In the first year of running our agency, we do anything to survive, in effect we are just trying to prove we can run an agency but after that, if we don’t have a clear vision and plan, we are in danger of going around in circles and working longer hours for a much tougher boss! There are so many reasons you need to have a clear vision, strategy and plan for your agency. But the process can get overly complex, end up not being helpful and can feel like a ‘tick box’ exercise.
Yet hands down, the biggest thing that held me back from growing my agency as fast as I wanted whilst feeling in control, was not being clear enough about where the business was going.
It wasn’t that I had no idea what I wanted – it’s just that no one ever told me how crucial it was to have an exact destination in mind when setting out to grow your agency.
And without that vision, it can be easy to feel lost, directionless and demotivated.
[01:21] Why you need to have a clear vision, strategy and plan for your agency
[02:44] The importance of having a proactive plan to drive your business forwards
[03:15] Focus on putting the infrastructure in place to create a platform for growth
[03:45] Likening your vision to a journey - what could possibly go wrong?!!
[05:20] Create a plan for your agency in the same way you would map out a journey
[05:40] Start with your longer-term vision and work backwards
[06:15] Never cast a plan in stone but instead update it on what you know today that you didn’t know yesterday
[06:58] The way to break your bigger vision down into tangible action steps
[09:00] Don’t let external factors drive the direction of your agency
[09:28] Bring your team along with you - a situation to avoid
[11:45] Ideas to keep your plan alive
“Without having a clear vision, you can feel lost, directionless and demotivated.” - Rob Da Costa
“Never cast a plan in stone but instead update it on what you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.” - Rob Da Costa
“Your business vision and plan is so much more than just a finance plan” - Rob Da Costa
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For many of us, when we start our agency in the first year, we are just trying to survive. We take any kind of business we possibly can. We network with past contacts to try and get business in, and we're really just trying to prove that we can survive in the first year. But once we get through that, and hopefully, you survive and thrive, we need to start thinking about why we are running our agency and what the longer term goals are. And if we don't start to have that vision, then we have a real danger of just going around in circles.
And we have a real danger of ending up working for a boss that's much harder than our previous boss and working long hours. So that's what I want to dig into in today's episode of the podcast. So let's get started. 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 own 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 guest's experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business.
So I hope you can relate to the journey that I just outlined in that first year in the early stages of running your agency. I'm sure it will be familiar to you, as it was to many of my clients and to me. But once we get that beyond that sort of proof of concept, we need to start thinking about what our longer term plans are. There are so many reasons why you want to have a clear vision for your business and then break that down into strategies and monthly plans because we want a sense of where we're going, and we want to be able to measure where we are on that journey.
I've got to say, when I ran my agency, it was probably the biggest thing that stopped the agency from growing as fast as I wanted while still feeling in control. And, of course, that meant I didn't really have enough clarity about where the business was going. And in the end, that led to stress and frustration, a kind of disillusionment now. It wasn't that I had no idea what I wanted in the business. It's just no one had actually told me how crucial it was to have a sense of exactly where we were headed and then break that down into bite-sized chunks so that we can measure it on a day-to-day basis.
And as I said, without having that vision, it can be really easy to feel lost, direct, feel, directionless and feel demotivated. If you've been here, you know how this feels. You started your agency with the best of intentions, hoping to build a business that works for you, not the other way around. But before you knew it, you were working just as hard as you ever did. And it was like having a job again with more stress, more worry, less money and a much more demanding boss. Now, this happens when you don't proactively set your plans in advance.
When your growth strategy is solely reactive, and it's completely focused on client acquisition and retention, then it feels like there's no plan needed. After all, you just keep pitching. You just keep winning new business, you grow, and you start creaking at the seams. And you think, oh, well, I'll deal with the fallout later because I'm so focused on client service stuck on the client service hams to will. However, that fallout comes when you don't pay attention to building the critical infrastructure you need to support these clients. That means putting the right team in place really focused on the right systems and processes to build a robust platform.
Having clarity around your marketing system, your conversion system and your attention system, as well as getting really clear on your niche and your core offering. They all really matter. But sometimes, we don't realise we need these things until everything starts toppling over. Now, if you've listened to my podcast before you've read some of my content, you know that I often liken the agency's vision to planning a journey. Now, if we've got a destination in mind but we've got absolutely no plan of how to get there. Well, we may well still get there, but more than likely, it's going to be paying for, it's going to take longer, and it's going to cost more money.
You might run out of fuel on your way. You might have nowhere to sleep for the night. Or you may end up hanging around for ages at an airport or a train station waiting for that train because you did not plan ahead of time. And without a plan, you also have no contingency in place for when that flight gets cancelled, for example. Now let's extrapolate this even further. Imagine the same scenario, but now you've got a team. Maybe you share that destination with the team, so you like to share the bigger picture vision with them and then because you've got no strategy behind that, you say go, and everybody heads off in their own direction with their own thoughts of how they're going to get to that final destination.
And, of course, people may get there. They were going to get there at different times. Some people will get lost. Some people will never get there. But let's face it, it's going to be complete chaos. Now let's consider that journey again. But this time, you have got a plan in place, so the longer-term vision for your agency is the final destination. The strategy is how you are going to get to that destination, whether you're going to take a plane or a train or car or walk or cycle or whatever.
And then the detailed plan is what you need to do i.e. What time do you need to get to the airport? You need to book that ticket. You need to reserve accommodation, need to stop here to refer to fuel and so on. I think you get the picture. Now you need to apply exactly the same principles of planning a journey to planning your agency's future direction by creating that vision, the destination, the strategy, which is how you're going to get there, and then the plan is the specific steps of what you need to do.
So my advice is, you start with the longer-term vision, and this is typically the sort of 3 to 5 years. It might be less than that in the early days because you probably can't see that far forward. And this is going to be a high-level set of wishes, a bit of blue sky thinking about what you'd like to achieve in those 3 to 5 years because then we're going to break that down to give you the stepping stones to actually getting there. So the next stage is to create your one-year plan.
What are the big projects that you're going to work on in the next year that are going to deliver the goals for that year and also drive towards that bigger-picture vision now? A really important point to say here is that, we need to make sure that we don't cast this plan in stone, but rather we keep it nimble and dynamic to reflect what we know today that we didn't know yesterday when we wrote the plan. And in my experience, this is one of the key reasons why so many visions and business plans fail. They get cast in stone, a big sort of away day for a few days, and they get put on the wall.
No one really looks at it. Lots of things change, and then a year later, we look at it again and say, "Oh, we did that, or we completely failed to do that". And the plan becomes something to beat people up and demotivate people rather than something that really motivates people. Now, in order to create these stepping stones, we need to take the year plan, and we now need to determine the quarterly projects. What are the key focus areas for the next quarter that are going to give us the stepping stones to delivering the year plan?
And, of course, we repeat this process four times a year, constantly assessing and adjusting as needed. And now, we're going to repeat the same process again, taking the quarterly objectives and determining what activities working on the agency activities we're going to do this month. That takes us towards delivering those quarterly objectives. And there you have it. Now you have some stepping stones of what you're gonna do this month to deliver the quarter's goals, what you're gonna do this quarter to deliver the year's goal and then what you're going to do this year to drive towards the bigger picture vision.
Now, this all may sound really simple, and quite honestly, it is a fairly straightforward process. But you would be amazed at how few agencies have something like this in place. They may well have a finance plan for the year. That's something that they've got really used to. But they don't take time to put the pause button on and look at their business from a high-level view and work out what are the crucial tasks when they have time allocated to work on the business they should be focused on.
And, of course, because they don't have this plan, they also don't give themselves enough time to work on the business. The excuse of being stuck on the client service helps to be in real demand by their clients who have no time to breathe. And then, of course, everything starts to fall over. As I outlined in the introduction, quite simply, if you don't know where you're going, you won't know if what you're doing today is helping your business or if it's strangling it. And you certainly won't be taking steps towards building an agency that is less dependent on you, i.e.the self-running agency. So take some time to sit down and figure out where you want your age to be. A year from now, be realistic but don't be afraid to think bigger, and Bill Gates sums this up really well by saying “we always overestimate what we can achieve in the next year, but we underestimate what we can achieve in the next five years”. So really, bear that in mind now -- without this vision, we flounder. We don't know which option to choose. So we choose whatever is the easiest or whatever pays us the most money right now or, quite frankly, whoever shouts loudest.
But this approach costs us a long time, and we always will end up being at the mercy of external factors such as a recession. We are definitely in reactive mode rather than proactive mode. Now, if you've got a team, you obviously need to make sure that they want to come on this journey with you. So that means that you need to communicate your vision to the rest of the agency, and you need to do this in the right way. Let me just take an aside here and tell you a quick, true story.
So a few years ago, I was working with a mid-sized agency of about 40 people, and the CEO was doing his annual State of the Nation presentation on the vision that he had spent many hours developing for the following year, and I sat in the audience that day, so I could give him some feedback, and I noticed that as time went on, the presentation lasted about an hour. People in the audience were becoming less and less engaged, and the CEO was getting more and more frustrated. I realised that he was presenting his vision that he was excited about, and quite frankly, most of the team was sitting there thinking, "This sounds like hard work, or that's all fine".
But what's in it for me now? As aware leaders, we need to be mindful of this and ensure that we answer those questions that our audience is thinking about. And we make sure that not only are we excited, but we instill that excitement into our team as well. And that means kind of preempting the questions that they're going to ask and answering them in your presentation. Now it's worth noting that the agency leader is always several steps ahead of their team in terms of thinking and the evolution of the agency.
And in the example I just shared with you, there was a disconnect between the excitement of the MBMD and the audience's reaction to the content that was being presented, and the issue was, As I said, the MD was ahead of his thinking in the business, and he wasn't standing in the shoes of his audience. So sharing your vision with others in a way that compels them to act as the success for a successful vision. Yet to do this, you have a really strong empathy with your team and acknowledge that not everyone cares as much as you or can think in this bigger-picture way.
And this also means that you might need to cut down on the bigger picture and present it in more manageable chunks that the team members can relate to and therefore buy into now already alluded earlier that one of the key reasons why so many business plans fell is because they get cast in stone when they're created, and they are only looked at periodically, maybe even once a year. However, if you want to keep your plan alive and reflective of where your agency is today, then you need to be using them regularly, reviewing them regularly and updating them with the information that you know today that you didn't know yesterday.
Now I'm a big fan of collaboration. So if you have a senior team, even if it's just you and one other person, then make sure you create the vision collaboratively, and then you delegate aspects of the monthly plan to your management team. And this is a great way of getting buy-in and ownership from a senior team, which will then cascade down through the rest of the agency. And to that end, really good practice. If you do have a management team, use your vision as the basis of your monthly management meetings to keep them in a strategic space rather than diving down into the weeds and discussing tactics or operational issues.
And, of course, as I've been saying, be willing to keep evolving and changing the plan based on current events in and outside of your agency. So there you go in 10 minutes. I've shared with you why I think having a plan is so important, and I think if you want to create and grow a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable agency, then you need a vision, strategy and plan. And if you want to stay in control of your agency's journey and the direction, they're going again. You need a vision, strategy and plan, and if you want to have a motivated line team, you need a vision, strategy and plan.
It doesn't have to be complicated. Start with a longer term, then do the year. Then do the quarter, then do the month and make sure. Obviously, each month you're creating the following months and every third month, you're creating the next quarters, and then every year, you're creating the next year. It's not a complicated process. It's just one that we make complicated, or we don't even know where to start, so we never do it. And as I said, the result of that is that you will always be at the mercy of external factors, and you won't feel in control of the growth of your agency.
So 100 reasons why you should do this and no reasons why you shouldn't. Quite frankly, this is one of the key modules that we focus on for members of the self-running agency Implementation Group because it's so foundational for everything else that you're going to do as well. So I hope you found that episode useful. If so, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. Please share it with your colleagues. And please do consider leaving a review on Apple podcasts because it helps the algorithms show it's more people.
I've even put a little video in the show notes to show you how to do that. But other than that, I will see you next Thursday for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.