I love agency owners. They’re smart, funny, creative and generous. They’re also the most optimistic pessimists I’ve ever met! If you own an agency, and despite how well things are going, find yourself knocking on wood and looking over your shoulder — you are not alone. I have some ideas on how to shake that nagging worry.

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Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute, this week coming to you from the historic Brown Palace Hotel in Downtown Denver. I just spent the last couple of days with agency owners in one of our peer groups. And one of the conversations that was sort of a recurring theme was this idea that most agencies came out of 2020, actually really great. Many of you had breakout years, some of you had your biggest years, but most of you, the vast majority of you ended your year in the black, and that’s before the PPP funds. And then because of the PPP funds, you started the first quarter of 2021 with more cash in the bank than normally you ever have in the first quarter. Because for most of you, you spend down your money in the fourth quarter to mitigate taxes. And so a lot of agencies are a little cash poor in January, particularly because, one, you spent all your money in December and, two, your clients are still in holiday hibernation so a lot of projects don’t kick off, a lot of new scopes of work don’t get signed until about mid January. And then all of a sudden, by the time you send your pre-bill or you start to do the work. You’re not seeing that money until early February or mid February at the earliest. So 2021, actually for most of you, felt really good. You came out of the gate strong and you were able to really invest in 2021. A lot of you did some hiring or you purchase some things because you had this excess cash from both having a great year but also because the PPP funds got forgiven for many of you so late in the year. So you would think that all of you would be feeling pretty great about 2021. And what I will tell you is all of you are optimistic but with an asterisk. And the asterisk is when I say to any agency owner, “How are things going? How’s business? How are you doing?” what I will hear is, “You know what? Things are great. Biz dev is kicking off. We’re getting a lot of inquiries on the websites. We’re in a lot of conversations. Sales pipeline feels really full. Team is strong, everybody we’re back in the office, everything is kind of getting back to normal. So everything is great, but…” And then there’s this pause and there’s never anything after the but. There’s just this asterisk after the optimism. And I will tell you that, number one, even before the pandemic, one of the things I value and recognize about agency owners is you are the most optimistic pessimist I’ve ever met. And I think a lot of that is because you have owned your agency for a while and you have ridden the wave and you know that one phone call, even if you’re having your best year ever, one phone call or one key employee walking into your office and saying, “Can we talk?” either of those things can absolutely derail your agency. So you know, while it is important for you to embrace and celebrate when things are going well, that you also know that sooner or later, the cycle shifts and you are going to have a bit of a downturn. So our business is all about the ebbs and flows. So many of you have gotten to the point where you’re sort of conditioned not to fully enjoy or embrace the flow because you know an ebb is coming sooner or later. It might be a year, it might be next month, it doesn’t matter. But you just know that no matter what your agency’s experiencing, there are bumps in the road. You know how to handle those bumps, you know how to traverse around them. But nonetheless, whatever great thing that you’re feeling right now, you know that something is going to threaten it. So that is actually true for all of you before the pandemic. But I think what the pandemic has done is I think the pandemic has escalated the asterisk that all of you are feeling pretty good about the year, all of you are having some great success in new business, and yet you are also sort of feeling like you aren’t sure what’s around the corner and so you are taking a grain of salt with your pleasure at how the year is going. So if you’re feeling that way, if you are optimistic with the asterisk, I just want you to know you are not alone, that your other agency sisters and brethren are feeling it exactly the same way and that it’s okay for you to have a little bit of ambivalence about the good fortune that you’re having. But I also want to remind you that you need to celebrate it, you need to appreciate it, you need to embrace it, and it is very important that you merchandise it inside your organization, that you make sure your team feels that things are going well, that the agency is solid, that you’ve got a great foundation under you, that biz dev is kicking off, that clients are happy. Whatever the story is in your agency that is making it a good year so far, make sure that you are sharing. And in fact, oversharing that with your team because just like you, they still have the pandemic fatigue, they still are dealing with some things whether it’s kids in school or not in school or whatever it may be, worried about their parents. So they need to hear that good news and they need to hear it on a regular base. So be optimistic, celebrate your success, and recognize that that “but…” is just part of being an agency owner and you having enough experience to know that it’s important to love the moment that you’re in but to also know that moment won’t last forever. So I’m hoping that this was helpful. I’m hoping it makes you feel a little more comfortable, that what you’re feeling is not isolated to you, that other agency owners are feeling the exact same way and having the exact same experience. And I’ll be back next week with another tip. All right? I’ll see you then.

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