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?
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…]
When you’re slammed at work, it’s tough to keep up with anything that’s not a top priority. But that doesn’t stop day-to-day inquiries from coming in. This can feel even more stressful, as you try to focus on the top priority while new things keep piling up.
There’s good news—”away” messages are your friend!
It’s all about expectations management. When someone knows you’ll be slow to respond, they won’t get annoyed that you haven’t gotten back to them yet. And if you give them a way to escalate (if it’s an emergency), they’ll have a workaround if they truly need to reach you sooner.
I’ve identified six ways you can manage client and employee expectations when you don’t want to be interrupted. As an agency leader, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first.
6 Ways to Push Back: Email, IM, and More
You can reclaim your schedule—let’s look at how to use “away” messages (and related tools) to fight back!
1) Email: Use Your “Out of Office”
You don’t have to be out of the office to use your “Out of Office” auto-responder. To buy time when you’re underwater at work, put up an Out of Office to say something like: [Read more…]
Want this to be your agency’s best year yet? Raise your right hand and repeat after me…
- I will focus my time and energy on my best employees, not my worst employees.
- I will focus on my agency’s best clients, and fire our worst clients.
- I will make my agency’s marketing as good as our clients’ marketing.
- I will put on my own oxygen mask first.
- I will create and follow a personal strategy as an agency leader.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these. [Read more…]
Want to stop wasting time and get more done at your agency? You should know two time management concepts—yak shaving and bike shedding. I bet you can start using these today.
Yak Shaving: slowly nibbling your way from A to B
Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.
Yaks are pretty cute, but you need to be sure the interim steps are worth it.
Or, as my friend Alison wrote about “Scribbles,” a yak in Montana (see right), “She likes to be petted, though sometimes she forgets to be careful with her horns.”
An Example of Yak Shaving
Spending too much time yak shaving can be bad for your projects’ long-term schedules—and a yak’s horns might be sharper than you expect.
For example, if an existing client calls one of your account managers to ask how much it would cost to do a particular thing, the following steps might be yak-shaving rather than productive: [Read more…]
A coaching client reached out for help—the agency owner wrote, “I have trouble setting aside blocks of time to work on specific things and then sticking to it.”
It’s tough—everyone struggles with this, because you’re fighting human nature. Running an agency is especially hard—clients and employees are interrupting you all day long.
This is the age-old “work ON the business, instead of work IN the business” situation.
Consider these three suggestions, based on my experience advising busy agency owners in 20 countries: [Read more…]
How many emails do you get each day? 100? 200? 500? I bet it’s a lot—and you often feel like you’ll never catch up.
I did a screen-sharing Calendar Review last week with a client, the agency’s head of operations. In 15 minutes, she got a dozen new emails, more than half of which required reading, and a third of which required a response from her.
Over the course of a workday, that’s 400+ emails—including 100+ that needed a response from her. And that doesn’t count going on vacation or being out sick—you need a vacation from vacation just to catch up!
Email is tough—especially internally—because your responses unlock progress for others. There is a multiplier effect in that (good), but it also creates a heavy burden on you to avoid becoming a bottleneck (bad). Systems like Slack can eliminate email—but they also create a new system to monitor.
Inbox Zero might feel good, but it misses the point—as an agency owner, y0ur job is to make better decisions, not have an empty inbox.
When it comes to solving the “email flood” problem for you, there are two approaches—one tactical, one strategic. Most people struggle because they focus on the tactical approach alone, without fixing the underlying problem. [Read more…]
I’ve held weekly Office Hours—free and open to the public—since January 2014. That’s 110+ meetings, after subtracting weeks when I was out of town. Mine are [nearly] every Tuesday in an independent coffee shop near my office.
You should do Office Hours, too—it’ll help your agency on sales, recruiting, and time management.
I got the idea from technologist Beck Tench, who previously ran weekly Office Hours every Friday evening at a bar near her office. They were a chance for people to drop by, to chat, and to connect with each other.
Here’s more on the “why”—and advice on the “how,” too, to help you learn from my 2+ years experience of doing weekly Office Hours. [Read more…]
When you run a business, there’s no end to the things you could be doing right now. It’s not about what to do… it’s about what to do next.
A client recently asked what I recommended as his top 5 priorities as he and his partner expanded their three-year-old agency. They had already chosen a client vertical focus and they had a moderately strong pipeline of clients.
Dividing the workload with his business partner, I recommended they focus on: sales, client service, project management, marketing, and admin.
Your specific choices will vary, but I bet your focus fits into these five categories, too. Remember, these are where to focus on a week-to-week basis, after you’ve sorted out your overall business strategy.
Short version: Build a backlog of future work.
When you’re busy—especially when you have lots of billable work—it’s easy to ignore sales. But if you do, I guarantee you’ll have a dry sales pipeline in the future.
How do you keep this from happening? Make sales part of your weekly process. This includes holding weekly sales management meetings (with your salespeople, or with a trusted colleague if you’re the one doing all the sales) and using a CRM tool to keep track of everything.
You don’t have to be doing sales every single day, but you need to be giving it regular attention.
This includes blocking-in your calendar for creating sales proposals. You know you need to create proposals. If you don’t reserve time on your calendar during the workday, you’ll be doing sales proposals at 11pm. [Read more…]
Clients often ask me, “How can I finish sales proposals faster?” As a range, my clients spend anywhere from 20 minutes to nearly 20 staff-hours on creating a sales proposal.
When your marketing agency’s positioning is amazing, you’ll find you mostly jump to creating a Statement of Work (SOW) because your clients are so ready to hire you, they don’t expect formal proposals.
Until then, here’s how you can get a better ROI on proposal-creation time during your sales process.
1) Decide if the particular opportunity is worth doing a proposal.
The fastest way to save time… is to not even start a proposal that isn’t worth it. Depending on your sales funnel, this “worth it” may vary. Dry funnel? You’ll be less picky. Full funnel? Don’t waste time on weaker opportunities. (Of course, you should be working to keep the funnel full all the time, but that’s another article.)
2) Get the prospect to invest time to help you close the sale.
In an ideal world, you’re creating a proposal based on several one-on-one interactions with the prospective client. They’ve answered questions from you about their business goals, including what is and isn’t important. One of your most powerful tools here is an intake questionnaire. Don’t make it too complicated.
3) Invest proposal time accordingly to the opportunity’s likely value.
You’re going into a 20-agency cattle call, or this is a tiny deal for your agency? Spend less time. The prospective client has shared their exact budget and the rationale behind that choice, or you know you’re one of three finalists? Spend more time. Your cheaper services might not even need formal proposals, or perhaps you can use a barely-customized document for those. [Read more…]