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Scaling Your Agency: A Roadmap To Guide Your Way (Part 2)

scaling your agency

Welcome back to the second article in this series. Last time, we covered some of the most common problems you encounter when scaling your agency from “solo to small” (less than 5 employees), and how you can avoid them. If you missed that instalment, check it out here.  

This week, we’re going to look at the next stage in the process – moving from “small” to “boutique” (5 or fewer employees to 5-15 employees). Just like the last stage, there are certain challenges that routinely crop up as you start to add more employees into the mix. Let’s examine those issues in more detail.

Stage 2: Small to Boutique

If you’re ambitious, and things work out well for you, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re ready to scale your budding agency into a slightly bigger organisation. Breaking the 5-15 employee barrier is a big milestone in any agency’s story, and with good reason: it indicates you’re moving up in the world yet it’s one of the most difficult growth phases.

The main challenge you face when you’re just starting out is making smart hiring decisions. An agency of five (with two members who don’t quite fit with the culture) is going to be hurt more by a poor hire than a bigger organisation – generally speaking. Recruiting and retaining the best talent for your agency is always an important consideration, but as you scale up your agency, another obstacle emerges: infrastructure.

Having a solid infrastructure in place is what keeps the wheels turning when you’re not standing in the room overseeing every little action. Great systems separate the winners from the also-rans… and sadly, the kind of systems that worked perfectly with a handful of employees don’t always function so well when you add more people into the mix.

I like to use the term infrastructure as a catch-all label for the processes and systems (IT, productivity, documented etc.) your business is built on. They’re foundational – without solid ground to build on, anything you construct on it will be unstable. Throw some external pressure on top, and you have a recipe for disaster.

As I often tell my coaching clients… “what got you here won’t get you there”. Manual (or no) systems work fine when your business is small, but quickly expose you when you scale up, and ultimately stop you growing.  For instance:

  • If your preferred method of communication is shouting across the desks at each other, what happens when you’re in a different room?
  • If you don’t measure time internally (because you have a handle on what’s going on), how does that work when you have 10 staff?  

The point here is that building sound systems into your business from the start is never a waste and indeed, sets you up to become the bigger agency you aspire to be. That said, there are a few specific areas you should focus on as you grow. Let’s take a look at two of those in more detail.

Area #1: Filing & Documentation Systems

  1. Ever misplaced a crucial piece of paperwork, then almost torn your hair out looking for it?
  2. Ever had to reverse-engineer a particular working process from scratch because you neglected to write it down in the first place?
  3. Ever failed to produce consistent results for clients because you did the job a slightly different way each time?

If any of the above situations sound familiar, then it’s likely your documentation systems need work. Whether that means improving your organisational skills, or getting more diligent with tracking your working processes, you need to take note – your business depends on it.

The need for meticulous filing and documentation is less noticeable when your agency is small; you probably feel you don’t need them. You have fewer clients on the books. Fewer employees, which means there’s less chance of losing things! And you have an easier time directly teaching people what they need to know vs just having them to follow a documented process which means you can ensure consistency.

But as you scale up, cracks start to appear if the foundation is weak. Maybe valuable files go missing, or new hires don’t quite understand how to do some crucial task. The net result?  The client doesn’t get a consistent experience, and this quickly damages your brand and loses you that client.

Issues like these can only be avoided by taking the time to set up your systems right from the start. Ensure you’ve got the basics down, such as:

  • Using consistent client codes/references across paper and digital files (e.g. invoices, project work, miscellaneous documents, etc.)
  • Standard processes for completing routine tasks, such as client onboarding or monthly reports.
  • Think about what online systems you can use (e.g. project management such as Asana or file sharing such as DropBox).
  • Have a documented hiring process in place. We covered one potential process in detail last week, but ensure you have a standardised way of selecting between candidates. At least when the system is in place, you’ll be able to make changes. Without concrete steps to follow, you could flounder for months on end.

The takeaway point here is to get your filing and documentation systems in place before you need them. Take it from someone who’s seen businesses who didn’t do this – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

Area #2: Managing finance

Much like the carton of expired milk you discover on your return to the office after a long weekend off, your finances get worse the longer you leave them unattended, and most entrepreneurs do not love doing their finances (hand up here, I really don’t like it!)

It’s easy to let the matter go, reasoning that you’ll take care of them once things settle down/take off/after your busy season/before the year-end etc.

But honestly – you’d be surprised how much work it takes to catch up when you fall behind. Piles of receipts, bills you’re not sure were paid, or even invoices that might be overdue: that’s just a taste of the trouble you can find yourself in without a good handle on your finances.

And if you think it’s bad when your agency is still small, you won’t believe how tricky it gets when your business scales up. More employees, more clients, and more money make things much worse if they’re placed on a weak foundation of poor finances.

There isn’t much to say here, apart from this… get a professional in to help! Whether that means hiring a part-time bookkeeper or an accountant, ensure you are on top of your finances.

Remember, one of the critical reasons agencies fail in their first 2 years is because of cash flow issues.  So you need to be on top of your invoicing and credit control, not to mention your expenses!

And a few additional points:

  • Get a reliable software solution in place for managing your accounts. Lots of agencies like to use something cloud-based such as Xero (my preferred solution) or QuickBooks. Ask your accounting professional for advice if needed.
  • Building on our earlier point about having sound filing systems – hold onto all your receipts and invoices. I use ReceiptBank for managing my expenses (which has revolutionised my handle on expenses).

Conclusion

The areas mentioned above (project management, documentation and finances) are essential if you hope to scale your agency beyond five employees. Of course, other areas matter too (e.g. communication, IT, and more), but these are the two stumbling blocks I’ve seen numerous businesses struggle with over the years.

Weak foundations are critically exposed when weight and pressure are placed upon them. If you want to avoid serious problems further down the line, take the time to build sound systems into your business now, before you need them. You’ll be glad you did.

In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss what it takes to go from “not-so-small” (10-15 employees) to medium (25-30 employees approx). Stay tuned!

How to grow your agency – part 1 – hiring your first employee

scaling your agency

In this new article series, I’m going to discuss some of the most common problems you may encounter if you aspire to scale your agency – and how you can avoid them. Think of this series like a roadmap: it will detail the routes available to you, but ultimately, which road you decide to travel is up to you.

Before we start, it’s important to note that having a small/lifestyle business isn’t a bad thing – if that’s your goal. Some people are content running small agencies (i.e. 5 or fewer employees). Some people are content to work entirely by themselves. And with the right strategy, you can build a highly profitable small business (even without employees) that affords you plenty of free time and the chance to do work you enjoy.

Running a small business can be liberating in some ways. You can charge more competitive prices than your competitors, who have larger overheads. You can create more personal connections with clients and have a direct hand in delivering work to them. There’s also less pressure when you’re only responsible for a handful of employees or just yourself.

However, depending on your ambitions, you may wish for something more. You might have a vision of an agency that is number 1 in your niche. You might hope to eventually “cash out” and retire young (a hard feat to accomplish when you’re responsible for servicing clients every week).

Many agencies start out with just 1-3 people (the owner(s), and maybe an employee or two). Few businesses stay this size – over time, they scale up and become full-fledged operations, capable of creating waves in their space.

The process of scaling up your agency is not always an easy one. There are several pitfalls you need to avoid on your path to a bigger business. Depending on how far along you are on this journey, the dangers will differ. Let’s take a look at these problems in more detail.

Stage 1: Solo to Small

When you start as a one-man band, there are certain things you take for granted. No one knows you better than you know yourself. You seldom need to explain what you’re doing to yourself – the answer is already in your head. While this is obvious (and very convenient), it can be a hindrance once you have to take on your first employee or two.

The process of going from zero employees to one or more can be tough to adapt to if you’re not prepared for it. Almost overnight, you go from being able to just do things to having to explain little details to someone else (the stuff you know, but take for granted as common knowledge). That could include your preferred methods of communication, typical working processes, favoured tools/systems, or anything of that sort.

Typically, the first hire you’ll make as a solopreneur looking to expand will either be another functional person (i.e. someone who you can directly delegate work to), or an admin employee (who can handle everything that doesn’t relate to servicing clients). You shouldn’t just hire these people for their skillset – you also need to look out for adaptability and can easily be flexible enough to work in a small agency and do what needs to be done!

The growing pains you’ll experience when moving from self-employment to co-existence with someone is a huge psychological leap – you’re moving from a 1-man band and making the decision to become a ‘real’ business – that’s how it felt to me!

Let’s take a look at an actionable process you can apply to your business today if you’re looking to make one of your first hires (or just a great hire in general).

Making Your First Great Hire: The Process

I’ve heard many horror stories in my time as a business coach. I work with a range of small and large agencies. Regardless of how far along these businesses are in their scaling journeys, the owners usually have stories to tell about the mistakes they made when hiring their first employees. And from listening to all these different stories, I’ve learned there’s a general process you can follow to avoid these mistakes:

  • Figure out what kind of employee you need? An admin, client facing; a senior or junior member of staff. What will enable you to focus on the things that only you can do?
  • Figure out if you need this employee full-time, or if a part-timer/freelancer would do. This will help you to avoid spending money unnecessarily – always a bonus when your business is in these early stages.
  • Select candidates not only for their skills but also for their adaptability and cultural fit into your agency. You’ll need flexible people at this early stage as you’re still learning how to work with others, developing your processes, etc.
  • Manage your new employee’s expectations from the start. If you’re only taking them on for a month-long trial period, tell them. This will make reversing your hiring decision much easier later on if things don’t work out.
  • Invest time in setting them and you up for success. Hiring is the start not the end of the journey: put a good induction in place and meet with them regularly, to give and receive feedback, especially in the early days.
  • Make sure that you’re flexible in your approach to the work. While you’ll undoubtedly have preferences as to your preferred systems and methods of working, it’s possible your new hire will have valuable experience you can learn from. Don’t compromise your business for them, but don’t be afraid to adapt your processes if something better comes along.
  • Have a probation period that upon completion you decide whether your hire is working out well, or if you need a change. Making good hires is an inexact science, even with experience. The key here is to avoid the sunk cost fallacy – don’t feel as if you have to keep going with them because you’ve already kept them on for x length of time. That’s akin to throwing good money after bad… and that is not a good way to run a business.

That’s the abridged version of the experiences I have seen with many successful agency owners over the past 12 years. While the specifics of their situations differed, the overwhelming majority of them followed a process much like this when taking their agency from “solo to small”.

Conclusion

While part 1 of this article was geared towards one-man bands looking to make their first hire or two, the fundamentals of making great hires are the same no matter how big your agency is. Hiring typically gets a little easier as you scale – you have a better grasp of the kinds of employees you need, attract better candidates, and have stronger systems in place for making the right decisions. When you’re starting out, you lack these resources. That’s why it’s so important to have a robust process in place for making hiring decisions.

Starting that journey of growth may begin with hiring a freelancer but don’t be fooled into believing you can build your business using freelancers. I can guarantee you that it will not work. A freelancer may help with growth in the early days, and they are great for plugging a capacity gap or bringing in skills you do not need or want permanently in your agency, but they are not a long term strategy for growing your agency. (If you want to know more about why I believe this then get in touch).

Cheers

Rob

P.S. In the next article in this series, I’ll discuss what it takes to go from “small” (5 or fewer employees) to “not-so-small” (10-15 employees approx). Stay tuned!

The Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future – The final chapter

business growth

Welcome back to the final 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 the final error I made as an agency owner, one that potentially cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds: not being in the right frame of mind when I was selling the business.

Even if you’re not currently thinking about selling your agency (or in the process of doing so), you’ll still find valuable lessons to be learned here.

After that, I am going to recap the four biggest mistakes I made as an agency owner, giving you an easy reference for this material in the future.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: first things first…

Setting The Scene

I remember it like it was yesterday. December 2002. As another year drew to a close, I was sitting in my office, reflecting on all that had happened over the preceding 12 months – and even further than that, right back to the beginning.

Since starting my agency in 1991, I had grown the business from a two-man show to an agency with over 25 staff, seven-figure revenues, and a healthy client book to boot. The dotcom crash had passed our UK-based business by, and we were well poised to succeed and grow moving forward.

The future was bright, but there was one problem: I didn’t really love the work anymore.

Sure, I still showed up every day, met with clients, worked on putting deals together, mentored my staff, made decisions, and “took care of business”…

But the passion that had driven me to set up my own agency in the first place had dwindled. I seemed to spend all day dealing with other people’s problems and that wasn’t why I set up my own business in the first place! So initial talks of moving to a new office space (one that could accommodate our expansion plans) were nothing but a headache. Losing a key client (responsible for ~30% of our revenue) didn’t help matters.

The fire was gone. And I didn’t know how I was going to get it back.

As I sat there in my office at the year’s end, I knew that something had to change. I wasn’t motivated to keep moving in the same direction I’d been heading in. My work-life balance had taken a hit, and I desperately needed a break.

It’s from this position that I decided to sell my agency. This wasn’t an impulsive move by any means (it’s not as if a buyer walked in off the street and made a great offer the next morning), but it all started here from this place of tiredness.

Looking back now, I know that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to sell my business. I was looking for a way out, and that made me vulnerable. And potential buyers could sense that.

So in this first part of the story, the lesson is clear: when you’re selling your agency, don’t negotiate from a position of tiredness. You’ll end up getting a worse deal than you could. If you need to, consider bringing in some outside help – hire a specialist to assist with negotiations and broker a great deal. They often pay for themselves, especially if they’re skilled.

And the second part of the story? That’s the tale of what happened to me once the sale finally went through.

Freedom

Almost overnight, I was free as a bird…

With no idea where I wanted to fly.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of selling the agency, I had failed to create a concrete plan of what I’d do once it was sold. I was so focused on selling the business (the process actually took about 9-months) that I spent no time answering the question ‘what next?’.  I knew I didn’t want to retire (a. I was only 39 and b. I didn’t sell for nearly enough to enable me to retire)

It’s easy to feel lost when you lose something that’s been driving you for a long time. When I no longer had to show up at the office every day to put out fires and make big decisions, I was directionless for a time. But thankfully, this confusion didn’t last too long. To get clarity, I did one simple thing:

I sat down and remembered all the things I had wanted to do before running the agency had dominated my life, taken my time & energy, and drained the fight from me.

Some of the things were easy. I wanted to travel more. Spend more time with family. Contribute to charity more often. All the things I could do – but not things that would give me all the direction I was looking for.

I racked my brains further. As I reflected on those times when I had felt most engaged with my work… I realised that I loved helping people overcome obstacles and solve problems. Whether it was delivering great work to clients (the kind that they were delighted with) or mentoring a promising employee through a particular situation, I loved coaching (I just didn’t know that was what it was called at that time!)

So that’s what I decided to do. I would become a full-time business coach and work with other agency owners, helping them to avoid the traps I had fallen into in my business. I knew that – if nothing else – my fresh pair of eyes could give a much-needed perspective on a situation. My vision was clearer than it had been in a long time now that I knew what I wanted again.

It seems like a quick process when it’s written down like that, but in reality, it took me several months – close to a year, even – before I decided to get into coaching. Looking back, I realise that I could have avoided getting caught in limbo like this if I had just put a proper plan in place before selling the agency.

Taking the time to sit down with a coach/mentor or trusted advisor, and plan out my next moves – would have been a smart decision – but sadly, it wasn’t one I even considered or was aware was even an option!

So that’s the second lesson you can take from my story. If you’re thinking about succession planning then make sure you know what your next steps are going to be. Think a little further ahead than lying on a beach somewhere and ask yourself:

  • What do I want to do with the rest of my career?
  • What will help me feel fulfilled in life?
  • What value do I want to create in the world?

If you’re struggling to answer these questions by yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone else for guidance. Personally, I know it would have made my transition much easier, and I’ve helped many agency owners answer similar questions in the past. The quality of your answers to these powerful questions will determine your future: don’t take them lightly.

Conclusion

When I began writing these articles, I envisioned they would be much different to how they are now. So I suppose the first lesson we can reflect on is that our visions change over time, based on how the real world interacts with them.  

As for the worst mistakes I made as an agency owner? They went like this:

When I was running the business, I didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted it to go. While I had a general sense of its direction, I had no idea of the milestones I’d need to hit each week, month, quarter and year to make that dream a reality.

If this sounds like you, then get clear! Figure out what kind of business you want to build, and start building it. Chunk that end goal down into small milestones you can hit along the way, so you’ll know when you’re on track (and when you’re off).

The second mistake I made was being in constant fire-fighting mode instead of taking a strategic approach to the business. I loved being the key man in my agency, solving problems left and right… but this held us back, as I frequently didn’t have time to make the big moves that would have the biggest impact on the agency.

If this sounds like you, then you need to focus on building a great team. Once you’ve found talented professionals that do great work, you’ll feel comfortable handing off responsibility to them. Secondly, you need to get clear on your vision (sound familiar?) – once you’re accountable to a bigger goal, you’ll find you don’t have time to waste on the small stuff. Bigger problems will demand your attention.

The third mistake I made as an agency owner was trying to go it alone, instead of just learning from the experiences of others. After quickly scaling the agency to around 10 employees, I hit a sticking point. The decisions I was faced with got bigger and more complex, and I (being as stubborn as I was) ploughed ahead. Little did I know that this “trial and error” approach to difficult decisions was not the right move.

Instead, I should have looked outside for guidance: a coach, a mentor, people in my network, seminars or even books. These were all viable sources of knowledge… but I didn’t use them as much as I should have. Don’t do what I did – learn from the experiences of others where you can. Personal experience is valuable in decision-making, but you don’t have to go it alone.

The fourth mistake I made as an agency owner was selling my business from a place of exhaustion. Completely burnt out, I was eager to get the deal done.  And once I was out, I lacked a clear plan of action. What did I want to do? Who did I want to be?

I could have avoided both of these situations if I had been more strategic. I could have hired a skilled negotiator to assist with brokering a better deal for my agency. I could have taken the time to work with a coach to clarify my vision for life after the sale. But I didn’t do either of these things. While everything still worked out fine, I know things could have worked out better. So if you’re selling your agency, learn from my mistakes – call on the strength and experience of others if you need to. You won’t regret it.

The purpose of this article series is to help you avoid the mistakes I made as an agency owner. I can’t go back in time and change what happened (and even if I could, would I want to?), but there’s still time for you. The lessons of the past shape our future. They shape the actions we take, the moves we make… and the words I write to you today. It’s up to you whether these lessons help or hinder you.

I hope you’ve gotten something from these articles. And remember: I’m always happy to help other agency owners through whatever they’re dealing with. Odds are I’ve encountered your situation before in my coaching practice. So if you’re currently struggling with something in your business, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can email me anytime at robert@dacostacoaching.co.uk.

The Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future (Part 3)

business growth

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.

Trial and Error – Not Always The Best Approach

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.

The Purpose of This Article Series

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.

How To Learn From The Experiences Of Others

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:

  • Read blogs, newspapers, and industry publications. LinkedIn is a great place to find compelling, well-written content that can help you take your business to the next level.
  • Read the biographies of successful business people to get an insight into how they made decisions. Contemporary or historical, there’s a lot to be learned from the lives of others. Don’t worry if they’re in different industries to you: the principles of sound decision-making are the same, regardless of the space you find yourself in.
  • Listen to podcasts and interviews with business owners you respect. (I love Amy Porterfield’s weekly podcasts)
  • Network with other business owners – either in your local area or via social platforms like LinkedIn. Having friends you can informally bounce things off of can be a great help when you’re faced with a tough decision.
  • Invest in high-value training courses (either in-person or online) for you and your team. Anything that will save or give you more time and money is worth looking into.

Conclusion

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!

The top priority for growing your profits

client retention

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 global 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?

The answer is simple…

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).

Don’t make the same mistakes!

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:

  1. You’ll bend over backwards to keep these clients happy. This leads to them expecting more and more from you over the long-term, creating unrealistic expectations for your work moving forward… and eventually, creating enormous dissatisfaction when you can’t live up to these flawed standards.
  2. You won’t commit your resources to producing the kind of great work you need to do as an agency. Why would you waste time and energy on a client that might leave you in the next month or two?

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).

How Much Is Bad Client Management Costing You?

client management

Scope creep: when you just can’t say no.

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:

It’s costing you a lot.

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.

When Saying “Yes” Now Means Saying “No” Later On

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.

  • And (most importantly) you need to make sure that your team are on the same page. If you position yourself as a respected, professional agency, but your staff constantly supplicate to clients, giving them whatever they want with no respect for their own time… what does that tell your clients?

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 Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future (Part 2)

business growth

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.

Mistake #1 – No Vision

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.

Without a vision, you can’t see the road ahead.

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!

The Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future (Part 1)

business growth

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.

Mistake #1 – No Vision

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.

Without a vision, you can’t see the road ahead.

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!

Is your sand timer running out?

Time Management and CEO coaching in Brighton

The fundamental flaw with many company’s new business strategies is that they do an intensive burst of communications to create some engagement and interest with their target customer, and hope that is enough to generate sales. Sadly they will be dissappointed. It’s not how marketing works.

Think right now of your top 3 favourite brands of car or perfume. It’s no doubt easy to think of 3 but maybe harder to think of 4, 5 or 6.  So the question is, are you one of your target audience’s top 3 brands?  If not, they won’t remember you (and therefore won’t buy from you).

So what do we need to do to stay at front of mind with our potential customers?  Here are 5 things to consider:

It’s not just about saying the right things to the right audience

It’s about saying the right things to the right audience AT THE RIGHT TIME.  You have to be present for them at the right time – when they have an issue, challenge or problem that your product or service can solve.

Your contacts will forget you

Think of it this way – every time you communicate with your target audience, you refill the sand timer – and from that moment on, it begins to empy. If you haven’t communicated again with your client; reminding them who you are and how you can help them BEFORE the sand timer runs out, then when they need your services, they will have forgotten you.

It’s about doing a few things well – all the time

Many businesses have peaks (and therefore troughs) in their marketing communications activities (for instance, a a new product launch) and then things tail off.  It’s great to have a burst but you need to continue it consisently.  Remember the sand timer?  Well this burst approach will ensure it runs out before your next big push and that means the client has forgotten you.

Don’t get blinded by shiny new objects

This is a tough one.  There are lots and lots of channels you could be using to engage with your clients but my advice is find the few (that your clients use) that you can use well and consistently – and focus on them, rather than getting sidetracked by the latest marketing tool, new piece of software or channel.

Less is more and keep it simple are 2 thoughts that spring to mind here.

Plan ahead

If you want to keep the sand timer filled then plan ahead.  This is why a marketing strategy and a marketing plan (and a content plan) is crucial – it tells you the best ways to reach your target audience and how & what you are going to say to them, and when.  This ensures you are consistent with your audience communications, and you create messages that resonate with them (not just sales messages but genuinely adding value).

Most of my target audience knows this (after all it’s what they do for a lot of their clients) but it doesn’t mean they do it!  Often my job is to hold a mirror up to the client and remind them what they already know!  I often say, I am not teaching you anything new, just reminding you what you already know and holding you to account to do it!

Let me end by asking you a question, what do you do to keep your prospect’s sand timer filled so they never forget you, and consequently you are there when they need your service?  Drop me your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Fixing the leaky bucket

Work smarter and spend more time with your family

Last week I had to renew my car insurance so I phoned my current provider (after checking out the best deals) and they showed little interest in trying to keep me as a customer. They didn’t even attempt to match any other quotes that I received so I said goodbye and moved to a new suppler.

It has always amazed me that utilities companies such as car insurance make little effort to retain their clients and instead, focus all their marketing money on winning new clients. This is not a good business model for any agency or service based business. Yet what efforts do we make for keeping our clients? Of course we want to continually do a great job for them and we know that if we do, we will give ourselves a good chance of retaining them but what else should we be doing?

So let me ask you a question – “How often do you stop, take stock of your top clients and take a high level strategic view of them to work out any risks and opportunities for growth?” If you are like a lot of my clients, the answer is probably ‘not often enough”!

Client retention v client acquisition

Yet it costs 5 times as much to win a new client as it does to keep an existing one. I think we have all read a stat like this somewhere, so why don’t we focus more on developing existing clients?

There are a number of reasons that I hear:

  • We don’t have the time; we are too busy delivering work
  • The account team doesn’t have the skills or confidence to upsell into existing clients
  • We don’t know how to identify new opportunities in existing clients

Here is another interesting and thought provoking stat: If you can increase your client retention by 5% you can increase your profits by 25-95%! Surely that is worth investing the time to train your accounts team to do some Account Development Planning?

I know when I ran my agency, CIT, we didn’t have this in place and just believed we could keep our clients by going the extra mile (there is SO much wrong with that statement!) but every now and again we would feel really cheated because we had worked extra hard (read that as over serviced) for a client and suddenly we had the rug pulled from our feet and they went else where. Could we have prevented this? Maybe, if we had done some proper strategic Account Development Planning.

To successfully do some Account Planning, we need a formalised structure for reviewing existing accounts, identifying threats and opportunities, and creating an action plan to go after those opportunities (or mitigate the threats). I appreciate many agencies don’t have this structure in place or don’t even know where to start so it’s one of the topics I cover in my new Client & Account Management Mastery Course. its a big topic so it gets a whole section to itself.

So back to my car insurance – it’s just going to take one of them to buck the trend and ‘swim in the other direction’ and put their focus on customer retention rather than (or as well as) customer acquisition to make them really stand out from the crowd – and no doubt customers will flock to them! As an agency, we need to ensure we are also doing the same.

Until next week, enjoy the rest of your week.

Rob

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