Here’s a secret that weeds out the best agencies from the hacks. This is going to be a tough one for a lot of agencies out there to agree with. Ready?
You need to make your agency a priority.
By this I mean:
- Invest in your marketing.
- Invest in your people.
- Invest in your process.
- Invest in your services.
Yes, I’m advocating dedicating some serious time and resources to your agency. To be clear, in order to improve your agency I’m suggesting you:
- Dedicate your employee’s billable time to it.
- Spend some cash money on it (in addition to employee time).
- Do it before client work (*gasp*).
I can hear the groans now. Oh the humanity. I know. I know. Let me guess…
- You’re too busy.
- You just don’t have the time.
- You need to hire one more person first.
- You can’t pull people off of billable work.
- You need to finish up a few more key projects.
So let me ask you…
Where Is This Narnia Where You Ever Won’t Be Busy?
Seriously. Do you intend to have zero clients in the future?
Of course not.
So we can we just agree that all agencies are busy all the time? And yes I said “all agencies.” Your agency is not special because it feels really busy. That’s just the nature of working in a service business. If you’re not busy, then your agency is probably in trouble.
Let’s wrap our heads around the idea that, as agencies, we will always be busy.
And that being busy does not make our agencies unique.
Just accept it as normal. Once you accept that being crazy busy is simply business as usual, you can unburden yourself of that excuse. Then pull your head out of the trenches, look around, and start making improvements.
Invest in Your People
This is the most important investment. You’re building something here. You’re building more than a business, you’re building a team, and you’re building a culture. In order do this right you need to:
Hire Good People — To invest in your people, you need good people to begin with. Focus on hiring people who can contribute new talent to the team. Sometimes, they might cost more than you want to pay. They’re worth it. Sometimes this requires looking for longer than you have patience for. It’s worth it. Sometimes you might want to panic hire to fill a role. It’s not worth it. That’s a short-sighted decision. Making good choices on hiring will give you the solid foundation you need to make better decisions later on.
Provide Training — Do lunch and learns. Attend webinars as a team. Send folks to conference once in a while. Hell, pay for a class they want to take if it will improve how they do their job. You’re doing more than educating, you’re showing them they are worth investing in, and that my friend, creates loyalty and motivation.
Buy Them Good Equipment — It’s hard to feel valued when you’re working on an old piece of shit Dell laptop that should have been relegated to a testing station years ago. If you’re going to have the best people, they’re going to expect to use the best tools.
Give Them a Say — You know what happens when you let your employees have a say? They improve the place they work. They take responsibility for it. They take pride in it. And they dedicate themselves to it.
Give Them Perks — Whatever you can manage. It’s hard for small agencies to pull together good healthcare packages, but maybe work out a gym membership for the team. Or buy lunch once a week. Or work out a flexible vacation policy. But for the love of god, please do not buy a ping pong table. It’s not a perk, I don’t care what you say. It will only collect dust and mock all who pass it by.
Invest in Your Process
This means take the time to improve how you do things at your agency. No one ever wants to take time out of their day to sit down to review processes (again, the “busy” problem). Doing post-mortems for example. Doing the project was enough work, then to sit down and re-hash the whole thing?
It’s time consuming.
It’s not billable.
And it will fundamentally change your agency for the better.
The agency that invests time in continually improving processes is an agency that is continually refining itself. Keeping itself sharp. It observes inefficiencies and tries to change them. It values continuous improvement. You know what type of agencies are interested in refining processes to stay sharp? Sharp agencies.
The agency that is too busy to stay sharp will get dull (like the woodcutter). It will make the same mistakes over and over again. It will sacrifice hours and hours to repeated mistakes. It will frustrate its employees who will continually suffer through repeated mistakes and inefficiencies. You know what type of agencies aren’t focused on improving process? Dull ones. The ones that continually churn through people and clients, because neither are willing to put up with frustrating yet completely solvable problems.
Invest in Your Services
This is somewhat tied to improving process, as the process is how you deliver the service. The idea here is how do you improve your services? It can be anything from, building websites smarter, to designing a better presentation template, to exploring new service offerings altogether . If you want to be a leading agency, your services have to continually evolve, and this requires investing the time to evolve them. This can also be tied to professional development, if you grow your people, they will help grow your services.
But We’re Busy, We Don’t Need New Business Right Now
Congrats! Your agency is humming right now, full of new business. Let’s pull back on investing in ourselves for a bit. Right?
That’s akin to throwing away your umbrella during a rain storm because you’re not getting wet.*
There’s never a time when you should stop investing in your agency. It’s literally your most valuable asset. Even in boom times, especially in boom times, you should be finding ways to improve. Don’t get lazy. Don’t get dull. Strive to stay sharp.
The Whole “Cobbler’s Son Has No Shoes” Excuse Is Embarrassing
It really is. A marketing agency that takes no time to work on itself should be embarrassed. They should be embarrassed for doing such a poor job positioning their agency. They should be embarrassed for valuing their own services so little. They should be embarrassed by not practicing what they preach.
Also, how do you win pitches when you can’t show the client you practice what you preach? You give them the good old “do as I say but not as I do” line? How can your words carry any credibility to a prospective client if you recommend they do a bunch of things you have never done yourself? Put some skin in the game.
You’re a marketing agency. Marketing is what you do and what you sell. When prospects interact with you, they’re going to be judging every interaction, likely before they ever get you on the phone with you (thus before your can cry your “cobbler’s son” explanation to them).
By not showing value for your agency, you send a message, and that message permeates through everything you do. Your clients will notice. Your prospects will notice. And most importantly, your employees will notice.
Be Your Own Biggest Client
If the marketing you create for your clients is so effective, imagine if you treated yourself as your own biggest client? That might mean hiring a marketing director for your agency, or it might mean assigning one of your account managers to be officially responsible managing for your agency’s marketing with the team. Whatever the solution is, it should involve dedicating resources to it.**
So put some skin in the game and make a real investment in your agency. Every month. If you find that 30 days has gone past and your agency has not improved for the better, you should be concerned. The reason for concern is not only that your agency may be getting dull (although that’s a big concern), but also that there are thousands of other agencies out there. Seriously, there are thousands. Some of them are going to take this advice. Some of them are already investing in themselves in a huge way. And those guys, well, those guys are going to eat your lunch.
*Yep, quoted a supreme court justice on a marketing blog.
**And I don’t mean “after hours stuff.” I’ve seen it a million times. Agencies use nights and weekends to work on themselves. That’s a great way to never get anything done. You know why? Because if you work at an agency you’re likely doing client work on nights and weekends already, so that time is already spoken for.