Why Your Agency Is Still Stuck

I recently did some repeat consulting for a client, and I was surprised at how little things had changed since I worked with them a few years back. Working with any advisor is a painful process, but it's designed to be a good investment rather than a fair bit of pain for just a little bit of gain.

She initiated the re-engagement, so I presumed that I wasn't blamed for the lack of progress, but I can't help the introspection. Did I misread her situation? Did I not work hard enough to suggest a solution that she could realistically implement? Was everything good except that I wasn't present enough during the implementation period?

Each of those reasons has been true at one time or another in a consulting career that spans decades, but it's rare and I nearly always catch it in time and make it right, where appropriate. This time, though, I decided to chart out the simple...but profound...reasons why change might not take root at your firm. Why you keep trying different things and can never seem to get rid of those weights that keep you from soaring above the average firm around you. Why you might wonder if you should call it quits and go work for someone else, and maybe make more money with less financial risk. Getting unstuck is going to require these four things, and lacking any single one of them can hold you back:

  1. Courage. This is the stuff that helps you hold pricing high, dismiss that talented jerk who doesn't fit the culture, and muster the internal strength to dissolve the partnership that's already broken. If you don't have enough of it, gather the right people around you. Or align your opportunity to always exceed your capacity. If you can't increase your opportunity fast enough, fix the capacity problem. It takes a lot of courage to say not to that single opportunity that doesn't fit. Much more courage than choosing between two options for one slot on your client roster.
  2. Insight. Having just lauded courage, there are times when more insight (see menu on left side of this page). Why reinvent the wheel if a peer firm has already figured something out, saving you from wasteful experimentation. If you implement the suggestions of the firms around you, indiscriminately, you'll end up with an average firm. But you can get valuable insight from many places. There aren't many good books on the subject, but I'm here to help, as well as my competitors. Another great source of insight is hiring a couple of great employees who have worked at serious agencies before. Resist those who can't envision doing a project for less than $1 million or don't want to get their hands dirty with real work or don't value your culture, but that leaves thousands of very helpful, talented employees who have been part of a firm that flourished for the right reasons.
  3. Discipline. Give me a choice between the brilliant principal who flits from one shiny object to the next or the dedicated principal who keeps doing smart things and I'll always take the latter. Discipline covers a multitude of sins and it means that things get done. So they actually do a little bit of research, they write a short e-book, and they sit down and actually manage people. These are the folks who inspire me. I seen many agencies who have all of the ingredients of success except discipline. It's probably time for some CBT.
  4. Killer Instinct. When I initiated a massive research project studying 13,000+ people in the marketing field, it only occurred to me later that I had a subset of 1,340 principals in that group. After running their results through SPSS, only one pattern surfaced around their personality profiles and that was their killer instinct, which is my summary for their ability to make decisions, value control, take risks, and win. It's what helps principals turn a mess of circumstances into a thriving business.

If you have a partner in the business, give yourselves an honest assessment against that list. If you don't, ask a life partner or fellow entrepreneur to be honest with you. Being an entrepreneur doesn't make you any more of a human and there are times when it's the wrong choice.

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