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Business development happens in inches

I have had several phone conversations lately with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared about business development. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their new business activity, they all admitted that they’d taken their foot off the pedal. Sure — they all had great reasons why they didn’t do the follow-up or initiate the new tactic. You know what I’m going to say because you’ve said it to yourself. There will always be another reason/excuse. There’s always a fire to put out or something to be done internally. You have to carve out the time to work your new business plan and protect it like it’s your favorite kid’s birthday. It’s too easy to slide backward and once you lose the momentum, it’s back to the starting gate. Like exercise, it’s a lot easier if you work the muscle on a regular basis. By the way, this is never going to happen by accident or wishing. If you don’t calendar it out, your day is never going to suddenly free up. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.

Are you offering “the trail blazing benefit”?

In an AMI network meeting last week, the big topic was employee recruitment and retention. If your agency isn’t struggling with this issue, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Agencies (and it seems all businesses) are fighting tooth and nail to find and keep productive, committed employees. Many of you are looking for so long that you end up compromising just to get someone in place. And we all know how well that usually works. Overall, agency owners are incredibly generous with benefits and flexibility. But there’s a new benefit that I want to make sure you’ve got on your radar screen because it may be worth considering as a recruiting tool. One of the things we talk about in our Managing Millennials workshop is that all employees (but particularly millennials) love to have “brag-worthy” benefits and this one is definitely brag-worthy. The benefit is student loan repayment. You can read more about it in this Forbes article and see some examples of how it is being positioned and packaged. Employee recruiting and retention will be a major discussion at our owner’s workshop (Best Management Practices of Agency Owners) this coming March in Chicago. Registration is open if you’d like to hear how other agency owners are reducing their workweek, actually getting to their family events and putting more profit on the bottom line.

Timesheets are not optional

I know there are agency consultants who will tell you that timesheets aren’t necessary. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. I totally get it. No one likes doing them. But they are an important management tool for you as you run your agency. It has nothing to do with how you bill clients or if you’re still billing by the hour (which I hope most of you are not doing) or project versus retainer billing. It’s about resource management. Your agency may be profitable and everything seems to be running smoothly but the truth is — you don’t know. You don’t know if a few superstars are carrying the weight of a handful of slackers. You don’t know if someone is putting 50% more billable time on jobs than the estimate calls for. You don’t know if you’re over-servicing clients or if one of your employees is struggling with some aspect of their job. You are in the dark. Timesheets illuminate what’s really going on in your business. Marketing Agency Insider asked me to write an article about timesheets, how to get your squad to do them and how important they are to the success of your agency. I don’t want hate mail but I would love to hear your thoughts. Be gentle — remember, I am just the messenger! If you’d like a healthier, heartier bottom line — timesheets are not optional.

What’s the purpose of your bonus program?

When an agency shows a profit, one of the first inclinations of the agency owner is to pay a bonus to the staff. I applaud that instinct. But I don’t think you should do it simply because you have a little extra money. I believe you should have a bonus program that serves your agency every single day, whether you pay out any money or not. I think there are several elements of a successful bonus program: They should not be an end of the year thing. They should influence the employees to behave in ways that serve the agency year-round It needs to be simple and explained over and over (every month/quarter) It should be used to teach employees to think like agency owners (focused on the same metrics you do) It should be based on one or two metrics that accurately measure the financial health of the agency The metrics should be measured/achieved or not every month The metrics should be set in a way that your team hits the goal more often than misses (should be a stretch but a reasonable stretch...ideally they’d hit the metrics at least 7 or 8 months of the year) Bonuses should be paid quarterly (with most of the $ accumulated for an end of the year payout) to keep everyone motivated/focused The owners should hold an all agency meeting every month to report on financials/success on bonus program for the month/YTD At AMI, we have a specific bonus program that we teach in our workshops, owner peer networks etc. It’s based on two metrics. The big number in our opinion in terms of an agency’s health is AGI (Adjusted gross income — Look here for more [...]

Is podcasting the new business tactic for you?

I had a great conversation (podcast) with Stephen Woessner, the host of Onward Nation about the value of podcasting, how my podcast Build A Better Agency has served my business and why I think it’s a strategy worth considering for any agency owner who is trying to establish a sustainable new business effort. Take a listen here. In the podcast, I talk about how podcasting creates a position of thought leadership and gives you a chance to connect with your prospects in ways you haven’t even imagined. It’s also killer for content creation. If it’s crossed your mind, the episode might be worth a listen. FYI — The AE bootcamp that we’re doing on September 24/25th won’t be offered again until 2020. So if you’d like your newer (5 years experience or less) AEs to actually understand their role in helping the agency and their clients make money and learn how to make that happen consistently — sign them up before we fill up! Register them today here!

How to Get Paid When Clients Pull the Plug

It’s annoying and expensive when clients pull the plug on a project before you can recoup all of your upfront investment. And yet it happens all the time. So much of our work requires a huge investment on our part on the front end and when a client stalls or does a 360 and cancels the work — we often get left holding the bag. I wrote a blog post about this challenge and offered some language you can include in your contracts and/or scope of work documents that will help protect you from losing money in this situation. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.

How much will you owe in taxes for this year?

In my mind, as you read that sentence, you were thinking “Are you kidding? I just paid THIS year’s taxes. Why are we talking about 2019 taxes already?” Which of course is my point. If you’d like to pay less tax than you did this past year, you can’t wait to until late December to put some strategies in place. I find that most agency owners have very conservative tax preparers. They’re much more concerned about making it easy for them than they are in actually giving you good advice about how to structure your business in the most tax advantageous way. I had a CPA like that and paid through the nose for years. Fortunately, I realized the mistake I was making about a decade ago and have cut my tax liability to a fraction of what I used to pay. There’s no reason why you can’t do that too. We will talk tax strategies in our owner workshop this fall (October) if that’s of interest. Whether you join us or not — it’s time to evaluate your tax prep pro. If he/she isn’t actively meeting with you every quarter to review your financials and look for ways for you to protect yourself from unnecessary taxes, it’s time to go shopping. We all have to pay taxes but it shouldn’t add up to more than we need to pay.

How CMOs Should Combat The Disintegration Of The Agency-of-Record Model

Like the Don Draper three-martini lunch, the agency-of-record model is becoming a thing of the past. Big brands like General Motors and PepsiCo are building agency teams rather than trusting one agency to handle all their creative needs. Back when marketing consisted of print, broadcast and PR, a generalist agency could easily handle all of a brand’s needs. But now that the marketing world has expanded to areas like mobile, digital, experiential marketing and social media, many of the larger brands believe it’s hard for one agency to be excellent at all those things. For agencies that want to work for the bigger brands, “specialize or die” has become the name of the game, and as brands seek best-in-breed specialists to take on smaller chunks of their marketing, the agency of record is morphing into the team of record. If your brand has decided to play the field instead of settling down with one agency, you need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and how to get your agency army to collaborate effectively. New Model, New Problems A multi-agency approach to marketing is still relatively new, which means brands and their agencies are encountering a host of new challenges. While most brands are still experimenting with the freedom to purchase agency services à la carte, they’re often losing sight of who’s minding the store. That’s the biggest problem with employing multiple agency partners: No AOR means no one is overseeing the overarching brand strategy. This can lead to: Disjointed projects that fail to create a cohesive brand image. Partners duplicating one another’s work, wasting resources. Agencies undermining other agency partners in an effort to capture more client work. CMOs functioning as project managers rather [...]

Agencies: Stop Thinking Like a Vendor and Act Like a Partner

In the formerly monogamous advertising world, polygamy now reigns. The modern version of the client-agency relationship leaves many agencies longing for the "Mad Men" era of sole partnerships, 9-to-5 schedules and heavy drinking by 3 p.m. -- but those days are long over. Today, firms seeking integrated solutions will often hire several agencies at once, each acting as more of a vendor that delivers a specialized service rather than as a partner that fulfills all the company's marketing needs. Companies do still seek partnerships with agencies, however. Unilever's been working with Lowe & Partners since 1899. And GM has a long-standing relationship with Campbell-Ewald that dates back to 1919. Other household companies -- Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Kraft Foods and General Mills -- also boast established, lasting agency affairs. Does that mean these companies won't step out on their partners from time to time? Not on your life. And when that happens, agencies find their egos bruised by this transgression. To renew the partnership dynamic, they must start behaving more like holistic consultants and remember that customers choose vendors but consultants accept clients. To position your agency as an actual partner, stop thinking like a vendor. Focus on these six strategic measures to change how a client views you and your team's capabilities: 1. Know the client's business. Partners know more than one side of a client's business. Instead of focusing only on the marketing end, approach the business as if you're running it. Get to know the distribution challenges. Look for ways to improve the sales system. Even simply walking the production floor asking questions demonstrates your interest. Getting your hands dirty alongside the client and sharing your thoughts on the business as [...]