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How to Scale Your Agency — Overcome the Wizard Complex

At UGURUS, a business school for digital agencies, my team and I spend thousands of hours a year consulting and coaching owners in groups or one on one. Our aim is simple: To help you achieve freedom in your business and life. One of the ways we do that is by helping digital agency owners work ON their business, not just IN them. “When you recognize that the purpose of your life is not to serve your business, but that the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life, you can then go to work on your business, rather than in it, with a full understanding of why it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.” -Michael E. Gerber, E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It For agency owners, achieving freedom usually means: Working fewer hours (less than sixty is a start) Making more money (getting paid a healthy salary) Sitting in fewer seats (helping you do better work) There’s a commonly-accepted fallacy out there that most entrepreneurs are working towards an early retirement and days filled with sitting on the beach drinking fruity cocktails. However, most entrepreneurs I meet love the work they do, and have no intention of retiring early. The standard definition of the term “exit” in entrepreneur-speak is to sell your business, but most agency owners I meet aren’t anywhere near this point. They haven’t built a company that is worth anything beyond themselves. They’re involved in every aspect of the business from generating leads, converting those leads into clients, and delivering the work. They’ve built themselves a job. A stressful. Demanding. Underpaying. J-O-B. For these owners, “exit” means being able [...]

By |June 26th, 2018|

How to Position Your Agency for Success

Every day across the globe, agencies are working hard to differentiate their clients and help drive their clients’ growth. These agencies use the art and science of positioning to help their clients stand out from competition in an important and authentic manner. Sadly, most of the agencies doing this fine work have not worked the same positioning magic for themselves, in spite of the fact that they compete with dozens—if not hundreds—of other agencies on a daily basis. There is an abundance of talented and effective agencies who have failed to differentiate themselves. As a result, they are missing out on the significant (and very profitable) growth opportunities triggered by a compelling brand position. So, how to position your agency for success? Let’s talk about it. The Challenges of Agency Growth As you no doubt know, there are numerous challenges when it comes to growing an agency today. These challenges include: • More competition • Greater complexity • Difficulty expressing the uniqueness of your agency • A more educated and informed buyer who does his/her agency research without your knowledge Most agencies face these challenges. There is, however, an opportunity to address these challenges by positioning your agency in a truly unique, compelling and differentiated fashion. In this paper we will share the learning we have regarding how to create such a differentiated position for any agency by leveraging best practices that we have learned from our 28 years of agency related consulting. The Great Agencies of Old Most agencies today face the challenge of how to effectively position their firm and how to present their agency in a compelling, client-centric manner. It was not always like this! The great agencies of old stood for [...]

By |June 5th, 2018|

Building An Internal Content Strategy for the Long Haul

You have to tell a story — a great story — to get people to listen. You need to create a narrative that grabs and holds their attention. This isn’t easy, and there are many misguided attempts to master “storytelling” as a marketing tool, especially with how popular and buzzworthy this phrase has become of late. So why do so many agencies fail at creating compelling stories? Here are a few points to pass on the road map to successful conversation building. Create Useful Content Creating and utilizing content is deceivingly simple to describe but incredibly difficult to do well. When you create content that speaks to your clients’ needs, you’ll capture their interest. If you go out of your way to be helpful and relevant, they’ll want to talk to you about the content. If your content helps them get more of what they want, like sales, or less of what they don’t want, like wasted time, you’ll be perceived as credible. Stories to Start Conversations Credibility is established by the value of what you share. It’s no different from having a regular conversation with someone. We all want to keep talking to people who are interesting to us, as well as people whose words are relevant to our own lives and experiences. If we’re introduced to someone who just talks about themselves or about topics we don't care about, we’re much less likely to stay engaged in the conversation. As an agency, you have to make the conversation about your clients, their needs and what they care about. Don’t tell them how great your business is; show them how much your business could help them. Create client-centered conversations. They should walk away intrigued [...]

By |October 13th, 2017|

Accelerate Agency Vision by Getting on Your Soapbox

Agencies are beautiful, chaotic places to work. The nature of creative client work means the agency is always in a state of flux, growing and pivoting as clients do. The ability to adjust quickly is critical to survival, but it makes it all too easy for the agency vision to get lost in the daily shuffle. Recently, I worked with a mid-sized agency in Chicago that had good people, solid work, and consistent clients. The problem was that they were stuck. After a few years of stagnant billings and staff size, the owner decided to make a few changes. He instituted monthly “state of the agency” meetings, where he outlined the agency’s long-term vision and updated the staff on financial goals. He also established quarterly and yearly meetings that allowed the team to discuss goals and establish concrete action steps for achieving them. In the four years since instituting those changes, the agency has seen double-digit growth every year. Employees are happier and more energized, and the company is making a name for itself. On the surface, it seems really obvious:  You need a clear vision to grow an agency. But it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and, when you do, you often miss clues that something is about to go terribly wrong. Why It’s Important to Look Up Agencies that stay in tactical mode all the time will almost certainly miss warning signs that they’re wandering off-target. This is what I like to call “shiny object syndrome.” With digital marketing, there seems to be a new “shiny object” every year. Focusing on your overarching vision will keep you from chasing every shiny object that comes along and help you pick [...]

By |September 8th, 2017|

Looking For a Job? Ditch the Resume Tips and Open a Marketing Book

For many unemployed young people, the job hunt is a dismal pursuit. Books about resume writing state the importance of “standing out,” but it’s hard to showcase your achievements when everyone around you has comparable triumphs. Even that stellar academic history becomes a minimum requirement when colleges are handing out As at record highs. You’ve listed many accomplishments, but from the perspective of a potential employer, you look exactly the same as every other applicant. If you’re relying on stale resume advice, you’ll only get as far as others taking the same approach. By thinking like a marketer and creating an ad campaign for yourself, you can defy the odds and outshine other qualified applicants. Adopt the marketing mindset Marketers have been tackling the problems of differentiating their product from competitors’ and becoming the go-to consumer brand for years. It’s a constant struggle, and they consistently have to up their game to stay in the race. Like them, you want to stand out among your peers. Applying these specific marketing tactics will help you leave a lasting impression on potential employers. Appeal to your target market. Before potential employers see your name on a list of applicants, you should be working to interact and market yourself directly. Turn one-way communication into an ongoing conversation by engaging with companies on social media. Don’t forget to spruce up your online personality, and keep your digital resume updated.Through your profile and interactions, demonstrate how your personality and experiences would benefit a company and its clients. Consider writing a blog to further express yourself. Ask yourself, "If my work were a product, how would I market myself to my target audience? How would I differentiate myself from other applicants?" When [...]

By |September 1st, 2017|

Hey agency owner – want a no fail agency new business tactic?

One of the biggest issues that agency owners and other key staff that are charged with agency new business face is getting on the radar screen of their prospects. This is where a small business marketing technique could come in handy. Read on for more. Even when you have the experience, knowledge and chops to help a prospect move their sales needle or accomplish whatever they're trying to get done – it’s tough to get their attention long enough to be noticed. That’s even more of a challenge for agencies that don’t have a big marketing budget or exist in a crowded, competitive landscape.  Which by the way, is all of you. That’s where some psychology can be incredibly helpful. One thing that is almost universally true about us humans is that we are incredibly flattered when someone thinks we have something of value to offer in the way of experience, knowledge, expertise or hard-earned wisdom. And that, I believe, is the door we need to open if we want a prospect’s time. For this small business marketing technique to work, I think the following needs to be true about your agency: You/your agency has a niche/specialty in which you have a great depth of expertise You have some outlet (website, blog, podcast, newsletter) in which you share that expertise without a sales pitch or being self-serving You have a genuine interest in the people you serve and a passion for helping them in your unique way with whatever you do/sell You are willing to commit to working on agency new business on a consistent basis If that’s you, read on. Make a list of your ideal prospects and their influencers. Who would you most like to serve and are the people/companies that you [...]

By |September 1st, 2015|

The Agency Owner’s Job Description

Here’s the ad agency structure kernel of truth you’ve been denying for too long. You can’t own/run a successful, scaleable agency and still be in the weeds of client work. You just can’t do it. I work with 200+ agencies a year and whether they’re small (1-15 people) or large independently owned agencies (100+ people) — if the owner is still servicing clients, they’re not servicing the agency. If you were hit by a bus or abducted by aliens, ideally your agency would carry on.  If your absence would dramatically change your agency’s monthly AGI, then congratulations — you just created company so you could be a day laborer. You simply traded one job/boss for another job/boss. And I’m betting your current boss makes you work worse hours for worse pay. What a jerk, right? Actually you're right. You shouldn’t tolerate that life anymore. Not only is it a lousy job for lousy pay but you can’t grow your business because you’re the bottleneck. The sticking point. The black hole where ideas and innovation go to die because you don’t have the time to think them through or execute them. If you are working in the business, you aren’t working on the business. Which means your agency will not scale/grow and no one will want to buy it because you’re too integrally involved. And if all of that's true -- why in the world would you take the risk, the pressure, the heartburn, and the worry? Just go get a job. So what should you be doing with your time? Here’s how a strong agency owner should be spending his/her time (roughly) every week. This is your agency owner's job description. Granted this is ideal [...]

By |June 1st, 2015|

Build a better agency with better hires

Are you tired of thinking you've found a great new employee only to be disappointed again?  You can definitely build a better agency with better hires. An advertising agency can be a tough place to work: We live in a world of high pressure, tight deadlines, and demanding clients.  Let's face it, they're all part of the daily grind.  The truth is, not everyone can hack the environment. But employees who thrive under pressure, day in and day out, prosper at advertising agencies – and can drive your agency's bottom line as well. That’s why an agency is truly only as good as its people. And that’s also why one of the biggest risks an agency can take is hiring someone new. One hiring mistake – especially in a small- or medium-sized agency – can dramatically influence performance, profitability, and sustainability for the entire company. I explored this topic for Digital Marketer and shared with their readers the 4 ways to build a better agency with better hires.  (And there's even a bonus tip!)

By |June 23rd, 2014|

Client Retention Strategies: Are You About to be Fired?

Client retention strategies are critical in your agency -- especially considering one third of all advertising agency clients expect to change agencies within the next 12 months. Let me rephrase that for you -- one third of all clients are going to FIRE their current agency within the next 12 months.  Do you think that your marketing agency is the exception to this rule? Are you 110% confident that every client you have can't imagine doing business without you? Here are the big reasons clients cite for making the change: A leadership shift within the client (usually at the CMO or Director of Marketing position) Frustrating business results Can't track, monitor or proof any progress The core relationship between the agency and client is strained Agency performance is underwhelming Agency never brings us new/fresh ideas Agency was gung ho to get us, now we're just one of many And the #1 reason among those -- the last one.  They don't feel courted anymore.  They're not your special, most favorite client. So I am point blank asking you: hey advertising agency -- are you about to be fired?  How do you know? Do you have any client retention strategies in place? How do you know if your relationships are at risk?  Here are a couple ideas. Here are a couple of ideas to consider as part of client retention. Ask.  I know it sounds simplistic but when was the last time you had lunch or a drink with a client and just asked for honest feedback?  Don't do it over the phone, over email or for the love of Pete, over a text.  Set up a specific meeting just for this conversation. Give them some feedback on how you [...]

By |July 31st, 2013|
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