Could your digital marketing agency keep running if you weren’t there every day?

Written by: Karl Sakas

If you died tomorrow, how long before your marketing agency goes out of business?

Learning from Ali, the driving school owner

My high school didn’t offer the “behind the wheel” portion of Driver’s Ed. To avoid the stress, my parents decided to outsource things. We went with Ali’s Five Star Driving School, a local company that advertised heavily in the school newspaper. This being the late 1990s, their ads noted that students would learn in the “Comfort and Safety of the Acura Legend” sedan.

Although the driving school had perhaps a dozen teachers, my driving instructor was Ali himself. He was probably in his 50s at the time, full of entertaining stories about his life. Each driving lesson included a stop at 7-11 for junk food, which my parents would not have approved. I passed the behind-the-wheel driving test  and got my license. I still follow Ali’s advice for parallel parking.

His employees covered-up his death for nine months

Unfortunately, there was a macabre twist to my driver’s ed experience. The Washington Post investigated Ali’s Five Star Driving School after students reported that instead of learning how to drive, they spent most of the time… going to convenience stores.

The paper reported an unfortunate post-script in February 2005 (my bolding):

Virginia inspectors have shut down a driver’s training school in Springfield after discovering that the licensed owner has been dead since May [2004] and that the remaining employees were operating the school without a valid license, state officials said.

To customers, it was mostly business as usual

It seems Ali had died of a heart attack but his family continued operating the school without reporting to licensing agencies that he’d died:

DMV agents said they became suspicious of the school in November [2004] after an article in The Washington Post included comments from a Fairfax County student describing how she spent much of her driver’s training time at fast-food restaurants.

Earlier that month, the Washington Post had noted:

In the Nov. 22 story, Meghan McCafferty, 16, a student at Centreville High School, was quoted as saying her driver’s training at a private school in Springfield “was a really bad experience. . . . We were supposed to drive six hours, but pretty much you just drove to fast-food places and ate.”

Because the private firm, Ali’s Five-Star Driving School, had a backlog, she said, her instructor told her she was “a really good driver, so I didn’t need to come to the last class.”

Yesterday, a man who answered the phone at the school said the company’s manager was not available until Monday.

“Not available until Monday”… because he was dead.

Take a vacation: How long could your marketing agency last without you in charge?

What can you learn from this story as the owner of a marketing agency? I’m not recommending you do illegal things. But aside from the serious issue of operating the company without a DMV license, you have to admire that the employees kept the company going for nine months without the owner.

I hope you’re not going to die any time soon, but… wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take a nine-month break and have everything keep running smoothly? How about a month? How about just a two-week vacation?

Taking time away from work requires having a good team, a lot of systems in place, and a willingness to let go. But it’s not impossible, when you prioritize making it happen. I can help.

Question: What’s the biggest obstacle between you and taking a two-week vacation?

Book cover: Work Less, Earn More (by Karl Sakas)

Are you feeling overworked and underpaid?

As an agency owner, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The solution? Read my book: Work Less, Earn More: How To Escape the Daily Grind of Agency Ownership.

You’ll get my step-by-step process to reclaim your work-life balance and get paid what you’re worth. And you’ll get access to an in-depth companion workbook, to cement your progress.