Years ago, when I still owned my agency, I went to work one Sunday afternoon so that I could get something done without the usual interruptions. I was anxious to catch up on our billing because receivables were dropping as clients paid and I needed to turn some WIP (work in progress) into some AR (accounts receivable). I hated the accounting nature of that part of my job, but it felt so good to generate $100,000 of invoices in just a few minutes.
I finished and felt like I'd accomplished something. I was satisfied because I was suddenly caught up, in this one thing, for this short time. It almost felt like I'd earned all that money in a few minutes!
But not for long. That next morning I started the week off and I kept thinking about how high our high receivables balance was! When would some of that client money start coming in? I knew why it was high--I'd just bumped them up to that level the day before--and I knew that none of it was due yet, but I could see this underlying anxiety in myself. Yesterday it was because receivables where low; today it was because they were high. Crazy.
Do you see that in yourself? Always worried about something? It's a curse and a blessing, really. You're never satisfied. You never rest for long. It's always this or that on your list of tasks:
Most of you hate timekeeping. You hate doing it and you hate enforcing it (see an eight-part sliding plan to do just that).
There's very little scientific connection, too, between profitable firms and firms that are religious about tracking all of their time. So these are the only times when you need to stay on top of it:
At the end of this piece I'll share why I'm nervous to admit this, but for now let me just say that your job running an agency really is different than running another kind of firm. There are two reasons for that.
I love it when an agency tells me about their sophisticated clients. They make an agency better primarily for four reasons:
You are very smart people, and so I can make some bullet-point observations without much explanation and still be helpful to you. Read these and see if they ring true to you:
I consult with one new agency every week through our TBR, and a question that comes up regularly is how to transition a new client from the sales team to the account team. Here's how to do it well.
As a student of positioning, I've grudgingly noted that many very poorly positioned firms are doing well. The common thread is that they are confident, which prospective clients sense and are drawn to. If you lack that confidence, consider the two ways normally available to fix it.
The first is your Mommy telling you how great you are. A parent's job is to believe in their kid in spite of any lack of evidence to support that. My parents believed that I could do anything, and we still believe that our kids could do anything. But that matters more when you're young. And besides, I often believe in my clients' ability more than they do, but it doesn't matter. They don't believe me because I'm not their Mommy. (tweet this)
So in your case, we have to default to the only other reliable method of confidence-building, and that....
You have something your client needs--how do you deliver that effectively? Here are the six best avenues to deliver your expertise to an agency prospect or client:
The mandate for working together, agency and client, is effectiveness. How do you work together and separately for that to happen? What does each side bring to the table? How can you be an expert but still require the client in order to create this magic?
How you handle this interplay determines your impact, your compensation, and how much they appreciate you. Here is how the best agencies do it:
Late last year, Creative Mornings (Atlanta) asked me to present some thoughts on this subject to 400 creatives. They were kind enough to capture and edit the video, which I think might be worth watching. If I may, consider watching this with some of your staff--it's about 25 mins long.
In essence, I posit that you start with competence, then move to cross over to something else, and that's when you then create. How do you change your world? It's not through your work, likely. The safest prediction is that you'll impact the people around you…by just being competent. By doing your job, raising their game, and explaining humanity through your actions. To do this, you tame the genetic A.D.D, relax a moment, and realize that it's not death to simply do your job for a few years.
After you've done that, you must leave things behind—strengths, even—to form the next level of competence. Your ongoing impact comes from abandoning those strengths. In the process, life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself. And the process of creating yourself often means leaving part of yourself behind, rather than finding yourself, like the process of new growth in the world around you. It's using an opportunity from a position of strength.
Where are you in the process of creating yourself? How much do you really know? What is it that you contribute? Do you wonder about the worthiness of the entire marketing industry? How do you place yourself in an industry where most of what you do is bullshit?
I think it's an interesting presentation, and there were some good questions at the end.
You can download a PDF of the presentation and watch the video.
Sometimes it's helpful to step back from all of the positioning and service offering differentiation we play around with and get back to a basic question: what is it that clients are really buying from your agency? It's two things.
The websites that marketing agencies are building for themselves are better than they ever have been, but only 20% have stellar sites and another 55% aren't embarrassing. When talking with an agency principal on the phone, I'm surprised, too, at how often I hear this: "Yes, I know that's what our website says, but...." So if you see a revision in the works in early 2015, here are the 10 most impactful features of your new website.