An agency owner asked me for help—he was overwhelmed by email at work. He felt like he needed to respond to emails immediately, or fall hopelessly behind. During our two-hour coaching call, he was worried that 100 new emails had come in.
I recommended my concept of internal “Office Hours” as a way to help fix this. I’ve seen internal Office Hours help many of my clients—along with things like “heads down” time (where your team doesn’t interrupt you).
Tired of working late most nights? Try internal Office Hours and send me your results. In my experience, it can reduce your internal email volume by 30-50% once you and the team fully adapt.
Let’s look at how you’d roll it out to the team, including details to consider.
[EMAIL TEMPLATE] Launching internal Office Hours
Here’s a suggested email template to introduce the team to the concept of internal Office Hours. Feel free to edit where needed.
SUBJECT: Get faster signoffs: My new internal Office Hours
Hi team! I know I’ve been hard to track down. I’m trying to a new approach to help you get the signoffs you need with a concept called internal “Office Hours.”
Do you remember in college you could go to your professors with questions during their Office Hours? It’s a little like that—and it’s designed to reduce my internal email workload while also getting you answers faster. Here’s how my Office Hours will work:
- Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be in the kitchen from 3:30-4:30pm.
- Come by (in person) with questions, signoff needs, and anything else where you need my help.
- I’ve scheduled this timeslot so that if you need to send things externally (e.g., by EOD), you’ll be able to act on my advice/decision.
- If you need advice, please bring as much of a solution (instead of a problem) as you can. My goal is to do 3-5 minutes per signoff; if we need significantly more, I’ll recommend you come back with more details or schedule a separate meeting.
- I won’t have my laptop/phone out (bring your laptop if you need me to review something) so that I can give you my undivided attention.
- My assistant, <Name>, will sit-in on the Office Hours to help me work through actionables. I’ll also meet with <Name> afterwards, to help get things assigned out as needed.
- Sometimes, I’ll recommend that you make the decision—especially when it’s something you can evaluate better than I based on your role.
We’ll start <two weeks from now> and do a one-month trial. Depending on how the meetings go, I may change the schedule to add or subtract days. But let’s see how it goes—my goal is to make things less crazy during a crazy time.
If you need something from me and you haven’t heard back, stop by my Office Hours; I can probably share the answer there sooner than via email, so you can move forward faster. My goal is to cut my internal email volume by 30-50%.
Let me know what questions you have about the new internal Office Hours concept. Thanks!
<Agency Owner Name>
You’ll want to customize that template to sound like you, of course!
Doing the Office Hours without your phone or laptop may be painful at first, but it’s important to show your team you’re focused on them while you’re there. Seeing is believing.
I recommend bringing a magazine or book. Be aware you may feel some technology withdrawal symptoms. (If you find no one’s coming much at first, you might try bringing your laptop, but close it immediately when someone shows up.)
Concerned about more emails coming in while you’re in Office Hours? It’s going to happen. But if you follow the schedule above (3:30-4:30pm, plus a delegation meeting with your assistant from 4:30-5:00pm), you’ll have 5:00-5:30pm or 5:00-6:00pm to reply to any truly urgent emails. (And if you find you really need more time, you can always move Office Hours an hour earlier.)
Still dealing with too many emails? Check out my advice on handling a flood of emails, from helping an agency owner who was getting 200+ emails a day.
You might also consider tools like Slack—but ultimately, this is about re-training your team about how you need them to communicate. That’s true regardless of the tool.
Question: How many internal emails do you get each day?
One agency owner reached out for help, because one of her new retainer clients was insisting the agency send someone in-person to an out-of-town meeting on less than a week’s notice. It would require a minimum of four hours travel each way, or longer if they flew out the night before.
This agency usually completes all work remotely, so they didn’t have a pricing plan in place for on-site travel within a client’s retainer budget. Yet the client had just signed up less than a month earlier, so it seemed sticky.
She sent me an email draft for feedback before she sent it to the client. Her initial response was somewhat defensive—about how employees needed to arrange for childcare, about how her agency had done this work remotely dozens of times before, and so on.
The reality is, your clients don’t care about your agency’s reasons, they just care about the implications for them. However, you can use that to your benefit—check out this template for ideas to get what you want.
[Template] Email to Client About Travel Expenses
To focus on constructive solutions for the future, here’s the revised email I recommended. It explains how a client can get what he wants… if he follows your rules and pays for the privilege. I’ve gotten my agency client’s consent to share this email out, and names have been changed for privacy. [Read more…]
A few years ago, I was driving to a speaking engagement in South Carolina when I stopped to get gas.
Waiting in line for the bathroom at the gas station, I looked at large bins of over-the-counter medicine—pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, etc.
They were cheap—approximately $1 apiece for a small box of each—but not a great value at 4 tablets per box. Still, I admired their marketing appeal as an impulse purchase.
The sleep aid was in a blue box and the antihistamine was in a pink box. As I continued to wait for the bathroom—the person ahead of me was taking forever—I noticed something odd.
Same Drug, Different Packages
The blue and pink boxes contained the exact same drug. Different dosages, but the exact same drug.
Through different packaging, people would buy them as two different products, to solve two different problems—”I’m itchy” versus “I can’t sleep.” This applies to your work, too!
Look at Your Agency’s Packaging
Look at your agency’s services. Are you packaging them the right way? Does your marketing language resonate with your ideal clients? [Read more…]
The owner of small marketing agency in Oregon shared: “My biggest struggle is letting go of client work and delegating to others.” She was currently doing most of the client work herself, and she was having trouble keeping up.
She’s not the only one—the owner of a design agency in North Carolina asked: “How do I choose between being a creative technologist vs. being the business manager?”
Ultimately, the answer depends on what you want to do all day. For instance, if you don’t enjoy the business side, you can delegate much of that to others—but then you need to ensure someone does it. I call it making yourself “needed but not necessary.”
This problem primarily impacts small agencies (under 10 people) but delegation-avoidance doesn’t discriminate. It can easily apply at larger agencies, too, especially when the owners haven’t changed their approach to match their new headcount.
Imagine your time is worth $1,000/hour
Focus on doing what I call “$1,000 an hour work.” Likely, you’re not literally getting paid $1,000/hour (or €1,000/hour or £1,000/hour or…). Rather, this is shorthand for the high-value work that only you can (or should) do, as the agency owner. For example: [Read more…]
A client recently lost two Account Managers at his agency, when they both resigned during the same week. He asked me, “What’s your advice on the best way to transition high value clients that love [the former AMs] to someone brand new?”
As the owner, you’re responsible for cleaning up the mess—you can keep the clients from leaving, too, but it requires quick yet strategic action. It’s never a great situation, but here’s how to make the most of it.
By the way, you’ve got a non-solicitation agreement, right? You don’t want people quitting and taking clients with them.
Account Manager Turnover: Moving Clients
The owner of an agency asked me, “Why do marketing clients choose one agency over another?”
Creative, high-quality work? Sorry, clients expect that as a minimum. If a prospective client has worked with agencies before (which is preferable for you, so you don’t have to teach them how to be a good client), they’ll likely care about client service. But anyone can say anything about client service.
Clients hire agencies because they trust the agency. They need to trust you to do good work when they’re not in the room, trust you to put them first in the relationship, and trust that your fees are money well spent.
Impressions matter. Your client contact needs to trust that you’re going to make them look good to his or her boss and other stakeholders.
Build trust to win clients: 13 options
How can you build client trust? Follow these 13 tips to grow your agency faster and more profitably.
1) Specialize in the client’s industry.
They know you aren’t learning their industry on their dime. They also assume you’ll know shortcuts they don’t have yet. Here’s how to choose a vertical specialization.
2) Share a summary of your onboarding process and client service approach in general.
Demonstrate that you aren’t making it up as you go along. Want to do better? Sign up for my newsletter—you’ll get a free copy of my eBook on how to improve (or start) your agency’s client onboarding process. [Read more…]
I recently got rear-ended at a stoplight. After I reported the claim, my insurance company referred me to a body shop for an estimate on the bumper damage.
While I waited in the lobby for the estimate, the receptionist was chatting with other customers. A customer asked why she was wearing a sweater on such a hot day. She said she has visible tattoos and corporate policy requires her to keep them covered up. He said he works for the fire department and his tattoos aren’t a problem there.
It was an interesting contrast—the fire department is focused on employee results, while the body shop is focused on employee appearances.
Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself—I have a client whose agency has a tattoo reimbursement policy, at $200 per employee. (Note: There are no brand requirements—the tattoo does not have to be the agency’s logo.) They’re encouraging employees to get more tattoos.
Policies? Yes. Stupid policies? No.
As agencies grow, they typically add more policies and procedures. Procedures are good if they’re well thought out, because you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Policies help keep your company running optimally, but there’s a risk—you hurt morale and retention if employees feel like they’re following a million stupid rules. It’s up to you to convey why the rules matter. [Read more…]
Have you heard the classic guerrilla marketing story about fashion designer Kenneth Cole? It bears repeating, as you think of ways for your agency stand out against the competition.
When Kenneth Cole launched his company in 1982, he couldn’t afford to rent a booth at the Market Week trade show in New York. He wanted to set up a trailer on the street to hawk his shoes to the corporate buyers inside the Hilton New York Hotel and stand out from the 1,100 other shoe vendors. But there was a problem…
The Birth of a Shoe Company
When Cole went to the city to get a permit, the Mayor’s office said only two companies can park trailers on the street: utility companies… and film production companies.
He promptly changed his company’s name to Kenneth Cole Productions, and applied for (and received) a film permit. Two weeks later, he set up his 40-foot “movie” trailer across the street from the Midtown convention hotel. To complete the scene, he had actors, cameras, and klieg lights. Their “movie” was called The Birth of a Shoe Company. [Read more…]
An agency owner reached out for help. She had struggled to deliver results for one of her clients, and the client was now talking to another agency. Worse, her client wanted to get her work audited by the competitor—they asked the other agency to review what my client’s agency had done!
I’ve been in two similar situations as an agency PM. It’s a terrible feeling—as if you’re getting audited by the government. On top of that, it’s hard to justify billing for the time you need to invest to support the audit, which can become endless.
In both situations, the other agency confirmed my agency had done the right thing. I felt vindicated, but the two client relationships were ultimately broken. When there’s so little trust, even the assurance that “they did the right thing” isn’t enough to restore the relationship to where it once was.
What to do when a client asks for an audit
Clients traditionally will do an “agency review” when they want to hire a new agency. But a mid-engagement audit is worse—your client hasn’t directly said they’re going to fire you, but things are heading in that direction. You may feel powerless.
Find out their underlying concern
Take a step back and find out; what is the larger concern your client seems to have? Why have they stopped seeing you as the Trusted Advisor?
During her coaching program, an agency owner asked me: “I get requests from people I do not know, pretty regularly on LinkedIn. I typically do not accept requests when I don’t know the person—what’s your protocol on this sort of thing? Should I be more open?”
Everyone has their own policy. When I was an employee, I wouldn’t accept connections unless I’d met the person face-to-face (to ensure they passed a “not crazy” test).
As a business owner, I realized that earlier approach was too restrictive—especially because I noticed prospective clients would (sometimes) reach out to connect with me. In those cases, the LinkedIn connection request was often their first overture.
I don’t auto-approve everyone, but if they’re an agency leader, I assume they either need help now or are connecting in anticipation of wanting future help.
My 5-step process
Here’s my step-by-step process for handling random LinkedIn requests: [Read more…]