactive. We just taught an Advanced AE Bootcamp last week. And one of the things we talked to about with account people and these are super senior people, people who’ve been, doing it for 10, 15, 20 years, is that a big part of their seniority should be that they can anticipate and that they can plan proactively with their clients. What is a client going to need? And what are my internal team going to need for me? And then what is the boss looking for from me? But that’s a big part of their job is that.

Joe Martin:

And that’s, it’s this, when we take it back that far, is that it always all comes down to the selling, and what we’re saying to begin with, and some of that initial conversation. So as for the agency, we do conversion copywriting and we partner with marketing agencies to help them create copy for their customers. And a big part of that is understanding what conversation does this client need to have with the person on the page. And so many times by identifying that conversation, we also see what’s important. We worked with a company out in California, they’re a delivery company and they were running themselves ragged every day, trying to meet a 60 minute delivery window for their product. And on their website, one of the first messages you read was them apologizing in advance that they won’t be able to get it to you in 60 minutes.

And then by the time we dug into their target customer and we understood what 57 year old Sharon really cares about how they sell and have that conversation with her, she didn’t care if she got it in 60 minutes. It wasn’t even part of the value. And so that’s why I think understanding some of this core messaging, the value, how you’re selling is then what plays into how you can set those results and manage those expectations later.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. But again, so everything you’ve talked about is sort of a variation of measure twice, cut once, right? So again, whether it’s about planning your day or your week or in this case, it’s about really understanding the audience before you sit down to write copy or to make promises, ’cause you don’t even know which of your promises matter to them. This actually, it’s funny because again, this came up at the bootcamp, I think one of the problems in agencies today is we rush to the doing, right? We’re so anxious to get the thing done that we rush to the doing of the thing, but we don’t actually stop and think about why we’re doing the thing, who we’re doing the thing for, why it matters. We just don’t ask all those questions.

We’re just like, oh, the client needs a thing. So I better get going on making that for them because it’s due on Thursday. And I think that a lot of times, if agencies can slow the process down a little bit and they have better conversations with the client, with the internal team on the front-end and ask all the right questions, really dig into the who, how, where, whys, as opposed to the what, we get right to the, what the thing, but there’s just so many nuances in the work and we don’t really allow enough time for that.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. I just finished, I returned from working on site for a marketing agency out in Denver that they brought me on to help with a couple clients and they were already so far as to say, hey, here’s the site maps we have, here’s everything laid out. We just need your help grading some of the copy. But even through that, we realized that they worked too far already, that even the site map and the pages they planned out were having a completely different conversation than how we wanted to sell. The site map items were so focused on the, what they do. And we wanted to come in and really help focus and know why, why do people want this? And it required to change the site map, change the conversation, it’s such a fundamental part that just controls so many items as you mentioned.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Just we are always in a hurry, and I think, back to your 60 minute thing, I think we’re often in a hurry because we promise things to clients, we just make up when they’re going to get it, whatever it is because our assumption is they need it right away. And so I think a lot of times, again, having some conversation around, we need three or four days or a week or two weeks or whatever it is we need to be smart about this and to ask the right questions and whatever it is that you need to do to be smart enough to actually do it right the first time, we don’t bake that in.

Joe Martin:

Yeah, this is one of the things I love about working in six week cycles, the way we do, and breaking out the year into kind of six weeks of dedicated working time on projects, and two weeks of very lax off time, planning time, is that we’re able to go through and look at some of the things that we have promised to clients.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So I wanna dig into that. So one of the things that you talk a lot about at these working in six week cycle, so let’s take just real quick break and then let’s come back.

Joe Martin:

Let’s take a break. Let’s take a break.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. And come right back.

Joe Martin:

All right. What if [crosstalk 00:16:16].

Drew McLellan:

You’re going to hardly notice we’re gone. So don’t go anywhere, this is not enough time to go to the bathroom or get some water. Just stay right with us for a second. Don’t go anywhere.

Joe Martin:

What a message.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Hold one moment. Hey, sorry to interrupt. But I wanted to make sure that you are thinking about how to connect with your clients by figuring out what they love. And maybe a few things that they’re not so crazy about with your agency. So at AMI, one of the things we offer, our client satisfaction surveys, we do both quantitative and qualitative. So an online survey, but also interviews with some of your key clients. And then we come back to you with trends, recommendations, what they love, what they don’t love, lots of insights around how you can create an even tighter relationship with your clients.

So if you have interest in that, you can go under the, How we help tab on the AMI website and very bottom choice on the, how we help tab is the Client Satisfaction Surveys. You can read more about it, but whether you have us do it, or you do it yourself, or you hire somebody else, it is really critical that you be talking to your clients about what they love and what they wish was different or better. So do not miss the opportunity to tighten your relationship with your client, whether we help you or not. All right, let’s get back to the show. See, we’re already back. That’s what I’m saying.

Joe Martin:

I held.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah I held, yeah I didn’t budge. I did not budge at all, right? Didn’t even move. Didn’t blink actually.

Joe Martin:

I took a drink of water, but that was about, that was it.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. All right, fair enough. All right, so we’re back. So let’s talk about the six week cycles. Tell everybody a little bit about sort of the structure, first of all, how in the world did you start doing this? ‘Cause this is as you know, very abor for agency life.So how is it you came to do this twisted thing that you do?

Joe Martin:

I mean, I think it all, the way these things come into any of our lives. And I feel like even for someone listening to this podcast already is, we’re searching. We’re looking for an answer to something. And for mine, it was this future idea of someday when I have kids, how do I actually be able to spend more time with them and not let an agency and running an agency overrun my life to the point where I say, man, I missed out on the best years of their life, that sucks. I don’t want to do that. I’m adamantly fighting that. And so when I get to that point, I wanted to know that I’m prepared. And I have this mentality that if I want something for myself, I want it for everybody.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

And so it was already looking at if I want this, how does my team have this? It doesn’t feel fair if only I had the ability to work this way. And then I went to a presentation at Basecamp from Jason Fried, who, I mean, I love his books. I was already a big fan. And so getting the chance to then go and hear of a friend, a friend who worked at Basecamp a long time ago as well. And then hearing him talk and he talked about how they broke things down into the six and two models, that they moved away from doing agile development, which was really rushed and kind of always forced them to work too fast. And they started looking at doing a longer sprint essentially with more time in between for planning.

And I was like, I never even thought that I could retool the Workday. I left the traditional nine to five and I realized I was building my own damn nine to five again. And that’s when I was pushing. And I was like, no, hold on. This is my thing, it can work the way I want it to. Yeah, we get to set these limits. So we started just doing it. I feel like I probably should have tried to get ahold of Jason and asked him for advice on how they do it. But I was just like, screw it, we’ll figure it out, six and two sounds awesome, let’s go. And so we spent three years painstakingly every cycle. It’s awful. I’m not going to lie. It sucks trying to get here. I don’t even know if we’re there yet.

It feels like a meditation practice almost.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

Always trying, ’cause things never go right. But you can at least have the container for things to go right. And we get these breaks. We have this time when all client work ends at the end of the cycle and we can say great, at this moment in time, every client knows exactly what has been done, exactly what is coming up and when they will hear from us next, and it is this little peaceful moment that I feel I’m able to step away and say, okay, we’re good.

Drew McLellan:

All right. So you schedule all client work within a six week window?

Joe Martin:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

And if the client work is going to take longer than six weeks, you just tell them, hey, we’re going to take a two week pause and then we’ll get back to your thing.

Joe Martin:

If they even need to know that, this is the other thing too. So many agency owners, you can just do this behind scenes. They don’t need to know. You’re just going to say, here’s the timelines. I’m going to have it to you in two months and then just get it done in six weeks. But yes, yes. A lot of our clients do understand we operate this way. Otherwise be real weird to talk about it and not tell them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So what if you’re in your two week planning cycle and a client has an emergency?

Joe Martin:

We’re going to take care of it.

Drew McLellan:

So the two week planning cycle is a little loose?

Joe Martin:

It is. Yep. You still have to respond to email. We’re not going to leave everyone out there to try, but this is the time when you can take off, this is your affordance to actually go and do it. One of my guys had to have his gallbladder taken out and he pushed it off to the two week break. I’ll do it then. I know I won’t mess anything up. And I think that’s part of it that when I offered unlimited vacation, no one took it. ‘Cause I never gave them a chance to take it.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So we schedule work in the six week cycle. What happens in the two week downtime?

Joe Martin:

Planning, planning out everything that needs to happen over those next six weeks.

Drew McLellan:

So how do you know what’s coming up four weeks from now?

Joe Martin:

Projects are booked. I guess you have to understand your processes and what’s going to need to happen. We know that on week four of that cycle on Thursday is our meeting day for this thing. And here’s the stuff we’re going to need to cover on that day. And then giving that visibility back to our employees. So they understand what needs to happen then.

Drew McLellan:

And is the planning collaborative? Is it, are you gathered together by client group? Like talk to me a little bit about how the planning actually happens.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. Starts off usually myself and my right hand, man. We kind of oversee everything. And so we’ll go through and list out the major deliverables coming up for the projects and then the things that need to happen around it. Then we need to go through and look internally with our own staff, are we running any webinars? Do we have any speaking? Are we going to be in any awesome podcast? It’s through McLellan, what’s coming up with all this, but then we need to make sure we’re prepared for it, and that starts to lay out that plan then, ’cause then we can start looking day by day and then we can pull the person into it to say, all right, here’s the stuff that’s coming up. Now let’s plan out your tasks, so what needs to happen?

Drew McLellan:

So are department heads then assigning work to individuals inside depart… How does it go from at the top you and your right hand person? How does it trickle down so that-

Joe Martin:

Yep, through level, through each person, mafia style down from your underboss to your capo. All the way down to [inaudible 00:23:52] and work it through. But if you can make it better for the person at the bottom, it has its way of making it better all the way up. If you can start to plan out what the person whose day is the most reactive and help them start getting a little bit of control over it. And I don’t need you to concretely plan the whole day either. If we just know a little bit of the tasks, let’s be able to plan for four hours and know that we have four hours for stuff that’s just gonna come up.

Drew McLellan:

Right, ’cause[inaudible 00:24:21].

Joe Martin:

Always, it never stops, but it’s having a container. It’s knowing what to do with that stuff when it comes up and not letting it deground you.

Drew McLellan:

So talk about efficiency around this. So if it is just about planning while that’s lovely, what’s the outcome?

Joe Martin:

Having a to do list of items that you know what needs to get done in order to move the organization forward.

Drew McLellan:

And because I know it in advance, am I better at it? Am I faster? I’m thinking about everybody listening and saying, this feels like more structure. What do I get out of it?

Joe Martin:

Yeah. It’s just crazy little paradox. I need to find out if there’s a name for this, that more structure actually gives you more flexibility, that when you take the time to really plan this stuff out and really understand what you need to get done for the day, then you have flexibility within that day to get those things done, arrange them, and move them into blocks to say, you know what? I’ll actually do this after the kids go to bed, that one I can do later and start to understand just here, I got my things done.

Drew McLellan:

So if I were to ask your employees, what would they say this shift has done for them? How does it impact just their daily experience?

Joe Martin:

Clarity and communication, I think is probably one of the biggest components. We have a lot of meetings that we’ve put in place because of this, that aren’t always giant meetings where we need everyone to listen, but more of, hey, this is the structure, here’s the agenda. Let’s jump in and get these things done. We’re very focused on not interrupting throughout the day as well. So I have a little notepad that I keep together for my right hand man. And if I need something from him, I put it there. I put it there so I don’t just disrupt him in the middle of the day or call him when he is out with his kids. If it’s an emergency, I’ll hit him up.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Joe Martin:

But otherwise we try and restrain, I feel like Slack breeds an interruptive right now culture that I think is more harmful to-

Drew McLellan:

I think Slack was created by the devil.

Joe Martin:

I think Slack was created by someone who just got high and said, man, I miss AOL Instant Messenger.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. I just want to talk to people all day, every day.

Joe Martin:

Put me in chat rooms. Oh, channels, great.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

Yep, not a good way. So I think it’s some of that clarity, some of those reasons not be interrupted to be able to spend more time with your kids too.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So that’s interesting. In terms of the work, do you think you get the work done faster, better, do you think? So the ability to plan and the ability to feel like you have more control over your day, get it. But what about the work? What about the availability? What about the turnaround time for clients? What about all of that part of it?

Joe Martin:

A little easier to manage and predict because we’re a little more hourly-focused in that regard and be able to break stuff down into what it takes, otherwise yeah. It’s just managing that the same way you would anything else, but just using these blocks around it, having these temporal blocks to give you a starting point and an ending point to say, all right, what are we going to fit in there? What realistically can we fit in there? And for the agency CEOs that always have the next new great idea. I love that this can also help give some boundaries around the head of the agency derailing everything else.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Sometimes we create the hot mess, right?

Joe Martin:

So every little decision we make has a ripple effect that we just don’t understand how much it messes with someone else’s day. And I think that happens so often. So it’s nice that a lot of times, even I bring stuff to the table and my team will be like, great, Joe, that’s an awesome idea. We’ll talk about it on the bridge.

Drew McLellan:

So [crosstalk 00:28:27]. New ideas get tucked into this two week planning period.

Joe Martin:

Yeah, don’t disturb this six week cycle. But once it gets going, we’re not going to magically turn around the company because we did this one thing in a matter of the six week cycle.

Drew McLellan:

Talk to us a little bit about in the six week cycle, how are you managing if there’s just too much work? Because right now it’s really interesting. You’ve got the combination of a lot of clients are finally getting out of the gate and gearing up and starting to give agencies a lot of work, agencies are much busier in second and third quarter than they were in first. And the reality for most agencies is that they’re not fully staffed. They can’t find enough good bodies to fill out their roster. So in your six week cycle, what are you doing when there’s more work than you have bodies to do the work? Do you dip into the two week planning? Like you turn a six week into an eight week?

Joe Martin:

You got it. It’s that cushion. Is that little bit of an extra cushion, but also during those two weeks then, that’s fine, this new work can bleed in, but how damn do we have to get it figured out for the next six weeks to make sure this doesn’t keep happening.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

And I see a lot of organizations that just let it keep happening, and they let it keep happening because it comes from great employees who can absorb all of it. And they take it in and they adapt when really we want to take that time to look and say, okay, no, this sucks for this person. We should probably change things.

Drew McLellan:

So I think what you’re saying is one of the challenges is that our employees basically shut up and take it and stay late or work weekends or do whatever they have to do.

Joe Martin:

The best ones too. We should on the five star ones.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, ’cause they have capacity. So then they take on more work.

Joe Martin:

Yep, and I think then that’s exactly what we’ll, tying it back to the beginning here of my guy coming in saying, what else can I do?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

And am I going to keep him longer and be more effective as a business saying, here’s the extra bullshit I need you to get done. Or caring about him, understanding what’s happening in his life, knowing that this is going to be more valuable and I’ll get a better employee Monday morning by doing things this way.

Drew McLellan:

So are there certain kind of employees that this six week on, two week off model works better with? Are there some employees who I’m thinking, again, I have my agency on our hat on and I’m thinking people are going to take advantage of it or exploit it or blah, blah, blah, blah. So are there people who are wired better to work in this way?

Joe Martin:

What a loaded question.

Drew McLellan:

I know.

Joe Martin:

You’re digging into like all human psychology here. We’re not solving world problems with six week cycles. We’re just getting a little more organized about them. But I do not have enough data on something like that yet to understand how it impacts different personality types. But hopefully some of the agencies listening to this are like, okay, Joe, this sounds feasible. I’ll give it a shot. And maybe they’ll start trying this way and kick us back up some data that we can use to-

Drew McLellan:

So have you ever had an employee where this just didn’t work for?

Joe Martin:

No, but it’s our system, it’s ingrained into our culture, it’s so a part of everything we do, even the offerings we have for clients are based in six week cycle. So everything, when we work with other marketing agencies, our package is a six week package. You bring us in for six weeks, we figure out who your target customer is. We help you understand homepage copy. We’ve set up a whole-

Drew McLellan:

You’ve really built your business around this model?

Joe Martin:

We have. I even tried it in my relationship. So I’m not saying this is why she broke up with me, but I tried making it a part of it of just like, hey babe, let’s [crosstalk 00:32:21].

Drew McLellan:

We’re going to be on for six weeks. And then, you know what? Whatever happens those two weeks. I think that, wasn’t that the Ross and Rachel, I’m on a break thing that got [crosstalk 00:32:31]. Okay, so maybe don’t bring it into your personal relationships. I think that’s the takeaway here.

Joe Martin:

I mean, still I’m going to do some more testing. That was one test. I’m an optimizer. I’m a conversion optimizer. We got, I need more data. That’s how we do.

Drew McLellan:

I cannot wait to see your dating profile. I am available for six weeks and then pretty unavailable for two, but we can plan ahead.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. This could be, this might be my new unique selling point drew. I may need to use this if I believed in online dating.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I’m picturing the headline now on your match.com. I like it. I date in intervals. I like it. So any clients push back on this?

Joe Martin:

Surprisingly, no, thought I’d have a lot more. And I’m finding just more benefits to the structure of especially having those meetings laid out at the beginning of an engagement, we’re setting clear expectations. They know when and where they need to be available, ’cause every cycle includes a cycle kickoff, a check in every week and then a cycle close with the client.

And so they’re very much kept aware the entire time of what’s happening in the project and where things are going. And it’s having a place to put things. I heard this a long time ago and it was supposed to be for children and that children are more likely to clean up after themselves if there is a designated place for them to put those things. And I’ve continued to see that principle just rear its head in so many different situations of having a place to write down notes, to get in touch with my COO, just having that place to do it. So I don’t interrupt them on Slack, is such a big thing. Having a place to put new ideas to say, we’ll talk about it on the break is such a big thing of just having these places to put these things.

Drew McLellan:

So how did you get started? ‘Cause this feels like this is a huge shift in how people work. So when you had this idea and you decided to start it, how did you ease into it?

Joe Martin:

Oh, shittily over the course of an entire year to the point where my team hated it. And they said, this is stupid. At the beginning of our third cycle, I finally felt like, come on guys, third, time’s a charm. We’re really going to get this planning done right. And we’re going to get this figured out. And then two days into the cycle, something changed and the entire plan we’ve mapped out went to shit. And they were just like, Joe, this is it, we’re not doing it this way. And my attitude from that point forward was just always, no, how do I prevent this? We should be able to plan, it sucks that we’re so bad at this, that it’s not working-

Drew McLellan:

That was so reactionary.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. But also what else needs to happen to stop this stuff from coming in? And that’s where as we chase that back all the way back to the sales conversation. It was all the way back to what are we even promising to begin with. ‘Cause if I’m promising you, I’m going to be available 24 hours a day and you can reach me anytime by phone. You’re going to expect that.

Drew McLellan:

Right, and you have to deliver it then.

Joe Martin:

Yeah, but if I don’t include my phone number and my email signature, probably not really going to expect to get a hold of me, so setting those expectations. Drew, I feel like we covered a lot. I feel like we covered a lot here. This is huge.

Drew McLellan:

We have, last question. What’s the risk?

Joe Martin:

Drew, no one has asked this question yet.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, good on me then, yeah.

Joe Martin:

What is the risk? Wasted time. What’s the biggest fear in anything? Isn’t it whether it’s a relationship where you’re trying six week cycles or spending your time at the wrong job, that feels like a bad relationship. I think wasted time is the only thing, but it’s figuring out then what wasted it even, that can you make a plan for tomorrow? Can you find out the plan for tomorrow fell off track. Great, what happened? What caused it to go off track and how do I fix that? And then try to plan for tomorrow again. And I think it was-

Drew McLellan:

And then try and plan for the next two days and the next five days, right?

Joe Martin:

Yeah. And just start working it out. I think it’s that optimizer mindset in me that really ran with this, of it’s a series of small tests and you keep testing it. Something’s going to work, something doesn’t work, and even six and two is not the magical format, it could be three and one, it could be four and one, but it’s getting the organization under control, so you can start to work this way and make sure that your team has that time away. They have time for themselves.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a really interesting concept. I feel like everybody feels like they’re just running with their hair on fire all of the time. And that the agency is so reactionary all, and that the clients basically are just pulling strings and agencies are jumping and, AEs and creatives don’t have the thinking time that they need to do their best work because they are always doing a thing, they’re always on. So the idea of baking in real thinking time and baking in the ability to be more intentional around the work. I think for all of us that are in the business, we crave doing great work. We crave doing really smart, effective work. And the frustration is I don’t have the time to think about it, to really bring my best to x, y, z client or project. And so that’s what I find fascinating about this. One thing we haven’t talked about is the four day work week. So you’ve implemented both the six and two, but you’ve also done the four day work week, right?

Joe Martin:

I have, I hate the four day work week, I’m vehemently against it. And it is because I think it breeds worse parents, that now you’re taking a parent and instead of giving them more time with their children, as you would in a six week cycle and being more organized, you’re trying to say, no, no, spend two more hours per day, spend two more hours a day for daycare, have two less hours to actually prepare dinner and take care of yourself.

Have two less hours to spend time with your kid, four days a week, so you can have this extra Friday, that’s just going to get soaked up by some other bullshit, or they’re going to be sitting at home on a Friday and being like, oh my God! I finally have a moment to myself. Let me go ahead and actually get this work done that I was trying to get done all work, all week. And then they’re just working that day anyways. So now we’ve created more stressed out, more exhausted parents for four days a week, who are still going to work on Friday or have that time soaked up by something else.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So you have it, at your shop, you don’t have a four day work week.

Joe Martin:

I tried it before, we did six week cycles. Other stuff needed to change around it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I do think you’re right. I do think people end up just working on the day off ’cause it’s quiet and they’re uninterrupted so they can get a whole bunch of stuff done.

Joe Martin:

Well, and then there’s this whole thing, is now imagine you need to miss a day of work.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Martin:

You’re so much further behind, you have no chance to catch up. Like this is, I need-

Drew McLellan:

Now you got to make up 10 hours.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. Great. Yeah. I’ll just fit that in ’cause oh, I needed to take off ’cause there’s COVID and all this other stuff happening in the world. Cause no one has stuff going on in their family.

Drew McLellan:

No.

Joe Martin:

This is, no, there’s nothing. Nothing.

Drew McLellan:

Piece of cake.

Joe Martin:

Got to change.

Drew McLellan:

Everyone’s life is perfect. Really interesting. This has been fascinating. So I know you have a TEDx Talk. I know you have some of the resources. If folks want to explore this idea, the six, two or three, one, or whatever variation they have, but this idea of work and sprints and then have planning sprints as well, where is the best way for them to sort of tap into your expertise and some of your resources?

Joe Martin:

Sixweekcycles.com.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So cycles with an S?

Joe Martin:

Cycles with S, yep.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Joe Martin:

Yeah. Either way. It’ll get you there, but you can head over there and there’s a course on there you can grab and download and get some of the resources to get started. And then we’re also going to be running a live course to join and help people get started with us.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. And the TEDx Talk is there too, right?

Joe Martin:

It is, yeah. And that one, all about planning. TEDx Talk all about planning.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Awesome. Hey, this has been great, Joe, thank you for taking the time to share this with us. It is, as I said to you in the beginning, it’s sort of this radical idea. It delivers everything that we hunger for, but for some reason it feels really radical. So I’m hoping that everybody is sort of having to just sit and pause and think about this a little bit. Is this actually possible? Could we do this? So I’m grateful for you to come on the show and talk to us about it.

Joe Martin:

Drew, I’m grateful for you getting the word out and inviting great speakers. I’ve had the chance to listen to more podcasts and you do a wonderful job. And I think that’s why listeners stay around. That’s why they trust you. That’s why they listen to stuff like this. So thank you for just being a good credible guy who puts out good content.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you.

Joe Martin:

Thank you.

Drew McLellan:

The good news is I don’t have to actually know anything. I just have to know smart people who know things. And I just ask a couple questions and it all works out just fine. So that’s well within my skillset to be curious so-

Joe Martin:

Good move.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. All right guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. So again, I know this is a crazy idea for most of you and I’m guessing that as we started the show, you’re like, nope, this is stupid, can’t do this, my clients will never tolerate it, my people, blah, blah. I can hear all the excuses and you know what? You might be right, you might absolutely be right. And this may be a dumb idea for you and your shop, but you got to admit the advantages of having planning time, having thinking time, your team being able to really be ready and prepped as they go into making the thing, whatever the thing is, that’s pretty appealing.

It’s appealing to you in terms of getting it done right the first time. I mean, it’s very much a measure twice, cut one sort of methodology. I have to think it would be appealing to your employees where they can catch their breath and think about one of the things I hear all the time from you and your team members is I just don’t have time to think. And this sort of builds that in. So it’s worth thinking about, it’s worth experimenting with maybe a little bit and see where it takes you. So I challenge you not to dismiss it because it’s a bit radical. Okay, so be open to it, give it some thought. Let it marinate maybe in the back of your head for a bit. And if you decide to try it, let me know. I would love to hear how it went.

So of course I want to thank our friends at White Label IQ, who are the presenting sponsor of the podcast. They do white label, PPC dev and design for many AMI agencies and podcast listeners. So you can check them out at whitelabeliq.com/ami. And as you know, ’cause I tell you almost every week, they have a special deal there for you with some free hours on your first project. So why not kick their tires and give them a try. Good people, I’ve known for 20 some years, so great people. I’ll be back next week, of course, ’cause I’m here every week. I’ll be back next week with another guest, hopefully to get you thinking differently like Joe did today, about how to run your business and make more money and keep more of the money you make, and all the things that we like to talk about.

I am also going to remind you that we are less than a year away and you’re like, oh my God, I’m so tired of you talking about the summit. We are less than a year away from the 2023 summit. It’s actually a little earlier in the year. So it is May 14th for AMI family day. So if you’re a member, that’s your day and then we’ll open it up to everybody on the 15th and 16th, we’re going to be back in Chicago again. So tickets are at the early bird pricing stage. You can go to the AMI website and check that out. If you want to grab a ticket again, we’re capping it to keep the event small and intimate so everybody can kind get to know each other.

So we will sell out probably not this week. That’d be really awesome, but I know that we are already at over 50 tickets sold just from this year’s attendees. So don’t wait too long. So anyway, save some money, grab a ticket now if you think you want to join us, otherwise I’ll be back next week, and I’ll talk to you then. Thanks for listening. That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.