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Avoiding time-wasting in your agency

Are you and your agency team spending too much time writing proposals, creating capabilities decks, and building brand personas? 

It may seem productive, but clients value results – and so should you.

In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss how to get your agency’s time under control and offer advice on managing business development and project management to avoid the unnecessary and focus on real value creation.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “When you look at the total number of hours that agencies devote to these kinds of things, it is completely disproportionate to the return that they produce.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “There’s one thing that clients care about. Results.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Ask yourself, would you be happy writing a check out of your personal account for this proposal or capabilities deck?”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Figure out a way to focus on the things that are going to generate a return for you, just like you would do with your client.”


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Gini, hold on. I just got to sit here and finish this game of Solitaire right after this.

Gini Dietrich: Do people still play Solitaire?

Chip Griffin: You know, I was just about to say that I suspect I’ve really dated myself there. All the younguns out there are like, what are you talking about?

Gini Dietrich: What are you talking about? Yeah.

Chip Griffin: It used to be the big office time waster. It did. People would sit there in Windows because Windows came installed with Solitaire.

I don’t even know if it still is installed.

Gini Dietrich: I don’t know either. I don’t know either. That’s funny.

Chip Griffin: I had plenty of employees back years ago, 30 years ago, who would sit there and you’d walk by their desk and you’d see them playing Solitaire. Oh, it was very frustrating.

Gini Dietrich: That is very frustrating. I would be very frustrated by that.

Chip Griffin: But a common thing that I hear from agency owners are that team members are wasting their time in some fashion, not usually solitaire these days, but other things. Ironically, the owners themselves are wasting time on a lot of things as well. So I thought it would be Interesting to talk about. The biggest time wasters that agencies have.

How are we not spending our time most effectively and what should we stop doing?

Gini Dietrich: I remember when we had an office and we had an area that we called the energy center that was all the cubes for all the interns and like one and two what young professionals with one or two years of experience and they all sat in this this one area that was in the cubes.

I remember walking past you had I had to go past there to go to the bathroom and I walked past there one day and they were on Facebook. Talking to each other on Facebook, like through the chat. And I was like, what are you guys doing? First of all, why are you on Facebook? Second of all, like, why are you?

She’s right there! Talk to her right there! It was the weirdest thing, and I remember like, having this conundrum in my brain of They need to be on Facebook so they understand what we’re doing for clients, but at the same time, they’re wasting time. And so it was this weird dichotomy of what I was, how I was going to manage that because I don’t want them on Facebook all day personally, but I want them on Facebook all day professionally.

And how do you mix those two? So it was, it was an interesting time waster conversation that I had with my senior leadership team, but also at the same time, like we have to be there for clients. So that’s one way that we waste time. I certainly am guilty of it.

 Yeah. I mean, I think, I think everybody finds those, you know, things throughout the day, whether that’s social media or, you know, for me back in the day, it was spending a lot of time just reading blogs, which sure.

Chip Griffin: I mean, there was useful stuff there, but I mean, was it the highest, best use of my time for the amount of time I spent reading them? No, I mean, no, I probably should have shut down Spin Sucks and stopped reading, you know, but I kept reading.

Gini Dietrich: Thank you for not.

Chip Griffin: You’re welcome. You’re welcome.

I just, you know, tried to keep your unique user count up. Anyway, but, but I think, you know, so certainly there are those kinds of time wasters, but in my mind, I’m looking at some of the, the bigger things that we waste our time on either internally for our agency or frankly, even with clients. And so…

Gini Dietrich: Capabilities decks.

Chip Griffin: Capabilities decks. would be right near the top of the list.

But I mean, in general, all sorts of collateral or things related to business development and an immense amount of time is wasted by agencies on unnecessary business development activities, capabilities, decks, RFPs, excessively long proposals, the website. Right. We’ve talked about all these things in different contexts, but when you look at the total number of hours that agencies devote to these kinds of things, it is completely disproportionate to the return that they produce.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, we’ve certainly talked about capability decks in the past, and I know this is a hot button for you as well, but, You know, with things like that, I think we’re doing that to make ourselves feel better because now we have something to present. But we’ve also talked about on this show several times that when you go into a new business meeting as an, a small business, as a small agency owner, you’re not Fleishman Hillard, you’re not Edelman.

You’re not one of the big guys. When you do that, you go. When you go in and you’re you think you have to present some big capabilities deck and talk about all the wonder how wonderful you are, you’re not going to win the business. But when you take the approach of and mindset of let me ask some really smart questions and get to know this person and their business and what their goals are and then sprinkle in well, we, you know, examples that you’ve had in the past without formalizing case studies or capabilities deck, you’re gonna have much better luck in converting that customer because, or that prospect, because no one literally no one wants to sit through a capabilities presentation, no one.

And so it’s a big waste of time. It makes us feel better because we have nice case studies and we have nice testimonials and we have a nice capabilities deck, but literally nobody cares. No one. So don’t waste your time on it.

Chip Griffin: Right. I mean, it is, you really need to look at the results of the work that you’re producing, whether it’s for clients or for yourself.

And a lot of those things, you’d be much better off having conversations with actual human beings, more human beings than spending the time sitting there and looking at PowerPoint and tweaking this and tweaking that or spending. I mean, I talked to a lot of agency owners who spend 20, 30, 40 hours or more on a single proposal.

Collectively with their teams, and it just, it makes me sad. It makes me sad because you look at that and you’re like, you know, you are spending thousands of dollars to produce a proposal that frankly probably isn’t even going to get read that closely. It won’t get read. And isn’t going to make a material difference in all likelihood as to whether that piece of business closes or doesn’t close.

Yep. And so, small agencies in particular who have very limited resources. Because if you’re not in Edelman, you don’t just have a whole department to throw at it, right? I mean, the larger agencies have entire, you know, design teams that will lay them out and do all this kind of stuff. And, you know, you’ve got interns you can throw bits and pieces of the research to, and you spread it out over a lot of people.

And yes, it’s a lot of money, but it doesn’t have nearly the same impact. Because when it, when you’re a small agency and you’ve got, you know, five, 10 employees or fewer, and you’re devoting 40 hours to put together a proposal. That’s an incredible percentage of your available labor force that is being dedicated to a single piece of paper that may or may not ever produce anything.

And so you need to be really smart about how you’re spending your time.

Gini Dietrich: And I think in that instance, to your point, like, no, nobody reads it. And the first thing they do, the very first thing they do is open the PDF or the link, whatever you’ve sent them. And they go to the very last page to see how much it’ll cost.

That’s what they do. And so I’ve actually stopped sending proposals entirely. And I will, I’ll have a new business meeting. I’ll ask questions. I’ll do all the things that you’re supposed to do in a new business meeting. I go back and I talk to the team and we put together some ideas. And then I say to the prospect, I’d like to have another conversation with you. And then we present those ideas and tell them how much we think it’s going to cost. And that’s it. That’s it. So it’s maybe three hours tops all in before we close a client, a new client. We don’t, we don’t put together a proposal. Now they may say, can you send, you like, can you add this to the scope of work on your contract or whatever happens to be and we’ll do it from that perspective.

Right. But there’s no proposal. There’s no like, writing a plan ahead of time, which I know some agency owners are guilty of, and I used to be guilty of that as well. There’s none of that. Like all of the work you get paid to do once they’ve signed the contract and given you a deposit. No proposal writing, no spending that time.

Chip Griffin: And we’re not talking, this is not just looking at it from a, you know, you want to get paid for your work standpoint. Because it is, I mean it is certainly that. Sure. But it is a pure waste of time because it doesn’t make a difference. Right. In whether you get the business or not. That’s right. And I cannot tell you how many agency owners I talk with who will tell me, Oh I owe so and so a proposal and this other group a proposal.

And I talk to them and it turns out they’ve had a single call with each of them. How can you write a proposal? Right. From a single conversation with a prospect. That’s right. You cannot put together anything other than very broad brush strokes that shouldn’t take any time at all to produce. It should be, you know, basically boilerplate material that you’re passing along.

Yeah. But I will say, it’s not just on the business development side that agencies waste a lot of time. Agencies waste a lot of time on a lot of other things. So, one of the other things I would throw out there is project management. I think that a lot of agencies waste time on unnecessary project management.

Usually it’s because they went from no project management Now, now we need to spend time on project management. And so focusing on project management usually means creating a lot of processes and implementing a lot of new software because it makes us feel good. Like we’re again, it’s, it’s this feel good, right?

Sometimes just doing work makes us feel good. Like we’re addressing a problem. And I’ve talked with some agency owners recently where, you know, they would like to bring in some freelance project managers or some project management outfits that help. The problem is you can have a beautiful Asana board that’s got all sorts of dependencies and click this and click that and fantastic.

Is it actually making a difference in the outcomes? Because no project management’s a problem, but the pendulum often swings way too far in the other direction and you waste way too much time on this.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I would say other things, you know, from a customer, from a client perspective, are things like we get asked all the time for, can you create a, a one pager sell sheet?

Can you do this? And I, I said, I I’ve gotten to the point with clients where I say, no, that’s sales enablement, that’s not communications. If you want us to look at the messaging that you’ve created to make sure it matches the brand and all that for sure, but no, we’re not gonna like, I think that kind of stuff from a sales perspective is on the client side is also a waste of time.

Nobody’s opening your one pager. Nobody’s looking at your two page case study. No one. So why are we wasting time on it? And I think we also get into that whole, like, Oh, we’ve got to have a brand narrative and we have to do one pagers and we have to have multi page case studies and we have to have this and we have No, you don’t.

Chip Griffin: Don’t forget the personas. Don’t forget all the time that gets spent building personas.

Gini Dietrich: You know what? AI can do that for you in about 30 seconds if you really need it.

Chip Griffin: I mean, look, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a strategy and you shouldn’t have a clearly defined audience that you’re going after and all these things.

It, it’s, that’s very diff, you can get a lot of that done in a fraction of the time if you don’t try to turn it into something that it’s not. And so, is there a time and place for a persona? Maybe. I don’t know. Most of the time, certainly for the agency, and most of the time for your clients, you don’t really need to get all that fancy.

You do need to understand, who are we trying to reach? What kind of person are we trying to reach, but we don’t, but having it, you know, we’re, we’re reaching out to Sally and she’s this year, many years old and she’s got this kind of background and, oh my God, seriously? And the amount of time that I see spent on that kind of stuff is just mind boggling.

Gini Dietrich: Okay. If you’re going to spend time on it, I’m telling you right now, open chat GPT and say to chat, prompt it, tell it, tell it that you need to create a brand persona for an HR director in Alabama that has two direct reports and like you’ll have it in 30 seconds and it’ll name it for you and it’ll give you their age like it’ll do everything in 30 seconds and now you have your brand persona so you don’t have to spend time on it.

Chip Griffin: Right and why can’t you just say we’re trying to reach you know middle manager, middle manager PR types in this kind of an organization.

I mean, it doesn’t need to be like this creative exercise. It’s not, that’s really not making a difference in the outcomes. And when we’re proposing things to clients, you know, we need to think about those things that are actually going to make a difference because clients want you to be strategic, but they don’t want you to spend a lot of time on strategy.

That’s right. And so you need to figure out how to maximize the time that you are spending, so that you can be strategic, but you’re not being perceived to be just, you know, eating up lots and lots of hours doing these, you know, glorious plans that go nowhere.

Gini Dietrich: There’s one thing that clients care about.

Results. What would that be? It’s results. That’s all they care about. So as a business owner, that’s all you should care about are results. And as an agency owner that is servicing clients, that’s all you should care about is results. So if you can’t point to results from your brand narrative, or your capabilities presentation, or your case studies, or your brand personas, don’t do it.

Focus on the things that will get results, because as a small agency owner, that is the number one thing that is going to get you cut from a budget every time. If you can demonstrate that you are helping your clients’ organizations grow, and you’re doing the same thing for your own organization as you’re building, You will not be cut. Because what a, what, what a CFO will look at and say, okay, this is, let’s say it’s $60,000 a year.

This is a big line item, right? Then they’ll go to the, the mark, the chief marketer or the CEO or whoever it is that you, you report into and say, can we cut the $60,000? And if the CEO says, absolutely not, because we’re, we’re generating half a million bucks from that. Every year you will maintain your client, but if they can’t demonstrate that to their CFO, they’re like, okay, well, I guess they have to go.

So focus on the things that get results and demonstrate those results over and over and over again. Brand personas and brand narratives and case studies – don’t do that. Don’t do it.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I mean, I, I think a useful exercise here is whenever you’re undertaking a project for your agency or for a client, ask yourself, what are we trying to accomplish here?

What are the results that we’re looking for? And then ask yourself, what are the, what is the minimum level that we need to put in in order to achieve that? It doesn’t mean you necessarily need to stay just at that minimum, right? But you need to understand what is the minimum allowed in order to accomplish that.

And then be very, very clear about the amount of time that it takes above and beyond that minimum and that you’re really getting additional impact from that work. And if not, you should say no to it. Yes. Because these are all expenditures of, it’s not just time, it’s money, right? This is, this is your agency’s profits that you’re spending.

And so it’s not just, you know, that we spent some time on this or that. No, yeah, I guess we could have done it a little bit differently. You are actually spending profits. And what are the profits? That’s the money you can put in your own pocket as the agency owner. So you need to ask yourself, would you be happy writing a check out of your personal account for this proposal or capabilities deck?

And if I go to an agency owner and say, for this proposal that you’re putting together, you need to write a check for $5,000 out of your personal bank account, I guarantee you, most of these agency owners would say, heck no, I’m not going to do that. Nope. How can we do that cheaper? Yeah. So start thinking about it that way.

Gini Dietrich: That’s a great way to look at it.

Chip Griffin: Now you can carry this to an extreme, just like everything else. You can carry this to an extreme and you can be penny wise pound foolish. And they’re like, I’m not spending money on anything. Then it’s all going into my own pocket. Well, you’ll never grow that way either. But be ruthless as you’re looking at these expenditures and ask yourself, is it really worth the amount of money? That you’re spending to get it done, right? And don’t just run in and say, okay, well, you know, in order to save time, we’re going to, we’re going to get rid of meetings and we’re going to stop, you know, sending email and all these things, you know, that’s that those are the wrong things to look at, right?

Meetings in and of themselves are not a problem. The structure of those meetings, the content of those meetings, that’s the problem. So don’t just go and say, okay, well, meetings are a waste of time. They are not. It’s the activities that they’re driving towards that may be a waste of time. And that’s what you need to look at.

It’s not, it’s not the tool. It’s the objective.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think it’s the number as well that, you know, I mean, if you, we, we went through a period in our, in my agency where we had a daily stand up. And I was like, this is dumb. Why are we doing this? Because the daily stand up always lasted, it was supposed to last 10 minutes.

It always lasted a half an hour to 45 minutes. And there was no reason for it. Like, We were completely.

Chip Griffin: And about half of that was probably just gossip.

Gini Dietrich: It was, it was gossip. Yeah. It was like, yeah, absolutely. Yes. Or how your weekend was or whatever, which is fine, but there’s no need for that every single day.

And so we got, got rid of that. So when you, when you look at all of the things that you’re doing, and I love the idea of looking at it from the perspective, if I had to write a check, if I had to write a check for this proposal, if I had to write a check for people’s time to be sitting in this meeting, if I had to write a check for these case studies, would I do it?

And that’s a great way to look at it because if you’re not willing to pay for it personally, which you kind of are if you’re on, if you own an agency, especially if you’re an S corp, I am for it personally, figure out a way to get out of doing that stuff and only focus on the things that are going to generate a return for you, just like you would do with your client.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and agency owners complain about the tiniest little expenses on all sorts of stuff. I mean, we see this in the Spin Sucks community and, and all these small agencies wanting to, you know, to share a, a media database account or a medium. Those are things that can actually shorten the amount of time you’re spending on other things and you don’t want to spend money on that, which is probably in the hundreds of dollars a month.

And yet. And yet you will spend $5,000 to put together a proposal based on a 45 minute phone call. Where is the logic there? And frankly, the amount of time that some people spend trying to figure out how to, you know, to save a few bucks on, on some of these kinds of software packages by sharing with someone.

Why? Your time is valuable too.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. It’s more valuable. It’s more valuable.

Chip Griffin: And if those tools are not able to, at full price, deliver value to your clients, they’re probably not worth having at all. That’s right. Yes. So if you’re willing to nickel and dime those things, please, please look at these large expenditures of wasted time.

Gini Dietrich: I love that. I love that advice. I love that you’re fired up about it. I love that you have to think about all of these things. I think one of the things that I do is I’ll look at it and say, okay, if, if somebody on my team has to do this, how much time will it take them? And then I multiply that by their hourly rate.

Am I going to save money if I buy this software versus them doing it? Yes, I am.

Chip Griffin: And please, please do the same calculation for your own time as the owner. Yes. Yes. Because I’m also tired of hearing, well, I couldn’t, I couldn’t give that. I heard this from an agency owner recently. I can’t give that to a freelancer because we’re not getting paid enough for it.

So I have to do it myself.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, that’s so common. That happens all the time.

 Your time is not free.

Your time is not free. Your time is not free. But I hear that all the time too.

Chip Griffin: So when you’re doing these time wasting calculations, it’s not just your team you need to look at. In fact, I would look at them only after I look at myself and say, what am I wasting time on? Yep. Absolutely. So stop playing solitaire or whatever it is you’re doing.

Gini Dietrich: And stop giving your time away for free.

Chip Griffin: And on that note, we’ll end this free broadcast of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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