As an agency leader, you’re used to making hard decisions all day long—about your team, your clients, your schedule, and more.
But some of the hardest decisions are when you need to choose between 2-3 big business directions for your agency. For example:
- Should you keep running your agency… or make plans to sell the business?
- Which client industry should you choose as your vertical specialization?
- Can you trust your current team to take client work off your plate, or do you need to hire someone externally?
Big decisions can feel paralyzing, because there’s no “right” answer… and your choice has expensive implications. As I advise agency owners, these are examples of existential or “philosophical questions.” That is, the answer depends on your unique Values, Goals, and Resources (VGR).
- The bad news: I can’t answer an “it depends” question for you. It’s your business; as the owner, you can’t successfully delegate your biggest decisions.
- The good news: I’ve created a process to make big decisions easier—and I’m sharing it today, free of charge!
In this article, I’ll share how my big-decision process works. In my followup article, I share 10 real-world examples where I often see your fellow agency owners struggle. You may need to enlist a broader support system—your therapist, financial planner, accountant, and others. (Note: If you’re an agency leader who isn’t currently an owner, consider sharing this article with the partners—they might need your help.)
5-step decision-making process: How does each option make you feel?
Not sure how you’d actually implement a solution to the direction you choose? That’s OK! Planning and then implementation come later… but get the direction down first, before you invest time and energy to create a plan. But you will need to be (or become) in touch with your feelings. If you struggle to get in touch with your feelings, you’ll need support from a therapist or other counselor.
Here are the five simple yet powerful “hard decisions” steps I recommend for agency owners:
- Identify potential directions to explore. In my agency coaching, clients typically start with 2-3 options, but it’s sometimes as many as seven. Give each a short, descriptive label—for instance “Sell the agency” vs. “Keep the agency,” or “Promote Sara as CEO” vs. “Hire an external CEO.”
- Narrow things down to 2-3 options. Consider doing this as a “card sorting” exercise—put each option on a physical or virtual card, and see how it feels as you move the cards around. At this point, you may conclude that two initial options are really a single option, and you can combine them. You may also realize you need to split an option into sub-options. Ultimately, narrowing to 2-3 options makes it easier to choose your “right” option.
- Write one Advance Retrospective for each of the options. For most agency owners, each one will be 1-3 pages long—but there’s no “right” length. To help you get started, I’ve created a free template—the same tool I use with my Agency Roadmap™ and Executive Coaching clients—which you can access here (no opt-in required!).
- Reflect on which feels best. Which did you most enjoy writing? As Marie Kondo would say, which option “brings you joy”? If you’re on the fence, get my Agency Profitability Toolkit™—among the 50+ templates, you can use “The Decisionmaker’s Friend” template and my “Readiness Rater” tool to help you evaluate options.
- Draft a “v0” plan for what it would take to pursue that option. A simple outline is OK—as a “version 0,” this is about writing or drawing something. It doesn’t need to be perfect; you just need to get something down on paper (or on screen). Don’t like writing or drawing? Record yourself talking it through, and get it transcribed via Rev.com. If you’re on the fence between two options, you might choose to draft plans for both, to see what they look like.
Need some explicit examples? See my followup article, featuring 10 examples of how to evaluate hard decisions you might need to make as an agency owner—including how “far out” I recommend writing the related Advance Retrospectives. Don’t miss future updates—be sure you’re getting my business tips newsletter for agency leaders.
Getting additional help on your hard decisions
Once you know the core direction you want to pursue, you can work backwards to get there. As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.” This includes short- and medium-term steps to reach your long-term goals.
Still struggling with your big decision(s)? That’s normal—you’re making some of the hardest decisions that agency owners face. Consider your network and other resources, including where you can get a confidential and trusted outside perspective. Perhaps this might involve your spouse, your business partner, or a fellow business owner.
Outside perspective makes a difference—whether it’s narrowing your list of options, understanding the pros and cons of each choice, or just getting a sounding board as you talk through the option(s) you’re considering. Want additional support—expert, confidential, and non-judgmental—as you make your current big decision(s) at your agency? Contact me to ask about one-on-one help!
Want more DIY advice on making tough choices? See my followup article, on 10 step-by-step examples of hard decisions you might be facing today.
Question: What’s your next hard decision at your agency?