I have worked with some 500 agencies over the past three years and have asked the same basic questions using an exercise with Post-Its. The exercise is called Objectives, Barriers and Enablers. The three questions are:
- What are your objectives? What are you trying to achieve?
- What are the barriers? What’s holding you back?
- What are the enablers? What do you need to do to overcome the barriers or achieve the objectives?
Agency owners furiously write down one idea per Post-It then all the Post-Its (9 or so per owner) are examined and then grouped by common title. Finally, they are given a number of votes to distribute/allocate according to what they think is most important. It is a form of democratically prioritising group issues. I never interfere with the process. I just talk the delegates through what they should do. They choose the groupings. They choose the title of each grouping.
Consistently, agency owners (whether in New York, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Singapore or Manchester) come up with five pretty much identical groupings as follows, although sometimes the order changes.
1. Getting more/better clients
2. Getting more/better profit/cash
3. Getting more/better people
4. Getting more/better time management/quality of life
5. Getting more/better direction/focus/clarity
Clearly there are many subsections. For instance, the clients heading might include better marketing and sales machine, bigger fees, better clients, more retained clients and so on; the people heading might include recruitment, training, retaining, motivating, rewarding, culture and so forth.
My question is as follows. Does it always have to be this way?
Do agency owners always have to struggle with these Big Five issues? Is there a magic silver bullet or a simple way to make these less of a burning issue? Or is this just how business is?
What I know from interviewing and working with some of the finest independent agencies is that some agencies seem to have cracked these issues better than others. And different issues come to the fore at different times in an agency’s life-cycle.
Maybe the secret to running and growing a successful agency is to address each of these five subjects head on. Decide your goals and be prepared to pay the price. But do not put your head in the sand.
There is no magic and there is no great secret although the gurus would like to wrap it up as one. It is the agency owner/directors that work on the business, creating and implementing the systems and processes for each of the Big Five Issues that are able to deliver remarkable results.
The question is, do you spend enough time working on the business rather than working in it?