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Build a Better Agency Podcast

Scale and grow your agency with better clients, invested employees, and a stronger bottom line, with Drew McLellan of Agency Management Institute.
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Now displaying: 2019
Jul 8, 2019

I know a lot of agency owners think about selling their shop. But do they think about it strategically? Or soon enough? Do they execute on a plan that will set them up for success 5-10 years before they’re ready to sell?

Usually, the answer to those questions is no. And on the flip side, how many agency owners think about growth through acquisition? Selling is a big part of the conversation but buying should be on the table as well.

In episode #196, I talk with Terry Lammers, who has been buying and selling businesses since he sold his family fuel company. We talk about the monetary and non-monetary aspects of getting the most from your agency or being a smart buyer if you’re on that end of the transaction. Most importantly, we dig into how, why, and when to start planning your exit strategy as an agency owner.

Terry Lammers grew up in a little town of 600 people. His family owned a wholesale fuels and lubricants company and when Terry took over as president of the company, he had some big ideas for growth. Out of that experience developed a fascination with the process of buying and selling businesses.

Since then, Terry has formed a business brokerage that helps people who want to buy and sell businesses. He also has his designation as a certified valuation analyst, accreditation through the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts. He is the author of You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Sell a Business.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why it’s never too early to plan your exit strategy
  • How to value a business (like an agency) with little regular recurring revenue
  • Who to have around the table to plan your exit strategy
  • Nonfinancial elements of your agency that add or subtract the value
  • Why culture is so important and why blending two company cultures is so difficult
  • How agency owners can start thinking about the acquisition as a growth strategy
Jul 1, 2019

How’s your year going so far? I might have a pretty good idea already. We work with and see how 250+ small to mid-sized agencies are doing every year and there are always patterns that emerge.

Every spring, I give a trends presentation to all of the agency owners in AMI peer groups. Together we explore how those trends are showing up in our world and how they’re impacting the industry.

Then, in the summer – I share those same rends with my podcast audience. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know this is an annual feature of the show.

In this episode, I share the financial picture that is emerging from the data. How are clients spending their marketing dollars? Is this a good time to be an agency owner? I’ll share what the numbers are saying. We’ll also talk about the mood among agency owners and whether or not they’re bullish on 2019 and 2020.

There are too many trends to cover in one episode, so this is part one. Check it out so you’re ready for part two next month.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Top agency trends in 2019
  • Understanding the rise of project work
  • How to manage after a gorilla client suddenly breaks up with you
  • Why transparency in markups and commissions is so important
  • Why agencies are earning more dollars, but those dollars are harder to acquire
  • How to regain that spark when agency work makes you weary
  • New trends in agency succession planning

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Jun 24, 2019

My entreé into agency life was as a copywriter. I loved digging around and finding the story underneath the story. That love was the foundation for my belief in the power of a strong and smart brand. For decades my agency has helped clients define, develop, and deploy their brand both internally and externally. It’s still some of my favorite work to do.

Understanding your unique story is a powerful competitive advantage for our clients and our own agencies. Without understanding what makes us unique – we have to swim in the sea of sameness and that’s definitely swimming upstream!

In this episode, we’re digging into storytelling by understanding it at the root level. There is an architecture to stories and I have gone to the expert to learn more about that structure and how, as agencies, we can better use it to build our clients’ brands – and our own as well.

My guest is Park Howell. For 25 years, Park ran an agency in Arizona called Park & Co. At a certain point in his career, he pivoted his agency to become a storytelling consultant, helping clients learn how to tell their own story. Park founded his consultancy, The Business of Story, on January 1, 2016, so he could partner with leaders of purpose-driven organizations and help them clarify their stories, amplify their impact, and simplify their lives.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How the hero’s journey has been with us since the beginning of storytelling
  • Why story is one of the most powerful tools in your brand building arsenal
  • How to help clients live into their most powerful stories
  • Who should be the hero of the story (the answer might surprise you)
  • Why it is so hard for agencies to discover and tell their own stories
  • How storytelling connects with something so primal in all of us
  • How to use storytelling to help customers fulfill what they wish, will, and want

Ways to Contact Park Howell:

Jun 17, 2019

The challenge with digital trends is that they are moving so swiftly, it’s hard to keep up. There are so many shiny objects flying around our heads, it’s dizzying. How do you know which ones are worth tracking and learning?

That’s where this week’s guest comes in. Tom Webster is the senior vice president at Edison Research. Edison is probably best known outside our world for being the sole provider of exit poll data during United States elections. But from our agency vantage point, most of us know Edison for their annual study, the Infinite Dial. The Infinite Dial remains the longest-running study of consumer behaviors around media and technology in America, and serves as the digital media trends bible for many since its inception in 1998.

The work that Tom and his team at Edison, along with partner Triton Research, have done for decades is highly anticipated every year and provides mission-critical information to agencies throughout the world. We’re going to dig into the data and find some surprises for you.

Tom Webster has nearly 20 years of experience researching consumer usage of technology, new media, and social networking. In addition to The Infinite Dial, he is the principal author of a number of widely-cited studies, including The Social Habit and Twitter Users in America. He is also the co-author of The Mobile Commerce Revolution, and a popular keynote speaker on data and consumer insights.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How the social media landscape is shifting
  • Why podcasting is becoming more popular
  • What works – and what doesn’t – in podcast advertising
  • The ins and outs of brand lift
  • Why being a ‘capital S’ show is important in terms of podcast popularity
  • A deep dive into the data from The Infinite Dial 2019
  • Why starting with the audience is critical for all good content
  • The work ahead of us in entering the voice assistant space
Jun 10, 2019

Speaking engagements can be a great way for agency owners to connect with their sweet spot prospects and be immediately perceived as a subject matter expert. Wanting to book speaking gigs and being successful at making that happen are two very different things. Even if you have some speaking engagements under your belt, getting chosen by a conference planner is another challenge to navigate.

Even seasoned pros must keep their eyes on the prize. I have always used speaking as one of my primary biz dev strategies (for both my agency and AMI) but I learned early on that it’s easy to get discouraged, distracted, or dismissed if you don’t have a smart strategy in place.

How do you build a speaking strategy that serves your agency business development objectives?
In episode #192, I talk with Steve Markman, who offers some hard-earned, straightforward advice on preparing a speaker proposal and getting it noticed by decision-makers. We also talk about how to determine whether a particular speaking opportunity is the right strategic move. We even tackle the age-old question of “should I speak for free?”

We’ll dig into all the nitty-gritty details of how to take full advantage of the right speaking platforms and when to stay home.

Steve Markman started Markman Speaker Management, LLC in 1994. It’s a speaker’s bureau with access to an international network of speakers in all fields and industries. He also coaches business owners and professionals on how to best speak for the right reasons to the right audiences.

Steve has over 30 years of experience in the conference, event, and speaker business, working with groups like the Conference Board and Society of Professional Consultants. Having been a conference producer working with some of the world’s largest events, Steve understands the importance of quality speaking engagements from both the speaker and conference planner perspectives.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The key components of a speaker proposal
  • How to respond to a call for speakers
  • How to ensure the audience is your target market
  • How to establish a connection with the conference organizer
  • The difference between formal and informal speaker submissions
  • Best practices for organizing your conference presentation
  • How to measure the value of presenting, even if need to pay your own expenses
  • How many speaking engagements is too many

Ways to Contact Steve Markman:

Jun 3, 2019

Whether we articulate them or not – we all have dreams. One of mine for me (and for all of you!) is to visit every Disney theme park in the world. Not that I want to mandate your dreams but who doesn’t love Disney?

The truth is, a serious business case can be made for agency owners to help their team members achieve their dreams. I know this from first-hand experience. More than a decade ago, I read the book Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly and began to implement it in my own agency. I believe it’s one of the reasons I have the employee tenure (17+ years on average) that I do. So when I met Dan Ralphs and learned about his company/mission, I knew I had to get him on the podcast.

Dan is the founder of Dream Leadership Consulting and is one of the world’s foremost experts in unlocking the power of dreaming inside a workplace. We often think that someone’s personal goals and dreams should be separate from their work life but that’s so short-sighted when you think about it. Your goal is to create an environment where your rock stars can flourish, be happy, and stick around for a long time. Why not help them achieve their dreams?

Before founding Dream Coach, Dan was the facilitator of the Dreaming Program at Infusionsoft, where he helped its employees identify, articulate, and accomplish their dreams – all based on the work by Matthew Kelly’s book.
Dan has the amazing ability to help people discover their dreams and learn how to go after them. His realistic approach toward dreaming recognizes that dreaming is not a ‘magic pill’ but, rather, a new way of thinking about our ability to create.

He is also the creator of the Dream Leader Certification course, through which he has helped more than 100 leaders from across the world become Dream Leaders to those whom they lead.
Together, they have helped their people accomplish dreams like buying a first home, riding elephants in Thailand, and starting a foundation to help mothers facing infant loss. Due to the efforts of Dan and the Dream Leaders he has certified, thousands have been awakened to their dreams and their ability to achieve them.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The power of helping employees achieve their dreams
  • Why investing in employees leads them to invest in the agency
  • How to advocate for people’s dreams without simply writing a check
  • Why helping employees achieve dreams must be more than a means to an agency end
  • How to establish systems around dream fulfillment
  • How to help people understand the price tag attached to their dreams
  • Why agency owners experience greater fulfillment in their work when they encourage others to fulfill their dreams
 
May 27, 2019

Figuring out which prospects align with your sweet spot and then doing the work necessary to earn their business are the difficult tasks of agency ownership. It starts with understanding what your sweet spot is. Who do you serve best? Where do you have a specialized knowledge that gives you a competitive edge?

As you have heard me say time and time again, for most agencies, being a general practitioner is neither desirable nor practical. It’s tough to compete on anything but the price when you look, sound and act the same as all of the other agencies out there. The brain surgeon is always more sought after and gets paid more than a general practitioner does.

That’s why I talk so often about positioning your agency. It’s how you find the right clients and focus on the right activities to attract and best serve those clients.

In this solocast, I spell out some of the options you could consider as you think about how to niche your agency. I walk you through the steps to take and areas on which to focus so that you can position your agency as a standout leader in whatever niches you are best suited to serve.
How do you discover your sweet spot clients? How do you hone in on your point of view? How do you demonstrate subject matter expertise that will win the business? In this episode, you’ll get some answers and perhaps come away with a few questions to ask yourself and your team as you move towards that goal.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The importance of defining who you serve and whom you don’t serve
  • The 4 ways to think about niches
  • Ways to narrow your niches
  • How to position your agency by solving a particular problem
  • Why POV is so important in positioning your agency
  • How POV helps you stand out and focus on activities with the highest payoff
  • Why you must not only claim but also demonstrate subject matter expertise
  • Why walking away from a big bag of money is sometimes the right call

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

May 20, 2019

Artificial intelligence generates lots of interest and more than a little bit of fear among agency owners. How will machine learning, AI, and all that super-technical stuff change agency life? Will it make agency work irrelevant?

Not according to my guest, Paul Roetzer from PR 2020 and The Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute. In this episode, Paul shared how his agency is leaning into AI because of the power and possibilities he sees in terms of agency efficiency and profitability. He makes a strong case that AI has the potential to make agency work more intelligent and even more human.

AI is one more way agencies can leverage new technology and new tools to serve our clients better, to help them grow their businesses, and to more profitably, efficiently, and effectively grow our own agencies.

I’m sure that some of you find this a little scary to even contemplate. But just like we’ve embraced all of the technologies before AI (the internet, mobile, programmatic media buying, etc.) we’re going to have to wrap our heads around this one too.

One of the best aspects of owning an agency is that we constantly get to evolve and re-invent ourselves to better serve our clients. AI gives us all the opportunity to scale and grow in ways we couldn’t imagine. AI isn’t about robots stealing jobs. It’s about the potential to eliminate the boring, repetitive tasks so we can spend more time thinking creatively.

Paul always sets his eyes toward the horizon. He’s continually wondering what will happen next in our industry and how he and his agency can be at the forefront of that. So, I wasn’t at all surprised when Paul and I were talking a few years ago and AI started to creep into the conversation.

In the last year or so, Paul has doubled down on that, not only in terms of what he’s doing with his own agency but also through his new organization, the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute. Later this summer, the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute is presenting MAICON, an AI convention for marketing leaders (use discount code McLellan19 to save $100 off the registration fee). Its mission is to make AI approachable and actionable for modern marketers so they can use this technology to build a powerful competitive advantage.

Paul has also written two books that I highly recommend: The Marketing Agency Blueprint and The Marketing Performance Blueprint.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

 

  • How intelligent automation will continue to make repetitive agency work easier
  • Why AI isn’t after your agency job
  • How machine learning can help you share data with clients in a cost-effective way
  • How agencies can understand AI and be a learning resource for clients
  • How to develop use cases for testing AI in your agency
  • Why small and mid-sized agencies are well-positioned to pivot into AI

Ways to Contact Paul Roetzer:

May 13, 2019

For 95% of all agencies, referrals and word of mouth are the #1 method of gaining new clients. On the one hand, that’s great. It means your clients, friends, and peers love and trust you enough to introduce you to their friends and colleagues.

From staffing challenges to constant client demands, agency life can be bumpy. Our industry is in a state of constant change and that’s not going to let up anytime soon. For some owners, that’s exhilarating and challenging. For others, it just makes them bone tired.

Right now, most agencies are enjoying healthy profits, lots of new business opportunities, and a very difficult hiring season. Our employee base is changing and many owners struggle to find and retain talent that will help them grow and strengthen the agency. Clients are demanding more on tighter timelines and budgets.

How do we thrive in this ever-shifting environment?

In this episode, I talk with someone who has seen it all – Nancy Hill. She is a veteran of big box agencies, former president and CEO of the 4As, and, more recently, has started her own consultancy, Media Sherpas. This broad range of experiences has given her important insights into the current climate – the challenges and opportunities we face every day, especially when it comes to staffing and client relationships.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How to think differently about your agency’s staffing challenges
  • How to get more creative with your benefits package so that you retain younger employees
  • How to establish mutually beneficial expectations with agency employees
  • Negotiating with clients about scope instead of lowering prices
  • Managing just-in-time staffing
  • Why independently owned agencies need to be nimble in their decision-making
  • How to boost your agency’s ability to say no
  • How to thrive in an environment of constant change

Ways to Contact Nancy Hill:

May 6, 2019

This has happened at my agency and I’m sure it’s happened at yours.

You start a huge client project and are excited to keep things rolling – both to protect your agency’s production schedule and to exceed the client’s expectations in terms of delivering on time and on budget. But then, you hit the roadblock. The cold silence you hear when you ask your client for the assets you need.

Whether it’s images, video, or copy points – you’re stalled until they cough it up. So much for on time or on a budget!

On this episode, I talk with James Rose about how to streamline the content collection process. Back when he was running a web dev shop, this was a major frustration for him and his team. So much so that his company developed what is now its core business: a content collection platform called Content Snare.

As content increasingly becomes central to much of agency work, solving the content collection conundrum is often the difference between profitability and charity work. Take a listen as James offers many no tech, low tech, and SaaS solutions to help us stay in the black.

James and his business partner, Mark Beljaars, started a single-product SEO software company in 2010. As they networked with other business owners, they heard countless stories about website projects that have gone wrong. They thought maybe they could help things go right.

With a passion rooted in software, they identified a few bottlenecks in the web design process. The worst one, which resonated most with other designers, was chasing down clients for their web content. That’s when Content Snare was born.

Clients don’t think about projects the same way we do – they don’t mean to be a bottleneck, even though they often are just that. Finding ways to keep content flowing ultimately helps us deliver an end result worthy of our efforts and our fee.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why gathering content from clients is such a universal pain point for agencies
  • How agencies can set content expectations as a part of the terms and conditions in a service contract
  • How to give clients a firm content deadline and make the stakes very clear
  • Why content collection is more than just setting up reminders
  • How to stop wasting time chasing after clients
  • How agency owners can help clients avoid overwhelming deadlines
  • Why you must manage agency expectations about how much data to expect from clients at one time
Apr 29, 2019

Every agency has a culture. The question is – is it intentional? And when I say culture, I’m not talking the beer thirty or holiday party aspects of culture. I’m really focusing in on the shared beliefs and agreed upon “rules” of engagement in terms of how we work together, deliver for the client and push towards our goals.

In too many agencies, this is not as intentional as it needs to be. The agency’s vision, mission, and values may exist somewhere, in a file folder, or at best in an employee manual, and then agency owners check off the box, hoping that their team picks up on it. It’s culture by default, not by design.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that culture isn’t just a nice idea. It’s not simply a day out serving the community or a potluck lunch held the first Tuesday of every month. Those things can be good and a part of the culture but the concept goes much deeper than that and it has implications for the bottom line.

In this episode, I talk with Tristan White, who early on in his business realized that intention and methodology were necessary to build a strong and healthy work culture. He soon realized that culture isn’t a distraction. It isn’t peripheral to business. Culture is everything.

Tristan White is the CEO of a company called The Physio Co. in Australia. Its core purpose is to increase the physical wellness and activity levels of seniors to keep them healthier, happier, and more mobile.

In the process of building The Physio Co., Tristan did a lot of learning and a lot of experimenting with respect to culture and its influence on company performance. He ended up writing a book called Culture is Everything. Inside that book, Tristan lays out a system for building a foundational culture inside your organization. We explore that system and dig into why culture is so critical to running a long-term successful business.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why it’s never too late to grow and foster a healthy work culture
  • How to live the corporate values you espouse
  • A methodology by which to operate from your core values
  • Why culture can equal cash
  • How to design a culture that withstands challenging times
  • How to develop a culture of substance
  • Why a healthy work culture must go beyond a day of service and Taco Tuesdays
  • How to bake things like empathetic connection into your culture
  • How to interview for alignment with your culture
  • Where to start in shaping or reshaping your agency’s vision and values

Ways to Contact Tristan White:

Apr 22, 2019

The results are in, and 2018 was clearly a good year in agency life.

On this episode, I unpack and dig deep into the findings of our most recent Salary and Benefits survey. Employees are reaping the benefits of the continued tight labor market. Agencies that want to attract and keep the best and brightest are paying better and providing some robust benefits.
We all know it’s hard to compete against the lure of a corporate paycheck, but agency life has so much more to offer than corporate life. Many of you are finding ways to express that to your employees, and my advice is simple: keep going!

There are many more trends to unpack and some considerations for what the road ahead may look like. The salary and benefits survey always gives us a lot to talk about, and this year is no exception!

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • What similarly sized agencies in your market are doing with salary and benefits
  • How the focus on content is favoring writer creatives over art creatives
  • The state of entry-level starting salaries
  • What agencies are doing to keep their staff from seeking greener pastures
  • Why agencies tend to be so generous with benefits
  • How to attract and retain top employees when you can’t compete on price
  • The intangibles that make agency life so rewarding, and how to emphasize them

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

Helpful Resources from this Episode:

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Apr 15, 2019

Let’s admit it. Agency owners are reluctant salespeople. However, biz dev should be a significant part of how we spend our days.

When I hear agency owners say that they don’t have to prospect because they get so much business via word of mouth, I always ask, “Are those the clients you would choose to work with or are you simply working with them by default?” When we’re honest with ourselves, the truth can sting a little.

I get it – no one likes to be told no. That doesn’t make selling any easier. But how do we change our mindset? Hearing no (or deafening silence) feels like a failure, so we avoid it at all costs. But what are the costs of fearing the “no” and settling for whatever comes our way?

In episode #184, I talk with Andrea Waltz, co-author of the best-selling book, Go for No. We have to re-think the word no. A “no” is one step closer to a “yes”.

Andrea and I talk about the no, not just in sales, but also in the creative process. Sometimes we phone it in because big, bold ideas have been rejected in the past. So we play it safe, even though we know that’s not in our clients’ best interests.

Andrea Waltz is a keynote speaker, author, and sought-after sales strategist. At the age of 8, she called George Lucas to see if she could work with him on future movies. She was the youngest general manager in eyeglass retailer Lenscrafters’ history. At the age of 24, she launched her own training company.

Hubspot named Andrea one of the “25 Sales Experts You Should Follow on Twitter” while Salesforce.com named her one of the “25 Sales Influencers to Follow on Twitter.” She was also named among the “Top 100 Sales Influencers” and “Top 65 Women Business Influencers” by Tenfold and one of the “47 Top Sales Speakers and Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by SummitSYNC.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How to retrain your brain to accept more “no’s”
  • Why setting “no” targets is as important as setting sales targets
  • How going for “no” translates beyond sales
  • The power of actually wanting to fail
  • Getting ready to fail bigger and fail faster to get to “yes”
  • Why celebrating failure is so important
  • How to encourage the effort and not just the result 

Ways to Contact Andrea Waltz:

Apr 8, 2019

For 95% of all agencies, referrals and word of mouth are the #1 method of gaining new clients. On the one hand, that’s great. It means your clients, friends, and peers love and trust you enough to introduce you to their friends and colleagues.

Unfortunately, they’re not always the right clients for our agency.  What if they aren’t a good fit? What if they are the furthest thing from a sweet-spot client for who you are and what your agency does? We have to be more intentional about referral and word of mouth.

That’s why my conversation with Steve Gordon arrived right on time. Steve has developed processes and systems that you can use to leverage word of mouth, qualify referrals, and scale your efforts so you don’t have to spend more time in one-on-one meetings than you have hours in your already stretched-to-the-limit day.

Steve Gordan started the Unstoppable CEO in 2010. He has invested nearly two decades into studying, implementing, testing, and proving the strategies that work to sell professional services.

Through Unstoppable CEO, Steve shares this knowledge with growth-minded professionals who are ready for world-class help with their marketing. He has become an expert at leveraging and scaling referral systems and word-of-mouth marketing techniques.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How to leverage your word of mouth and referrals
  • Why you must vet referrals to ensure they are a good fit for your agency
  • How to use presentations as referral machines
  • The many ways to leverage technology in gaining referrals
  • Why human nature creates points of interaction that don’t change over time
  • How to become a successful journalist
  • How to turn podcasts into referral engines
  • What it means to gain total business freedom

Ways to Contact Steve Gordon:

Apr 1, 2019

When you think about or define a global agency, do you think of those giant conglomerates that started on Madison Avenue and have mushroomed into marketing behemoths? Well, that’s one model – but certainly not the only one. What if your global agency was set up more like a series of regional micro-agencies still under one banner?

On episode #182 of Build a Better Agency, I talk with Josh Steimle, who has developed a unique business model that is really working for him and the growing team at MWI.

We dig into it all: how to develop a cohesive culture across multiple locations, how to hire well, and how to niche down. What they are doing is still very unique in the agency world but seems to have the potential for replication – as many successful ventures do.

Josh founded MWI in 1999 while a college student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In 2013, he moved from Salt Lake City to Hong Kong to open MWI’s first international office.

Josh is the author of Chief Marketing Officers at Work: How Top Marketers Build Customer Loyalty, a TEDx speaker, and regularly presents at marketing and business events. He has written over 200 articles on marketing and entrepreneurship for publications like Mashable, TechCrunch, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Time.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

 

  • Why there is more than one way to scale a business
  • How to rethink the global agency
  • Why hiring the right person is such a critical decision
  • How a niche service can land you big clients
  • Why even small events can pay off with good business opportunities
  • How to build credibility in the marketplace through strategic partnerships
  • Using credibility to sell your services
  • The ROI of giving away advice
  • Challenge and opportunity in building a global group of micro-agencies
  • Building an agency that is both virtual and face-to-face

Ways to Contact Josh Steimle:

 

 

 

Mar 25, 2019

We talk to clients about positioning every single day. We walk them through differentiation strategies. When they don’t take our advice, we walk away shaking our heads. However, guess who is lousy at taking our own medicine!

I say this all the time, but it bears repeating: Being a generalist is not going to cut it in today’s marketplace. Getting clear on your subject-matter expertise – the heart of your differentiation – has never been more important. I don’t think there is a way to overstate that point.

On episode #181 of Build a Better Agency, I talk with David C. Baker, who has seen it all as a consultant, often working with design firms and agencies. It’s why he wrote the book “The Business of Expertise.”

He speaks regularly on more than 70 topics relevant to entrepreneurial expertise and also appears as a guest on many entrepreneurial focused podcasts.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The most egregious mistake agency owners make
  • Why “seats on the agency bus” does not always equal success
  • Why establishing subject-matter expertise is more important than ever
  • The ideal numbers of prospects and competitors that define strong differentiation
  • How to measure and demonstrate your subject-matter expertise
  • Why your geographic reach is an important metric
  • Why employees are not as interchangeable as they once were
  • How to elevate training in agency culture
  • Why 85% of agencies are niched vertically

Ways to Contact David C. Baker:

Mar 18, 2019

Agencies have an accountability problem and it starts at the top.

Every day, as owners and team members we make promises to our team. I’ll get the copy to you by 5.” Or, “I’ll have my part of the RFP done by Tuesday.” You’ve heard yourself making those commitments and then you hear that voice in the back of your head say, “I hope.”

If we as owners can’t honor our promises, how on earth can we expect our team to honor theirs? As owners and principals, we overfill our schedules. We overpromise – and guess what? The natural outcome of that is we under deliver, let down our team and set up a pattern where pretty soon, they take everything we say with a big grain of salt.

Everything we do, internally and externally, is deadline driven. If you’re wondering why your employees don’t seem to worry about deadlines or other commitments, like budgets, look no further than your mirror. Odds are, without knowing it, you’ve taught them that the promises we make are “fluid.”

We must be accountable – and hold our teams accountable – for time commitments.

This episode of Build a Better Agency is a solocast. It’s all about providing more leadership in our promises to deliver projects (or answers, or whatever the deliverable may be) on time. We’re all incredibly busy, and too often we use that – and accept that – as an excuse.

You don’t want your agency to be a place whose staff members don’t respect each other enough to keep their promises. And you don’t want your agency to let down or embarrass clients because you didn’t deliver something on time. These are the games we play when we don’t take our time commitments seriously, and they have to stop. Accountability is the key to honoring our word and earning our team and clients’ confidence.

Dig into this issue with me and let’s examine a culture that is reluctant to say no. Let’s look at how we track (or don’t track) our time and our employees’ time. Our goal is not to micromanage or pad billable hours but to get a clear handle on whom and what it really takes to deliver on a project so that we are putting enough time in the calendar to get it done on time and within budget.

What You Will Learn on This Episode:

 

  • The difference between expectation and agreement
  • Why accountability for deadlines starts with you
  • How to put more breathing room into your calendar so you can honor your agreements
  • The life-changing magic of timesheets
  • Why internal deadlines are at least as important as client deadlines
  • How to build a traffic management function into an agency of any size
  • How to make accountability a lived core value within your agency

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

Helpful Resources from this Episode:

 

 

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

 

Mar 11, 2019

The number one barrier to growth for agencies in 2019 is staffing. Agencies are struggling to find and keep good talent. And that conversation always leads to the topic of culture. When we think about culture – we often think about the fun stuff – parties, bonuses, and recognizing people for going above and beyond for clients.

All of that is super important but it is also equally critical to instill a culture that seeks, celebrates, and rewards growth. What are the attributes of a growth culture – and how do you make sure your agency has it?

A longtime practitioner in this area of creating a growth culture inside your agency is my guest on this episode: Doug Austin. In this episode, we talk about why that is the key to, in Doug’s words, “having permission to win that business.”

Doug has been doing agency work for many years and now spends his time as a consultant, working with agency owners and leaders to create a culture of growth in their business. We’re going to dig deep into what a growth culture means and how to get it.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

 

  • The steps of a four-tiered plan for growth and innovation
  • Why it is important to know your client’s business inside and out
  • How to build training in the industries you serve into your overall training program
  • How to write a brief that makes sense to your client
  • Best practices for setting up training for agency employees
  • Creating a culture of growth
  • Building a culture based on the worth of all people and doing the best work you can
  • The connection between continuous learning and a culture of growth
  • How to perform a service audit of your agency
  • Dealing effectively with culture culprits

Ways to Contact Doug Austin:

 

Mar 4, 2019

Agency owners are notoriously ill-informed (and uncomfortable) when it comes to their agency’s finances. Which means they make important decisions in the dark. Not ideal and we’re trying to change that at AMI. That doesn’t mean you need to understand all the fine-grain details. But you do have to understand where you stand financially at any given time.

On episode #178, I talk with Jenn McCabe, who started out in accounting at Ogilvy and Mather but soon started her own accounting firm to help small to midsized agencies figure out their numbers.

The numbers you need to know (and if you do any AMI planning, this will sound familiar) should fit on one sheet of paper. We’re not talking about miles and miles of Excel spreadsheets. Just the key figures and concepts you need to understand your agency’s financial health.

We’ll also talk about best practices for preparing your agency for sale when the time comes.

Recently Jenn merged her company with Armanino. They provide, among many other services, outsourced accounting, finance, and HR, working primarily with agencies to create simple accounting dashboards and financial documents that allow the agency owner to make good decisions.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The difference between cash accounting and accrual accounting (and why you NEED to know the difference)
  • The need for accounting rather than bookkeeping
  • Understanding run rate, aka your monthly “nut”
  • Why you need to pay yourself as an owner
  • Best practices around owner salary
  • How much cash and cash equivalents to keep liquid and available
  • How to be an attractive acquisition target
  • Transitioning your employees to new owners
  • Managing an internal agency purchase
  • Why management buyouts are becoming less common

 

Ways to Contact Jenn McCabe:

Feb 25, 2019

Staying on top of the social media landscape and what it means in terms of going from engagement with fans to ultimately generating new opportunities and sales is one of those ongoing tasks in agency life. Algorithms are always evolving, so what got you reach last year – or even last month – might not get you the same reach today.

We are creating social content for clients every day. Add to that the thought leadership we want to develop for our agency – and that’s a lot of social interaction to manage!

On this episode, we dig into the current data. What’s happening on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and, oh, yeah – Twitter.

How do we engage on these social platforms in smart and effective ways? My guest is Scott Ayres of Agorapulse. His Social Media Lab (a literal lab and also a podcast he hosts) digs into this question with gathered and analyzed data to back up any answers given.

Scott has the awesome title of Content Scientist at Agorapulse. He takes what we all believe to be best practices or questions we have around engagement or audience activity or behavior, and he looks for data points that will help us make better choices in terms of how we use these social channels for our agency and clients’ benefit.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What social metrics to measure, and why
  • Why local business pages are still thriving on Facebook
  • How people are using hashtags as “Google”
  • Whether or not emoji usage changes engagement
  • Why you might want to post on social networks before or after peak
  • How social media channels are beginning to segment in a good way
  • Why LinkedIn text-only posts perform better than FB text-only posts
  • Data around the resurgence of the Twitter chat          

Ways to Contact Scott Ayres:

Feb 18, 2019

This is one of those episodes that proves that you don’t know what you don’t know. We’re tackling the subject of health insurance – how to manage costs as an employer since it is such a big-ticket cost for most agencies.

I’ve been an agency owner for the past 25 years or so, and health insurance is something I want to offer because I value my team and want to provide a generous benefit package. But when renewal time comes around, I’m always wondering what kind of increase is coming. Like most of you, it’s usually in the double digits and super painful. Someone (me or my employees) has to endure that increase or we have to increase the deductible or reduce features.

One thing I do know: For all of us, healthcare costs typically one of our biggest expenses and feels completely out of our control.

I wanted to tap into the wisdom of Allison De Paoli, who works with businesses to get more out of every healthcare insurance dollar. She offered some incredible insight on managing the costs, increase the benefits to your team and protect yourself when it comes to renewals.

A veteran of the insurance and benefits industry, Allison and her firm are members of Next Generation Benefits Network (NBN). NBN is a national alliance of elite independent benefits firms that are successfully challenging the healthcare status quo to improve benefits for employees, while reducing the costs for employers.

 

 

 

 

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Creative ways to manage your healthcare line item
  • The difference between a level-funded plan and a standard premium plan
  • Cost savings and other benefits of telehealth programs
  • Finding a benefits advisor who will truly advocate for your best interests
  • How to make sure employees of every age are getting the right kind of medical care
  • Hidden drivers of healthcare costs
  • The role and surprisingly affordable cost of a direct primary care doctor
  • Why self-funded plans are not as scary as you might think
  • How a health savings account can act as a retirement savings vehicle          

Ways to Contact Allison De Paoli:

Feb 11, 2019

When I talk with agency owners, there’s one topic that often comes up in conversation. They say, “I wish my employees would think and act more like owners!” And my question back is, “why would they – they aren’t owners.”

Think about it. As the agency owner, you run the business, and you understand clearly what’s at stake every month. You stand to win or lose something each month when you make or don’t make your adjusted gross income (AGI), and the agency’s performance has a direct impact on your success. If the agency doesn’t do well – you’re the one who does not get a paycheck. But they do.

On the flip side, when the agency does very well, you reap the benefits of that windfall. You might pay out bonuses to your team but rarely do agency owners explain where the bonus came from or what was done to earn it.

Without similar incentives to meet targets, why would the staff feel a sense of ownership that drives their thoughts and actions?

This episode of Build a Better Agency is a solocast – and on it, I walk you through the AMI bonus programs that is designed to teach your team agency math (how we make and lose money) and create incentives so that they do start thinking and acting like an owner.

Ideally, a bonus program educates your team to think like owners, helps with retaining your best people, and shares the spoils from a good year. It also eliminates the obligatory year-end bonus that is not tied to anything but the calendar. As you know, if you give away a bonus a couple years in a row – without tying it to performance metrics, it becomes an entitlement.

Walk through the actual program with me on this episode and be sure to download the PDF so it’s easier to follow along.

What You Will Learn on This Episode:

  • How to incentivize employees to think like owners
  • Why automatic raises might start to backfire
  • Why you should divide quarterly bonus funds evenly
  • How to tell your team the story of why you did or did not hit your AGI target
  • How to be reasonably generous and not ridiculously generous with bonus programs
  • How to adjust AGI goals based on what happened in the previous quarter
  • Why a bonus program is a good retention tool
  • How to build behavioral incentives (continuing ed, time sheets) into your bonus program
  • Why a bonus program can replace conversations about raises

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”        

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Resources:

Feb 4, 2019

Agencies are creative spaces. Especially as owners, we may bristle at the thought of being managed. But as your agency grows, there a definite need for systems and processes that ensure that things get done on time, on budget, and as promised.

I understand that even as the owner I get managed in order to keep tasks and projects on track. As agencies grow and need more structured management of tasks and processes and eventually, a full-time project manager. I did a solocast on the role of the traffic manager, if you’d find that useful.

But on this episode of Build A Better Agency, I have Timothy Johnson as my guest who is a seasoned project manager for hire and a professor of project management at Drake University. Tim also has been known to wear a pink bunny suit for reasons I may or may not be at liberty to discuss.

Bunny suit aside, Tim knows a thing or two about getting down to business. We talk about the needs of project managers, agency owners, and the agency staff. Often project managers feel like the odd person out, especially in the agency world. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Project management is necessary, but it is not an evil. Tim is the perfect guest to help us really understand the ins and outs of project management, and maybe even getting a little excited about upping your PM game.

Tim has successfully led many high-end projects and programs, serving as both a project management consultant as well as a business analyst consultant across the U.S. He is the author of Race Through the Forest and other project management books. Timothy believes in delivering value, completing the deliverable, seizing the accomplishment, and getting out.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Working under the triple constraints: on time, on budget, and delivered as promised
  • Components of a S.H.A.R.P. report
  • How Agile is so useful in scaling the management to the size of the project
  • The communication and other skills to look for in a good project manager
  • How creating quick wins can create buy-in around new process frameworks
  • Why you should avoid the phrases “we need” or “we have a lack of”
  • How to ask for project management to share stories in the interview
  • Why agency owners need to hire people who can manage them
  • How to define the specific requirements of what done looks like
  • How to give project managers time to find their way in a new agency setting          

Ways to Contact Tim Johnson:

Jan 28, 2019

Maybe things run smooth as silk at your agency. I know that’s what I hope for in mine. It’s more likely to happen on a Saturday or Sunday! One of the ways that we all try to evoke that sense of efficiency and calm is by creating processes that systemize and manage work flow.

Not that many agencies do this (if anything, we are system adverse, not system advocates) you can take it too far. There’s a fine line between creativity and process. But if things can run more smoothly and free you and your team up to do more interesting things like coming up with bigger, more valuable solutions for your clients, then the payoff is worth the challenge of getting it in place.

If you remember my solocast where we talked about being a wonder bread factory versus an artesian baker, that’s part of what I talked about. How much uniformity and what kinds of boundaries do you want to put around your business?

There’s no right or wrong answer – just a right or wrong answer for you.

That’s what I wanted to talk to Michael Koral about, because he’s lived it. Michael started out with a more traditional agency that was primarily a web dev shop with some ancillary services. Their work was very labor and people-intensive. He and his partners decided to make an interesting pivot. They decided to leverage the power of artificial intelligence, data and numbers around advertising on Facebook and Instagram – to get people the best results possible and now they run a very different kind of agency.

Michael is an operations guy, with some fantastic ideas on process and automation –he naturally knows how to get more done, more simply. His company, Needls, helps businesses advertise effectively on Facebook and Instagram, so I am going to pick his brain about what they’ve learned in that arena as well. 

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How the right processes and automation can help you scale your business
  • There are lots of right ways to do things
  • Why taking time to document and develop processes makes for a better agency
  • What to know about Facebook advertising post-Cambridge Analytica
  • Click vs. Reach – what you should optimize for
  • Why you NEED to optimize for mobile
  • Best ways to capture attention with video
  • Between Facebook and Instagram, where people are watching longer video content
  • Why you should put closed captioning on videos
  • How and why to track your ads          

Ways to Contact Michael Koral:

Jan 21, 2019

Before the ’08 recession, most agency owners couldn’t fathom the idea of remote employees, let alone working with a virtual assistant they’d likely never meet. But with sites like UpWork and elance teaching us that sometimes it makes good business sense to source work from with someone we’ve never met, the concept of working with virtual assistants has grown in popularity.

In my world, on both the agency and AMI side – we’ve found it to be a very effective way to get a volume of work handled effectively and efficiently.

This is definitely an ongoing topic of conversation with agency owners. How do we keep up with the needs and demands of clients in a cost-effective way, without putting quality or the client relationship at risk. For any agencies, virtual assistants are one of the answers to that question.

On episode #172 of Build a Better Agency, I talk with Barbara Turley of The Virtual Hub. She recognized the need for high-quality VAs and decided to create a business around that need.

We discuss the many upsides of hiring one or more VAs – like freeing up your most scarce resource: time. But we also discuss some of the pitfalls to avoid, especially around rigorous training and expectations on both the VA and the agency side. I found it to be a fascinating conversation and I hope it’s incredibly useful for you.

Barbara is the founder and CEO of The Virtual Hub – a business she started by accident that exploded in the space of 12 months to become one of the leading companies that recruits, trains, and manages virtual assistants in the digital marketing and social media space for businesses who need to free up time and energy so they can go to the next level.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How to set expectations for a virtual assistant – and your agency
  • Understanding the difference between hiring within your national borders and offshoring
  • The right questions to ask about prior training
  • How to share processes around tasks and check in
  • Why you should consider a virtual assistant a permanent and integral part of your team
  • How to integrate a virtual assistant into your team
  • How to choose the right virtual assistant for the right tasks
  • Your role as an agency owner as it relates to virtual assistants
  • Which unwanted tasks you can hand off to a virtual assistant

How to Contact Barb Turley:

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