Welcome back to the third article in this four-part series, detailing the biggest mistakes I made as an agency owner – and how you can avoid doing the same.
This week, we’re going to discuss something you’ve probably experienced before. It’s a costly error I made early on in my agency career: taking the trial and error route instead of learning from the experience of others.
Thankfully, my business lived to tell the tale (despite some poor choices along the way), but I know my path to 25 staff, seven figures in revenue and an eventual sale would have been much smoother if I had just taken a smarter approach.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the start of the story, and see why this lesson matters.
I started my agency back in 1993. Having already spent a number of years in industry, I had youthful confidence on my side that running my own agency would work. In a few short years we were able to grow the business to 10 employees (with a decent client base to boot).
Guiding the business in these early days was exciting. Every decision brought with it the opportunity to learn something new. And when our agency was still small, I could afford to go with my gut and make the choice I felt was best: worst-case scenario, I learned a valuable lesson moving forward and avoided making that same mistake in the future.
It’s all well and good going with your gut when you’re leading a small team. But I found that as the agency got larger, the situations facing me were getting more and more complicated. I couldn’t readily apply my previous experience in industry to what lay before me. Hiring my first few employees worked out great, but adding further members to our team was a challenge. I ended up making some errors in judgement, taking on staff that weren’t right for the company. Not delegating enough (sound familiar?). Not focusing on the right things to move the Agency forward. This resulted in a much bumpier road to growth that it needed to be,
My old approach – based on trial and error and going with my gut – was no longer appropriate for the kinds of decisions I was making. With employees and clients depending on me to make smart moves, I needed guidance. I needed someone to advise me on these critical matters. I needed training and support so I could learn to manage my staff better (rather than just winging it).
As you can probably guess, I kicked that particular can down the road for a long time. I didn’t think I had the money to spare for training or coaching. I thought we could figure it out ourselves if we gave it enough time (and tbh, coaching wasn’t that well known in the early 2000s).
While it was possible we could figure it out by ourselves, the reality was that it was costing us more money in missed opportunities than we saved by skimping out in this area.
But I digress. Let’s refocus here and get back to what matters.
When it comes down to it, I’m creating this article series with one main goal in mind:
To help you avoid making the kinds of mistakes that I and so many other business owners have made in the past. The kinds of mistakes that cost you time, money and valuable opportunities. The kinds of mistakes that hurt your business badly without giving anything of value in return.
Simply by reading materials like this, you’re already further ahead than I was back when I was mired in my “trial and error” approach to business. By learning from the experiences of others, we can discover what works & what doesn’t work faster than we could on our own.
I’m not disparaging the value of trial and error and listening to your gut instincts, in helping you make better decisions. In fact, I believe that experience is a crucial part of effective decision-making – but it should be combined with learning from other people’s experience too – especially those who have ‘been there and done it.’
Taking a trial and error approach to making an important decision is like desperately tearing into a haystack with your bare hands in search of the needle inside. Learning from the experience of others, on the other hand, is like using a powerful electromagnet to pull that needle to you, saving a boatload of time and energy in the process.
So you’re sold on the value of learning from others… but for whatever reason, you’re not in a position to seek out a formal coach at this time. If that’s you, don’t fret. You can benefit tremendously from the experiences of others in many different ways, including:
There’s a time and place for learning through your own experience. I’ve seen this in my coaching practice: while clients often rely on me for advice, the final decision rests with them, but they value the fact that I have ‘walked in their shoes’. Experience is vital in making better choices, and simple “trial and error” is one way to accumulate this experience.
However, relying on your gut – to the detriment of learning from the experiences of others – is a fools’ game. Learning from others could take the form of reading their content, listening to their interviews, investing in their training or simply talking to them. No matter how you do it, getting outside perspective is valuable.
Don’t make the mistake I and so many other business owners have made in the past. Learning from the experiences of others will allow you to shortcut your learning curve, and this will enable you to build your business faster and easier than ever before.
In the next article, we’ll talk about the fourth (and final) mistake I made as an agency owner, and recap everything we’ve covered in this series. Stay tuned!
If you make an effort to keep up-to-date with useful research in the area of business theory, there’s a good chance you’ve come across “Blue Ocean Strategy”. In their 2005 book Blue Ocean Strategy, researchers W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne argued that markets can be split into two distinct categories: blue oceans and red oceans.
Simply put, a blue ocean is a market that is emerging, profitable, and not yet packed with competitors that turn survival into an all-out dogfight. In contrast, a red ocean is an existing market where established competitors struggle to eke out a reasonable market share, and new entrants have a slim chance of succeeding. The red colour of the ocean alludes to the kind of waters sharks feed in – a grim analogy for business competition, but fairly accurate!
In this article, we’re not going to focus on discussing the differences between blue oceans and red oceans, and how you can apply this knowledge in your business (that’s a topic for another day). Instead, we’re going to look at one particular factor that will influence your ability to survive in a tough, crowded market.
The reality is that business is getting more and more competitive with every passing year. Waves of globalisation have spurred on increasing interconnectivity between countries around the world. This creates a situation where you’re not just competing with a handful of companies in your local area – or even in your country – anymore. Instead, you’re trying to keep up with competitors on a global scale.
And this reality of increased competition from all sides is prevalent in the agency space. Depending on the kind of service you provide, you might be insulated from this to a certain extent (e.g. local recruitment agencies have little to fear from foreign competitors – although they have their own challenges, such as competing with online agencies like Monster). However, there’s other sectors that are very prone to disruption from the wider environment: think design, marketing, or business consultancy services. The kind of work these agencies focus on is easy to do in a “remote” (i.e. online) capacity, leaving the door wide open to potential competitors.
Sometimes these competing agencies are located in lower-cost regions of the world, where they can afford to charge much lower prices than you can. Maybe they offer a novel approach to delivering the same results to your clients. Maybe they can even deliver better ones with their methods. The water is getting redder by the day. Without a proper strategy in place, you could be in for a nasty surprise in the near future.
When you’re operating in this kind of environment, how do you compete? How do you stand out among this competition, and create a business that’s sustainable in the long-term?
You need to focus on building great customer relationships. And by this, I mean that you should focus on increasing customer retention rates, and growing the service you provide to your existing clients.
Of course, customer relationships are just one half of the equation. The other half is knowing exactly what niche of the market your services are perfect for. But we’ll leave that topic for another day, and instead zone in on the value of effective client management.
Being able to retain & grow your existing clients is a powerful skillset, one that you must develop if you hope to build your agency. It can make the difference between swimming alone in shark-infested waters, and having an ally pull you onto their boat, stopping the beasts from sinking their teeth into you.
But developing this skillset isn’t easy. If you’re the head of a large agency, the leader of a client-facing team (or even if you’re a one-man band), it’s quite possible that you haven’t taken the time to really work on client management best practices for your staff or yourself. With everything else you have on your plate, giving your staff training you feel might be a bit redundant seems like a huge waste of time.
And if it was the case that your staff already possessed these skills, I’d agree with you – it would be a waste to give them specific training in this area. But the skills of effective client management aren’t exactly common knowledge. Maybe you’ve seen this first-hand in your own business. Maybe you’ve experienced this first-hand (e.g. that time when you weren’t sure how to handle a client that asked for too much while giving too little in return).
In my coaching practice, I’ve seen the same issues playing out time and again in agencies around the world. The fundamental approach many of them take to client management is flawed, setting them up to do unprofitable work, work too long for too little pay, and to stress constantly over keeping their clients happy.
To bring things back around to our idea of a “red ocean”… these kinds of agencies are floundering in blood-red waters, hoping that their indifferent allies (clients) will paddle over and rescue them – but they can’t be certain what’s going to happen.
It’s the same in your business. If you’re not confident that you can retain a client, you’ll do one of two things:
Both of these scenarios lead to the same conclusion – your clients move onto another agency if your output doesn’t quite meet their standards. That’s not to say that your work is bad in this scenario. It’s a case of their expectations being too unrealistic, or that you’re stretched too thin trying to over-service countless clients to deliver truly great work.
We both know that retaining and growing your best clients is the path to business success. Even think of something as fundamental as your customer acquisition cost. That’s a sunk cost you have to incur every time you go out and hunt for new business. Based on that alone, getting more money from your existing customers will be more profitable than finding new ones.
You can’t afford to paddle around unprotected in the red ocean of a fiercely competitive market. It’s better to have a stable, safe location to survey that waters from, allowing you to dive in when you need to (but protecting you when you don’t).
Rather than having a large pool of potential rescuers (who may or may or not pull through for you when you need them), wouldn’t you rather know you could rely on help from a handful of bigger boats – and be sure they’d be there for you?
That’s what it means to retain clients and grow your existing accounts.
You don’t worry about constantly acquiring new business to replace those customers that walk out the door and never come back.
You don’t have to worry about satisfying those demanding clients that barely move the needle when it comes to your bottom line.
And you won’t have to worry about losing your best clients – because you possess the skills required to keep them truly happy with your work.
We’ve already talked about how over-servicing is a fools game, one that we all get caught up in at some stage. However, there’s a difference between knowing something and being able to put that knowledge into practice.
That’s why I created the FREE Client Management Masterclass. Based on my experience in the agency space (first as the owner of a 7-figure agency, then later as a coach and mentor to 200+ agencies across multiple sectors), I’ve produced a free 30-minute video training session that can be used to take your client management skills (and those of your employees) to the next level.
The Client Management Masterclass went live on Monday 18th March, and streams directly to your computer, tablet or phone. In the Masterclass, I reveal my Three Pillar Approach to effective client management, teaching you how to get paid what you’re worth, manage client expectations up front (to avoid conflict and negative situations), and boost retention rates to supercharge your profitability.
I’ve accumulated these client management best practices over the past 25 years, based on my observations of what creates the most impact for my coaching clients. Anything you learn here is proven to work across a variety of industries, and will likely be of benefit to your business too.
Additionally, all attendees of this Masterclass will be given the chance to sign up for my brand new Client & Account Management Mastery Course, featuring exclusive video training, in-depth tricks of the trade, and access to a private mastermind group, where you’ll get the chance to ask me your questions on a weekly live Q & A. This is like hiring me to coach you in-person (which typically costs £2000+, depending on your needs). Further details of that will follow at the end of the Masterclass.
The Client Management Masterclass is available for viewing now. If you’re interested in learning more about it, please go here. If you register in the next week, you’ll be eligible an additional FREE bonus (more details at the end of the Masterclass).
The answer to today’s question about client management should come as no surprise to you if you’ve been in this agency space for any length of time:
Of course, your understanding of “good” and “bad” client management could be very different to mine, or that of my clients. But in my experience – both as an agency owner for over 10 years, and now as a coach to 200+ agencies – I’ve seen the same few errors being made by businesses all across the world.
These errors aren’t always huge, obvious mistakes that are easy to fix. Sometimes they’re hard to spot – like a culture of just trying to please a customer at all costs.. And sometimes you think things are going just fine (despite all evidence to the contrary).
The most common trap I see agency owners & staff falling into – time and again – is thinking that you have to supplicate to clients in order for them to be satisfied. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth… and in this article, we’re going to unravel this insidious lie and expose it for what it is: a limiting paradigm that holds your agency back from being all it can be.
One of the most commonly trotted-out business cliches is “the customer is always right”. We’ve heard this a thousand times from a thousand people, all repeating what they believe to be true: in order to make your clients happy, you have to give them whatever they ask for.
While that kind of mentality might fly in the retail or hospitality industries, it doesn’t apply to your agency. In fact, thinking that it does will leave you stressed out, underpaid, and even starting to resent the work you’re doing – all because you lack the ability to say “no” when it really matters.
In my work as a business coach, I’ve often found that there’s a disconnect between the vision of the owners/managers and the actions of their client-facing staff. For some reason, managers just assume that their account teams will know how to deal with clients properly, and so don’t offer them any substantial training on this subject (the kind that they need if you want your agency to flourish).
The basics of customer service are easy to pick up. They’re beaten into every call centre rep, retail employee and waiter/waitress in the country. But what about something more advanced? Something more appropriate for a high-value business like yours? It’s harder to come by.
Specifically, I’ve seen this disconnect between top-level vision and bottom-level implementation play out in the way employees handle client requests. Without being explicitly told how they should deal with a given situation, your employees will often defer to doing what they feel is best – abiding by the rule that “the customer is always right” and giving them whatever they want.
So when that client rings up and needs a particular piece of work completed on a short deadline, your employees agree to it, thinking that they have to say yes. They don’t think about whether this request is included in previously agreed fees, the fact they’re over-servicing this client, or that they’re creating unrealistic expectations moving forward. They just say yes because they were taught that the customer is always right – and no one told them any different.
And saying yes to this client’s demands mean that you can’t say yes when it really matters – when better opportunities come along, or when your dream client walks through the door. Instead, your answer is a no by default because you are already at full capacity with underpaying projects.
That’s what bad client management is costing you: the chance to build a better business, to serve your ideal clients, and to scale your agency into something that works for you (instead of the other way around).
And if you’re a one-man band, you’re not excluded from this discussion. As a solopreneur, you’re responsible for both directing your business with a big-picture vision… and for actually doing the hard work required to service your clients. The disconnect between how you want to handle your clients and how you actually treat them can often leave you stuck in a place you don’t want to be: working too long, for too little pay, with too much stress involved.
These same lessons apply whether you’re a solopreneur, leading a small team, or running a large agency – unless you learn to handle clients effectively, you’re going to limit your business and make life much harder than it needs to be.
Of course, over-servicing isn’t a big deal if it only happens once… but in my experience, these things don’t happen just once. Clients can get used to having work done on demand, so they start to send in similar requests more often. Gradually, their respect for your processes, your business and your time start to erode.
After a while, you’re not two partners working together on a mutually beneficial project anymore. Instead, you’ve been forced into a supplier/customer relationship, where you have much less power than your client.
While supplier/customer relationships work in certain industries (i.e. if your local supermarket only allowed you to shop by appointment, you’d soon find a new one), they’re bad news for your agency.
The work you do is valuable. It takes time, and you have many different clients to service. You can’t afford to let one client dominate your business – unless they’re big enough to warrant this attention, of course (although the dangers of ‘putting all your eggs’ in one basket is a topic for another blog post).
Instead of merely being seen as a supplier, you want to be seen as a partner: a trusted, professional expert that delivers valuable work from a place of equal respect. If you can successfully establish this position for yourself, then you’ll be able to get paid what you’re worth, waste less time racking up unbillable hours, and stop stressing out about the mounting obligations you never should have agreed to in the first place. The scales will be balanced, both sides perfectly equal to one another.
Establishing this position is easier said than done, however. There’s a number of different moving parts you need to consider.
It tells them you don’t deserve respect. That you’re not worth a premium price, and that you’re there to work for them – not with them, as equals.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this basic mistake cause problems for agencies aspiring to achieve more. Driven, ambitious top-level managers are a powerful asset – but without staff that are properly equipped with effective client management practices, they’re worth far less.
This is such a big topic and common conversation that I am excited to be delivering a LIVE webinar next Monday 18th at 4pm (UK time) entitled The Client Management Masterclass. Based on my experience in the agency space (first as the owner of a 7-figure agency, then later as a coach and mentor to 200+ agencies across multiple sectors). I’ll reveal my Three Pillar Approach to effective client management, teaching you how to get paid what you’re worth, manage client expectations up front (to avoid conflict and negative situations), and boost retention rates to supercharge your profitability. So if you would like to join the 45min masterclass, hop over to Facebook and join my Agency Growth Mastermind Group (from where the masterclass will take place)
I’ve accumulated these client management best practices over the past 25 years, based on my observations of what creates the most impact for my coaching clients. Anything you learn here is proven to work across a variety of industries, and will likely be of benefit to your business too.
The 2000’s haven’t panned out like Back To The Future promised they would.
I cashed out of my agency in 2003. Once the last document was signed and the money was on the way to my account, I remember feeling immensely relieved – and, to be honest, a little lost. I had been so focused on getting the deal done that I hadn’t taken the time to think about how far I’d come or what was next.
Over the prior decade, I had scaled the business from nothing to 25+ staff and a seven-figure valuation… but what had I learned?
While it feels like it was only yesterday, there’s no getting around the fact that 2003 was 16(!) years ago. In between then and now, I’ve had the chance to reflect on my experience as an agency owner: the good, the bad, the confusing, and the downright terrible.
It tends to be the negatives that stick out in your memory the most because those are the things you learn the most from. When I think back to running my agency for 11 years, certain things jump out more than others. Sure, I remember the big wins, the celebrations after a hugely successful project, the new hire that was a perfect fit…
But the mistakes sting just a little more. Wrong decisions, bad hires, losing important accounts. Long days. Sleepless nights. Arguments. Heartache and Stress!
Don’t get me wrong: there were highs. Plenty of them. But highlight reels, while fun viewing for the victor, don’t teach us as much as a good post-mortem analysis.
From the ashes of failure comes valuable lessons. And what good is a lesson left unshared?
That’s one of the key reasons I ended up retraining to be a coach (but that’s a story for another day).
In my work with over 250 agencies over the past 12 years, I’ve seen a lot of business owners making the same mistakes I made.
I do my best to advise them, lead them back onto the right path, help them to avoid suffering like I suffered back them. If you’ve been burned once, why let someone else get burned too?
But not everyone is interested in being shown how to avoid the fire – they need to feel the heat for themselves.
In my coaching practice, I often observe that agencies don’t understand the value of learning from the experience but just continue to do the same things (usually because they are run ragged servicing demanding clients) and hope for a different outcome. Predictably, this doesn’t tend to work out too well for them.
If you need to get burned before you learn, your agency is in for a rough ride. But if you’re interested in avoiding unnecessary pain, building a better business, and actually enjoying the process, then read on.
In this article series, I’m going to lay out the four worst mistakes I made as an agency owner (mistakes I see countless agencies making even today), and what you can do to avoid suffering the same fate.
I can’t go back now and change anything – sadly, we haven’t quite worked out time travel yet. But if I can help other business owners avoid these same pitfalls, they won’t need a time machine. And that’s good enough for me.
The only value in an idea is how it helps you. The greatest business plan ever written is worthless without hard work & execution behind it. So please take the information you find in this series and use it to make your systems, your business and your life better. In the end… that’s all that matters.
Now, let’s get started.
Hands down, the biggest thing that held me back from growing my agency as fast as I wanted whilst feeling in control, was not being clear enough on where the business was going.
It wasn’t that I had no idea what I wanted – it’s just that no one ever told me how crucial it was to have a exact destination in mind when you’re setting out to grow your agency.
Maybe you started out as a solopreneur or a freelancer – just one person servicing your clients.
Maybe you were a “proper” agency right from the start, with multiple owners, a few key talents, and a couple of admin staff for good measure.
I’ve had clients from both camps. Worked with bigger businesses, pushing 100+ staff, with client bases to match…
And in my work with businesses of all shapes and sizes, I learned something very interesting:
Most of them had, at one time or another, felt lost on their journey.
Sometimes they made it through on their own (with a lot of time, effort and pain!). Other times, they came to an experienced coach like me for guidance.
It goes without saying that I helped them get back on track using a powerful, yet simple set of tools (read on for more info).
When you first start out, you’ll take clients wherever you can get them. 5, 10, 20, 30 – you take on new business left and right without taking the time to consider whether they’re really a good fit for your agency. And this strategy is fine until you hit a sticking point.
The sticking point varies, depending on your business…
But one day, you wake up and realise that you’ve got 5, 10, 20 or 30 demanding voices to answer to, with no clear escape route in sight.
If you’ve been here, you know how this feels. You started your agency with the best of intentions, hoping to build a business that worked for you (and not the other way around). But before you knew it, you were working just as hard as you ever did – it’s like having a job all over again, but with more stress, worry and risk than it’s worth.
This happens when you don’t set out your plans in advance. When your growth strategy is client acquisition at all costs, no plan is needed – you just keep pitching, keep winning new business… and deal with the fallout later.
That fallout comes when you don’t pay attention to building the critical infrastructure you need to support these clients. The staff, the systems & processes, the valuable core offering, the marketing plan – they all matter, but we forget this when we head off on our journey without a map to guide us.
However, if you’ve got an actual vision for your agency, things are different. When you know where you want to be a year from now (and what you need to do to get there), making strategic decisions is a lot easier.
But when you’re stuck in the trenches, a year can seem like a long time. That’s why I like to sit down with my coaching clients towards the end of their financial year and hash out the details of their vision and plan for the following year.
We get crystal-clear on their goals, the KPI’s we’ll use to assess their progress, and take full stock of the situation they’re in (using a variety of planning tools e.g. SWOT analysis, and more).
But a yearly plan on its own isn’t very useful, so we don’t stop there. Once we’ve gotten clear on their big-picture vision for the next 12 months, we go one step further and determine their quarterly plan.
Here, we create a plan that puts them on track to accomplish their yearly goals, by breaking it down into quarters and allowing for seasonal fluctuations in revenue or anything else that’s strategically relevant.
We repeat this quarterly planning process four times a year, constantly assessing and adjusting as needed.
We don’t stop there. To really make sure we deliver the annual vision, we take our quarterly plan and use it to create a monthly plan.
I find that a month is the shortest period of time most top-level managers should think in. Further down the agency, you’ll want to implement daily and weekly plans to stay on track, but visionaries need to think bigger.
The monthly plan is just as it sounds – we take the quarterly goals, determine what they can realistically be done in the next month, and set it out for achievement.
This three-level planning process seems simple. If you already do it, you probably think it’s obvious… but you would be astounded if you knew how many agency owners don’t have a solid, well-formed vision of where they’re going.
And the ones that do? At least 80% of them don’t have concrete quarterly and monthly plans (with built-in KPI’s to assess progress) that hold them accountable.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know if what you’re doing is helping your business… or if it’s strangling it.
Take the time to sit down and figure out where you want your business to be a year from now. Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to think bigger – we can often do more than we expect when we actually work for it.
Don’t stop there. Go further. Take your one-year vision and figure out what you need to do this quarter in order to get there. Then drill down one level deeper and figure out what needs to happen this month to get your business from here to there.
Without a vision, we flounder. We don’t know which option to choose, so we choose whatever’s easiest, or whatever pays us the most money right now… but this approach costs us in the long-term.
Get strategic, and your business will reap the benefits in the weeks, months and years to come.
In our next article, we’re going to deal with the second mistake I made as an agency owner – a crucial one you need to avoid: bailing out the boat instead of plugging the leak. Stay tuned!
I have wanted to write about the consequence of taking on the wrong kind of clients for a while because it’s something I see causing problems for agencies time and time again.
What prompted me to write this now is because last week I sat with a client and worked through their pain of having to invest WAY too much time dealing with the issues and grief having wrong type of client on their books.
We all want full order books. I get it. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and we, the owners, are the last to be fed. So I understand the practical need of filling our capacity and avoiding cash flow dips. However, when we have the wrong types of client on our books, we store up several problems for ourselves and our team:
OK so if we can all agree it’s not ideal having the wrong kind of client on our books, how do we find the right client? (I know that’s your next question!).
Well first off, you have to know who the right type of client is. That means:
So, if we have worked out who our ideal target client is, we now can start to build sales and marketing messages that resonate with them and also ‘hang out’ in the places they frequent. But we need the time and space to work on our sales and marketing. However, if we are super busy (over)servicing the wrong type of clients we neither have the time nor the energy to go out and find the right clients.
Every way you cut this, having the wrong clients on your books is really damaging.
One thing that really resonated with me last week when I was discussing this with my client (who is the right type of client FOR ME even if they have been currently taking on the wrong kind of client FOR THEM!) was how TIRED and FED-UP they were. I had to remind them that when we run our own business, we should be there to enjoy the journey, despite the many ups and downs we need to navigate. They were just tired and questioning WHY? We worked on a specific plan to change this and I hope they felt somewhat better and back in control when the left the session with me.
I know this is a big topic and one most everyone is interested in (including me!) so I am excited to include a section on this in my new upcoming course The Client and Account Management Mastery Course*. It’s a hybrid course including access to me directly via a closed exclusive group*.If you would like to be one of the first to hear about the launch as well as special offers next month, then just complete you info below.
OK so that sounds like a weird title for this blog but trust me it’s not, so please read on. I want to share with you some of the client management mistakes I made when I ran my agency, and my key learnings over the years (so you don’t make the same mistakes!).
Fundamentally this means we need to be great at managing their expectations. We all know its way cheaper to retain and grow existing clients than it is to find new ones. Yet sometimes our best efforts to keep a client happy leads them to be dissatisfied and leave us. Read on to find out why.
To effectively manage client expectations, we need to have clearly understood service levels that are well understood both internally, with the team delivering the client work and with our customer.
To achieve this, we need to get our service levels right from day one. How often do you feel: “I need to do an amazing job to impress this new client, so they stick with me for the long term”. This tends to translate to:
I remember when my agency (CIT PR) won its first few clients. We were super excited and since we had the capacity, we did whatever we could to keep them happy (i.e. always say YES and over service them).
Ironically, we actually achieved the reverse of what we were hoping for. By continually saying YES to the client, they didn’t really respect our time or what we were doing for them and this led them to not always being happy with our levels of service – they had completely forgotten what we had agreed at the outset and how much they were paying us. This also made it really hard to raise our fees with them and guess what, as we won more clients and got busier, we started to resent these early clients because they were our lowest fee payers but took up more of our time in order to keep them happy! Something had to change……
So here are 5 tips I learned (and share with my clients)
And a bonus 6thtip…..
This is a big topic and I am super excited to be launching a new mastermind course on client & account management in February. This is a hybrid online course, delivered over 4 weeks and gives access to me via an exclusive closed members group. If you would like to be the first the hear more about the course, and how it can help you and your team then enter your details below and be the first to hear about the launch of the course and exclusive offers.
I am not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, so I never set any but I do set business goals for myself. New year’s resolutions are usually pipedreams or hopes and as they say ‘a dream without a plan is just a wish’. So setting business goals with plans behind them is the way to go.
As I outlined in my last blog post, in 2018 the 3rd biggest challenge my clients had (that I supported them to work on in our 1-2-1 coaching sessions) was how around staff retention, specifically “do we attract and retain the best staff?“.
There are a multitude of answers to this complex question, not least getting the recruitment and induction process right. Research shows that staff are highly engaged during their first 6 months of employment and that millennials are prone to ‘job hoping’. The same research also identifies that millennials are also highly motivated by self-development.
So is learning high up on your agenda for 2019? Not only to keep staff engaged and retain the best talent, but also for you to ensure you are using best practice?
This is such a big part of retention yet is one area that is frequently overlooked by employees (‘we don’t have the time’ or ‘we don’t have the budget’, are 2 statements I frequently hear). Indeed I have had my clients ask me if I have a face to face course I delivered as an online course or if I could take a particular subject I coached them through and turn it into some kind of online learning. It was these conversations that led me to launch a series of online courses around everything to do with starting, growing and running a successful agency (7 courses to date with plans to add at least 2 more in 2019). Take a look here to see all 7 courses.
The advantage of online learning
There are many advantages (and a few disadvantages) to taking an online course rather than a classroom based course. Here are 4:
Of course one disadvantage is that there is no interaction with the trainer or fellow students. To help counter that I invite all my students to join my closed Facebook group where I regularly post content and also am available to answer students questions.
There is really little excuse for not planning to have learning and development on your agenda for the new year. The benefits of increasing skills and retention make it a no brainer, so make sure you have it on your plan for 2019!
Is 2019 going to be the year you get rich? It seems everywhere you look there is someone on social promising you a way to effortlessly earn 6 and 7 figure sums of money. If I am honest, I have almost fallen for it – with compelling messaging and stories of how the writer was poor until they discovered this one magical method, that no one else is doing – and now they want to share it with you………for a fee (of course!).
Here is such a message I received today ‘Learn …5 ways to hit a million in 2019…!!!’
Yet if it seems too good to be true, then undoubtedly it will be. It’s one of the harsh realities I have learned since I have been selling my online leadership & management courses – that being, there is no such thing as a quick rich scheme and if you are considering clicking on one of the many promises of ‘6 steps to earning a 7-figure income in the next 30 days’ then let me save you the disappointment and tell you it will fail.
There is no magic bullet, just loads of marketing hype that fails to deliver, and lots of new channels to reach your audience (just think of the days before social media, AdWords, Facebook ads etc. etc.). Yet the same methods for successful sales and marketing 10 years ago, still apply today. The only activities you need to focus on are finding your niche audience, offering a truly value added service or product to them, and then be really consistent about communicating with that audience.
Remember you need to take your target customer on their buyer’s journey:
So, sorry to burst your bubble if you have been enticed (as I have) by sexy promises you read on Facebook or LinkedIn, they won’t work (or they haven’t told you the whole story). To help me find the best and most successful methods for marketing, I always use this equation: ‘is the effort in less than the results out?’. If this answer is no (e.g. investing a lot of time going to twice weekly networking events that deliver little in the way of opportunities) then I stop doing it. If this answer is Yes (e.g. sending out regular useful and thought provoking emails (as I hope this one is!)) then I do more of it and do it consistently.
Since we are just starting our new year, I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on 2018 and share with you the reoccurring themes and biggest business challenges that came up time and time again during my coaching sessions with clients. So here are my top 5 (I would bet most of these were and are relevant to you in 2019).
This is usually a question that is asked early on and one of the reasons for engaging with a coach such as me.
In the agency world, there seems to be a constant mismatch between being super busy, working long hours and yet, not being profitable enough. This results in lack of investment in the business, not enough hours for the owner to work on their business, high staff turnover (if you have staff) and burnout.
As my clients know, the answer to this, whilst it’s not one thing, is definitely to sell value, outcomes and transformations and NOT time.
This kind of goes hand in hand with one because if you are run ragged servicing low paying challenging clients then you will have little time for new business. So firstly, get that right so you have time to look for new business.
Secondly, know your customers (define your customer personas). Understand their challenges (that you can solve) and market yourself against these challenges (rather than telling them how wonderful you are).
Understand their buying habits so you know where they ‘hang out’ (networking?, LinkedIn?, Facebook ads? (yep they can work for business) and so on).
Give away some value for free to demonstrate your credibility (such as a blog like this one) and build rapport with them through regular communications.
Like all the issues, this is a big one with a long answer. So let me give you a few quick thoughts on this:
This is all about getting your structure/infrastructure right, so you have room for growth. I always tell my clients to build their business structures today for the business they want to be tomorrow – that way you can grow in a managed sustainable way. If you don’t have the structures in place and grow rapidly, you are just as likely to shrink as rapidly – and have a stressful time in doing so!
So they are the top 5 challenges that I helped my clients solve in 2018. Will they be the same in 2019? Did I miss anything? Do let me know by dropping a comment or sending me a message.
You might have noticed that I haven’t written a blog in a while. During August (a traditionally quieter month for my face to face coaching work), I launched myself head first into further developing and marketing my online courses. That has meant shooting videos, webinars and Facebook lives, creating landing pages, new eBooks and using advertising. Phew!
It’s been an interesting journey, frustrating at times but most enlightening and I have learned a ton. I am still ploughing on and applying all I am learning to more effectively engage with my target audience.
In case you are thinking about venturing into the world of online sales and courses, here are my 5 top learnings, that I thought I would share with you…
“Earn 6-figure sums in your sleep” they claimed. The allure of earning passive income (i.e. income that isn’t earned by selling your time) is very tempting but the truth is that for every £ you earn you will be initially spending £££. The stories you read about people making a lot of money are either the 0.01% or a lot of rubbish!
Following on from point 1 – the online world is full of a lot of hype and people claiming they have made a fortune and they can teach you how to. Don’t believe a word of it. At times it reads like pyramid selling. Any promise that seems too good to be true – almost always is (too good to be true)! The truth is you have to work super hard, and those that are successful have a team of people supporting them and are consistently working at it.
Whether you like it or not, Facebook is a great tool to reach your target audience (2.27 billon active users). I worked with a coach this summer and he was keen for me to use Facebook as my main channel to market. At first, I was very resistant (after all I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and watch videos of people’s pets doing silly things!) but I slowly came around to the idea of Facebook as a business tool and found many groups that contain my target audience. I even created my own closed group (you can join here).
Once you get your head around using Facebook as a business development tool you will then start considering how to use Facebook advertising. My caution here though is that you need to know what you are doing if you are going to start advertising. It is super sophisticated and can easily suck up a lot of money. There are 2 things you need to get right:
So, I admit it, I am fairly late to the game with marketing online and the truth is there are a million and one people already doing it (well actually more!) so you have to find a way to cut through the hype and noise. The best way to do this is to be clear about your niche and the value you are offering that niche. Try and be different and not look like everyone else (and that can be hard) and truly offer some value to your audience – that way they will want to follow you and as you build you audience you can then offer more value and ultimately sell to them. This is a long game and not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. So, if you venture into it, then be prepared to stick at it!
I hope this doesn’t paint too bleak a picture. I wanted to share a candid view of my experiences thus far. All these learnings have not deterred me from continuing on. On the contrary – I am just focused on doing it better. I am working on a new mega course right now (“The Agency Mastermind Programme – start, grow and scale (and sell) your agency”) and also adding new content to my best selling course on client and account management. I am also reviewing my landing pages and ads, and also revisiting my own website – so lots going on.
I know this is a topic that many are interested in, so if you want to have a chat then get in touch.