I know it’s a rare individual who can weather the rocky road that is agency ownership. After spending more than a decade working with over 250 agencies a year (and doing it for my own agency for 25 years) I know it’s not easy. The highs are glorious and nourishing. But the lows — man, do they suck. Whether it’s a tough streak of new business losses, a spiteful review on Glass Door, or an accounting error that impacts your taxes — it can be disheartening during those rough patches.
One of the traits I admire most about agency owners is your tenacity. No matter how tough things are at the moment, you know that there’s a better day ahead and you are willing to power through to get here. The reality is, like all businesses, there are cycles or seasons. No agency is always on top. No agency bats 1000. But what stands out to me is how agency owners show up even when they are scared, hurt, or frustrated. You refuse to be beaten back. It’s a rare and potent combination of optimism, tenacity, and as my mom used to accuse me of often — sheer bullheadedness. But it works.
I will never forget the agency owner who stood in front of her peers at a network meeting and announced that they just been handed loss #12. Her frustration was so palpable. She finally exploded and said, “we just need a f’ing win. I don’t care who it is or what it’s for. But we need it.” If you’ve owned your agency for more than three years, you know what she was going through. Flash forward a year later. Her agency was (and still is) so busy, they didn’t know how they were going to get it all done.
By the way — that’s the pattern. Most agencies will experience growth and increased profits for 3-4 years and then have a flat or down year or two. But the dip rarely lasts more then 12 -18 months and the subsequent surge surpasses the previous high. In other words — you hang in there long enough to rally and do better than before. Growth is not linear. You’re going to slide backwards on occasion. But what I have seen time and time again is that forced decline is what gives you the perspective you need to plan the next march to victory.
That’s life as an agency owner. You know that there will be ebbs and flows. But more important — you know that no matter how bad your batting slump is, if you keep going up to the plate, you’ll get a hit. And that hit will lead to a hitting streak and before you know it, you’re winning the game again. I got an email today from a different agency owner who had also been coming in second quite a bit. She celebrated the change of season, saying, “it’s like all of the seeds we’ve been planting are finally breaking ground. We’v e landed three new pieces of business in the last month. The drought has ended!”
Why am I telling you this? No matter which season your agency is in — I have a message for you.
If you’re a relatively new agency owner and your agency is less than five years old — soak up the sunshine. Odds are you haven’t hit your first slide backwards. Enjoy this early success, but be smart. Build in some reserves, don’t get cocky, and savor the giddiness you’re experiencing. Build a culture that earns you the loyalty of your team and clients. It will pay dividends over and over again. But know that it isn’t always this easy.
If you’re in a hitting slump — keep swinging the bat. This is temporary and you will be rounding the bases and heading for home again soon. You know what you need to do to shorten this season. Plant the seeds. Plant more seeds. And then, plant a few more. But also take a minute to look around you. You have earned the respect of your peers, the confidence of your team, and even in the worst of days — there are many perks to running the show. You will survive this and be back on top — with a higher AGI, bigger profits and a few good war stories. Do not doubt yourself. If you’ve survived more than five years, you are very good at this.
If you are riding high right now — I know you’re crazy busy but stop long enough to appreciate it. There’s nothing more satisfying then when everything is working. Look around and notice who on your team is going above and beyond. Build a safety net so you can weather the next dip, and invest in yourself and your people. Keep growing and learning so you can stay ahead of the curve. Be gracious. Be grateful and even though you can hardly keep up — plant more seeds. Biz dev is a muscle you can’t let atrophy.
And for all of us — regardless of the season. This is a great gig. We get to genuinely help our clients accomplish their goals. We get to build a team of smart, funny, passionate people who want to be as good as they can be, and we have freedoms that no job will give us. Like any job — it has its ups and downs but the downs are temporary and the ups are a blast! You’re made for this – believe in yourself and keep planting those seeds!
This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.