If you could concentrate in a few different areas over the next eighteen months, here's what could happen at your firm:
- There would be more opportunities from which to choose. No more feeding the machine with frequent compromises. You've failed with this up until now, either letting the urgent displace the critical or delegating it to someone else who can't manage it with the presence that you bring.
- You'd have your arms tightly around your agency's performance, with eight key metrics always at your fingertips. Remember that your firm won't fail for lack of creativity--it will fail because you made a business mistake.
- You'd have a trusted and capable middle layer of stars who made the trains run reliably, whether you were there or not.
That's not going to happen, though, unless you give up some things, because you just don't have the capacity. I'm not asking you to work harder--I'm asking you to work smarter. If you are ready for this, consider giving up some things, and giving them up in the right order:
- Resourcing, which is my word for managing the control tower of your firm. It includes tracking deadlines, monitoring time budgets, integrating outside resources, ensuring quality assurance, implementing objective pricing, and predicting capacity. This is a big enough job at your agency that you should begin paying attention to it when you have four people, and you should have a dedicated resourcing person when your firm has seven people, total. In other words, if all of the resourcing duties are consolidated in one person, that's all that one person could do in a seven-person firm. You give this up first because replacing you in this role is the least risky. It's also because at five or six people--depending on your ability to drink from a fire hose of data--more is going on than you can keep your arms around, and you will begin to lose track of things.
- Client relationships. You probably think that your firm's early success comes from how well you handle client relationships, but that's not true. The typical entrepreneur isn't good at managing client relationships because they are impatient and competitive, neither of which mix well with satisfied clients. No, your firm has been successful because of the strategic guidance you mix into the relationship management. You can continue providing that, and in fact you'll find that clients listen more carefully if you guide them as an expert, bouncing in and out of the relationship and not tending it every day. Incidentally, 16% of all your firm's labor should be devoted to managing client relationships. That ratio is different if you are a pure-play digital or strategy firm.
- Managing people on the front lines. Start thinking about this when you have six people, total, because you'll need to cap the number of people answering to you at six to eight. So that means that someone else might be the creative director, first. Or if you have two people in account service, one of them answers to the other. Don't make the serious mistake, though, of promoting someone to management just because they are great at the job they do. Managing isn't about doing great work--it's about helping other people do great work. These people you bring into management, already working for you or not, should love teaching and fully embrace your culture.
So let's review. Your business needs specific things from you. You'll only have the time to concentrate on these things if you give up certain duties, and give them up in the right order.
These recommendations have some deep science behind them, including $340,000 of research with 14,000+ people in the agency business. Principals still struggle implementing them, though, because some of us:
- Are control freaks.
- Learn to derive our significance from doing the things that stroke our ego rather than the things that the business needs from us.
- Because there's very little real business help for people in the professional services marketing space.
Listen, if you started a business you need to raise it responsibly. Otherwise you're having a baby and leaving it on someone else's doorstep. Start doing the things your business needs, and if you can't adapt to that reality then consider being a smaller firm. If you manage your business well and do all of the business development, you can't be bigger than fifteen people. Get yourself some able assistance with one or both of those two things, and you can have hundreds of people. There are advantages to being smaller or larger.