I meet plenty of experts. Right now, I keep encountering SEO and SEM experts, digital consultants, social media experts, and marketing and digital agencies. They really do know their stuff but often they seem to struggle to run the really great businesses they want to run.
Ask them to score their business out of 10 for operational excellence, doing what they get paid for doing, and they will score themselves at least 8 out of 10. They say things like, ‘I have been on all the courses… there’s little we don’t know about our subject… if clients want to talk to people who really can help them then we are the ones they should be talking to’. Excellent.
While their skill at ‘doing the doing’ is not in dispute, many are not so great at running a business. Just because you are great at putting together a digital strategy or a client acquisition programme for your client doesn’t mean you know how to actually run a business yourself. Just because you are great at creating an effective social media campaign for your clients doesn’t mean you know how to market and promote your own business.
The saying goes, “cobblers’ children go unshod”: the cobbler spends so much time looking after his customers’ needs that he has no time for his children’s. In the instance of digital agencies and the like, the problem is not just that they do not spend enough time working on their own business. The problem is more fundamental.
It is one thing to have a technical expertise that you can share and sell to clients; it is quite another thing to know how to run, manage and grow a business that sells such a technical skill.
THE DIGITAL AGENCY EXAMPLE: THE GROWING AGENCY
Running a growing agency is really tough. The creative principal/leader is expected to take on numerous new management skills: managing campaigns, teams, clients, cash-flow, joint ventures, expectations. Managing… managing… managing… And if this were simple to do then everyone would do it and be successful at it!
The challenge is to learn how to run, manage and grow a business. This is an additional skill-set to that of being an expert technician.
The reasons why so many agencies fail to grow as quickly is a well-trodden path: too much dependence on the principal(s), too much time working in the business, poor administration (invoicing, tax, payroll, cash-flow). The problem list morphs and changes to include time management, business development, too many small clients, marketing and sales, basically hitting a glass ceiling as you try to scale-up the business. The need to become more strategic, to spend more time working on the business rather than in the business becomes increasingly more important.
The reality is that there is no magic, silver bullet. There is no simple ten-step process to double your profits in 90 days (or your money back) that will work just by signing up to a programme! It is easy to talk about the key ingredients of success or the secrets of the successful. This is often just marketing hype created by the business development and consultancy industry.
The reality is that successful agencies can be seen to follow a certain path, a certain route. Not a uniform path but more of a ‘growing up’ route (birth, crawl, walk, run or start-up, survival, growth). Part of the solution is about making the right decisions at the appropriate stage; part is about understanding what needs to happen to make the business move on.
What I do know is that the growth of your business doesn’t happen in the depths of some textbook or in the traditional lecture theatre. Decisions need to be taken based on an understanding of your options at your particular stage of growth. Decisions about what you do and what you don’t do, about who you employ and who you don’t employ… More importantly, the success of the business is about the actions you take. Only actions will create results.
So, what most agencies need is a blended solution: a combination of shared experience, highly-focused ‘how to’ sessions, expert facilitation, accountability systems, real live case studies and access to systems and processes that will improve business performance.
If you had a better understanding of how to run your agency… and you had the right support system… then it follows that you should be able to grow your business more quickly.
About the Author:
Robert Craven (@robert_craven) is an international Keynote business speaker, author, consultant and owner of The Directors’ Centre, a consulting and training company which helps owner-directors run the business they want to run.
His latest book Grow Your Digital Agency, which provides the business fundamentals that every growing agency needs to address, has just been released.