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.
When you have limited time available for sales activities, you’ll also get better at committing to skip low-value sales opportunities. A project or retainer is too small for you? I bet another agency would love the business. And you might arrange a referral commission, if that’s your thing.
Reducing the time to get things done also makes it easier to pay attention to red flags. You keep delaying a particular proposal? There’s probably a good reason. Consider if it’s a sign to tell the client you’re not going to do a proposal after all—sooner’s better!
2) Client Service
Short version: Keep clients happy, profitably.
This includes ensuring your clients are satisfied—through client onboarding, good expectations management, and deliverable management. This also includes ensuring your team understands each client’s business. Clients want agencies who “get” them. If you graduate from “order taker” to “business partner,” you’ll see some great results on client retention.
Think strategically—it’s easier to renew a client than to spend the sales effort it takes to land an entirely new one.
Client service is the emotional side of the relationship, the Warmth in “Warmth and Competence.” Be sure you’re handling the Competence side, too—more on that in “Project Management” below.
3) Project Management
Short version: Complete what you commit to do, efficiently.
This includes finding the right balance on the “Iron Triangle” of project management (scope, timeline, and budget).
This also includes navigating the inherent tension between PM and client service. Client service wants to keep clients happy—often by giving away free work. PM wants to stay on-budget—often by saying “no” to client requests. You need to find the right balance—getting things done, profitably.
Some of it’s about finding the best PM software for your agency, but it’s really about process before tools.
PM includes having the right people to complete what you’ve committed to do. Going beyond your current team, it means doing recruiting to build your team to handle new work. Build that stable of freelancers—and potential full-time hires—before you need them.
Short version: Become an agency whose expertise clients pursue.
Want to be in-demand as an agency? It’s easier when you specialize—typically by specializing in a client industry or set of client industries (although specializing in a type of work can work in some cases, too).
Clients like hiring specialists. There are some exceptions—for instance, mobile app development is so in-demand right now that app developers don’t need to specialize in specific industries, and an agency that dominates a small geography may find success as a regional market leader—but think about your own experience as as consumer.
If you needed heart surgery, you wouldn’t hire a general surgeon. If your insurance was good enough, you wouldn’t hire a cardiac surgeon, either. You’d hire a cardiac surgeon who’s done your exact procedure 500 times before. When they have a choice, people tend to hire a specialist.
Once you’ve chosen your specialty, you need to share your expertise. For marketing agencies, the two best tools for thought leadership are via content marketing (blogging, eBooks, video, and other tactics) and through speaking engagements to groups in your clients’ industries.
Once you start doing content marketing, you can’t stop—the “Shoemaker’s Kids” isn’t a good excuse. Look at your agency’s blog. If you haven’t updated it in a month, think about why that happened. Either re-commit to doing the work… or remove the publication date from the posts. And write truly unique posts, not “5 tips for winning at Pinterest.”
Want to see how speaking works as a form of thought leadership? See my Speaking page for how I do it and buy my book on speaking for agency bizdev. Speaking is not an overnight solution for getting leads—consider it a huge up-front investment—but it’s vital for becoming an in-demand expert. And that’s what you want, right?
Short version: Take care of the boring details, or else.
Admin includes things like invoicing clients, paying bills, running payroll, filing taxes, and other things that aren’t especially fun. Yet they’re all things that’ll put you out of business if you ignore them.
If you don’t like doing these things yourself—and I find most agency owners don’t enjoy them—delegate them to people you trust. Your accountant can handle quarterly tax filings and your annual tax return, but you want to be sure they do it. You don’t need to personally run payroll yourself, but you better make sure it happens.
Don’t let invoicing slip through the cracks. Make it easy for clients to pay you on time. If a client hasn’t paid recently, don’t let it be because you forgot to invoice them for three months of work.
Summary: The 5 Places to Focus Each Week
Here’s a recap of the five:
- Sales: Build a backlog of future work.
- Client Service: Keep clients happy, profitably.
- Project Management: Complete what you commit to do, efficiently.
- Marketing: Become an agency whose expertise clients pursue.
- Admin: Take care of the boring details, or else.
Question: Which of the five areas need more attention at your agency?