Owning, leading, or even just working in an agency is a fantastic gig. You get to be surrounded by wicked smart, witty, committed teammates, you get to save the day for clients on a regular basis, and let’s face it, the work is fun most days. We are lucky. Damn lucky. But we are also tired. Along with all of those privileges comes the worry of keeping the sales pipeline full, dealing with the human side of your team and clients (which can be both joyful and tragic as we all walk out our lives together), and long, arduous days. (and nights, and weekends....) We work at a pace that is fast and furious, shifting from one client to the next and often working weird and long hours. That is unsustainable without giving yourself some respite. But we’re not so good about giving ourselves that break. It’s not about taking a vacation or a long weekend or just not checking email for 24 hours — it’s about survival. Back when I was a kid in the business (call me 30 or so) I remember one of my mentors saying “this is a young man’s game, Drew. “ And that was before the 24/7 connectivity we have now. I think he was both right and wrong. Our chosen profession does require an incredible amount of energy and passion but that’s not about being young. It’s about recognizing that it’s an endurance sport and we have to train and plan for that. Here’s my challenge to you — when was the last time you didn’t check email for 24 hours? When was the last time you took 5 workdays off (in a row!) and played as hard [...]
You have a story and the expertise that deserves to be shared. You have the ambition to author a book and become the authority who will inspire and educate others and boost your own career and personal goals. And you have the tenacity to believe in your success, and how far your story can go. Hence, you might have wondered, “I want to write a book to grow my agency and thought leadership, but where do I start?” There’s a reason why the majority of business owners who want to author a book at some point in their lifetime never actually get their words onto paper. Writing a book can initially seem like a daunting task that takes hundreds of hours of work. It might even seem that it requires a lot of luck, (and maybe even exclusive networking or connections), to be successful. This is exactly why an estimated 98% of people who want to write a book never actually do. But don’t let the work ahead discourage you from pursuing your goals! You’ve already taken a step forward simply by researching where to start, and the path ahead is certainly not an insurmountable one. So before you get started on creating your book, take a moment to read the following tips and strategies. This can ensure that you stay motivated, positive, and excited about your upcoming book from the first page to the last. Setting the Scene to Write a Book The very first thing you need to do is to ensure that you have everything required to start writing. And most importantly to have all you need to continue writing until you finish your book. It’s easy to spend an hour or [...]
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 [...]
I believe agencies need to shift their own (and their clients’) content creation from a cost to a money-making machine. Every agency I know is creating content but few are monetizing it. Honestly — that’s mostly because the content created is generic and lousy (did you write a post about the new Pantone color — if so, I am talking to you!) and any agency could swap out our logo and insert theirs. But... I digress. Agencies need to come to understand that they absolutely have to get serious about their content and in fact — need to be producing what I call cornerstone content. Think meaty, informative content that defines your agency’s point of view and unique way of working. That’s typically: A book the owner authors A podcast A video series A very provocative/prolific blog Primary research you commission/design It needs to be significant enough that it can be sliced and diced throughout the year into bits of micro-content for your agency. Done well, it can absolutely be a game-changer for your agency. Hubspot asked me to write about my experience launching the podcast and how it impacted AMI. You can check it out here. Hopefully, it will light a fire under you to make THIS the year you stop writing generic blog posts and start getting serious about investing in content that can drive money to your door. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
When I started my agency back in 1995, I was the perfect combination of arrogant and ignorant. “How hard can running an agency be?” I thought to myself. Well, as you might guess, I found out in a hurry. There were some terrifying “can I make payroll?” days and even more “I wonder how we should do....?” moments. I joined AMI (back then it was Agency Management Roundtable) back in 1999 and felt like I had been thrown a life jacket. I was surrounded by other agency owners who understood my world, had answers to my questions, and were happy to be the support system I needed. I learned best practices, a financial dashboard I could update and understand, and best of all — had a safe place to explore new ideas, share the stinkers and commiserate/celebrate depending on the day. That’s why I run AMI today. I get the power and value of a peer group that genuinely cares and a leader who understands the trends, teaches the best practices, and makes connections that lead to business growth and profitability. Everybody needs that kind of a life jacket, especially today. AMI has had agency owner peer groups that meet in person twice a year for over two decades. But that kind of travel and time commitment doesn’t work for everyone. So, we have an alternative — a virtual owner peer group. These groups are a little smaller (6 agencies) and meet monthly via Zoom, which we all should be proficient at by now. You’ll get the same leader-led discussions and coaching and I believe you will form the same kinds of bonds that our current peer group members enjoy. We offer them in multiple [...]
I’m a big fan of the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s a business parable that outlines a systematic way (EOS or the Entrepreneurial Operating System) of running any business. It’s incredibly well suited for understanding how to manage a digital agency, because it forces a discipline onto a leadership team that is often plagued with wearing too many hats, running from fire to fire every day, and a tendency to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects. The result of the hats, fires, squirrels and shiny objects is that many internal projects (how long did it take you to deploy your agency’s last website) get delayed or never get done. At AMI, we weave a lot of Traction’s elements into our coaching and when our clients look back over the previous twelve months, they are astonished at how much they accomplished. Managing a Digital Agency with EOS The EOS methodology leverages the power of focus and shared accountability and man, does it work! If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’ve had internal projects (revising processes, an employee handbook, updating your website, improving your agency’s marketing or business development efforts, etc.) that are dragging on and on. Work With Us to Better Understand Traction We'll be talking about some of the Traction principles at our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) workshop and how they intersect with you making more money every month/year. It’s designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with two full days of learning the tricks and tips on how to operate your agency for maximum profit using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. This [...]
Many agency owners and leaders ask me about the AMI networks so I thought I would explain them here in my weekly note to all of you. Very few people in your life truly understand the unique challenges and potential of running a small to mid-sized agency. If you’ve got a partner or two — you can kick ideas back and forth, but you’re all inside the same bottle. And just like we tell our clients — you can’t objectively see or describe the outside of the bottle from inside. This is why our agency owner peer networks are the cornerstone of AMI. By joining a network you get the best of both worlds. You get that outside perspective you really need but from someone who walks in your shoes every day. Each one has a mix of advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing shops, digital marketing, and design firms with the desire and drive to grow their business to the next level. Only one company from any specific geographic market or niche specialty is admitted to a network. This allows you to collaborate with people outside your bottle – to gain new perspectives and share ideas with other driven and passionate agency owners. The network is truly a safe and open harbor where valuable business connections and lifelong friendships develop. The networks meet in person twice a year (for 2 full days + dinner on the night before we start) and stay in touch throughout the year. They share resources, partner on business, seek counsel and enjoy each other’s support, and when needed, a kick in the pants. Your network becomes your advisory team, sounding board, and a group of great friends. At the in-person [...]
I believe that one of the most challenging aspects of our work is the forced creativity. We have no time to wait around for a muse or to stand in the shower all day, hoping that inspiration will strike. Every day we need to be creative. Now. And I mean that in every sense of the word. The word creative no longer belongs to the creative department, if you even have one. Whether it is a strategy, a media channel decision, a messaging hierarchy or finding the right combination of words to get an uptick in Google Adwords — every single person in your agency needs to push past the mundane and expected ideas and find that diamond in the rough. Oh yeah — and they need to do it in 60 minutes. Or by tomorrow. Or in between meetings. I had an interesting conversation with Jason Keath, founder of the Social Fresh Conference about this struggle and from that, I captured 4 strategies to spark on-demand creativity in an article for Hubspot. Give one or more of them a try and let me know what you think.
A couple of months ago I spent two days sequestered in a conference room with 45 agency employees that all have “digital” in their job description, their daily work or on their long list of responsibilities. They were from 20+ different AMI agencies and the reason we were all together was that they wanted to pick each other’s brains. In advance of the meeting, they put together a nine-page discussion guide of all of the topics they wanted to cover. Nine pages! I can’t tell you how impressed I was with these professionals. For two days, they shared, questioned, taught, learned and grew. They were so hungry to get better, to help their agencies get better and to help their clients knock it out of the park. I know there are times when you, as an agency owner, get frustrated with your employees. They don’t always work in the way you want them to work. Or they may not burn the midnight oil at the office like you used to do. And they definitely are bolder about asking for what they want than we were in our early days. But I am here to tell you — they love their work, respect you and genuinely want to keep adding to their skills. So take heart — your team is as committed to their craft as you were when you were their age. My experience also reinforced one of the biggest takeaways from our AMI/Audience Audit research findings. The most important benefit from your employees’ point of view is educational opportunities and the chance to sharpen their saw. That’s good news for your agency and for you.
One of the biggest threats to your agency’s profitability and long-term existence is giving away the farm by over servicing clients, bad estimates, not issuing change orders and allowing clients to change the rules mid-game without any penalty or cost. Don’t get me wrong - I think it’s okay and smart to over-service certain clients on certain projects. I’m not suggesting you put military order into your agency. But conservatively — I believe most agencies can put another 10% to their bottom line if they rein in scope creep. The good news is — it’s easier to fix than you might think. I explored how scope creep happens and how agencies can contain it in a recent article for Hubspot. Take a look and see if you can find a strategy or two that you can implement in your shop to help you slow down the bleed. The article contains several concepts that I teach in the Advanced AE bootcamp as well. Your account executives should be managing their clients’ budgets and profitability. That means they need two things — the financial data to know how they’re doing AND the tools/knowledge of how to manage both the clients and your internal team so that they aren’t writing time and money off every job. Our next Advanced AE bootcamp is in September (September 9 & 10 in Chicago) and you can register your AEs here.