Annual predictions: What’s REALLY going to happen?

Annual predictions for your agency? It's complicated.
Written by: Karl Sakas

With rare exceptions*, New Year’s predictions are bullshit.

No one really knows what’s going to happen—and it’s reckless to claim otherwise. Yet when an expert puts their name on it, people assume it’s accurate.

So, what instead? Should you give up on planning? Nope! Should you delete your blog’s generic “XYZ predictions” blog post? Maybe… or at least add a disclaimer.

Instead, start changing common-yet-problematic behaviors. In my work with hundreds of agencies, these are the things I see over and over again. I’m an optimist on a long-term basis, but there are certain problems that make it hard to be optimistic about your future.

If you don’t take action, these “evergreen” problems are practically guaranteed to hurt your agency—whether now or sometime in the future. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way… if you’re willing to take action.

Where should you focus this year? Read on!

Guaranteed Problems: If you don’t make time for…

Consider what happens if you make time (and space in your brain) for certain activities:

  1. If you don’t make time for self-marketing, you will struggle to attract a sufficient volume of high-quality leads. You’ll struggle to reach your growth goals—and likely feel pressure to cut prices to win deal with not-ideal clients, because you need to cover payroll.
  2. If you don’t make time for managing your employees, you will see unwanted staff turnover, including (likely) some of your best employees. Great employees have options.
  3. If you don’t make time for having difficult conversations, you will do unpaid work for clients (including for clients that were likely willing to pay extra, if only you’d asked), you’ll be stressed about problematic employees you’d rather not confront, and you’ll lose good employees who don’t want to deal with the consequences of your inaction.
  4. If you don’t make time for qualifying your sales prospects, you will waste time on prospects who were never going to hire you in the first place. Or if they were, it was on terms that wouldn’t help you sustainably grow your agency.
  5. If you don’t make time for managing your finances, you will careen between feast and famine. Because you’ll suddenly need cash, you’ll make short-term decisions that hurt long-term performance. You may also have to do layoffs that were avoidable if you hadn’t over-hired.
  6. If you don’t make time for annual planning, you will likely not reach your annual goals, because your team isn’t clear on what those goals are. They may waste time on low-priority initiatives… or even [inadvertently] work against your goals.
  7. If you don’t make time for managing the annual plan, you will likely not reach your annual goals, because progress rarely happens by magic. Even if you have a strong operations leader, they need to be monitoring things on a monthly basis, so they can fix problems before it’s too late.
  8. If you don’t make time for growing your agency’s valuation, you likely won’t get the valuation you want. This may delay your retirement, or may mean no one wants to buy your agency at all. If you weren’t saving enough for retirement along the way, things will be even worse.
  9. If you don’t make time for sales management, you will burn budget by paying underperforming salespeople. On top of that, you won’t reach your growth goals, because you were relying on someone who wouldn’t or couldn’t deliver… yet you didn’t hold them accountable in time to turn things around.
  10. If you don’t make time for evolving your services, you will dilute profit margins by investing resources in services that clients no longer want or need. Or you may miss growth opportunities, by doing things the way they’ve always been, even as your clients move on.
  11. If you don’t make time for succession planning, you will never leave. As my dad would joke about volunteering: “Your #1 job is to recruit your replacement.”

Of course, your mileage may vary. Your specific results may be better… or worse.

How to Prioritize

Can you handle 100% of these things at once? Not if you try to them do them personally. That’s where your team comes in. As the agency owner, your job is to set the vision, clarify priorities, and manage your team as they get things done. It can get better… but it takes focus and it takes effort.

Want my help fixing the specific-to-your-agency problems, to help you make the year go more smoothly? Take 15-20 minutes to share about your goals, and my team and I will recommend next steps.

Question: Based on the list above, what are your top priorities this year?

* What are the exceptions to the rule? I like these predictions from David C. Baker, and Drew McLellan shared solid advice in the latest edition of his AMI newsletter.

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