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Did you swap your 9-5 job to work in your agency 24/7? This is the place many of us find ourselves in. So let’s dig into that in today’s podcast.
[01:13] Info about my brand new free live masterclass: How to be the CEO of your agency rather than a lowly paid employee
[01:52] Why do most people start their own agency?
[02:26] The need for control
[03:15] Getting stuck on the Client Service Hamster Wheel of doom
[03:27] How an agency typical grows
[04:45] My journey as an agency owner
[06:36] Start with a clear business plan
[07:03] Hiring the best staff you can afford
[07:38] Invest time in developing your team to be great client managers
[08:06] Document your Standard Operating Procedures
[08:53] Why you should hire a marketing person rather than business development
[09:32] Put a scalable repeatable marketing system in place
[10:32] Create a senior leadership team as soon as you can and delegate responsibilities to them
[11:22] Focus on your strengths - your ‘superpower’
[12:32] You don’t have to be tied to your business 24/7 - just implement the 8 steps outlined in this podcast
[12:50] Learn more in my free masterclass at dacostacoaching.co.uk/ceo-masterclass
"When you start an agency be careful not to swap you 9-5 job for a 12-hour and a tough boss!” - Rob Da Costa
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Before we jump into today's episode, let me ask you a really quick question. Did you swap your 9 to 5 job when you worked in your previous company to start your agency to find yourself working 24/7 in your new agency? Well, that's a position that a lot of people find themselves in, and I want to dig into why this happens and what you can do to avoid it. So, no matter where you are on your agency journey, whether you're planning to start your agency, whether just starting as a freelancer, or whether you've been running your agency for several years, this episode is going to dig into helping you take control. So, you don't end up working 24/7 in your agency for a much tougher boss than you had when you were in your last full-time job. So, that's what we're talking about 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 to grow and sold 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.
Now, before we dig into today's content, I want to share some really exciting news with you. I'm going to be running a live series of master classes in mid to late September, aimed at agency owners, and it's titled ‘How To Be The CEO of Your Agency Rather Than A Lowly Paid Employee’. And I'm going to share with you three strategies to elevate your role and to start building an agency that's less dependent on you (i.e. a self-running agency). So, do check that out. You can just head over to dacostacoaching.co.uk/CEO/masterclass, and you can save your seat there. And of course, I will put that link into today's show notes as well.
So, let's just cast our minds back to why we started our agency. And again, if you're listening to this and just thinking about starting your agency, then there are some really wise words from us, more experienced people who have been running our agency for a number of years. Basically, I guess we thought we could do it better. We wanted more control over our own destiny and the types of work we did. We wanted flexibility in our life, and we probably wanted freedom, whether that be financial freedom, ultimately, or freedom to pursue other interests or freedom to work, for a certain amount of time. Those are the reasons that we started our agency.
Yet, there's always this kind of contradiction here as well because the other reason why most people start an agency is that they want control because they felt like they didn't have control in their previous job, maybe they didn't like the direction of the company worked for or they didn't like the projects they worked on. So, they start their own business because they want some control. Yet, sometimes the need for control comes at the expense of flexibility and freedom.
And of course, we are kind of quite ego-driven owners of businesses, I think, and we all think that we know better. I certainly did when I started my agency and that ends up, meaning that we end up having our fingers in all sorts of pies, and that means that we work on all the client accounts. And, of course, the clients see us as the most important person in our agency so they want us on their account as well, and this leads us to be stuck on the client service hamster Wheel of Doom. I've spoken about this many times before, where you're so busy, stuck in client service mode that you have no time to breathe, no time to take weekends, and certainly no time to plan for the future of your agency.
So then, fast forward a bit of time, and we start hiring some staff. And, of course, the first staff we hire are usually more junior people because that's what we can afford or we might hire a VA or some remote workers. But as that evolves, if that's a strategy that will keep following, then there becomes a big gap between you and the rest of your team.
And of course, that explains why clients want you on their account. And of course, also, all the team members are looking to you to give them guidance and advice and set strategy and so on. So again, we are more stuck in our business, working this 24/7 kind of mentality rather than the 9 to 5 that we used to have in our old job. And we probably look back on our old job, and we kind of yearn for that a bit because instead of working 9 to 5, we're now working eight till eight, and you're working for a much harder boss than the one you had in your last full-time job.
Now, I'm sharing all of this from a position of experience because these are all things that I went through when I ran my agency for 11 years. And they're also mistakes that I made and mistakes I see other agencies make. Indeed, they often call me and then when they're at this point because they want some help to kind of unpick this and put some strategies and foundations in place for changes, which is what I'm going to share with you in this episode.
So when I started my agency, I ran it on my own almost as a freelancer for the first year. Then I took on a business partner in year two and then fast forward a year, and we hired our first full-time member, which was an account executive, and we grew the agency that way. And like many people, we developed our team internally to grow them, and we had some great success stories with that. But, ultimately, we needed to start hiring more senior people when we could afford it. And the net result of this in the first few years is exactly what I'm describing. I was entrenched in every single client account. I was busy doing pitching. I was trying to market the agency. I was trying to build all the internal structures to make sure we didn't fall over and keep developing offerings. So you are wearing many, many hats, and I wasn't working 9 to 5. I was definitely working this kind of 8 to 8 type of job, and it wasn't accurate if I'm honest with you. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to this.
Certainly, with the 350-plus agencies I've worked with over the past 16 years as a coach and mentor, I've seen that exact cycle time and time again. And it isn't surprising because, obviously, as I said in the early days, we can't afford a lot. We don't want to take too many risks, so we can't afford to hire amazing people. So, we hired junior people, and this big gap exists between you and the rest of them.
So, I thought it would be a really good idea to share with you what some of my clients have done to start building their own self-running agency (i.e. an agency that's less dependent on them). And I just jotted down a bunch of random thoughts, thoughts of the commonalities between what they're doing to be able to start stepping away and be less involved in every aspect of running their agency, or even get to a point where they're only working one or two days a week in their agency, which is completely possible. And some of my clients have done it.
So, it all starts by having a really clear business plan. You need to know where you're going. You need a road map for your agency so that you can assess where you are on that road map and what your focus needs to be next. And then once you start having a team, you need to communicate that plan to the rest of the team because you want them to buy into that journey. You want them to be excited by the destination, and you want them to support you on the road map to getting to that destination.
The next thing that a lot of successful agencies who are trying to extricate the owner from the agency does is hire people to plug that gap that I've been talking about between you and the rest of the team. So, they have a mentality from day one of hiring the best they can afford, rather than kind of cutting corners and hiring a very junior person. Yes, of course, you're going to hire junior people and develop them. But that can't be your only strategy. So, successful agencies hire the best people they can possibly afford which is dictated by the business plan and the road map that they've created.
Then, of course, what they do is they invest the time in training their team to be fantastic client managers. So obviously, that means delivering fantastic work to the clients. But it also means managing them, learning how to say ‘No’, learning how to push back, and learning how to make sure that it is a balanced partner relationship. So, that's the third point that successful agencies implement is great training for their team.
Now the next thing you need to do is put your SOPs in place, your standard operating procedures, so that you're documenting exactly how, for example, you service clients, how you onboard a client, how you run an internal appraisal, how you recruit and so on. So, they start documenting all of this because it creates a platform for growth. And if we have these SOPs in place, then we can scale much more easily. And from a client delivery perspective, we can ensure that every client is getting a consistent experience associated with our brand, no matter who's working on their account, which is super important. And when you have this in place, it becomes easier to have other people servicing clients and convincing your customers that they don't need you on their account.
Now, the next thing successful agencies do as soon as they possibly can afford is to hire a great marketing person. Now, I think hiring a marketing person is a much safer bet than trying to find a business development person because if you get your marketing sorted, then you're going to have a consistent flow of ideal target customer leads coming into your agency, which you can then focus on converting into loyal clients. So, the next thing they do is hire a great marketing person, who can not only deliver a marketing plan and knows all about the latest marketing trends, but actually can put that plan together as well. So, that's point 5 - hire a great marketing person.
Then, the next point is really hand-in-hand with that, which is to put a solid marketing system in place. Now, I'm all about scalable, repeatable systems because if you have these systems in place, it makes it easier to plug people into delivering that system. It mitigates your risk a bit of having one person who has all the knowledge in their head and if they decide to leave you are kind of screwed. So, putting a marketing system in place is really smart. And another smart thing to do is to focus on a few marketing tactics and do them consistently and do them well. That is so much better than trying a bit of this and that because this seems like the latest shiny new object and it doesn't work. And of course, as you know, one of the non-negotiable parts of your marketing system will be to build your email list. And that should be your number one priority because it is from nurturing your list that you will find these ideal target loyal clients. So, that's the next, point six, which is to put a solid marketing plan in place.
And then, point 7 is to create a senior leadership team as soon as you possibly can and start delegating aspects of the business plan to those guys to take some weight off of your shoulders. So, the senior leadership team will be in charge of creating and delivering the business plan and also delivering the components of the business plan, which are like working on your agency tactics rather than in your agency. And they don't all have to fall on your shoulders. So even if you are creating a senior leadership team, which is you and maybe your coach, like me, or a non-exec directorial, one person in your agency. Then, you want to get into the habit of having your monthly meeting and starting this as soon as possible and making sure that the senior leadership team monthly meeting is completely focused on the strategy or the future of your agency and not operational discussions.
And then, the last point, which kind of ties all this together is that when you are able to do all of what I've mentioned, you're able to focus on your superpower (i.e. the things that you as the agency owner, are the best place to do). And you can start to delegate the rest because you now have a team, or you can automate, or you have a system in place. So, focus on your superpower.
And as the agency owner, that normally looks like being the figurehead for the agency. It normally looks like being a big part of setting this strategy for your agency. It will look like business development, and going on those meetings, and closing the deals, and presenting the proposals and pictures, and it will also look like, potentially, getting involved in some client work, but at a strategic level where you are setting the strategy rather than delivering the content.
So, those are eight steps that you need to start implementing to start extricating yourself from your agency and becoming an agency that is self-running. And as I said, when I look at my clients that achieved this, those are the things that they are focusing on that are making a big difference.
So, I hope that's giving you some good food for thought. It's really important to remember that when you run your own business, you don't have to be tied to it working 12-hour days. That might feel like the only option you have, but it doesn't have to be that way. So, if you start to implement the eight ideas that I've gone through, you're going to start taking steps to extricate yourself from the day-to-day and building your own self-running agency.
Now, I'm going to be digging into this topic in a lot more detail and helping you with some other ideas in my master class, which I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, so please do make sure you've registered. Just head over to dacostacoaching.co.uk/CEO/masterclass and save your seat. It's live, so I'll be there to answer your questions. And we're going to be digging into three kinds of key mistakes that people make and three strategies you can implement to start stepping into that CEO role and building an agency that's less dependent on you (i.e. your own self-running agency).
So, I hope to see you in the master class. And, of course, as ever, if you found this episode useful, please do consider leaving a review. I've even put a video into the notes below to show you how to leave a review on Apple. And, of course, please do share the episode with your colleagues. The more people that listen to this podcast, of course, the more people I can help.
So other than that, have a great rest of your week, and I will see you next week for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator podcast.