How to Achieve Flexibility and Freedom in Your Agency, Without Losing Control

Let's face it, many of us started our own business because we're control freaks - we want to be in control! 

We may have worked for a business before where we didn't like the way they ran things or thought we could do it better. And that's often the catalyst to start our own business. 

But what happens when control comes at the expense of the flexibility and freedom that we hoped we would get when we started out on our own? 

In today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I share my thoughts about achieving flexibility, freedom AND control, why creating a plan is so important and some of my own personal successes and failures in my entrepreneurial journey.

Also, I talk about the importance of efficiency in how you use your time, my future aspirations to work a 4-day work week, and how I am achieving this by hiring the right team.

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[1:56] 

Early struggles and challenges in my marketing career

[2:37] 

How to be in control of your own destiny

[3:01] 

What’s my belief about success and failure? 

[3:55] 

Tips in achieving flexibility, control, and freedom as an agency owner

[4:43] 

The importance of creating a plan

[5:11] 

Why you should start hiring (the right) people

[6:19] 

Three (3) ways on how you can spend your time

[7:25] 

The importance of having solid foundations in place

[8:01] 

How to focus on your marketing strategy

[8:34] 

Why I believe creating a succession plan is important

[9:59] 

What are my future aspirations

[12:26] 

How to work a 4-day quality work 

[13:21] 

How the pandemic removes roadblocks from our plans and stories

[14:05] 

Importance of delegation and having the right team

[15:15] 

Why you should always keep going back to the reason you started your business

Quotations

“I still believe that my successes are my successes, and my failures are my failures, and that's one of the reasons why I love running my own business.” - Rob Da Costa

“..If you're very intentional about your direction, you have much more chance of retaining control but also getting the flexibility and freedom in place as well.” - Rob Da Costa

“You have to put the infrastructure of the foundations in place to grow to the next level and then put the next set of foundations to grow to the next level again.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Let's face it, many of us started our own business because we're control freaks. We want to be in control. We may have worked for a business before where we didn't like the way they ran things or thought we could do it better. And that's often the catalyst to start our own business. 

But what happens when we start losing all the flexibility and freedom that we hoped we would get when we start our own business? Because we wanted to retain control? 

That's the topic of today's podcast. So another action-packed episode and let's get on with the show.

Accelerate your agency's profitable growth with tools, tips, and value-added interviews with your host agency owner and coach, Rob Da Costa.

Before we jump into the phase episode of the podcast, I want to really quickly tell you about some free value pack training I'm going to be delivering in September. This training is entitled ‘How to easily fill yourselves pipeline with high-quality leads in the next 90 days.’ 

Now, this is a 60-minute training, where I'll be talking about why referral based clients are actually setting your agency up to fail, the importance of niche in your agency and how to go about the niche in that to discover your zone of genius, and how to create compelling marketing messages that instantly build credibility with your target audience. I'll be talking about the importance of building your mailing list and making sure that your agency is aligned across the market, product, service and price. 

So this is a real action-packed 60-minute training with some exclusive bonuses, and all you need to do is head over to training.dacostacoaching.co.uk/salespipelinewebinar and you can save your seat. I'll put a link to this in the show notes, but let's get on with today's show. 

I remember in my early twenties when I was the marketing manager for a small software company and we really struggled to find a good PR agency that understood the tech that we sold, and therefore I found myself rewriting most of what they did and felt like they were just a glorified admin resource. 

So that was a kind of catalyst for me to leave and start my own agency, and that's what I did. I thought I could do it better, and I had young arrogance, naivety on my side because little did I know what the next 11 years were going to bring for me.

One of my thought was that I can do it better and I can be in control of my own destiny because if I'm honest, the company I was working for was kind of going nowhere but downhill and I had little ability to infect that direction. 

So leaving and starting my own agency, I thought, are being controlled. My successes are my successes, and my failures are my failures, and I can do it better than what's out there now. There is a lot of arrogant youth in that thinking.

But actually, I still believe today my successes are my successes, and my failures are my failures, and that's one of the reasons why I love running my own business. 

If we are not careful, we can end up working for a much tougher boss than the one we've just left because we are so demanding on ourselves and we may lose sight really quickly that the reasons we started our business are yes, to be in control, but also to have more flexibility and freedom. So flexibility in what we work on, how many hours we work, the kind of prices we charge and freedom to maybe have some time to focus on other things and certainly get good work, life boundaries. But of course, we all know that that can really quickly go out the window. 

So it's kind of the premise of what I teach my paying clients these days is how to retain flexibility and freedom without losing control. It's kind of the premise of what most people aspire to but really struggled to achieve. 

One of the first things that we need to have in place is a sense of travel. You can call that what you like a plan or a vision or mission statement, but it just needs to say Where are you headed?

And I always like in this to a journey. Do I want to go to the south of France or do I want to go to Scotland? Because of the way I am going to get there, the strategy and then the detail of how I'm going to get there, which is the plan. Look very different, depending on where I want to be heading. So you just need a sense of travel about where you want your business to be over, say, the next five years. And then you want to break that down into a three-year plan, a one year plan and then turned that plan into a strategy.

So this is how we're going to get to the south of France. We're going to take a ferry. Then we're gonna take a train, and we're going to hire a car, and then you need your monthly plan, which is specific. ‘What do I need to do? Which ferry do I need to catch? Where are we staying overnight? Where do I buy the ticket for the train journey? And which car company are we going to rent?’ That's still the plan. That's your monthly plan. And if you have this and you're very intentional about that sense of direction, you have much more chance of retaining control but also getting the flexibility and freedom in place as well.

The next thing you need to do is start hiring great people. One of the common issues I see with so many growing agencies is that they have an amazing leader and then a big gap between them and the next tier of staff. This is often because the only people who can afford to hire when you start out are more junior people. And if you're not careful, you end up having a big gap, and that means you, the owner, is totally entrenched in all the client work. All the clients want you on their account. Everybody's looking at you to solve problems. And again, if you're not careful, you can end up being tied to the business more than ever. 

If that rings true for you, well, you're certainly not alone. And a lot of people come to me because they're frustrated that they're sort of stuck on what I call the client service hamster wheel of doom and that they wish people would step up. But they don't know how to. 

So one of the things you need to do is make sure you're hiring the most senior people you can, and when you're able to hire people that are better at doing delivery work than you because that will free you up to do the thing that you the owner can do best, and that is working on the strategy for your business.

So let's just take a step back here, and I've spoken about this many times before, but there are three ways you can spend your time. There are three pots that anyone can spend their time in. You can spend it on revenue. This is doing client work and revenue is simply defined as money this month. So it's all projects that you have on the books you are currently delivering. Then you can spend time in strategy and strategy is simply how we are earning money in the future. This is marketing. This is sales. This is business development, and this is planning. So that's creating that plan to the south of France. 

Also, you are the best person to do that. If you don't do it, nobody else is going to be doing it. So you need to make sure you have enough time to spend in that second part, which is strategy, and then the third part is admin, and this is everything you do to run your business, and it's usually a cost to your business. These things like HR and finance and systems and processes and things that give you that infrastructure on that platform to grow your business. That might be really boring as the agency owner but are nevertheless vital just to use another analogy. 

If you want to build an extension to your house, you have to put solid foundations in place. First of all, otherwise, that extension will fall over, and the same is true for your business as well. You have to put the infrastructure of the foundations in place to grow to the next level and then put the next set of foundations to grow to the next level again. 

If you think of a typical diagram that you'll see about a growing business, they'll show you a curve. But the reality is that any business grows in a stepped way where the horizontal part is the infrastructure, and then the vertical part is growth. 

So you need to be hiring a team to delegate as much of the revenue and the admin to as possible, freeing you up to focus on strategy. And if you're not able to spend at least 20 to 35% of your time in that strategy space, then, ‘Hey, guys, there's a big iceberg up ahead and you're not seeing it. And your business is just going to kind of go round in circles at best or hit that iceberg at worst.’

Again if you want to put succession planning in place or if you want to work on side projects, you have to be really intentional about this, about putting the plans in place and putting in the people in place to deliver that. 

I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what I'm doing myself, because I need to make sure, of course, that I practise what I preach, that I'm not just telling you and my clients a bunch of theories that I actually don't implement myself, or I don't even know if it works.

So I'm 56 years old, yet I know I don't sound anything like 56 but I'm 56 years old and I want to work into my early sixties, I'm starting to think about a succession plan now. One of the things that I always tell my clients who want to have a succession plan. Whether that be, sell their agency or have a management buyout or just be less involved in the day to day is that they need to know what they are doing next.

For me, my goal is to next year work four days a week, and I think I can be just as productive and do just as much work, if not even more work in four really focused days, then I perhaps can do in five where sometimes I'm not so focused.

With that, I'm planning to stop working on a Friday. But of course, in order to make that happen, I need to have an interest because otherwise, I can really see myself just kind of thinking, Well, I haven't got much to do and what as well work. Certainly, I had that mindset during the pandemic and I ended up working long hours and weekends because there was nothing else to do and I realised that that just isn't healthy for so many reasons, and I'm sure some of you can relate to that.

We recently bought a camper van, and whilst this has been something that we've been talking about doing for a number of years. The whole decision was expedited because we were so frustrated at the number of foreign holidays that we couldn't go on and waiting and waiting and waiting to see if and when we'll be able to travel and even when other countries will let us in. So we decided to bite the bullet and buy the camper van. 

Now, a second reason for me personally doing this is because I've always dreamt about becoming more of a digital nomad and some of you know who follow me that when I've been allowed every year from mid-January to mid-February. I've spent a month abroad, usually in Cape Town, because it's the middle of their summer and I love it out there and I've been able to do my vacation but then also work just as efficiently as I can back home. It's sort of dabbled my toe in becoming a digital nomad.

Then, we've got the camper van. We've been able to put WiFi into the van and on a number of occasions already. I've been able to work from the van and be based wherever, so it's sort of proving that concept.

And now, on my Fridays off, I am planning to share my story with a whole new audience of camper van campus and motorhome enthusiasts. I know that sounds a bit nerdy, but, hey, there's a whole world. But I've discovered and I want to share my story with them. So we are creating a new website. We're also launching a new channel. It's going to be called ‘On The Road Again,’ and I am going to be documenting our journey of choosing the van, of buying the van, of getting the van, of going to sites, and working as a digital nomad and hopefully sharing our stories as we go around Europe as well. So that's what I'm gonna be using my Fridays for.

Actually, I can plan what videos to shoot, blogs that I want to write on that Friday, By having that day filled with these activities of interest that I'm really passionate about, then I know that I will make sure I focus my four days on delivering my coaching business and having the Friday free to focus on ‘The Camper Van Project’ whilst not feeling like I've forgotten to do something in my coaching business.

Now, don't worry. I've got no plans to stop doing my coaching. I really want to focus on the two key things that I do, which is my private one-on-one coaching and my group coaching programme, The Self-Running Agency. 

So there will be lots more new content coming out on that. But as I say, I really convinced that I can deliver the same amount of quality work in four days. Then I am currently doing in five days without working longer hours in those four days and certainly without working weekends. And by having this knowledge of what I'm going to do with that fifth day, then I'm pretty sure that it's going to happen.

It's funny. Having the camper van is a fairly small thing, but it just reminds you that there are many adventures to be had now, and it also reminds you about living in the present a lot more rather than constantly planning for the future. 

Our goal, we hope, is to still go do foreign vacations is to go on one big trip a year in the winter, but also to be able to take the van into Europe as much as we are allowed to or when we're allowed to. And as I said, I've managed to get WiFi in there I've actually done a few calls from there already, and I know that I can work from there just as efficiently as I can from my desk in my office.

I guess it's funny in a way that the pandemic has kind of removed some roadblocks to expediting some of our plans and actually removed some roadblocks into the stories. We tell ourselves that stop us from doing these things because I guess, if anything, the pandemic has also taught us that we never know what's around the corner. 

There's a number of morals in this story. It's not just about me trying to sort of tell you my story or brag about what I'm doing, which is not my intent at all but is to say it's so important to have a plan so that you can retain the reasons why you started your agency and you can have that flexibility and freedom if that's what you wish.

Having a plan gives you a sense of direction and also thinking about getting a team around you that you can delegate more work to. I want to give a shout out to my VA Team of Cess because they have been fantastic and they do so much of my work. Like I record obviously this podcast. But I just hand it over to them, to edit, to create show notes, to create the social media, the graphics and so on. And it's been a revelation for me in that it means I can focus on what I'm good at doing or enjoy doing, like recording these podcasts, but I don't have to spend five times longer editing and creating show notes and so on, which isn't so much fun. 

So even though I'm a one-person business, I still have a really good team. I have, like a project manager, and then she manages a number of other specialists who have video editing or audio editing skills or social media skills or graphic design skills and so on. 

And so I really encourage you to do that so that you can delegate down as much as you can, and again that gives you the ability to retain control of what you like doing and what you're good at doing and making sure that you allocate enough time to that strategy. Remember, you want to be spending sort of 20 to 35% of your time in that strategy space. 

So I guess the purpose of today's podcast and recording this topic is perhaps to remind some of you guys to remember why you started your business to make sure you stay connected to that, to get good boundaries in place. So that you are not to start permanently on the client service hamster wheel of doom with no way of getting off of it and with no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Make sure that you are creating a plan. Make sure that you are building a really strong team. Make sure you're training your clients to expect that team to be their main contact and not you. And make sure you're focusing on your superpower, which is usually in that strategy space, focusing on what's next. If you have some thoughts around succession planning and what you want to do in the future, then make sure you know what you're going to do with that one back time. 

So I hope that has been useful for you today. If you're interested to work out how you're spending your time between those three pots between admin strategy and revenue, then connected to this podcast you'll see in the show note links a link to a tool that I use, which helps you analyse how you spend your time in those three pots over a two week period so that you can then say, ‘OK, I'm really stuck in the revenue space. But I know I need to allocate more time to strategy,’ and then you can start to work out how you can move that. 

I think you'll be surprised if you use this tool to work out how you're currently spending your time. Most of the time I use it with my clients. They're always surprised that they thought it was but it turns out to be. So go and grab a copy of that tour. It's really simple to use and, you know, get back in touch with me if you've got some surprises when you've analysed it.

But other than that, I hope that the brilliant week I hope you stay in control and I'll see you next week for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.

    Rob Da Costa

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