I’ve been thinking a lot about origin stories lately. Each of us us a sum of the people and experiences that shaped us early on. It’s that combination of influences that create something unique. I’m a sarcastic, single malt Scotch drinking, Disney lover because of my Dad. I’m a music loving, bear hugging teacher because of my Mom. I’m a voracious reader because of an early teacher, Mrs. Vandiver. All of those (and many other) truths add up to make a one of a kind human being. A person I can’t really deny or hide. It’s just who I am. The more boldly I own that — the more authentic and unique I am to others. That’s true for our agencies as well. When we stop using the generic (full service, integrated agency) language that makes us sound like everyone else and really hone in on what makes us unique — we stand out. Every agency has a well-earned point of view that influences how they work and who they serve best. Unfortunately, many agencies don’t drill down deep enough to discover that point of view or unique position. I wrote a story for Forbes on how an agency can define what makes them different from all of their competitors. What’s keeping you from taking a stand? Why not embrace what your agency is truly all about? This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I very rarely meet an agency owner who doesn’t want to grow their agency. And of course, we translate that in our heads to mean more people and more money. But growth is much more diverse than that — and the other aspects rarely get as much attention or thought until those demands and/or opportunities are right in front of us. I haven’t touched a garden since I was a kid and my mom would make me weed for her — but I do know this. If you want the best yield, you prepare the ground and give it all the advantages you can. (My mom grew a zucchini so big the local TV station did a story on it.) It was as embarrassing as you are imagining, but clearly, I have earned that garden analogy. I was part of the Squash Squad.) Our agencies are the same way. If we want them to grow — we need to prepare the soil. Forbes invited me to write an article identifying some of the aspects of growth that you may not have thought of and what it takes to be prepared for it and as always, I’d welcome your feedback. And by the way — growing doesn’t have to correlate with size. We have several AMI agencies that grew by reducing their staff in half. Others have been the same size, in terms of FTEs for years, but continue to outpace the previous year’s performance. Not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but don’t think adding more bodies is the only way. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I don’t believe there is an ideal size for an agency. But there’s probably an ideal size for your agency, based on your goals, ambitions, age, client mix, and the role you want to play in your own shop. Whether you want to have no employees and just use contractors or you want an agency of 100+ FTEs — your structure needs to support the machine. As you grow your agency — the processes, systems, and roles that got you to that size will not survive the next evolution. Many agencies make the mistake of outgrowing their work systems without anticipating that they’re going to need to make changes as the headcount increases. I tackled this subject for Forbes and I’m hoping the article is useful to you. Be careful that you don’t equate growing your agency with growing the number of bodies in your shop. That’s certainly one way to grow. But, growth doesn’t have to mean more people. It can be about better efficiency, better profitability, or new services. So no matter how you grow, recognize that things need to change to support the shift. Otherwise, things break down. It’s like being a teenager and going through a growth spurt but trying to squeeze into your elementary school clothes. Pretty soon, the seams can’t take it anymore and embarrassing things happen. The same is true for your agency. You don’t want your hard work to accidentally result in a faux pas that costs you money, a team member, or a client.
In the last couple weeks, two agencies I’ve been working with onsite, every quarter wrapped up our first year together. As part of their homework, they had to prepare a PPT deck of every goal that they had crushed as a leadership team. I have to tell you — it was impressive. I take no credit for their efforts other than holding them as capable and accountable. They did all the hard work. I promise you, if I’d shown either agency owner the list of what they presented a year ago and promised them they’d get all of those items done (and done well) they would have laughed out loud. They’d never achieved so much in a mere 52 weeks before. So what was different? Their intentions. They entered into this year-long experiment by making a commitment to each other that they would not drop the ball or let each other off the hook. And they didn’t. Here’s what else made their efforts so successful. They didn’t over commit. One single focus per quarter and they weren’t allowed to chase any squirrels until their original commitment was complete. Regular accountability meetings. They met and reported on their progress. There was no tolerance for excuses, evasion, or the usual “well, we know you’ve been busy....” Measure what matters. We set up a list of metrics and they measured themselves against them every week. They were never surprised and they found that they anticipated shifts faster and better. They decided together which needs should get priority attention. There were no lone rangers, not even the owner. They worked in concert to assess what the agency needed most and what was needed to get it done. They stopped [...]
I can remember early in my career I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t seem to get it all done. My boss started laughing. Like belly, starting to cry laughing. At me. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “Drew, it’s never all done. This isn’t a 9-5, leave when the work is complete sort of job. You need to learn how to work smart but also not let the inbox (back then it was a literal inbox) get in your head. When you can get it all done, there’s a problem.” I’ve spent my entire career, as I imagine you have, trying to define and refine my own work habits to be as effective as possible. I have a much better sense of how I work, when I am most effective at certain tasks, and how to cleanse my palette so I stay fresh throughout the day. But, there are some days, like when I’m on planes all day (pre-COVID), that work has to get done and the time is now. Much of my job requires writing and I can’t wait for quiet, a muse, or inspiration. It’s due and it’s due now. Thrive Global asked me to share how I pack my plane trips with productivity and while my specific circumstance is probably not yours — I’m hoping these tricks and tools will be helpful in your quest to make the most of your workday. Being more effective and efficient is a key component (among many) in our Advanced AE and AE bootcamps (Sept 1-2, 3-4) as well. An AE needs to get the most not only from their own day but in how they frame up the work for the [...]
Agency owners are, for the most part, some of the bravest people I know. They have put everything on the line to start/own their agency and every day they face and move past tough decisions. But if there’s an Achilles Heel for most owners, it’s the staffing issue, especially if your agency has hit a rough spot. It’s ironic but in a typical agency, the higher a person’s salary, the less billable client work they do. They’re running a department, doing admin work, or chasing after new clients more than serving clients. I’m not suggesting their work isn’t valuable. It just isn’t billable. What balances that out is that most of your younger, less expensive employees are very billable. Their billable hours cover the non-billable hours of the more senior staff. If you look at all of the hours your agency employees (including the owner) works — you need to be at 60% billable overall. Most agencies struggle to get into the 50-55% range. Which is why you aren’t making the kind of money you’d like to make. Unfortunately, many of you are out of proportion. You’re over-staffed in general and in particular, you’re top-heavy. You might have a large leadership team or multiple owners. On top of that — you’ve got an employee or two (or more) who have been with you for a very long time. You’ve given them regular raises and now, if you’re honest with yourself, they’re overpaid. Odds are, their skill sets and energy aren’t really what they used to be. But you feel a loyalty to them and so they stay. You’ve been okay with a net profit that’s nowhere near the ideal range and you’ve stayed in the [...]
There are days (and we love them) when price isn’t a barrier and that prospect gladly signs on the dotted line and off we go. But, we’ve all had the experience of being in front of a prospect who is excited to work with our agency until the conversation circled around to dollars and cents. The minute we went from helping them slay their dragons to how much it was going to cost — something happens to the energy in the room. Those kinds of conversations are what have driven a small number of agencies to try to come up with a different pricing model that eliminated the connection to selling time by the hour. We have some AMI agencies that have created a subscription model. Others have created a points system where they, in essence, created their own points system. If you’ve read the book The Marketing Agency Blueprint by Paul Roetzer, you may be familiar with this idea. Paul and his team at PR 20/20 have been using their point pricing model for a few years now and through their agency education arm, offer a free download, Sample GamePlan that show you how their point pricing model works. Here are couple different articles on the idea of point pricing, if you’re interested in learning more. PR 20/20 article on eliminating hours from agency pricing Articulate’s explanation This was originally published in the AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
In our owner peer group meetings, one of the things we always do is share a recommended app, tool or book. It’s a really easy way to discover some new ideas and tools for getting better without lots of trial and error. One must-read book has surfaced to the top over and over again and it’s become an instant classic among my agency owners. I hear them referencing the author’s terminology and more important — I hear them changing their communication patterns for the better. Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a framework that shows us how to be both a better boss and a better colleague. The book is packed with eye-opening truths and practical suggestions that will make you feel like she’s been spying on your office. You’re going to recognize yourself in many of her stories and examples and best of all — you’ll see the way to significantly improving how you work with others, give feedback and get the best from your team, your business partners, clients and yourself. Couple reading this book with starting the one on one employee meetings I keep harping about (because they are that important!) and you can have a great 2020! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
What’s that old adage — nothing kills a business like growth? I’ve seen agencies get way too close to the edge more than once. Managing growth is no easy task and scaling your business requires something that many agency owners struggle with — getting out of the way. Entrepreneur Magazine asked me to offer some tips for successfully scaling your business. I’d love to hear any additional ideas or life lessons you’ve learned around this topic. As business gets better — more and more of you will be faced with this potentially treacherous opportunity. Another challenge that comes with a stronger business is dealing with the financial implications including operating your agency for maximum profit, using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. We will be covering all of these topics and more in our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) workshop this March. This workshop is built for principals only and it can be especially valuable for agency principals that came up through the agency ranks and would benefit from additional knowledge about how to build and operate a profitable agency. I hope you can join us. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I live in the Midwest and as a result, I am fascinated by farmers. They can do everything right and in the blink of an eye — a hail storm, too much rain or on the flip side, a drought can wipe out all of their efforts. It seems like the riskiest and most frustrating business model in the world. As dangerous as it seems, farmers tend to know how to manage money in business. But I can’t deny that our world of agency life has some similarities. How Agencies Need to Manage Money Agency owners and leaders work their tails off to chase down new clients, to keep the clients they have, to attract and grow the right team members. But then we make mistakes that either erode or completely eliminate all of the effort and the potential profits from those efforts. I identified some of these money mistakes in an article for Hubspot Mistakes that Will Bankrupt Your Agency. Check it out and put a plan in place to eliminate those mistakes from your agency’s SOP before you pay too great a price. If you know that your agency could use a tune-up (right structure, operating systems, staffing, actually making a double-digit profit, etc.) why not spend two days with us talking about these topics? Our workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) is designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with best practices, practical tips, and hacks that will help you make more and keep more of what you make. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here. Learn More About Agency Money Management If you’re looking for even more guidance [...]