Episode 300

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With the realization that this was going to be the 300th episode of this podcast, I unconsciously started to put an extraordinary amount of pressure on myself to create something that was fantastic and perfect. Agency owners live with an immense amount of pressure and expectation every day so this kind of thinking is normal. But that doesn’t make it healthy, helpful, or wise.

In this solocast, I’m going to talk candidly about the anxiety I sometimes create for myself when striving for a perfection that is unachievable. I’m going to invite you to look at all the different pressures you feel in your life and career in order to clarify which ones are real and which ones you’re creating through your own drive for excellence and some unreasonable expectations.

The truth is – our excellence comes from keeping a steady hand at the helm. It’s about the consistency and the tenacity we demonstrate by showing up every day. Our agencies are like ships and we are its captain. Our job is to pilot the ship to its next destination. There are always going to be storms that crop up, big and small. But we have weathered many before and we’ve got this one too. That’s our genius.

And, finally, I’m going to ask you to seriously consider the honest answer to this question: “No, REALLY, how are you doing?”

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.


What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • A personal story about creating pressure to be excellent
  • Recognizing the dangerous expectations we set for ourselves
  • The importance of self-care as an agency owner
  • Why simply showing up can build to excellence
  • Why it’s important to be honest when answering “How are you?”
“I know how committed you are to your agency. I know how committed you are to your people. And I think sometimes we put pressure on ourselves that is ridiculous.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X “The world puts plenty of pressure on us and we need to respond to those pressures. But sometimes I think the pressure we create in our own head and our own heart actually do us a disservice.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X “The ship is screwed if the captain goes down for the count.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X “Our responsibility is to show up every day and keep the ship moving forward but the pace changes based on the reality of the weather.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X “What I want you to do is start asking yourself, ‘No REALLY, how am I?’” @DrewMcLellan Share on X “Show up and keep moving forward. That’s our job. If we do that, it adds up to extraordinary. It adds up to spectacular and that’s what we should be doing and why we should be doing it. ” @DrewMcLellan Share on X

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

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About the Author: Drew McLellan

For 30+ years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies, and then started his own (which he still owns and runs) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops, and more.

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for agency 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 over 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 several books, including Sell With Authority (2020) 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.”

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-size 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. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Not just another episode, the 300th episode. It has taken us five and a half years to get here at one episode a week, but here we are, and we are just going to keep going. So before I talk a little bit about what I want to talk about today, I do want to tell you that I am so grateful that you’re here. I know how crazy busy you are, and I love the fact that I get to spend time with you. I had someone say to me the other day that I’m with them every Monday morning while they’re in their bathroom getting ready for work. So whether I’m with you on a treadmill, or a golf course, or a subway, or while you’re getting ready for work, or when you’re driving in your car, I don’t care. I’m just glad to be with you, and I am grateful that you make the time. So thank you for that.

So a couple of quick reminders before we talk about what I actually want to talk about. So, as you know, because I’ve been talking about it, the Build a Better Agency Summit is coming up August 10th and 11th in Chicago. We only have about 60 seats left, 60 tickets, if you will, and the price goes up July 16th. So if you are thinking about joining us, now is the time to grab your seat to get registered. I promise you it’s going to be spectacular. I want you there. I cannot tell you… First of all, it’s going to be awesome.

We are going to cover topics like how agencies our size are using artificial intelligence to save money, to make money, to serve their clients better. We’re going to talk about how, from a biz dev perspective, how smaller agencies can be the David that go against a Goliath, and Robin Boehler is going to tell you some amazing stories of AMI agencies that have just done that. They have taken down the Goliath in a biz dev pitch and won some of the biggest pieces of business in their agency’s history. She’s going to talk about how that gets done.

We are going to have Jay Baer talking about all the different ways that he has built revenue streams to come into his agency. Then, my good friend, Adam Carroll, is going to blow your mind in talking about how to build wealth outside of your agency and what he calls the 10-Year Freedom Plan. It is unbelievable, so you’re going to love that. We’ve got the folks from TobinLeff coming in to talk about how to think about your agency a decade before you’re ready to do anything with it, sell it, shut it down, whatever. How to think about it in a way that you just keep adding to the value of the agency so you have more options when you are ready to call it quits.

Liz Nead is going to come and talk to us about diversity and the fact that we have to have really difficult conversations in the workplace and how do we do that with grace, and with humor, and with respect, and how do we navigate all that. I’m just scratching the surface. So it’s going to be an amazing two days. Amazing two days of learning, connecting, laughing, meeting new agency owners. I can’t wait to be there with all of you. I can’t wait. I know some of you think I’m a little crazy. I can’t wait to hug all of you. That’s the Italian in me, I guess, but we’re going to… Everyone is going to either demonstrate that they have a negative COVID test or they’ve been vaccinated. So we are going to be very safe. We’re going to be able to be in that environment without masks, without social distancing, just to be together, and to learn, and to share what you know because I want you to show up as both a teacher and a student.

We’ve got these round tables on a variety of topics. So it really is going to be spectacular, and I would love for you to be there, but I need to let you know that… Thank, God. Honestly, from my perspective, we only have 60 seats left, and the price goes up July 16th. So if you’re going to come and join us, I suggest you grab your ticket now. Also, as you know, one of the things that we ask you to do is to leave a rating and review for the podcast. In exchange change for that, we put your name in a drawing. So here’s how that works. Then, I’ll tell you who won for this month.

So you go to whatever site it is that you access the podcast from, and you’ll leave a rating and review, but I need you to take a screenshot of it because your username doesn’t tell me really who you are or how I can reach you. So I need you to take a screenshot of it. Shoot me an email at drew at just… for Pete’s sake, [email protected]. Your name goes in a drawing, and your name stays in the drawing until you win. So sooner or later, you’re going to win.

What do you win? You win a free seat to one of our live workshops or one of our on-demand video workshops. So we’d love for you to do that and hear it paid off for our friends at the time Resend Agency. They are from Budapest. How cool is that? So I’m going to be reaching out to you, guys. Congratulations. You’re the winner this month. I would love for you to come over to the States and participate in one of our workshops live, but I assume that you’re going to want one of the on-demand seats. So we’ll make sure we get you set up with that.

All right. Let’s get to this. This is a solocast. So as you know, a solocast is just me and you talking about something that I want to make sure you’re thinking about or that’s on your radar screen, but I have to admit. I’m hope I’m not right, but this one, honestly, made me me talking to me. So maybe this is only my problem. I don’t think so, but I’ve been ruminating on something for a while, and I just decided to, full disclosure, share it with you. It’s maybe a little more personal than I normally get. Still business-related, I promise. So don’t turn it off. This has been something that’s been on my mind, and I suspect it’s something that’s been on your mind too. So with that intention, I want to talk to you about it.

So, I told you that this is the 300th episode, and I have to tell you that as I was getting closer and closer, I was feeling this incredible pressure that the content of this episode had to be epic. It ends in a zero, and it’s a big deal. It’s a sign of longevity and the fact that we have great listeners, and so really, this podcast, this 300th episode, I was feeling in my head and my heart had to be amazing. So I couldn’t think about what to talk about. Everything I came up with, I would go, “No, that’s not enough. That’s not meaty enough or meaningful enough,” and I kept censoring myself.

Finally, I started asking myself some questions, and the first question was, “Do they really care that it’s the 300th episode?” For them, for them meaning you guys, the audience, are they thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait till that 300th episode. That’s going to be mind-blowing. Drew is going to really bring it that day?” What I decided was if I hadn’t told you it was the 300th episode, you probably wouldn’t have even known. So I was just putting all of this undue pressure on myself that I had to be something bigger. I had to be something more than I am on a daily basis.

When I realized that, when I realized I was doing that, what I began to see is that it’s not the first time I’ve done it to myself. So, again, you may be recognizing yourself in this mirror. So as I told you on the front end of the podcast, the summit is coming up. Well, I have to give a keynote. I say the word “I have to” because I tried to get out of it. I have to give a keynote at the summit. If you know me at all, you know I love talking in front of crowds. I’ve spoken in front of 6,000 people before, and I love it. I don’t get nervous. You get the butterfly nervous, but not scared nervous. I enjoy it, and I look forward to it.

So here I am going into my own event with what I think of as my people, and I’m paralyzed about this keynote. I’m just totally sweating bullets about it because it just felt… It feels, I guess, because it’s still coming in a month. It feels so important. I’m going to be standing on that stage in front of everyone, and they’re going to be looking at me. I need to say something really meaningful, and I’m going to share the stage with people like Jay Baer, who is one of the finest speakers on the planet.

So as I’ve been thinking about what I want to talk about, I’ve absolutely been sweating bullets because I want it to be more. As I intellectually think about it, I say, “My God, this event is going to be magnificent.” The people coming are wonderful, smart, generous people who are going to connect with other attendees and people… Even if I had no speakers, even if I just put all of you in a room for two days, you would leave those two days thinking, “That was some of the best two days I’ve ever spent.” I know that.

Then, on top of that, I have this lineup of speakers that is unbelievable. So the entire event is going to be magnificent. So if my keynote isn’t all that, will it really matter to the audience? This is what I’m saying in my own head, and I’m thinking, “Geez, Drew. You put a lot of pressure on yourself,” and I think about the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, I knew that a lot of my agencies were in trouble. Some of you lost 60%, 70%, 80% of your business in a week, and I felt compelled. I felt like I had to be helpful.

I knew people were scared and they were hurting, and so what I decided to do is to be a resource and that I would call all of the resources. Every day, every single day for months, I sent a daily email to all of our members. In that email, there was resources, things they could read, data, so they knew what was happening on a broader scale. Very detailed information about how to apply for federal grants and loans here in the US like the PPP funds, like a laundry list of “Here’s what the bank is going to need. Gather it up in advance.”

I talked about and taught how agencies could and should pivot in this moment, and I think it was helpful. I really do. I know it was helpful. People told me it was helpful. So I love doing it. I’m not complaining that I did it. I loved doing it. I loved being that helpful, but it was interesting because at a certain point in time, the crisis had sort of passed. So mid-summer, coming up on Labor Day in 2020, there wasn’t enough meat on the bone anymore to talk every day, and so it made perfect sense intellectually for me not to keep sending the daily emails, to send them maybe once a week or once every two weeks when I had enough that it was meaningful. But I second guessed myself and I thought, “Should I really be ratcheting back right now, and what will they, my members, think? Will they feel like I’m letting my foot off the gas or I’m not as engaged in helping them anymore? Do I need to like just keep digging so I have enough to say to them every day?”

Again, this undue pressure. Honestly, I think we all do that. I know how committed you are to your agency. I know how committed you are to your people, and I think sometimes we put pressure on ourselves that is ridiculous and that is born of our own worry more than of the need of anyone. Life puts enough pressure on us, real pressure, legitimate pressure in our personal life, in our professional life, and agency life absolutely puts pressure on us. We have real pressures. We need to drive sales. We need to protect and care for the team. We need to grow the bottom line. All of those are worthy goals, and we have to care about them, but maybe the pressure we put on ourselves… and maybe I’m just speaking for myself. This pressure of being more all of the time. This pressure of perfection that every time we open our mouth, or send an email, or speak in front of our team, or pitch a piece of new business, every time it has to be the Mona Lisa of our efforts.

I also think we have the pressure to always be okay, the pressure to be strong, to appear strong to our team. Sometimes I think that the pressure is we create. The world puts plenty of pressure on us, and we need to respond to those pressures. But sometimes I think the pressures we create in our own head and our own heart actually do us a disservice. So you’ve heard me talk a lot about my analogy that an agency in my mind is a ship. You, the agency owner, the agency leader, are the captain of that ship. You have two goals, and I think these goals sometimes convince us that we have to abide by these pressures that we put on ourselves. So I think it’s all done with good intention. Don’t get me wrong, but maybe it’s not the right intention, right?

So our intention really should be twofold. Our intention should be, one, to keep the ship afloat. Our job is to get the ship from where it is today to where it’s going. Whether that’s a harbor or out to the ocean, whatever it may be, our job is to steer the ship in the right directions. Our job is to keep this ship afloat so it can continue on its journey, and that means balancing the weights, and making sure it’s got the right equipment, and all of those analogies that you’ve heard me use over time.

Our job is not only to keep the ship afloat, but also moving forward, right? So we are a solid vessel and we are moving forward, and the second one is, the second intention, and this is the one I think we’re not great at, the ship is screwed if the captain goes down for the count, that if the captain is not whole and of a sound mind, if you will, then the ship is in trouble. So I think that the pressures that we create for ourselves, like I was talking about how I was feeling about this episode and about my keynote, those are not pressures any of you are putting on me. In your case, a lot of the pressures you feel are not something that your team is asking for, or your clients is asking for, or your family is asking for. It is pressure that you are putting on yourself in pursuit of that perfection, and I think it actually puts the captain at risk.

Agency life is a rollercoaster. I was talking to somebody the other day, and I said… They were wishing things were calmer at their shop, and I said, “You know what? That the good news is there are clear sky days when you own an agency, and those days are beautiful, but they’re not every day.” Agency life is a rollercoaster, and you have to know going in. If you didn’t know going in, you know by now. You have to know going in that there are going to be some peaks and valleys, and sometimes the ride is awesome, and sometimes the ride is scary.

If you want a merry-go-round life, if you want a life where you just keep going around in the same circle over and over to the same music, that is not agency life, right? That’s being a bank teller life, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not our reality. So part of taking care of the captain, if you will, so the captain can take care of the ship is recognizing that we are always either in between storms or in a storm. The great news is, is sometimes for many of you, actually, for a lot of you, the skies are clear for a long time. These are glorious days where you are making great money, and your team feels solid, and everybody is working well together, and clients are… Prospects are actually coming to you and knocking on the door. Not only are they coming to you and knocking on the door, but they are right fit clients that are knocking on the door because you’re doing all the right things from a biz-dev perspective.

So we can ride that wave for a long time, and one of the things I remind agency owners that I’m coaching is you have to slow down and just soak in the sunny days. You have to revel in how good it can be when it’s good because sooner or later, we’re going to hit rain clouds. Now, sometimes it’s a spring storm and we just… the boat just keeps plowing through that storm. Then, sometimes it’s a tsunami, like the pandemic was in 2020. Thank God it’s mostly rain. It’s mostly spring showers, and we don’t have too many tsunamis. But if you’ve owned your agency for awhile, I’m guessing the pandemic was not your first tsunami.

We have to know that it’s our job to keep the ship afloat, keep the ship moving forward, and take good care of the captain. Because if we don’t take good care of the captain, everybody is in peril. We had the pandemic and now we’re in the middle of this weird employee moment where people don’t want to come back to the office or a lot of people are quitting as I’ve told you before not because you did anything wrong, but because they made a life choice, not a career choice due to their reaction to the pandemic. But you know what? We can’t pull the ship over. We cannot just pull over to the side of the road, if you will, the side of the ocean, or river, or wherever your ship may be when the skies open up. We have to keep following the plan. We have to keep moving forward.

So as I think about this pressure we put on ourselves to peak all of the time, to deliver something that is so magnificent that no one has ever seen it or heard it before, and we are literally going to throw them back in their chairs, maybe that’s not the right intention. Maybe the right intention is about making sure the ship is always moving forward because that’s our responsibility. Our responsibility is to show up every single day and keep the ship moving forward, but the pace changes based on the reality of the weather.

As long as we’re moving forward, even if it’s one step at a time or not at a time, if you will, we have to be mindful that we can’t always move at the same speed, and we can’t always move at the fast speed that we want to move at. Sometimes we have to just hang in there, weather the storm, keep all the crew focused, and healthy, and doing the right things to get the ship through the storm, and then we can pick up speed again. Then, we can advance to wherever we’re headed, whatever harbor we’re headed to.

So as I was thinking about all of this, I think that we are so focused on everyone else that sometimes we forget to focus on making sure we’re in good shape to actually take care of everyone else. So my job really when I boil it down, my job is to help other people, is to teach and share what I know, and to encourage and coach. That’s your job too. We all teach our clients things. We all coach our clients through what we’re trying to get them to do. We’re certainly doing it every day with our employees, but I’m not so sure that we often take the time to think about how we’re doing and how we’re taking care of ourselves as opposed to what I think we do most often is put these unreasonable expectations on ourselves.

So rather than taking care of ourselves so we’re in better shape to take care of others, to help other people, instead, what we do is we burden ourselves like I was doing with how significant this episode had to be when really, all I need to do is talk to you about something that I think is important and hopefully give you a nugget or two that you can take into your day, and think about, and maybe change something. That’s me showing up every day. That’s me keeping the ship afloat. That’s me moving us forward together, but maybe not moving us forward at rocket speed.

I think part of the problem is we’re so goal-oriented and so goal-driven. Most agency owners are not only type A, but like sup