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The 2 most common questions that marketing agency owners ask me never really change.  They are about finding a consistent flow of new business and hiring & retaining great talent. 

Now, admittedly, those two priorities have switched because as I record this episode there is a huge global skills shortage which the agency sector is not immune from. 

But new business is never far from people's minds because they want to avoid feast or famine in their agencies. So that's what we're digging into today by discussing 4 strategies that the agency owner (even if you are a freelancer) must focus on to deliver a consistent pipeline of ideal new clients.

Time Stamp

[01:14] The 2 biggest challenges for agency owners right now

[01:48] 2 key reasons agencies lurch from feast to famine - a story of the wrong focus!

[02:46] What happens when your agency is in a place of famine?

[04:07] 4 tasks that YOU must focus on to avoid lurching from feast to famine

[04:41] Focus area 1: Building your brand with passion

[05:55] Focus area 2: You are the best person to be heading up your new business strategy (because you see the bigger picture, understand your business and will be passionate about it).  Remember that the best new business strategies deliver in the medium to long term so get started today if you want to see a return!

[07:15] Beware of Shing New Objects!

[09:02] Focus area 3: Planning for the future.  You are the captain of your ship so make sure you are steering your ship in the right direction and make sure you allocate time to do this every month.

[10:11] Focus area 4: Running your agency to ensure your well-oiled machine operates efficiently (which means managing the team, admin, finance, systems & processes etc.)

[11:00] What happens if you agree with the above but are completely stuck in ‘client service mode’?

[11:10] Get better boundaries and work on your mindset

[13:00] Apply the above to avoid being in ‘famine’ - it's not a great place to be!

[13:44] Challenge your thinking to apply today’s podcast advice

Quotations

“You must focus on your SUPERPOWERS - the tasks that only you can do.” - Rob Da Costa
“It doesn't matter about the great work you do if no one knows about you!” - Rob Da Costa
“The best new business strategies deliver in the medium to long term - so get started today!” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Two of the most common questions that agency owners ask me are all about hiring people and retaining great talent and finding a consistent flow of new business. Now, admittedly, right now, those two priorities have switched because the issue is around finding talent, which I think everybody globally is having, and that's true in the agency sector. But new business is never far from people's minds because they want to avoid feast or famine in their agencies. So, that's what we're digging into today. And let's get on with the show.

I'm Rob Da Costa and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started growing and selling my agency and just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests' experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable business when a new client approaches me for either private coaching or to join my membership itself running agency.

Invariably they have one of two key challenges that they're trying to solve. They’re either trying to build a team and they're struggling with that because it's difficult to get and retain great talent or, more commonly, they come to me because they are struggling to grow. They have hit a brick wall, which they keep bashing their heads against, and they want some help to put in place some robust, repeatable strategies that will give them a consistent flow of new business. S,o they are never lurching from feast or famine. 

So, let me kick this off by painting a picture of what leads so many agencies to go from a place of feast where things are really good and abundant to a place of famine,  where they are in scarcity and it is challenging, and they end up making poor decisions.

So, this has probably happened to you. It's happened to me several times, and it's not a very pleasant place to be. So, what leads to it? So, we start winning new clients, we get very excited about that. We want to do a fantastic job for those clients, so we are super focused on service levels, and we end up being stuck on the client service hamster wheel of Doom, trying to do a great job for those clients. We have absolutely no time to focus on anything else and that includes thinking about the future of our agency and having new clients waiting in the wings to join us. And guess what happens? Well, those projects end either because they have a natural life cycle or because the client decides to stop working with us. And often that's got nothing to do with the quality of our work. It's got much more to do with what's going on in their business. And so suddenly, we are staring at a big gap in our order book, and at this point, we start lurching into a pace of famine.

Now, the thing about famine is that we start making really poor decisions. So, when we're in a space of famine, we desperately need those new clients because we've got bills to pay. We might have staff to pay. We've got office facilities to pay, maybe. And of course, we've got all sorts of other costs. So, we have to bring in a certain amount of revenue each month. So, now we need clients, so we're going to make some poor decisions because we don't have loads of clients waiting in the wings. And those poor decisions normally look like taking on any kind of business because we just need the money. And those types of clients are very difficult to do a good job for because we don't really understand them. They don't necessarily fit in our ideal target customer, our customer avatar. So, they are difficult to service, and that probably leads to short-term relationships because they don't quite understand us and we don't understand them. So, that's one bad decision we make. 

And then, the second poor decision we make is that we discount our services because we see that as a way of winning business. And when we discount our services, then we're not going to be as profitable as we would hope. We are having all our time sucked up in these unprofitable clients. And of course, in the end, we kind of resent working on them because we know we could be doing more profitable work. So, there are lots and lots of reasons why we don't want to end up in a space of famine.

Now, I've talked about feast and famine before. If you go back to Episode 69, I shared seven strategies to avoid feast or famine. But today, what I want to focus on to help you avoid feast or famine is to help you focus on the tasks that move your agency forward. Those are the tasks that only you can do if you like. They are your superpowers, and they normally fall into one of four categories. So, that is: (1) building your brand like you, (2) being the figurehead for your agency, (3) focusing on new business planning for the future, and then the fourth one is (4) running your agency. So, I want to dig into each of those four areas and talk about what you should be doing. And then we'll talk about how you can make sure you have time to focus on those four areas. 

So, the first one is all about building your brand. And this is the obvious one because as the leader of your agency, whether you are a one-person agency or a 20-person agency, as the leader of your agency, you should be the figurehead. And you should be going out there being the cheerleader for your agency. And that looks like making sure that your LinkedIn profile is under your name. It looks like doing speeches, and being featured on podcasts like this, and videos, and webinars, and all of that kind of stuff. So, you want to make sure that you have time in your diary to focus on building your brand because, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great you are. If people are not aware of you and you don't have a good brand reputation, then people are not going to buy from you. 

Now, one of the reasons why the owner of the agency or the leader of the agency is the best person to build that brand and be that figurehead is because they are always going to talk with passion, and they are always going to talk from their heart. And at the end of the day, when you are building your brand, you want to have one person that is giving a very consistent message across all of your major platforms that your ideal target customer will engage with. So, that's the first strategy, which is building your brand.

Now, this goes hand in hand, which is our second strategy, which is all around new businesses. Now, it's worth saying and reminding you that most robust new business strategies deliver in the medium to long-term, which I know can be really frustrating when you are in a place of famine. You need business now, which is why knee-jerk decisions on new business can be a disaster. Because, as I said, you would take on any type of client and you charge low fees just to win it. So, my advice to you is that you will never get to the delivery of medium to long-term strategies, like new business strategies, unless you start today. 

So, let me say that again. You will never get to the delivery aspect of new business strategies if you don't start today because they are all going to deliver in the medium to long-term the types of strategies I'm talking about. 

Here are things like building your email list, building your social media presence, and building your brand through partnerships through speaking and through running things like Webinars and being guests on other people's podcasts, and all that kind of stuff. I'm not going to dig into that today because that's not the theme of the podcast today. But you just need to remember that all new business strategies deliver in the medium to long-term. So, if you don't start today, you will never get the results. Now, of course, we're bombarded with all sorts of shiny new objects, telling us that there's a new approach to winning new business, but the truth of it is you either have time or you have money. And if you've got money, you can throw lots of money at the problem by advertising or by hiring an expensive new businessperson, which should be honest, really works out. Most of us don't have money, so therefore we need to invest the time, and that means doing a few new business strategies and doing them really consistently so they will start delivering new results.

My marketing is pretty streamlined, so everybody should be focusing on their email list that is non-negotiable. So, that's one of the key things I do. And as you know, I sent my list an email every single week, which is all about serving, not selling. So, all about providing value. And the second thing I do is this podcast, which again I publish every week. And this is about me building up my audience and me building credibility with my audience. So, when my audience is in enough pain, they can reach out to me to help them solve that pain. And that's exactly what you need to do now.

The reason why you are the best person to lead new business because you can see the bigger picture. You can see feast or famine. You understand your business. And as I said, you can sell with passion and whether that be creating content such as a podcast or writing again, you are the best person to lead that charge. That doesn't mean you need to do all of the implementations. It just means that you need to be setting out the strategy, you need to be providing your writers with good content, and so on. 

So that strategy number two, which is all about new business and there's a whole lot more to say. But as I said, this episode of the podcast isn't focused on new business, but I will put links in the show notes to some of what I'm talking about in this category so that you can listen in more detail if you wish. 

Strategy number three or focus area number three is about planning for the future. And again, you have to be the best person to do this. You are the captain of your ship, and you need to be steering the course of your ship towards that beautiful desert island rather than not steering the ship and ending up hitting an iceberg. So again, you need to make sure you're allocating time to plan for the future. 

Now, what does planning for the future mean? Well, first of all, it means having a really clear roadmap. So, having your vision, having your quarterly strategy, and your monthly plan. 

Second, avoid it might be leading a leadership team if you're big enough to have one and making sure you allocate time every month to focus on the delivery of that plan and plotting the course for the future. And of course, planning for the future also incorporates new business and just making sure you're carving out time to create your plan and deliver your plan, and that your time isn't completely sucked up by client delivery and all of your clients wanting you to work on their accounts. And therefore, you have no time protected to focus on the future of your agencies. That is focus area number three, which is planning for the future.

And the fourth area is all about running your agency. So, these are the tasks that you do that are usually a cost to your business because the time spent isn't earning money, either today or in the future, but is making sure that your well-oiled machine is running efficiently. So, these will be things like managing your team, recruiting a team, managing freelancers, and managing a virtual assistant. It will be making sure that you get your invoices out on time every month so you don't have cash flow issues. And it will also be developing and documenting all of the systems and processes that enable your agency to run well today, but also put the foundations in place to help you grow in a pain-free and seamless way. So, that is the fourth area, which is all about running your agency. 

So, those are the four areas: building your brand, getting consistent new business, planning for the future, and running your agency. And you might be sitting here nodding your head as you listen to me, but thinking, “Rob, I am completely stuck in client service mode. I have absolutely no time to do any of this.” So, my advice to you is that you have to get better boundaries. You have to protect your time, and you have to change your mindset around this. Rather than thinking, “I have eight hours a day, five days a week, which is available to client service.” You need to change your mindset and think, “Well, actually, I only have four days or three days a week that is available for clients, and those are the times where I can book clients in, and these other times are protected to work on the four areas that I've just outlined.” And that is time that isn't available. 

Now, again, shaking your head thinking, “That sounds fine, Rob, but I don't get much choice about when clients want to work with me.” Yeah, I get that, and you have to learn to say ‘No’ to your clients. And it's a game here. If a client has absolutely no other time, but a time when you had scheduled to work on the agency - the future, then you just move that block of time somewhere else. The key thing is that you protect the time over your month to work on those four areas. 

We all have examples of good boundaries. I hope that none of you is working late into the evening. I also hope that you guys aren't working over weekends. So, you already have an example of where you are protecting time and getting good boundaries in place. Now, you just need to change your mindset to think, “How much time do I have available to do client work?” And if you're winning the right kind of clients and you're charging the right kind of fees, then it doesn't need to be five days a week. It can just be 3.5 or 4 days a week, and you're still going to hit your numbers. But you're also going to make sure that you are avoiding lurching from feast to famine because you're always protecting the time to work on building your brand, focusing on new business, planning for the future, and running your agency. 

Trust me. If you do this, you will stop lurching from feast to famine. And if you've never been in a place of famine, then it is not a nice place to be. As I've said before, I've been in famine twice in the 16 years of running this agency. And after the second time, I said to myself, “Rob, how many times do you want this to happen?”. It's just not a good place. It's stressful. It means you end up working long hours and you make bad decisions as I've already said.

So, I put the strategies that I'm teaching you because I practise what I teach. I put these strategies in place to make sure I have enough time to focus on building my brand, new business, planning for the future, and running your agency. So, I want you to understand that a lot of getting this right is around your mindset. And so, if you are very resistant to what I'm saying, I just want you to challenge your thinking, to realise that you can say ‘No’ to clients. You can push back professionally and you can put boundaries in place.

So, I am going to step off my soapbox now and wrap this episode up. I hope you found it useful. As I said, if you go back to Episode 69, I share seven other strategies to avoid feast or famine. But today, I just wanted to focus on those four areas that you need to make sure you're allocating time to, no matter how busy you are, to ensure that your agency has a consistent pipeline of new clients waiting in the wings. So, that you never lurched from feast to famine.

I hope you found that useful as ever. Please make sure you've hit the subscribe button. Please share this episode with your colleagues. And if you found it useful and you found previous episodes useful, I would love you to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever platform you listen on, because that helps the algorithms show my podcast to more people just like you, which means I can impact more people. But other than that, I hope you have a great rest of your week and I will see you next Thursday for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator podcast. 

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