Episode 220

podcast photo thumbnail



Maybe it’s my age, but there’s a lot more talk about the importance of strengthening my core, to improve balance and stability. The same is true for our agencies. Our reality is always a bit unstable and we often expend a lot of energy anticipating the next storm. But if your agency’s core is strong, you can rest a little easier, knowing you can weather whatever comes. Just like you have for years. We forget how much we’ve already accomplished and survived when we’re heads down all of the time.

Recently, there has been a bit of an undercurrent of worry and tension in some of my conversations with agency owners, so I want to tackle that. In ep. 210 we talked about how even on our worst days, life as an agency owner is pretty darn good. In ep. 215, I gave you some action steps to take to recession-proof your agency.

And in this episode, I walk you through some ways to strengthen your agency’s core so you can approach 2020 with confidence and courage. You and your agency are survivors. Let’s set you up to take full advantage of whatever rocks the boat – good news or bad. Because if there’s one given in agency life it’s that there will be a bit of both!

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:

  • How to deal with your worries so you can approach 2020 with confidence and courage
  • How to strengthen your agency’s core
  • How to take full advantage of the gratitude you have for being an agency owner
  • The importance of mentorship and one-on-one time with your employees
  • How to love your clients in bigger, bolder ways
  • Why your agency should serve your life, not the other way around

The Golden Nuggets:

“Whenever we’re doing well, we’re thinking about what’s around the corner; what’s going to upset the apple cart?” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “No one is better suited to be the architect of their life than you, the agency owner.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Your agency should serve your life; your life should not serve your agency.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “I am a firm believer that if you love in a bigger, bolder way, you will get that back in return.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “There are key people inside of your organization who will grow personally and professionally if you give them a little bit more of your time.” @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.”

Subscribe to Build A Better Agency!

Itunes Logo Stitcher button

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run. Traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR. Whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you made. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable. And if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Welcome back. It’s actually episode 220, which is hard to believe we’ve been doing this since 2015. And I have no intention of slowing down or stopping. I love this medium. I love the people I get to meet and introduce you to. And I love the opportunity to talk to you one-on-one, and this episode is one of my solo casts. So no super smart guests with me this week. Just you and me. I want to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind. And I want to just kind of whisper in your ear.

It’s interesting. This time of year, it always makes me introspective. And it’s been that way ever since I was a kid. I love the holidays. I love the hoopla of it all. And maybe it’s the new year coming. Maybe it’s the I live in the Midwest of the U.S., so it’s snowy where we are this time of year. So maybe it’s the winter solstice. My birthday is December 21st. So I just celebrated my birthday, which is of course the shortest day of the year here in the U.S.

So I’m sort of anchored to this time of year, I think. And this time of rebirth and sort of hibernation in terms of planning for what’s coming next is just kind of hard wired into who I am. And that’s what I want to talk to you a little bit about today,.

But first, a couple of quick announcements. Just a reminder, and I hope you don’t think I’m just beating a dead horse with this, but I want to make sure you all know about this. We are launching our very first conference, the Build A Better Agency Summit in May 19th and 20th of 2020. It will be in Chicago here in the U.S. We already have folks coming over from Europe and other places. So hopefully, the fact that it’s in the center of the U.S. I picked a big city that’s easy to fly to. Most of you should be able to get a direct flight. But there really is no conference for small to mid-sized agencies out there. And I want to change that. I want to make it a place where you can come, and connect, and network, and meet people who walk the same path that you do. And learn together not only from the amazing speakers. So we’re going to cover everything from succession planning, and valuation of your agency, to impostor syndrome, to how to tell a story in a way that is so compelling, that people are drawn to it and sort of weave it into their understanding of who you are and what you’re all about. To biz dev, to revenue streams, to making sure every single year, your agency is profitable, and so many other things.

So not only are you going to learn from the amazing lineup of speakers. I am really proud of the folks that have agreed to join us. But I think you’re also going to learn a ton from the other agency folks that you sit around. So one of the hallmarks of AMI is the generosity of agency owners and leaders, and how quickly and easily they envelop other people. Their people, like kinded people. And share their wisdom, share their challenges, share their solutions. So even if I had a lousy lineup of speakers, which I do not, even if I had a lousy lineup of speakers, I know you would learn a ton by coming to this conference. We are almost at the end of the early bird pricing. So in the start of 2020, the price for the conference goes up. So please spend some of those dollars rather than giving them to the tax man, spend some of those dollars on you and your team for 2020. We would love to have you join us. I want you to get a ticket before we sell out. And I’m excited to be there to introduce you to some amazing people both on and off the stage. So I hope you join us.

All right. So here’s what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about 2020. It’s interesting. I hang out with agency owners, or talk to them on the phone, or get late night texts from them, all of which I love, every single day of the week. And I love being that integral part of the people we serve’s lives and their businesses.

But there’s a tenor of worry that seems to be more pervasive this year as people anticipate going into the new year. There seems to be this sort of looming, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And for each of you, it’s going to be a little different. For some of you, you have a gorilla client, and you are waiting for them to break up with you. For some of you, you’ve got a key employee that other people are sending them LinkedIn messages and knocking on their door every single day. And you dread the, “Hey, do you have a minute?” Knock on your door because you’re afraid they’re going to give notice. For a lot of you, you’re concerned about the recession.

And we’ve done quite a few episodes lately. I’ve been feeling and absorbing how you’re all feeling. And I think feeling it as well to a certain extent. So if you go back to the last couple solo casts that I’ve done, episode 2010 was a reminder that even when things are challenging for us as agency owners and leaders, we have a pretty good life. And we have a lot to be grateful for. And one of the tragedies I think for many agency owners is that we live in anticipation of what might happen next, as opposed to living in the moment and celebrating, soaking in all of the good. So if you need that reminder, head back to episode 2010 and take a listen to that.

And then in episode 2015, I talked for the whole episode about how to recession-proof your agency. So I’m feeling your worry, and what I want to do is I want to help you relieve yourself of that worry. And I want to help you set yourself up for success in 2020. So that’s really what this episode is all about.

So we’re coming up on the New Year. A lot of people are making resolutions. I’m sure the most common resolution is some aspect of weight loss, or strength training, or getting back to the gym, or doing something to make our physical self healthier. And one of the things that they always talk about it when you go back to the gym, or go back to the yoga studio, or whatever it is you love to do, or you do even though you don’t love it, is about strengthening your core. And really, that’s what this episode is all about, is how do you strengthen your core, your agency’s core so that you are stronger and more fit, and you feel more confident going into 2020? I want to help you shed this fretting. That’s a great word for what I’m feeling from you.

People are not panicked. Agency owners are not freaking out. But there is this underlying fretting that many of you are going through. And I want to help ease that. I want to help relieve that for you. So we’re going to talk about how to strengthen your core as an agency owner or agency leader, and how to strengthen the agency’s core so that you can go into 2020 with confidence and courage, just like by the way, you need to go into every year.

So I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know if it’s the political climate here in the U.S. I don’t know if it’s the pending election. I don’t know if it’s the news stories about the economic bubble that has to burst sooner or later. I’m not sure what it is. And it’s probably a combination of all of those things. And honestly, part of it is you guys are kind of [inaudible 00:08:41], right? When things are going well, which for most agencies is right now. Most agencies are doing well. They’re thriving, they’re profitable. But whenever we’re doing well, we always are thinking what’s around the corner, what’s going to upset the apple cart? So I want to help you strengthen the core so that you can ease this sense of fret. I’m not sure if that’s a phrase or a word, but you’re fretting. And I want to relieve you of that fretting. So let’s talk about some ways to do that.

So the first thing I want you to do is way back in 2015 when we launched the podcast, I did an episode where I talked about annual planning. And I want to circle back on that. And there are two documents, and you’ll find them in the show notes. There are two documents that I want you to download and I want you to participate in the activity of completing them. And the first one I want you to do is the Agency Owner Life Plan. And now if you’re not an agency owner, that does not mean you shouldn’t have a life plan even though the title on the top of it says Agency Owner Life Plan. As an agency leader, whatever your role is, I want you to complete the life plan. And here’s why.

When you start at an agency and when I start at an agency, I don’t know about you, but I was the perfect combination of arrogant and ignorant. I was 30 years old. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea how risky a venture I was embarking on. And I’ve told a lot of you this story of how my mom used to show up all the time with coolers of food. And she would say, “Well the grocery store by my house had a sale on, or eggs,” or whatever. And it took me a while because I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box, it took me a while to realize that what she was really worried about was if I was feeding my 18 month old daughter or not, because she thought I was insane for starting my own business when I had a baby, and I just gotten divorced.

So I know it’s a risky business. So in my opinion … by the way, things are fine. We’re celebrating 25 years in 2020. So all is good. Mom’s worries were for not, but I adored her for being the worrier that she was. But anyway, it’s a risky business. And all of us feel that, we feel the pressure of it. Most of us have our mortgages or a house tied to the line of credit for the agency. When things are rough, which they sometimes are in agency life, we’re the ones that don’t get paid. So we carry the burden and the worry of that all the time.

And here’s my opinion about that. If you’re going to carry the burden and the worry, you should also get the benefit. And I believe that being an agency owner or being in a leadership position of an agency is one of the luckiest, best things in the world, because it allows us to build our life and then allow the agency to help us serve that life.

I have a friend who talks about being the architect of your own life. Adam Carroll. Does a great podcast. You need to check him out. I’ll put a link in the show notes. But Adam talks about being the architect of your life. And there is no one who is better suited and better armed to be the architect of their life than you, the agency owner or leader.

So I want you to download this life plan, and I want you to fill it out. And it’s going to ask some questions that on the surface look easy. But if you actually do it with thought, it’s going to take you a while.

So when I first started doing this, which was probably 20 years ago, it would take me weeks. I would just sort of let it percolate and simmer. And then I would sit down and do it. And now, because I’ve been doing it for so long, for me now it’s about refining the document, not starting from scratch. But I want you to give it the time that it deserves. And most of our clients are going to be in hibernation until the middle of January. So this is the perfect time to do this planning.

So I want you to fill out the Owner Life Plan, and I want you to identify things like what kind of legacy do you want to leave? Who are the people you want to surround yourself with? What do you want to be remembered for? What kind of a mark do you want to leave on the world? Those kind of big, meaty questions. And I want you to fill that out first.

And the reason why I want you to fill that out first is because the second document I want you to fill out is the Agency One Page Business Plan. So it’s going to have you identify in six key categories the number one barrier in that category. So for example, let’s say it’s financial. What’s the one thing in terms of your agency’s finances that is in the way of you having a record breaking year in 2020? Is it your financial reporting? Is it that you’re doing time sheets in one software, project management in another software, and accounting in a third software? Is it that you don’t do time sheets at all? Whatever it is. So you’re going to walk through and you’re going to identify the number one barrier to success in each of these categories. And then you’re going to identify if you were to tackle that challenge, if you were going to fix it or eradicate it, what’s the first thing you have to do to step into resolving that issue?

And then, and this to me is the key to the success of this form. Along the left side, you have to prioritize those items. So what is the biggest barrier that you need to move? What is the second biggest barrier, etc., etc. And then what I want you to do is I want you to sit down with the leadership team, and I want you to share those. But first, what I want you to do is I want to make sure that your life plan and the business plan are in alignment.

There is no reason for you to take the risk of owning an agency or being a leader inside of an agency if it doesn’t also help you accomplish your life goals. I don’t care what they are. But the agency should serve your life. Your life should not serve the agency. We are privileged that we get to do that. So I don’t want you to give away that privilege.

So do the One Page Business Plan, check it against your life plan to make sure that those are in alignment. And then sit down with the leadership team. And another great exercise by the way is to have everybody on the leadership team do the One Page Business Plan separately, and then come together and decide what the real answers are based on your collective wisdom. So I want you to do the life plan and the business plan.

And then I want you to start opening projects, or tasks, or jobs to tackle the number one thing. And I want you to stay focused on that number one thing until it’s resolved. Then I want you to pull the team back together, make sure that the other items on the One Page Business Plan haven’t changed. Because it might take you a month. It might take you six months. Might take you a year to move number one. Whatever it takes, I want you to revisit the plan. Are the items in two through six still correct? Is the priority order still correct? And then I want you to tackle number two. And I want you to keep going back and doing this, and using this plan to really identify the big boulders that are blocking the path, and move those boulders aside. So that’s strengthening your core number one.

The next thing I want you to do to strengthen your core is I want you to think about biz dev. I want you to make sure that you’ve got an active, defined business program that puts people into the top of the funnel and then moves them through the funnel. So I want that because whether we’re going into an economic downturn or not, one of the things that is true, one of the patterns I’m seeing is that clients … sorry, prospects are taking a longer time to decide whether or not they want to become a client. Which means that you’ve got to have more people in the pipeline. You’ve got to be working that pipeline on a regular basis. And let’s be honest. If th