Business Thoughts

10 daily steps to grow your agency without sales, marketing, or stress

We were recently nominated for 2 awards that both required me to look back at our growth for the first time with a fine tooth comb. Typically, I judge success by this rule:

1. Am I having fun
2. Are the people I work with challenged and having fun too
3. Can I keep the lights on

When I looked at our growth it was shocking, it got me reflecting – how did this happen?!

Here are my thoughts to how to create & maintain growth (if that is what you want) with minimal stress, I hope you enjoy.

Love what you do, have some stinking passion!

Everyone says this, but you’ll get KILLED by people who just out “heart” you. Since I LOVE search, I have a better chance at getting great results than the guy who is in search because it is a great way to make a ton of money. You know why? Certain things will bother me, I will obsess over things that just don’t add up. The guy who sees it as just business goes to sleep easy when the margins look right, I go to sleep easy when the ROI for our projects is kicking!

Don’t hire douchebags who have no passion & put tenacity over tenure!

Sure every company has “role players” minimize those chumps, they don’t add value to clients, they are easily replaceable. Instead automate as many processes as possible so that every person you hire is working on strategies and not tactics. Don’t confuse passion with staying in the office late or coming in on Saturdays either!
People interview well, so be OK with firing quickly, don’t drag down your superstars with average players. I’m not proud of it, but we’ve let a few people go who were not a good match in less than 3 weeks. I hope they have found what their passion truly is.
Realize you can’t teach these things and hire people who have them (sometimes) regardless of experience:

* Work ethic
* Pride in your work
* Passion
* Analytical mindset

Realize your team is talented and could go anywhere else

Don’t kid yourself. By not hiring douchebags you’ll realize that talented people can move on easily. Create a culture that throws this reality on the table and fights hard to keep your team with YOU! That means give real freaking raises! People know when they contribute to the growth, and if the company is doing well they have a hand in it. I think this also helps you retain people with you hit a downturn, cause your team will know that you stick by them and share in the wealth when times are great. Getting rid of or minimizing tactical tasks also gives people strategic challenges to work on daily.
No one is on your team to make YOU rich. What are their goals, aspirations, etc. Knowing that humanizes the company and serves as a constant reminder that people aren’t widgets – they have goals too.
If you have people on your team who consistently work 65+ hours a week, change that or give them equity / profit sharing – let them know that you WILL not build a business predicated upon them burning themselves out – either take less clients and charge higher rates or improve processes – don’t burn them out.

Be high touch if you charge high rates
Many companies charge high prices for their services (to me if your blended hourly rates are 175+ you are charging a good rate). If you do, you better be high touch and have great results darn it! It never ceases to amaze me at the opportunities we get to work on simply because our clients know we really care and that is in stark contrast to many other companies in the agency space – be high touch, call your clients regularly.

Be Analytical
Find ways to minimize clients needing to ask this question –
“What is your work doing for my bottom line”
Ask every client how they will judge the success of the campaign, if they don’t know, DON’T WORK WITH THEM!!!! At some time this question will be asked, if not by them, but by their boss. And if you have no definition (that you all agreed to at the onset of the campaign) for what success is it will come back to bite you!

Be Transparent / Honest

* If someone has unrealistic expectations, tell them. If they don’t change em, don’t work with em.
* If you can only “hope” something is going to work, SAY IT!!!
* If you aren’t happy about how things are going, vocalize that!
* If your numbers suck (assuming you are analytical), spend all your time developing a plan to IMPROVE THEM, not a plan SPIN THEM, say they suck and move on.

I don’t think any client expects you to bat 1.000. Honesty, even about your flaws, agency problems, etc, builds TRUST. And building TRUST is something that is hard to break.

Turn business away, regularly
If you take on every piece of business that comes your way, you’ll have to hire douchebags at some point to just stay on top of it all. Take on new business as you can find superstars to work on the accounts. If you don’t you’ll ultimately have a “B team” and unless you change your prices based on the team assembled, NO client wants to be working with the B squad.
Do what is right before what is profitable
If you make every decision in your company on what’s going to earn you the most money, you’ll lose. If your “clients” truly feel like you are their advocate who puts their interests before your own (to a point) you’ll win. That is simple.

Don’t work for Jerks
Good “clients” realize that if you truly put their interests above yours there will be times when you’ve put in so many hours that then you’ll have to bill, but you could ask any client we’ve ever had…not a ONE of them has ever had an invoice for 30 minutes or 1 hour. As a result, the right clients don’t abuse this and we can keep doing what is right!

Not to mention working for Jerks adds stress – jerks usually abuse you, get you to do more more than they paid for, are abrasive, change the rules of what success is, don’t pay, etc to me this all equals stress. Get your jerk radar on get good at asking the right questions so you can identify these folks and not fall into the trap of working for them (regardless of how much money they are willing to spend with you)
Fire clients who treat your people poorly, we’re all adults! Show your people that you won’t sell them out for the almighty dollar and they’ll stay – if you sell them out for the almighty dollar then they have every right to do the same to you!

Volunteer
Helping others is a great way to keep you grounded on even the most challenging days! When you work with (NOT JUST DONATE MONEY) and spend your time helping others who have a much more complicated life than you, it helps you realize that no one is going to go hungry, homeless, or die if your agency doesn’t do X or Y. Have FUN!
Great people + Build trust w/ Clients + High Touch + Great results = Minimal Marketing / Sales Team and Minimal Stress

Following these steps above has allowed us to experience growth, and have a lot of fun with a great group of good people without:

* Paid search ads
* Booths at tradeshows
* Sales people
* Marketing people
* PR people
* Media Kits
* Mailings
* Whitepapers

And a whole slew of other tactics we are taught to do in order to grow our companies. I did some of these in my first 6 months, sure, but soon realized that by following the above we were going to be much more successful.
Some of this could change someday, but our foundation is not built on PR, Marketing or hype, instead it is built on great relationships and great results.

We have fired 2 clients (one of which was our largest at the time) and have lost NONE, yeah not a ONE in 5 years – because we care. And our clients and friends are in turn are our sales team they introduce us to others who are seeking good partners, thats how we have grown.
Note: The one marketing “thing” we have done is improve our search rankings.

This blog post inspired by:
Cure for startup stress
80/20 rule
Guts Companies that blow the doors of doing business as usual
Planning for our client thank you party

Another one – 10 rules for startup success
Our Clients
Our Team
Liz, Wil Sr, Tameka, Nora

Thanks!