Tag Archives for " staff retention "

How to ensure you don’t inadvertently become the bottleneck to growth

I want to write about this topic since it is an issue a great many of my clients face. 

Picture this: 

You have built your agency up to a certain size where you have a good team beneath you.  You had hoped this would result in spreading the work load and taking some weight off your shoulders.  But you find yourself still being run ragged, clients still want to talk to YOU and you're frustrated that team members beneath you just don't seem to step up and fill the gap between you and the rest of your agency. This is compounded by the fact that new business still seems to sit on your shoulders and as much as you would like your senior team members beneath you to step up and take on more proactive business development they just don't seem to do it.

If you can relate to any of this then please read on…

You're the brains behind your agency.  You're the reason why it has been flourishing for the last few years. Clients love you.  So much in fact that all key clients want you to be working on their account and before you know it you've become the bottleneck to growth.  Whilst exhausted you finally recognise this cycle and are determined to do something about it.

So now you're turning your attention towards developing the next layer of leaders in your agency.  You recognise that you need to ‘get out of the way’ to enable your future leaders to flourish and for them to become a key contact point for clients.

Stepping aside so others can step up

I am sure the above scenario is familiar to you.  Yet sometimes its easier said than done, to create space for your senior team members to step up.  In the early days of running your agency you may have not been able to afford to hire the best staff and overtime this results in a big gap appearing between your skillset and the next tier of team members skillset, so make sure when you are hiring staff, you get the best staff you can find (and don’t be fearful of them challenging you!)

Let’s look at 4 actions YOU can take to get your team on board with you and stepping up.  

1. Articulate your vision

  • It’s amazing how many owners believe that telepathy exists or what's in their head will automatically be transferred to others via osmosis! So you need to make sure that your team are as excited by the vision that is in your head as you are. It's also worth noting that the owner is always several steps ahead of the rest of the agency in terms of the development of the agency, so it's crucial that you communicate your vision clearly and get them excited to come on the journey with you.

  • If they don’t understand the vision for the company it’s going to be difficult to get them to act independently or make intelligent decisions.

  • To solve this problem, you need to take the time to articulate and document your company vision to get everyone in your company moving in the same direction. Depending on your leadership style and agency size, you can do this by yourself, or involve your team in the process - but either way, you will need a process for communicating these things to your team once you have them articulated.

2. Set your company structure up to complement your strengths

  • Most visionary agency owners are ‘knowing’ people.  This means they hate the minutiae and can easily get annoyed by having to manage the details and repeating themselves. An Integrator (the person in charge of day to day operations) is a person who sits between you and your team to make sure that any friction is smoothed out and converted into energy that will power the agency forward. This person needs to love managing and resolving day to day issues, have a passion for clear communication between teams, and must have a tolerance for repetition and process.  Now I appreciate in a small agency you may not be able to hire an Ops manager/integrator but you will be able to give this as a functional part of someone's bigger role.

  • As the owner, you need to focus on the things that only you can do, and delegate the rest.  To that end, make sure you ask yourself the right questions. Not “will they do it as well as me or as fast as me?” but “will they do it well enough?” and if the answer is yes then you should be delegating.  If you delegate down then this will encourage others to do the same.  However, if you hang onto all the tasks you will encourage others to role model that behaviour too.

3: Implement a system for communication and decision making

  • Chaos can reign in a small business. Frequently, these entrepreneurs (myself included!) hated all the meetings, processes, and systems they had to follow in their previous world before they started their own business - so they resist creating these things in their own agency. Unfortunately, non-entrepreneurs (i.e. almost everyone working for you) like and need process - they want to know what is expected of them, and they want to be able to make decisions and get work done without having to run to you all the time (more on this later).

  • If you have the right Integrator/ops person in place, he or she can help you create and manage a robust set of systems and processes your team needs to function efficiently - and minimise the number of processes and meetings you are involved in. When meetings run efficiently, decisions are made quickly and processes actually speed up your business, your culture and bottom line will begin to improve dramatically.

4: Get stuff out of your head so you can get out of the way

  • This is a SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP moment in the development of your agency.  If you want to delegate tasks to others then you need to do it effectively!  Take the time to articulate what you want and what success looks like.
  • Also, acknowledge where you don’t have skills and bring those skills in-house (even if you are using a freelancer in the short term)
  • If you want to delegate something (like marketing) to someone else, but don’t understand what it really takes to set the marketing team up for success, you need to take the time to educate the person or team who will be taking things over, and then regularly receive updates on results so you can stop worrying.

If you would like to read more about staff retention and growth then grab a copy of my free e-book.

recruitment & retention

Learn the 9 strategies to finding and keeping the best talent

Don’t make assumptions!

Let's paint another picture: 

you have a superstar team member who is doing really well and clients love them and you now put them into a managerial leadership position. You've done this as a reward for their hard work and you see it as a natural part of their career progression. However, you quickly realise that this person is not a natural manager and is failing to motivate and direct their team.  As a result team morale is at an all-time low so you are forced to make a difficult decision that could result in this (previously superstar) team member exiting the agency.

Why is it that we invest a lot of time and money training our team to have great technical skills (e.g. web development, design etc.) but we don't invest the same time or money in giving people managerial skills whilst somehow assuming that as their career progresses they will naturally be a good manager (because maybe you were)!  Crazy!! Don’t be THAT leader. Instead have a clear career development path that includes leadership and management training as well as technical training. Remember these skills are useful for not only managing team members but also for managing clients and suppliers.

So now you have these steps in place lets look at how you can get your team members to take responsibility and be accountable.

Here are 9 steps to getting managers to step up:


Create clear roles & responsibilities and set clear expectations

When a team member is clear about what their role includes (and doesn't include) they are much more likely to take ownership and step into delivering that role.


Set time-bound SMART objectives

Make sure you are setting regular (e.g. quarterly) SMART objectives that are owned and delivered by each team member.


Get them a mentor or a coach - give them the tools to succeed

If you have a team member that you want to develop then a great way to expedite and broaden their development is to get them an external mentor or coach. You could set finding a mentor as one of their objectives. The mentor should be someone who is several steps ahead of where your team member is and ideally, are external to the agency and therefore they bring a different set of experiences.


Form your leadership team

As your agency grows and you develop more leaders beneath you, you should plan to create a leadership or management team who can collectively own aspects of delivering the vision and take more responsibility from your shoulders.


Give them responsibilities in addition to their ‘day job’

I spoke about this earlier when I talked about the Integrator or Ops Manager. Your leadership team will have their roles & responsibilities but you can also give them some additional functional responsibilities such as Operations, New Business, Marketing, IT etc.  This not only takes responsibilities from you but also further develops the team member.


Give them ownership of the quarterly business strategy 

As we discussed earlier, each year you will create your agency vision and communicate this to the rest of the business.  In order to deliver the vision (and it not just stay as a dream!), you need to break it down into quarterly strategies and have the leadership team take responsibility for delivering these strategies.


Support don’t rescue

This is a classic one that deserves a blog post of its own but as a leader, you need to separate the difference between being a supportive manager and a rescuing manager. A supportive manager will coach someone through a problem whilst a rescuing manager will think it's quicker to do it themselves and take the problem away.


Be a great delegator and give feedback

This is another example of slowing down to speed up we don't spend enough time giving our staff constructive feedback (both positive and negative) yet according to this study, 65% of employees want more feedback.

Get into the habit of giving feedback at the end of a project and ensure that the feedback includes an action plan so that the team member learns.


Slow down to speed up

I've said this a number of times throughout this blog and it is really an overarching summary of this whole post - which is slow down, invest time giving feedback and developing your team members in order to ultimately move forward more rapidly.

The entrepreneur, leader and agency owner who recognises as early as possible that they need to make themselves dispensable, are the ones who will rapidly develop a flourishing, growing profitable agency full of eager motivated team members.  However, those who believe it's quicker to do it themselves and that they don't have time to develop team members will quickly find themselves the bottleneck to growth and under a great deal of stress. Make sure you are opting to be the former rather than the latter.

You Recruited – Now Retain! 4 Strategies For Keeping Top Talent (part 2)

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We’ve covered a lot of ground in this 2-part article.  If you’d like to have a permanent copy for easy reference, just click the button below. 

recruitment & retention

During one ​coaching session I talked to an agency owner who lost some top-performing employees within a short time frame. During their exit interviews, these employees assured the owner that it was nothing personal - they were leaving to pursue evolving career goals. 

It’s an explanation that people always use when they don’t want to get into the details. How many times have you had to tell a non-performing employee that “It’s not working out?” In this case, they are essentially telling you the same thing.

If you wait until key employees leave to find out why they chose to move on, you’ve lost two golden opportunities:

  • To keep your best performers on board
  • Identify and correct problems in your agency before more people resign

In this second part of a 2-part series on recruitment and retention, I would like to discuss why employee retention is so important, common reasons why people leave, and how you can make your agency a place where people are eager to build their careers.

Why Is Employee Retention So Important?

Like other agency owners, you need quality talent and stability in a tight economy. Losing a member of staff can be very disruptive and stressful (for those who have to pick up their workload).   Another reason why retention should be at the top of your agenda is that the cost of turnover is high: depending on the employee’s position, you could be spending up to 2.5 times their salary to replace them. Given the fact that the average turnover rate in UK agencies is around 20%, costs can quickly become prohibitive.

There are also other costs, like reduced productivity and disengagement among your current workforce, some of whom may ultimately decide to leave too.

The good news is that talent exodus is not inevitable. Although people can and will leave for reasons beyond your control (and which have nothing to do with your agency), there are proven ways to increase retention, and they start after you say, “You’re hired.”

The Challenge Begins After Hiring

In part 1 of this series, I explained how retention starts during the recruiting process. From reviewing CVs and screening applicants to conducting first and second interviews, you seek candidates who are a good cultural fit and have career goals that mirror what your agency has to offer. This involves:

  • Looking beyond what’s written on their CV
  • Asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers (especially around their values)
  • Looking for signs of commitment and loyalty - did they work for a previous employer for many years? Or have they had three jobs in the last four years?

After weeks (maybe even months) of interviewing, you find the right person. You make the offer, they accept it. Now you can rest easy.

Not so fast. This is when the challenge begins, not when it ends. It can take new employees an average of eight months to get up to speed, and to make the transition as successful as possible, your agency needs a strong induction process.

What Makes An Induction Process Strong?

Starting a new job can be an exciting yet stressful experience for anyone. When you have a process in place that introduces them to colleagues and outlines what their first few weeks will be like (down to the nearest hour), you’ll raise their confidence and set them up for success. 

Recommended steps include:

  • Pairing them with a ‘work buddy’ who can answer all of their questions, especially about things that they might not want to ask their manager.
  • Offer (and seek) formal feedback regularly, especially at the beginning. As they become more comfortable with their duties, less input will be necessary.
  • Make sure that the employee understands what they need to do to pass your agency’s probation period. If you’re not sure about their suitability at the end of this period, don’t extend it and hope that things will work out. Either the employee is a good fit, or they aren’t!

It is important to have realistic expectations. Even the most experienced employees need time and support as they settle into their new roles and understand how your agency operates. Clarify what you want them to focus on and achieve during the probationary period, and keep the momentum going until you know for sure whether or not they’re going to work out.  If you take a formalised pragmatic approach to onboarding a new employee then you should never have to extend their probation period.

Let the Retention Begin!

Your new hire has passed their probationary period and joined your team. Congratulations! Now you need to give yourself the best chance of retaining them for the long-term.  Proven retention strategies include:

  • Regular reviews with each team member. Develop a template for carrying out appraisals so that each one is fair and based on the same criteria.  AND take a keep it simple approach.
  • Encouraging collaboration. In the beginning, new employees will need you to set their objectives. As they become more familiar with the role and your expectations, let them recommend their own objectives and present them to you for review and approval. When staff have early input into their responsibilities, you’ll have more buy-in.
  • Use SMART objectives. More on those below.

Set SMART Objectives

Keeping an excellent new employee means that you have to be smart. To be more precise, you need to use SMART objectives that establish a definite roadmap for their career progression. Vague and ambiguous goals don’t provide the direction needed to inspire top performers - they need to know what’s expected, when, and how you want them to achieve those objectives.  I guarantee that a vague ambiguous objectives will lead to misunderstandings and frustration so take the time to get this right.

Below is an overview on how this acronym (which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and having a set time frame) can apply to performance management at your agency. 

The meaning of SMART

  • Specific: Be precise about the goals for their position. Avoid generalised objectives such as “increase account revenues.” Instead, provide a clear goal that the employee can work towards, such as “increase account revenues by 25% by the end of our financial year.
  • Measurable: Make sure that the employee understands how you will be measuring performance against each goal. It helps if you be as precise as possible by saying something like, “I would like you to increase sales among our London accounts by 10% during the first quarter.”  
  • Attainable: While it’s fine to set ambitious goals, especially with employees who love a good challenge, these goals need to be attainable. Even high achievers will soon be demotivated and leave when you create unrealistic benchmarks for success. The idea is to create challenges that give them an opportunity to shine.
  • Realistic: Assign goals that are realistic given the employee’s role and experience. If they have little to no experience with a service that your agency offers, make the goals more modest until they have acquired more proficiency.
  • Timeframe: Provide a time frame for goal attainment. Without one, you risk creating an ongoing task that’s impossible to measure. This step requires you to take attainable and realistic goals and consider how long it will take the employee to achieve them.
  • Use Retention Strategies

    Succeeding in your employee retention efforts requires you to think about what matters most to your team. While everyone is different in terms of goals and values, practically all employees want the following:

    • Work that challenges and excites you
    • Compensation that is equal to or above current market rates
    • A good benefits package
    • Appreciation, recognition and fair treatment from their employer

    Think about what retention incentives you can put in place. Successful strategies include:

    • A focus on education. A commitment to training and professional development will be perceived by your workforce as an investment in them and provide them with a major incentive to stay with your agency.
    • Salary increases based on merit. Fair compensation and a merit-based bonus strategy are always top of the list of employee wants. You can further inspire loyalty by sending a sincerely-worded email of appreciation for a job well done or giving them an extra day off.
    • Flexible working conditions. Flexible working conditions go a long way toward helping employees feel they are valued.  When you give people the option of working from home, a flexible schedule, and/or a CSR programme so they can do charity work, job satisfaction and loyalty both go up.
    • Attractive benefits package. Review your benefits package to confirm that it meets the needs of your staff. Some people value added perks like gym memberships while others prefer paid more paid sick days or employment development opportunities.
    • Pointing out future possibilities. Talk to each new hire about how their role, responsibilities, and pay can increase as their abilities and achievements grow. Schedule regular performance reviews so that they can see their progression. When your staff can envision a future at your agency, they’re less likely to explore other opportunities. 
    • Promoting from within. Rewarding your current talent instead of looking outside the company will make them feel valued and present your agency as an employer that acknowledges their contributions to its success. The key, however, is to promote those who have the potential to advance and accept the new challenge. If no one is suitable, contact your recruiting agency.
    • Investing in quality managers. There’s a saying that goes, “Employees join companies but leave managers.” According to a Gallup poll of over 1 million U.S. workers, the top reason why people leave their jobs is a bad supervisor or manager. Make sure that your management team receives adequate training, education, and access to mentors who can show them how to excel.

    Be Prepared For Turnover

    Sometimes turnover is inevitable. People will leave for personal and professional reasons, but you can minimise the impact on your agency by implementing a succession plan that enables vacancies to turn into growth opportunities for existing staff.

    In Conclusion

    An effective employee retention program should start on a new hire's first day on the job. The training, support, and incentives that you provide from Day One can boost job satisfaction and set the stage for a long tenure at your agency.  

    As always, I hope that you enjoyed this article. Using the strategies, insights, and tools that I’ve discussed here, I’m confident that you will be able to:

    • Reduce turnover
    • Hire employees who will be with you for the long term
    • Cultivate a workforce that will take your agency to the next level

    If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to respond.

    Don’t Recruit – Retain! 4 Strategies For Finding and Keeping Top Talent (part 1)

    hiring staff

    This is part 1 of a 2 part series on recruitment and retention.  This article focuses on the recruitment process and part 2 will focus on retention strategies.

    Your Free Download 

    We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this 2-part article.  If you’d like to have a permanent copy for easy reference, just click the button below. 

    recruitment & retention

    “Good employees are so hard to find.”

    I hear this every day in my coaching practice. Agency owners hire new employees who either don’t make it past the probationary period or leave before their one-year anniversary is up. In some cases, an agency goes through hours of interviews without feeling confident enough to extend a job offer.

    It’s true that currently it’s super challenging to find good people, especially in an uncertain economy. When overall conditions are bad, everyone clings to their job like a life raft. No one’s going to jump ship when the chances of sinking are too high. When times are good, there are more opportunities for them to choose from. 

    Many agencies believe that their location is a key barrier but truth be told, it doesn’t matter where you’re located. If you’re in the city, there’s a bigger talent pool but a lot of competition from other employers. In more rural areas, your hiring choices are more limited and, even if you extend your reach, you may not find someone willing to relocate.

    Chances are that as an employer, you’ve been through this seemingly endless cycle of job ads, CVs, and job interviews that are soon followed by exit interviews or no hires at all. Not only is it frustrating, but it’s also expensive and can affect morale among staff who have to shoulder extra duties until you bring someone else on board.

    How can you fix it? By optimising your recruiting process.

    Hiring Optimisation - Why It’s Essential


    A streamlined and consistent hiring strategy is a vital element in any successful recruiting programme. When you can access the right talent, set up interviews promptly, and extend the job offer soon afterwards, you can realise the benefits outlined below.

    Protect The Bottom Line

    According to the Society for Human Resource Management, whenever a company replaces an employee, it costs an average of six to nine months’ salary. If you’ve engaged a manager at £40,000 a year, that's up £30,000 in recruiting and training expenses.

    The cost of unfilled positions is also significant. A vacant revenue-generating role, such as an account manager, represents money lost. If you have to pay freelancers to do the work in between hirings, you could be facing high costs. Lost productivity and diminished quality of customer or client service can also translate into reduced company earnings.

    These are all financial challenges that can be eliminated when you use a more effective recruiting strategy.

    Get The Top Talent Before Your Competitor Can

    When you have access to higher-quality candidates and can present them with a job offer soon after a successful interview process, you can prevent competitors from scooping up the talent that could take your company to the next level.

    The delay between interview and job offer is bigger than most employers realise. A survey by the Accounting Principals revealed that over half of the U.S. hiring managers and HR personnel polled said that it took them over a month to complete a typical hire. In the UK, it can take up to three months. When an ideal candidate waits too long to receive a job offer, it gives a poor impression of your agency and increases the likelihood that you will lose top talent to a competitor.

    Keep Out Of Legal Trouble

    Poor hiring decisions can have legal consequences. If a new hire doesn’t work out, they may accuse you of misleading them into accepting a role that wasn’t a good fit or claim that you dealt with them in bad faith, or the way you exited them was not fair. Since dealing with employment tribunals can cost a UK employer £8500 on average, preventing a wrong hire in the first place can protect your company’s bottom line as well as its reputation and internal staff morale.

    These are all reasons why you need an optimised recruitment strategy. Now let me show you how to make it happen.

    Step One: Know Your Ideal Candidate

    Be clear on what you want before you start looking. I’m not talking about the job description, which you probably know by heart. I’m referring to the ideal candidate.

    Candidate profiles are blueprints that map out your preferred skills and personality traits for the role. Do you want someone who is an independent thinker? Savvy on social media? An outgoing people person? I liken these profiles to the customer personas that sales and marketing professionals use to define the ideal customer for their product or service.

    An accurate and appealing job description can attract candidates with the right hard skills, but soft skills are equally important, and a candidate profile can help enhance the quality of your shortlist.

    Step Two: Use a Recruitment Agency

    If you’ve ever had to sift through tons of rubbish CVs, you know what a huge time waster the DIY hiring route can be (both in terms of your time and ultimately, money). This is not a time when you want to be cutting corners: working with a recruitment company will save you time and money.

    Many of the most successful agencies use recruitment companies to assist them in finding and keeping top talent. Reasons include:

    Access to the quality candidates. Recruitment agencies can help you reach both active and passive candidates. Those who are actively looking for a new job tend to register with agencies, who often have access to highly-qualified passive prospects who could be tempted to join your team. In addition, these companies know how to optimise a vacancy advert so that it ranks highly for the appropriate job search.

    Shortlisting management. A recruitment agency will sift through all incoming CVs for you, rejecting unsuitable ones and responding to any queries about the role. You won’t have to waste your own time and resources dealing with unproductive hiring duties.

    Assistance with speciality occupations. Sometimes you need an employee with a unique or specific skillset. Engaging a recruitment agency that understands your industry can ensure that all shortlisted candidates will be fully qualified ones.

    Many recruitment agencies also offer specialty services such as salary benchmarking, which helps ensure that you’re offering a competitive wage, and psychometric tests, which give unique insights into the natural talents and abilities of prospective hires.

    Now I acknowledge it can be hard to find a great recruitment agency so make sure you meet several and pick one who ‘gets’ your market space and doesn’t over promise.

    Step Three: Interview Strategically

    When the agency has sent you a list of pre-screened candidates, it’s time to interview them. If you’ve worked with a reputable agency that understands your needs and your industry, you can feel reasonably certain that you’ll be interviewing people who have the necessary education, experience, and qualifications for the position. Now you want to focus on who they are, and why they should want to work for you.

    Here are some tips for conducting a strategic interview.

    Avoid the standard questions. If possible, avoid typical questions like “Where do you want to be in five years?” or “Tell me about your proudest accomplishment.” Chances are that you’ll get a rehearsed response. When you ask something that they won’t anticipate, you’ll have a good idea of how they deal with the unexpected. Do they freeze and stutter? Or do they think about the question before giving a good response?

    Have them expand on their answers. In most cases, the first answer they give you is one that they’ve practiced. Encourage them to expand by remaining silent or asking, “What else?” Unrehearsed answers will give you insights into how they really think, especially under pressure.  Silence can be your friend here – if you don’t fill the gap then they will (a tip I learned from my PR days and a tool that journalists use to get the juicy inside gossip!).

    Obtain practical information. Scenario-based questions are an excellent way to anticipate how the candidate will react to a variety of job-related challenges. If you say to a prospective manager, “How do you motivate an employee who is underperforming?” you’ll have a better understanding of how they manage people. In addition, questions like “What obstacles did you face on your last project and how did you overcome them?” can give you insights into accomplishments that may not be on their CV.  Also don’t be afraid to ask them to do some ‘homework’ and have them present to you (and dig in to understand HOW they went about preparing the presentation)

    Screen for cultural fit. Every agency has its own culture, and ideally you want to hire someone who shares the same values as the company. They’ll be more engaged, and studies have shown that an engaged workforce can improve business performance by 30%.

    Don’t forget to sell yourself and the agency during the interview too. A key part of your company brand is the benefits that you offer, such as: 

    Don’t forget the emotional benefits too. Tell the candidate why your employees enjoy working for your agency. Talk about any valued traditions, such as sports teams, volunteer organisations, and employee-driven initiatives. You can even have one of your employees join in at this stage of the interview to share their positive feelings about their job and the company.

    Step Four: Don’t Delay That Job Offer

    If you feel positively about a candidate, don’t wait too long to extend an offer. According to ERE, the highest-quality job applicants are off the market in an average of 10 days. If your company waits too long, you’re going to miss out. 

    As an employer, you may be wary of making a quick hiring decision, but if your preferred candidate is going to be in high demand because of the value they will add, cut out any unnecessary stages of the recruitment process and be prepared to hire sooner. High performers in the top 5% of a company’s workforce can deliver 26% of its total output.


    Finding top talent presents a challenge for employers across the globe. While the right hire can make a huge and positive contribution towards the development of your company, the wrong one will hold it back. By optimising your hiring process, you can source the top performers needed to stand out in the most competitive industries.

    I hope you found this article useful. In the next one, I’ll discuss the ways that you can increase employee retention and develop a work culture that increases loyalty and job satisfaction. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please post them below and I’ll be pleased to answer them.

    This is part one of a 2-part series on recruitment and retention.  In the next installment we are going to focus on strategies to keep your staff for the long term. 

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

    staff development

    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”.


    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).

    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!

    Is learning high up on your agenda for you and your staff in 2019?

    staff retention

    I am not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, so I never set any but I do set business goals for myself.  New year’s resolutions are usually pipedreams or hopes and as they say ‘a dream without a plan is just a wish’.  So setting business goals with plans behind them is the way to go.

    As I outlined in my last blog post, in 2018 the 3rd biggest challenge my clients had (that I supported them to work on in our 1-2-1 coaching sessions) was how around staff retention, specifically “do we attract and retain the best staff?“.

    How do I attract and retain staff?

    There are a multitude of answers to this complex question, not least getting the recruitment and induction process right.  Research shows that staff are highly engaged during their first 6 months of employment and that millennials are prone to ‘job hoping’.  The same research also identifies that millennials are also highly motivated by self-development.

    So is learning high up on your agenda for 2019?  Not only to keep staff engaged and retain the best talent, but also for you to ensure you are using best practice?

    Invest and develop yourself and your staff

    This is such a big part of retention yet is one area that is frequently overlooked by employees (‘we don’t have the time’ or ‘we don’t have the budget’, are 2 statements I frequently hear). Indeed I have had my clients ask me if I have a face to face course I delivered as an online course or if I could take a particular subject I coached them through and turn it into some kind of online learning.  It was these conversations that led me to launch a series of online courses around everything to do with starting, growing and running a successful agency (7 courses to date with plans to add at least 2 more in 2019).  Take a look here to see all 7 courses.

    The advantage of online learning

    There are many advantages (and a few disadvantages) to taking an online course rather than a classroom based course.  Here are 4:

    1. Everyone is busy and time poor, so an online course can be taken when you have a quieter moment or away from the office
    2. It is self-paced learning. So following on from the point above, you can start and stop the course to suit you.  You can revisit modules (and use as a reference library)
    3. It’s easy to add in an online course as part of everyone’s self development and is more cost effective than sending everyone on a classroom based course. For example, for one of my clients, I delivered some customer service training that they wanted to put all new starters through.  To bring me in each time they have some new starters was not practical but to put all the new starters through the online training course is not only practical but ensures all have had the same training and use the same techniques and ideas
    4. Lower cost – online training is much more cost effective when you look at ‘per student’ costs and of course you don’t have any hotel costs or indirect costs of having someone absent from the office for days at a time

    Of course one disadvantage is that there is no interaction with the trainer or fellow students.  To help counter that I invite all my students to join my closed Facebook group where I regularly post content and also am available to answer students questions.

    There is really little excuse for not planning to have learning and development on your agenda for the new year.  The benefits of increasing skills and retention make it a no brainer, so make sure you have it on your plan for 2019!

    What were the biggest business challenges my clients had in 2018?

    Get the help you need with Da Costa Coaching

    Since we are just starting our new year, I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on 2018 and share with you the reoccurring themes and biggest business challenges that came up time and time again during my coaching sessions with clients.  So here are my top 5 (I would bet most of these were and are relevant to you in 2019).

    1. How do we become more profitable?

    This is usually a question that is asked early on and one of the reasons for engaging with a coach such as me.

    In the agency world, there seems to be a constant mismatch between being super busy, working long hours and yet, not being profitable enough. This results in lack of investment in the business, not enough hours for the owner to work on their business, high staff turnover (if you have staff) and burnout.

    As my clients know, the answer to this, whilst it’s not one thing, is definitely to sell value, outcomes and transformations and NOT time.

    2. How do we win more https://www.dacostacoaching.co.uk/whitepaper/does-your-business-sell-your-services-based-on-time-or-value/business?

    This kind of goes hand in hand with one because if you are run ragged servicing low paying challenging clients then you will have little time for new business.  So firstly, get that right so you have time to look for new business.

    Secondly, know your customers (define your customer personas).  Understand their challenges (that you can solve) and market yourself against these challenges (rather than telling them how wonderful you are).

    Understand their buying habits so you know where they ‘hang out’ (networking?, LinkedIn?, Facebook ads? (yep they can work for business) and so on).

    Give away some value for free to demonstrate your credibility (such as a blog like this one) and build rapport with them through regular communications.

    3. How do we attract and retain the best staff?

    Like all the issues, this is a big one with a long answer.  So let me give you a few quick thoughts on this:

    • It starts with recruitment. Make sure you have a clear roles & responsibilities and recruit against not only the R&R but also your culture – to get the best fit
    • Have a strong induction place (there is no room for a ‘sink or swim’ mentality) – giving them and you the best chance for success
    • Have regular check ins – once probation is over you still need to create a safe space; regular 1-2-1 meetings to give and receive feedback
    • Train and develop yourself and your team
    • Make sure you reward, and recognition schemes are fair, competitive and balanced (and consider the needs of the demographics within your organisation)

    4. How do we cut through the noise of competition in the market place?

    • GET A CLEAR NICHE!!!!!
    • It’s so much easier to be successful when you have a clear niche rather than trying to be a generalist
    • A niched business has a clearly defined market place and clear competitors

    5. How do we grow in a sustainable way?

    This is all about getting your structure/infrastructure right, so you have room for growth. I always tell my clients to build their business structures today for the business they want to be tomorrow – that way you can grow in a managed sustainable way. If you don’t have the structures in place and grow rapidly, you are just as likely to shrink as rapidly – and have a stressful time in doing so!

    So they are the top 5 challenges that I helped my clients solve in 2018.  Will they be the same in 2019?  Did I miss anything?  Do let me know by dropping a comment or sending me a message.

    Giving new staff the best chance to succeed

    Anonymous - Da Costa Coaching

    You’re understaffed and everyone is maxxed out. You finally find a good candidate to fill the vacancy. They start and you breath a sigh of relief now that the post filled and the pressure is relieved. You leave them to get on with things but quickly realise they are not quite what you thought they would be and they realise the Company isn’t quite what they expected. Things don’t quite work out and you find yourselves back to square 1. Does this sound familiar?

    I am amazed that this scenario often happens and unwittingly, staff are set up to fail rather than succeed. In order to give a new member of staff the best chance of success you need to map out their first few months so both you and they know what to expect and what ‘good’ looks like in their role. They need to know their priorities for each month, what the outputs of each task are and how they are measured. This way you can ensure that yours and their expectations are met. Management needs to take the time to mentor and ‘buddy’ them so they can ‘learn the ropes’ and settle into their new role and environment as seamlessly and quickly as possible. In a larger organisation there is usually a formalised induction process (although this can be very HR heavy rather than role specific) but in SMEs this is often lacking.

    This is a perfect example of one of my favourite expressions: “Slow down to speed up”.  Spend the time at the start getting it right to ensure you and your business moves forward faster in the mid to long run. Invest time in hiring the right staff (if you cut corners or take the cheapest route, you usually end up with a compromise) and then invest time in getting them settled in and up to speed to reap the benefits later on.

    Staff attraction and retention is a huge issue for business at the moment. It’s a candidates market so getting it right is crucial. However, hiring the right person is just the start of the process.  So how good is your induction process and what other tips do you have?

    How good are you at juggling?

    Da Costa Coaching can help you stay organised

    How good are your circus skills?  Well if you run your own business you will know that juggling skills are a prerequisite (and if you don’t recognise this you will soon be in trouble).  In fact it is one of the reasons so many start ups fail in their first year.

    It’s not enough to have a great idea for a business and to have researched there is demand for your product/service, you need to be able to spin a whole load of plates or juggle lots of balls at the same time.

    So what juggling skills do you need exactly?  There are 3 key areas you’ll need to be good at juggling:

    1. Be great at delivery your business today – to keep your clients you will need to deliver a great product / service and continually delight your clients
    2. Keep focused on where the business will come from tomorrow – businesses who rest of their laurels and rely on the business they currently have, are headed for trouble, so no matter how busy you are delivering today’s business, you need to pay attention as to where business in the future will come from.
    3. Finally, if you have staff, then you also need to put focus on managing, developing and keeping them – staff retention in 2015 is the number 1 biggest challenges for UK business, so staff retention should be at the top of your agenda

    Avoiding those peaks and troughs (or ‘dont smash the plates’)

    So the main thing you need to juggle is time.  And time is in short supply so getting structured becomes super important.  Allocating time to working on the business (strategy) and managing staff is as important as delivering client work (revenue).  And the first two can’t go out the window when you get busy with client work because if they do, what will you do when clients eventually stop working with you (and trust me, at some point they will)?  Those companies who proudlhttps://www.dacostacoaching.co.uk/whitepaper/y tell me they are super busy and get all their business through referrals so don’t need to do any kind of sales or marketing, will eventually find themselves in a trough and it’s at this point that businesses make poor decisions.

    A business in the trough will be desperate to get more work and do one of 2 things:  they either discount to win business or take the wrong kind of work on.  Both scenarios are examples of poor decision making and will eventually lead to more balls being dropped, short term client relationships and poor staff retention.

    So how good a juggler are you?  It’s a skill I would definitely recommend gaining.

    Get your social media presence sorted (part 2)

    Social Media contacts - Da Costa Coaching

    I wrote on this topic a while back and since it was really popular, I thought I would add some further thoughts.

    In the 21st century, a crucial part of attracting and retaining the best staff is to ensure you have a strong, clear and up to date online presence. The Z Generation (those born after the millennium) sees social media at the centre of their communities. A report by Sparks & Honey, a US advertising agency describes this generation as the “first tribe of true digital natives” or “screenagers”. But unlike the older Gen Y, they are smarter, safer, more mature and want to change the world. This is also why CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies are more than just good for positive PR but crucial for attracting and retaining the younger, Z generation who want to “make a difference in the world”.

    Glassdoor Research shows that when candidates have access to information about a job and company—before deciding whether to apply or accept a job offer—employers have seen an average of 22 percent reduction in turnover. The tide is already shifting with employees having more voice with the social channels. Review portals like Glassdoor and independent surveys that rank companies in terms of employee satisfaction have become important tools for potential employees checking out employers.

    Of course your social media presence isn’t just about staff, it has to engage with all your stakeholders, including current and potential customers. The importance of social media is not just because of the Z-Gens but also due to the prominence of mobile devices and the X gens/baby boomers also using social media more frequently.

    The success gap is widening between businesses that are using social media in an informal, ad hoc manner and those taking a more planned, strategic approach.

    This has significant implications:

    • Businesses that use social media strategically are more satisfied with the results than ad hoc users, who are more skeptical about the value of social media.
    • Businesses that use social media as part of a planned corporate approach are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to anticipate revenue growth than ad hoc users.

    So how does your social media strategy fit in with your marketing plan – and how strategic v adhoc is it? And how are you measuring and adapting your online presence? Want to find out more then get in touch.

    Get your social media presence sorted

    staff retention

    2015 will prove an challenging year for attracting and retaining top talent.  As part of this, a key agenda activity for HR and marketing will be to ensure your social media presence is up to date, attractive and reflective of the aspirations of your business.

    The next generation of job seekers are looking beyond job boards and now engages with potential employers on social media sites.  Glassdoor research shows that when candidates have access to information about a job and company, before deciding whether to apply or accept a job offer, employers have seen an average of 22 percent reduction in turnover. The tide is already shifting with employees having more voice with the social channels through review portals like Glassdoor and independent surveys that rank companies in terms of employee satisfaction.

    So does your social media presence reflect the image you want to give to a potential new employee?

    Here are a few thoughts:

    Twitter – an excellent way to communicate to lots of candidates. Here’s a few pointers to get you started:

    • Mix it up a bit: Mix your tweets up to keep your followers engaged. Try tweeting industry and company news, as well as careers advice and current vacancies.
    • Get everyone tweeting: This gives a good perception of collaboration and personality which are attractive traits from a jobseeker’s perspective.
    • Set up a schedule: Tweeting too regularly can be annoying. Aim for once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening.
    • Re-tweet others: It’s not all about you. Re-tweet others to build credibility and trust.

    Facebook – is a perfect medium to give your employer brand a boost. Here’s how to make it work for you:

    • Share photos: Share photos of events, charity fundraisers, employee birthdays and award ceremonies.
    • Communicate in a human way: If jobseekers post questions respond in a friendly way.
    • Get people talking: Don’t just shout about how great you are. Post useful content for your fans and ask questions to get the conversation going.
    • Make it a team effort: Give your colleagues the freedom to contribute to your page.  Satisfied and happy employees are the best brand ambassadors out there.

    LinkedIn – is a great way to build your company’s credibility in the eyes of the job seeker. Here’s how:

    • Create a company page: You can attract followers, create a careers section and update your company status.
    • Join relevant groups: Join in the conversation and then promote your company as an employer of choice by contributing to discussions, providing advice and sharing news.
    • Create a company group: This is an excellent way to help prospective employees feel a sense of belonging long before the application process begins.

    Let’s discuss how this works for your business.