Episode 351

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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