It doesn’t matter if you are a small shop, a specialized shop, in a major market, or based in rural areas – odds are, your biggest struggle right now is attracting and retaining talent. Many agency owners are losing sleep over staffing up or even worse, losing one of their key players. Interestingly, how you’re hiring may be one of the reasons your tenured employees are giving notice.
Right now, employees and prospective employees hold all the cards. They are being recruited by organizations that can pay better than any agency and offer what appears to be a more stable, slower-paced work environment. What is an agency owner to do?
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but you should make people work harder for the privilege of working for you. In this episode of Build a Better Agency, we’ll walk through how playing a little hard to get will earn you better prospects and future employees and keep your current employees satisfied.
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:
- Why there is such a high turnover rate in agencies across the country
- What you can do to attract and retain top talent
- Why you should play hard to get, despite the challenges of hiring
- How to strengthen your interview process to make better hires
- What to look for in potential candidates for your team
The Golden Nuggets:“I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but a tough labor market is exactly when you should play hard to get in your hiring practices.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Now is the time to be more judicious in the hiring process.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Just because someone can do the work does not mean they are a good fit for your agency.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Right now, most agencies are struggling to find and keep great talent.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “In your agency, there is no decision more important than who is on the team.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
AMI works with agency owners by:
- Leading agency owner peer groups
- Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
- Offering AE Bootcamps
- Conducting individual agency owner coaching
- Doing on-site consulting
- Offering online courses in agency new business and account service
Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year, Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”
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Ways to contact Drew McLellan:
- Email: [email protected]
- LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/drewmclellan
- Website: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/
Tools & Resources:
- Agency Owner Life Plan: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ami-OwnerLifePlan.pdf
- Agency One Page Business Plan: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ami-businessplan.pdf
- Adam Carroll’s Podcast: https://masteryofmoney.lpages.co/babl-blueprint/
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.
Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Welcome back or welcome if this is your first episode. Glad to have you. This is one of my solocast, so this is a no guest episode. Every fifth episode, if you’re a regular listener, you know that I just chat with you about something that’s on my mind or has come up in a lot of conversations with agency owners and it’s something that I just want to get on your radar screen. So before I jump into the topic of the day, let me just give you couple quick announcements. Number one, I am sure by now if you’re a regular listener, you know that Agency Management Institute is hosting its very first conference, the Build A Better Agency Summit. It is May 19th and 20th in Chicago in the US. And we are hosting the conference, honestly, because I think there is a huge hole in the marketplace.
I don’t think there is another conference out there that’s really custom built for small to mid-sized agencies. So, for agencies under a couple 100 people. And for many of you, five people, eight people, 10 people, 50 people. And so, I wanted to build a conference that was uniquely built around the issues and topics and worries and opportunities that present themselves to agency owners and leaders in that sized agency. And we have taken out all the stops. This is going to be an amazing event. Incredible speakers, great agency owners and leaders in the room.
If you show up, you are going to learn a ton, I promise. But you’re also are going to have opportunities to teach and share what you know with other agency owners and leaders. So you’re going to get to pick each other’s brains, as well as learn from subject matter experts out of topics that range from Biz Dev to profitability, to succession planning, to creating a thought position in terms of the authority, and how do you sell from that position of authority, you name it. We’ve got a lot of topics covered. And it’s going to be action-pack, an information-pack, but also a connection-pack two days. And I would love for you to join us.
So if you want to register, we only are allowing 225 folks at this conference. I’m going to keep it small, intimate, where people really get a chance to know each other and it doesn’t feel like you’re in this massive hallway with thousands of people. We are halfway sold out already, so the tickets are going. And I would love for you to join us. If you want to register, you can go to agencymanagementinstitute.com, and you’ll see in the upper navigation, BABA for Build A Better Agency Summit. Click on it, and you’ll get right to the registration link. So, come join us in Chicago. I would love to meet you in person. I promise you, it is going to be just amazing in terms of the volume of ideas and inspiration that you get. So I hope you can make it, all right? So, that’s that.
The other thing is I am in Orlando, Florida as I am recording this. And I am down here because every January we offer at least one or two workshops on Disney property. And we do that for a couple reasons. One, beautiful facilities and a great place to come and learn. There’s also obviously a lot of ways to play while you’re here. So it’s a chance for you to meet other agency folks and hang out with them, learn with them, play with them. We are taking a group of folks in for a special ticketed event into the Magic Kingdom, which is going to be a blast. And it’s also, I’m in shorts. So it’s January, and if I was home, I’m of course, will not be in short. So, love being here and love the workshops that we offer here.
But the reason I’m telling you why I am here is because there are two agency owners. We’re doing two workshops. So in each of the workshops, there is an agency owner who is here absolutely for free. All they had to do is get here and pay for their hotel room. But the workshop itself is a 100% free. You say, Drew, how in the world did that happen? Why are you giving away your workshops? Well, as I’ve told you before, it’s super simple for you to win one. All you have to do is go to wherever you download the podcast and leave us a ratings or review. And then take a screenshot of it, so I know it’s you. Because as I keep telling you, screen names don’t always tell me who the person really is. So if you are kittycatlover07, that doesn’t tell me that you’re actually Bob, the agency owner from Massachusetts, right? So, take a screenshot. Shoot it to me in an email to [email protected]. And you will go in a drawing.
And every month we draw a name for someone who wins a free workshop. So at the end of today’s podcast, I will tell you who our latest winner is of the free workshop. So you can either come and do one of our live workshops, or you can ask for a seat in one of our on-demand workshops. So all it takes is a couple minutes to leave the review and shoot a screenshot and send it to me. And you could be sitting in a workshop absolutely for free. And we would love to have you. So, keep that in mind.
All right. So, let’s dive into the topic that I want to talk to you about today on the podcast. It’s probably about as universal as any problem I’ve ever seen. But right now, for most of you, one of the biggest struggles for you in terms of running your agency and running it profitably is that you are struggling to find and keep great talent. So I’ve seen people come and go in agencies before, of course, but never at the volume that I am seeing it now. So, a lot of agencies are experiencing 30 and 40% turnover. And there are people who are being cherry-picked from all kinds of places. More clients are stealing agency employees than ever before. We’re seeing a lot of people get plucked from corporations, educational institutions, other bigger agencies that are using you as a training ground. But it seems most agencies right now are really struggling to find and keep great talent.
So, it’s hard to keep the ones that you have and it’s also difficult for you to find the talent that you want. A, to find people qualified. But B, people that are willing to work at the salary range that you pay. Because right now, employees are absolutely in the driver’s seat in terms of being able to demand a lot of things when it comes to employment opportunities. So I was just talking to an agency owner the other day and he was saying, he had to say to a candidate, look, we are so far apart between what you want for a salary, a kid under 30, and what we’re going to pay someone your age with your level of experience. If you’re not willing to cut your salary demand by 35%, we might as well not even interview you because we’re that far apart. So, we like your resume. We like your pedigree. We would like to talk to you, but we don’t want to waste your time or we don’t want to waste our time if we can’t get closer in terms of salary.
So if you were struggling with any of these issues, just know that you are not alone, that this is a common problem right now. You know what? It’s a pendulum. So it is a pendulum that swung to the far side of employees, but it will swing back again to be in the middle, or if we actually have a recession or some sort of economic correction, it may swing to the other side where it’s actually to the employer’s advantage again. But today, right now, most of you are challenged by this. So, what I’m about to say to you may sound like throwing salt into the wound. And you may say to me, are you kidding me? I can barely find good employees and now you’re telling me to do this. I think you’re insane. But, I will. Let me say what I want to say. And then, let me tell you why I think it makes sense. And then, we can talk about the specifics.
Here’s what I want to say to you. As you are hiring new employees, stop being too easy on them. I want you to put up more hoops for them to jump through. I know it sounds counterproductive, it sounds counterintuitive, but I am telling you that this is the time because employees are so hard to find, because great employees when they leave are so hard to replace. This is exactly the time when you need to be choosier than ever. And you need to make these people work to prove to you that they really want the job and that they are the right fit for you. Because here’s what happens, when you don’t hold yourself up to a certain level of standards, when you don’t hold up hoops and make them jump through those hoops, when you rush to hire too quickly, what happens is you bring a bad egg into the fold.
And what that does is it really irritates your employees. They are frustrated that somebody who is not qualified or doesn’t fit culturally has been brought into the agency. And then, what happens is you lose some of your great employees that you already had, that you already loved, that were already doing the work or they knew how to do their work, all because you brought a bad apple into the shop. So I’m telling you, I think now is the time for us to be even more judicious than normal when it comes to hiring.
So, let me talk to you a little bit about the hoops. I want you to put up three different kind of hoops. And then, I will talk a little bit about each of these hoops and how to sort of hold them up and what they look like. The first hoop should be around, do they actually really want the job? Do they really want to work at an agency? Do they really want to work here at my agency? That’s hoop number one. Number two, the hoop that I want you to put up is, can they do the job? Do they have the skills to do the work? And number three, and perhaps the most important hoop of all, is this someone I want to do the job for me? Is this a person that I want working in my agency? Is this someone that I want influencing my employees? Is this someone that I want creating a relationship with our clients? So, those three hoops.
So let me walk you through what those hoops are, and how you construct them and put them into place. So the first hoop is, do they really want the job? And the reality is you run and had, however you’re doing that… By the way, a lot of agencies are having great luck. A lot of agencies in the US anyway are having great luck on a website called Big Shoes Network. It implies on the website that they are mostly looking to place people in the Midwest. But I will tell you that I’ve had agencies on both coast have great luck finding good agency people. It is a job board only for agencies. And so, anybody going there has probably predetermined that they want to work in the agency.
So do they really want the job, right? So, here are some of the hoops. Number one, make sure that you have asked them about their agency experience. Why agency life over other things? Many agencies are asking early stage candidates to do an email, answer some email questions, or do a phone interview first, that’s a great hoop to hold up. Are they willing to slow the process down to do that? One of my favorite hoops that a couple agencies are have employed successfully is that they are requiring the candidates to record a video and send it in, talking about why they think they would be a good candidate, a good fit for the agency.
So, here’s a couple reasons why that’s a really amazing hoop to hold up. Number one, and this sounds ridiculous, but do they have the capability to shoot a video of themselves and figure out how to get it to you? So for most of you, your employees need to be very technically savvy and I am not suggesting that shooting a video and emailing it or sending it through something like Dropbox is super complicated. But it does show that they have a core basic skill level, right? Number two, are they comfortable on video? So many of you are communicating with clients via video chats, and I think Zoom, places like that. Are they comfortable in a video format? Number three, how do they present themselves? Are they articulate? Did they look nervous? How do they dress for the video? What’s behind them? There’s lots you can learn about them. And there’s lots of fodder for interview questions based on the video.
And the other big one is it takes a little more time and effort. So, do they really want the job? Are they willing to sit down, shoot a video, and get it to you? And if not, and if they don’t, then immediately what they’ve done is they sort of self-selected themselves out. So what some of the other things an agency owners are doing around the, do they really want the job, is that they are saying to them, look, here’s our interview process. You’re going to do a phone interview. You’re going to come in and interview with whoever the department head is, or whoever might be the first step. Then you’re going to meet with the agency owner. And then finally, you’re going to have an interview with the team that you would be working with if you got the job. And after all of that, by the way, you’re going to have to give a presentation. So if you’re good with those steps, then yes, let’s schedule that first phone interview.
So by immediately sort of saying that this isn’t going to be a one and done, it’s not going to be super quick, it’s another way to see if they are really interested in working for you. And by the way, if you just listened to what I just rattled off in terms of the number of interviews, we’re really talking about three or four interviews. So a phone interview, a direct supervisor interview, agency owner or maybe somebody else on the leadership team if you don’t have agency owners do that process, and then the team interview. And of all of those, the one that’s most sort of revealing is the team interview. Because what you do is you say to the candidate, look, I’m going to walk you into the conference room. I’m going to introduce you to everyone on the team, and then I’m going to get out of the room. So, it’s just you and the team.
And it’s your opportunity to ask them anything you want to know about the agency. And they’re going to ask you questions as well. And it’s really a chemistry check more than anything else. But it’s a chance for you to get a sense of sort of the kinds of people that work here. So from the candidates point of view, they like it because they get a sense of who they’re going to be working [inaudible 00:16:29]. But it’s fascinating to see what they ask when there’s not a supervisor in the room, when it’s just sort of their peer level folks. And your people will have get a pretty good spidey sense of whether or not this person is a good person. There are some keys to making this work, though. You’ve got to have worked with your team to prepare questions in advance. So they have to know what they’re asking about, what matters to them, how are they going to ask the questions, who’s going to ask the questions, because otherwise, they end up just sort of chatting.
Number two, you need to make sure they ask all of the candidates that they have the opportunity to screen the same questions so that they’re comparing apples to apples. And what you also want to do is you want to have a score sheet that right after the conversation is done with the candidate, the team stays in the conference room and group scores that candidate. So again, it’s questions prepped in advance, same questions to all the candidates, and that they have some sort of a score sheet that allows them to evaluate the candidate immediately while it’s fresh but also for you to help determine what criteria you want them to actually measure, because otherwise, it’ll be just, I liked them or I didn’t like them.
So you’re going to want to give them some boundaries, right? So that’s how you’re going to test, do they really want the job, that you make it clear it’s a multi-interview process. And I really love the video idea, so you might try that. So the second one is can they do the job, right? So, we’re going to take a quick break and then I will get into how you test for that.
Hey there, sorry for the interruption. But I wanted to just remind you that we’ve got a killer workshop coming up in March. If you want to join one of our peer groups, one of our live agency on our peer groups, this is one of the two workshops that serves as a prerequisite for that. So if you’re interested in a peer group, this would be a good time to go to this workshop. So, this workshop is called the Run Your Agency for Growth & Profit. And it is in March 24th and 25th in Chicago. And at this workshop, we’re going to talk about all of the sort of backend parts of running the business of your business, of making your agency more profitable, run more seamlessly, and operations go better, that Biz Dev is better, that you are growing and nurturing your team in a stronger way, that you have all the systems and processes you need.
So, what we’ve done is we’ve collected all of the best practices of the agencies that we serve and the agencies that we work with on whether they’re in a peer group or we just see them at workshops and just our 25 years of experience. And we’re going to teach you all of those best practices, so that you can indeed grow your business and run it more profitably. So, we would love to see you at that workshop in March. You can sign up by going at the AMI website, agencymanagementinstitute.com, and under the training tab, you’ll see a workshop list and you can sign up there. So, we’d love to have you. Let’s get back to the show.
All right, welcome back. We are in the middle of the solocast, where we’re talking about putting up hoops to really test candidates, to make sure that they are worthy of working at your agency. I think that’s one of the things that in this time when agencies are struggling to find and keep good employees, I think that’s one of the things that we lose sight of. You’re a great shop. You could have created a good work environment. You are encouraging of your team. You give them learning opportunities. They get to grow very quickly because they get to do a lot of things. It’s cool to work at an agency and it’s cool to work at your agency. So just because you may be struggling to find candidates right now, do not forget that this is a plum job and somebody should have to work pretty hard to get it. And they should be pretty excited about getting. So, it’s okay for you to hold up these hoops and make them jump through them.
So, all right. Let’s talk about, can they do the job? So there’s two sort of key tenements to this particular set of hoops. One of them is no matter what the job is, I don’t care if it’s a writing job, an art director job, a coding job, an account service job, whatever it is, you should develop some sort of a skills test. It might be a proofreading test. It might be a, I’m going to show you a piece of code and you find the five mistakes. It could be a, I’m going to give you this fact sheet and I want you to write three social media posts, or I want you to write a newsletter article, or I want you to suggest three influencers that would be a critical audience for this client, whatever it is. You need to develop a test. And couple things, tell them in advance you’re going to do the test. You need to have them do the tests in your office.
So the exception to that rule, and I’ll get to what that test should be in a minute and is probably account service, but certainly anybody on the production side of the business. So if they are going to be using words or pictures or pixels for you, if they’re going to be creating something, you want them in your office doing the test. Why? Because you want to know how long it took them. So you’re going to say, I’m going to give you 45 minutes, or I’m going to give you an hour, or whatever it is. You want to know how far along they got in the time period you gave them and you want to make sure that it’s their work. So what most agencies do is they’ll say, hey, either you can come in before work, assuming that the candidates got a job already, you can come in before work, after work, over lunch hour.
We even make it possible for you to come in on a weekend. We will pay you. We’ll give you a $25 gift card, or whatever it is, however you want to compensate them. We’ll pay you for your time, but you have to come in and do this test. And you should have these tests built out for every position in your agency. And everybody obviously applying for the job should have to do the same test. And this should really be a test where you’re looking at it in terms of the quality of their work. This should give you a sense of the quality of their work.
Now, the account service people. Here’s why I’m going to tell you I think that they can’t do the work inside the agency is I think the best way to get an account service person to be sort of skills tested is to learn how they think strategically. Many of you are telling me on a regular basis that you’re frustrated that your AEs aren’t more strategic. So, let’s just test that right upfront. So, build a test that asks the candidate to suggest some strategies for a client. You can make up a client, you could use a real client. But ask them to create some strategies around a problem that a client is having. So, give them sort of a brief. And then say, hey, I want you to come up with some strategies of how you might suggest we tackle this challenge that the client is having. And the way they’re going to deliver that test, the answer to you is in a presentation. So I want you to think about the strategies, and then I want you to build a deck, and come and give me the presentation.
And again, it might be leadership team, it might be just you the owner, whoever it is, but they’re going to come in and they’re going to present their recommendation. The reason why is because you not only want to see how they think, but you want to see how they present their thinking. AEs present every single day, whether it’s on the phone, in a video chat, in person, in front of a big group of people sitting in a conference room, sitting in a coffee shop, doesn’t matter, they’re presenting every single day. And I can tell you after seeing hundreds of them in our AE boot camps, a lot of them are not great presenters. So you want to know, I’m not saying you shouldn’t hire them if they’re a bad presenter, but you’ll then know that you need to train them. You know that they need some skills around that. So maybe that they’re the perfect candidate, but they’re a bad presenter. Know that going in because you’re going to have to invest in them in terms of giving them some presentation skills.
But also, let’s say you have two candidates that are pretty close and you’re not sure which one is going to be better, and one of them is a killer presenter, that’s going to give them a huge edge over the other candidate, right? So that’s why you can’t really have them do that in the office because they’re going to need some time to think about the strategies and they’re going to have to build the deck and you’re going to have to reschedule another meeting for them to make their presentation. Does that mean there’s an extras layer or hoop in the AE hiring? Yes, it does, absolutely. Do I think that’s appropriate? I absolutely do. These are the people who you’re going to introduce to your clients. These are the people who are going to create relationships with your clients, who are going to be driving your profitability. So of all the positions where you should go a little slower and you should hold up plenty of hoops, it is in the account service position, all right?
So again, do they want the job? We’ve talked about that. Can they do the job? We’ve now talked about that. And the final one, and the one that I honestly believe is most important is, do I really want this person doing the job for me and my agency? Do I want them to be interacting with my team, with our clients? Do I want them representing my agency every single day? And so, I will tell you that this is about more than personality testing, it’s more than a Myers-Briggs, or something like that. Many of you have a methodology for testing sort of compatibility of a candidate with your agency and with your clients, and sort of what they’re like as a person.
And I will tell you an AMI secret weapon is a guy named Art Boulay. And Art has been a partner of AMIs for, gosh, longer than I’ve owned AMI. So, I’ve known Art for probably 20 years. What he’s done for years is Art has built his own assessment and it’s sort of a blend of Myers-Briggs and about five other tests. And what he tests are people’s attitudes, and their behaviors tied to those attitudes, and their motivations. And what’s interesting about Art’s methodology is the very first thing he does is he tests the team that this person would be working with or for, particularly their supervisor and maybe the team around them. Because what he’s looking for is compatibility and he’s looking for sort of oil and water, headbanging opportunities or challenges. And he’s going to tell you about that. One of the things that I think makes Art really unique is that for many years he’s worked with AMI and we have identified rock stars in every position out there, AEs, art directors, programmers. A lot of you are attraction fans and you’re looking for integrator. We have tested integrators.
And so, what Art does is not only does he give them the test. And he’s also going to compare their test to your team’s tests. He’s also going to compare their tests to the superstars in the position that you’re interviewing them for. So, he’s going to be able just tell you what it’s going to be like to work with them. He’s going to tell you how they’re going to show up at work. He’s going to tell you where you’re going to get along great and where you’re going to bang heads. He’s also going to tell you compared to rockstars in this position, here’s where this person is strong or maybe they’re a little weak in this area or that area.
And I can tell you from personal experience, so as you all know, I own an agency. My agency as of 2020 is 25 years old. And I’ve used Art personally at my agency for hiring many times. And like many other agency owners, there have been a time or two where I was really enamored with a candidate and Art’s test suggested that I not hire them. And I ignored Art and hired them anyway. And without exception, all three times, I disagreed with Art and I ignored him, I ended up firing those people. There a lot of agency owners in the AMI world that will tell you the exact same thing. So my point is whether it’s Art or someone else you know and trust, if you are a strength finders, that’s fine. If you love Myers-Briggs, that’s fine. If you’re DISC, that’s fine. But my point is just because they can do the work does not mean they are a good fit for your agency, does not mean you want them representing you, or you want to have them co-mingling with your clients and your employees.
So however you test them, it’s super important that one of the big hoops you hold up is, you have to take this test and then we’re going to talk about it. I’m going to ask you questions based on the results of this test. So if you want an introduction to Art, because he’s always super generous to AMI folks, shoot me an email and I’m happy to make that introduction. Or if you have your own methodology for doing that, I’m good with that to you, but do not skip this particular hoop. It’s very important. So again, what I’m asking you to do is fight the urge because it’s so hard right now to find good candidates. Fight the urge to just hire the first breathing body that you think can do the job. Hold up the hoops. And again, those three hoops are, do they really want the job? Can they really do the job? And, do I want them doing the job for us, all right?
It’s so critical. I can’t tell you how m