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Building trust and letting your team shine

You trust your team, right? In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss the importance of agency owners letting go of micromanaging, trusting their team, and focusing on building a scalable business. They emphasize the need for owners to delegate tasks and avoid being bottlenecks.

They also touch on the challenges and benefits of transitioning from being deeply involved in all aspects of the business to taking on a more strategic role. The conversation underscores the significance of balancing involvement while ensuring clients feel supported and valued.

Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “As agency owners, we think that clients expect us, expect our process, and we don’t want to admit that the people that we’ve hired can be better at our job than we are. And so we should let them do their jobs.”
  • Chip Griffin: “It’s not logically consistent to be growing a scalable business where you are still in the weeds with every client.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Put yourself in their shoes. If you were a senior level person at an agency and your boss, the agency owner, wanted to review everything that you produced, at your level of experience, how frustrating would that be?”
  • Chip Griffin: “You can’t say, well, yes, of course I trust my team, and then demonstrate that you don’t by doing things like insisting on reading every piece of content that goes out to a client or sitting in on every conversation with a 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: And Gini, you know, sometimes I feel like we’re not really successful in communicating essential messages to listeners and one topic seems to be something that we cover annually, right around this time, as we discovered just before we started recording this as we were discussing our topics and we said, have we talked about that before?

And, and it turns out we did. We’ve discussed this in May of 2023 in May in 2022, and probably other times as well, but…

May have 21.

Yeah, probably. So this is, this is an annual reminder to agency owners today.

Gini Dietrich: So actually I had breakfast with Martin Waxman, a couple of days ago and he was in town for the Reagan conference.

And he said to me, I’ve been thinking a lot about running an agency. He owned, he ran an agency for a while and then he sold to another agency where he was partners with somebody. And then he ended up leaving that agency. So it’s been a couple of, a few years since he’s been running his own business. But he said to me, I’ve been thinking about it.

And I’m curious what some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an agency owner are. And through the conversation, it was things like, you have to give up control. Not every, don’t let perfect get in the way of being finished. Let your employees do their job and don’t micromanage. It was all of those things that I think And he agreed, you know, as agency owners, we tend to do, because whether we realize it or not, our name’s on the door, we think that clients expect us, they think, we think that they expect our process, and we don’t want to admit, right or wrong, that the people that we’ve hired can be better at our job than we are.

And so we should let them do it. Let them do their jobs.

Chip Griffin: Let them do their jobs. And I mean, honestly, it comes back to, we all need to think about as agency owners, what do we want? Right. Do we want to effectively be solos who are in the weeds doing everything? And that’s where we get our satisfaction from, or are we trying to build a scalable business, a true agency in the fullest sense of the word?

And the problem is when, when your stated objective is to become a full fledged business that perhaps you can sell one day or that runs itself or something like that, when you say that, but you act as if you are still a solo. You are still a freelancer. You are still in the weeds doing everything day to day.

And you really need to pick one of those two paths. I always talk about, you can make your business anything you want. You can, but within reason, right? It has to be logically consistent, and it’s not logically consistent to be growing a scalable business where you are still in the weeds with every client.

Gini Dietrich: Right. You know, when I started my business, I, and I’m sure I’ve, I’ve said this before on this podcast, but I had a business coach who said to me, you need to decide if you want to be a really good business owner or a business grower or a really good communicator. And at the time I thought, well, I really want to be a really good business grower.

I want to grow the agency. I want to do all the things. And I started down that path and we got to almost 40 employees and you know, all the things that came with it and I realized that’s not really what I wanted to do. I was miserable. I don’t think I was mature enough yet in age or in agents business owning life to admit that.

So I kind of faltered for a few years as I tried to figure that out. But as, as soon as I discovered that that’s not what was, gave me satisfaction, that’s not what I was passionate about. I was able to transition myself into more of a chief communications officer role. And I hired somebody to, to be the business growth person.

So I relay that so that you understand that. You can, you can say we’re going to grow an agency, but you don’t have to be the one to do it. And if you’re going to grow an agency, you certainly can’t be the one that’s servicing all of the clients and doing all of the things. You have to decide what it is that’s, to your point, what you’re passionate about, what gives you the best, the most satisfaction, and focus on that.

And then hire people around you to do all the other stuff.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And it comes down to trust. You have to trust the team that you’re building. And you can’t say, well, yes, of course I trust them. And then demonstrate that you don’t by doing things like insisting on reading every piece of content that goes out to a client or sitting in on every conversation with a client.

These are all signals to your team, to your clients, and frankly, to yourself that you don’t trust the team that you’ve built. And if you don’t trust them, you will never, ever get to the point where you can step out of that day to day and focus on whatever it is that you want, whether that’s providing that that high level advice to clients when it’s absolutely necessary or growing the business or sitting back and enjoying mai tais somewhere half of the month because all of the engines are firing properly and you don’t need to do a lot of servicing.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, one of the things I say to friends who are agency owners and to clients who are agency owners as well is put yourself in their shoes.

So if you were a senior level person at an agency and your boss, the agency owner, wanted to review everything that you produced, everything you wrote, everything that you created, everything, every email that you sent to clients they wanted to be copied on, they wanted to be, they wanted to have a say in it. From your, at your level of experience,

how frustrating would that be? Like I would be beside myself. I’d be like, you’re not freaking reading my emails. Let me do my job. That’s why you hired me. I would like, it would not, I would not laugh. And I know that for a fact. So I always think about that from my perspective. If I’m saying to a colleague, an employee, I want to see that, what message am I delivering to them?

Go, go forth and prosper. Like, unless it’s something really strategic or we’re in a crisis, Do your thing. That’s why I’ve hired you. I don’t want to see all of it. I don’t have time to see all of it. I don’t want to be a bottleneck. You don’t want me to be a bottleneck, so go do your job.

Chip Griffin: Well, and the irony is that many of these same owners will complain about clients who micromanage the agency, yet think nothing of micromanaging their own teams.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Fair.

Chip Griffin: And so I think it’s, it’s helpful to reflect on all of your behavior to understand First of all, is it absolutely necessary? And secondly, what signal does it send? Because if you have a team that you truly do need to be hands on with all of the content, you have the wrong team. You ought to have people who can send client ready material.

Now, maybe not on day one when they’re, you know, first starting to work for you. I mean, certainly people need time to adjust and they need to learn your agency’s way of doing things, your style, your standards. Fine. I get that. But at some point, sooner rather than later, you need to let go and allow them to do their jobs.

And you need to remember. Is there risk in that? Of course, there’s risk in that, but there’s risk in everything and most of those risks are really not that large. I mean, 99. 9 percent of the time, if you send a press release draft to a client or a blog post or whatever, and they don’t like it, it’s not going to cause them to call up and say, we’re done.

We’re out of here. Are there 0. 01 percent of the time where you might screw up that badly on something simple? Yeah, there’s risk in everything. I mean, I was watching an episode of FBI recently, the Dick Wolf show, and, there’s a married couple on there and they were talking about how, you know, geez, they were going on vacation and, and should they fly on separate planes because they have a kid that is carrying risk mitigation to an extreme.

Gini Dietrich: Now I’m going to have to worry about that. Thanks.

Chip Griffin: I mean, it’s, it, it is, it is one of those things where can you try to guard against every risk? You can try, you will fail, you cannot guard every risk. You can’t do that in your business either. And so you need to focus on where are you providing the best value?

Where are the risks the greatest. And maybe that’s where you say, yes, on, on this, you know, 2 percent of the kind of work that you’re doing, I do want to see that before it goes out. Maybe that’s proposals. Maybe it’s, I don’t know, maybe it’s a CEO speech draft, if that’s a rare thing that you do. There may be things that are significant enough to the relationship that it’s worth putting your hands on, but it shouldn’t be everything, every day.

Gini Dietrich: You know, we. I have, I have, I will say this, I, on my team I have one of the very best writers I’ve ever worked with. She’s so good. She’s young! She’s not, you know, she’s got like 5 or 6 years of experience, but a signficantly better writer than pretty much everybody I’ve worked with. Anybody else I’ve worked with in my entire career.

And so when I went, you know, after we got her going and understanding the client and all that stuff, I said, I don’t need to see this content. You’re like, she’s writing blog posts for a couple of clients. She’s doing white paper. She’s doing like short and long term written content. And about a week ago, one of the clients emailed me and said, The content that is coming out of your team is so good that we look at it and think, dang, how come we can’t do that internally? And that’s what you want. Like for me, I was like, we just hit the Mecca to have a client say that because, and I’m not reviewing it. Her boss isn’t reviewing it. Like we’ve given her carte blanche to do what she thinks is best. Have there been times where the client has said, well, we can’t really say this or this is, yeah, for sure through the education process, but it, at no point has the client said, Oh, I really wish you’d have a better editing process or that, you know, it wouldn’t come to me like this. At no point.

Have they ever said that on anything. So you have to be able to say, I’m okay with the fact that this person is not me. I’m okay with the fact that this person named may not write or produce the same way I do, but good enough is good enough. And if the client is happy, who cares?

Chip Griffin: Well, and also, I mean, how arrogant is it to believe that you as the owner, never make a mistake either.

I mean, I probably shouldn’t admit this in a recording because it will come back to haunt me when Jen comes and says, remember you said this on the podcast? I’ve made mistakes occasionally. It happens. I mean, sometimes.

Gini Dietrich: This is going to haunt you. You’re right.

Chip Griffin: I’m sure it is. I’m sure it is. I mean, occasionally I’ve had typos in content that I put out or I used a turn of phrase that I shouldn’t use. The client, you know, isn’t going to be happy with. It happens.

And just because I’m looking at something that my employee put together, it doesn’t eliminate that risk. Does it reduce it? Sure. But it still might get past even my process. So, you know, you really have to think these things through. And I, I think a lot of it comes down to sitting down and looking at how you’re spending your week as an agency owner, you know, really do that time tracking that we’ve talked about, sit down and make that list of all the tasks and figure out, is this really adding value that is at my level, the level of owner?

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Yes. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: Because if it’s not, it probably ought to go away, because it will help you with your profit margin, it helps you price better and more competitively, it improves your team’s morale because you’re not getting up in their business on things that you have no business doing. And frankly, it probably improves the turnaround time for clients as well.

Because if it doesn’t have to go through that step, unless you’re sitting around with nothing else to do as an agency owner, and I know I don’t ever talk to an agency owner who says, I have tons of free time.

Gini Dietrich: I have so much time. What should I do?

Chip Griffin: So, so inevitably you are slowing things down in addition to everything else.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Yes.

Chip Griffin: So clear that stuff off of your list. Let it go. Stop worrying, show trust, and if you avoid micromanagement, good things will happen.

Gini Dietrich: Good things will happen. I think that’s the hardest thing for people to understand is it’s going to be okay and good things will happen. And you will be so much happier because you’re not having to sit up at 9, 10, 11, 12 o’clock at night trying to get through stuff so that you’re not the bottleneck or you’re about to miss a deadline.

Stop doing that. Let your team do their jobs.

Chip Griffin: And more often than not, if a client has an issue, they will let you know. Absolutely. There are times where they will just suffer in silence and cancel. But, but my experience has been that more often than not, they will say something. If they’re, if they’re working with someone on their account who they’re not comfortable with, and not happy with, Because you are not disappearing completely.

I’m not advocating that you never talk to a client. You should still have a relationship. Every small agency owner should have some degree of relationship with every single client. I saw a small agency owner posted somewhere recently that they had some clients that they, that they’ve never even met. They didn’t even know they had as clients.

Gini Dietrich: Oh my gosh.

Chip Griffin: You know, I mean, if you, if you’re an agency with hundreds of clients, okay, maybe, but if you are a typical small agency with 10 to 20 clients, that doesn’t make any sense to me. So

Gini Dietrich: that’s not, yeah.

Chip Griffin: And I don’t know this individual’s business well enough to know how they’re structured, how many clients they have.

I’m hopeful that it’s, you know, a larger high volume agency. In any case, you need to have those relationships still even as you’re letting go, but you don’t need to talk to them daily or weekly. You don’t need to be copied on every email. You can check in with them quarterly. You can check in with them semi annually, whatever it takes just to sort of, to make sure that they still know that you’re there, that they know that you are accessible.

You always want to make sure that they, you tell them, look, if you, if you ever need me, you come, you just let me know. And I have yet to see any client who abuses that. When I owned Custom Scoop and we had hundreds of clients, I was happy to give them all my direct contact information. Do you know how many ever contacted me?


Gini Dietrich: Zero? Zero.

Chip Griffin: Never had anybody reach out to me directly before, you know, without going to someone else on the team, you know, proper channels and all that.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Right.

Chip Griffin: But they had it, and, and that oftentimes makes people feel good, that they just know, if I need to reach out to the CEO, if I need to reach out to the agency owner, I can do it.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And that’s great. And to your point, like, you don’t have to be in contact every day, or every week, or even every month. But do stay in contact and do stay at the point. So one of the things we do is we do a quarterly review with our clients and I’m in, I’m in all of those meetings. Cause usually what we require on the client side is the CEO or the president, whoever’s running the business is in it as well.

So if, if the leader of the business is in a meeting, then I’m there too. If the, if it’s the chief marketing officer, the chief communications officer, their director of marketing or something like that, I’m not there. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

Chip Griffin: Seems very reasonable.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. It’s not hard.

Chip Griffin: Unfortunately, unfortunately, no one does that practice. And that’s why we have to do this episode, apparently, every single year.

Gini Dietrich: Every year.

Chip Griffin: Without even realizing it, we now realize, so I guess maybe next year, we probably don’t even need to put it on the counter. Cause we’ll just, you know, it’s springtime.

We’re starting to see the buds on the trees and that kind of stuff. We’ll say, you know what? I think we need to talk about this. I think we need to revisit this.

Gini Dietrich: Cause you keep having conversations with clients about it. And. Then you say, okay, this, this continues to come up. Let’s have this conversation.

Chip Griffin: I mean, we, we are clearly failing at our jobs because I know that the agency owners that I talk with by and large, listen to this podcast, maybe not every episode, maybe they, maybe every year they skip over this one, but I sort of feel like we’re just, we are not doing a good job of convincing people that micromanagement is bad, trust is good, and you need to let go.

Gini Dietrich: It’s hard though. I. Maybe we’re not. Your name’s on the door. Right, but it is hard. It’s hard to, yes. It’s your sweat, it’s your blood, it’s your tears, it’s your baby, it’s all of those things. And you’re, at the end of the day, you’re the only one who is going to be concerned with whether it’s successful or fails.

Like, that’s just the truth of it. So it is hard to do. But if you want to grow a business, you cannot do it by having your fingers in everything.

Chip Griffin: It is a massive limiter of the business if you don’t let go.

Gini Dietrich: Let it go. Let it go.

Chip Griffin: Thank God I’m not the one singing here, so. I think, since we’ve started singing, it’s probably time to end this show.

Gini Dietrich: I also want to know more about this FBI show. I love Law and Order. I did not know this existed.

Chip Griffin: You don’t know, but there’s a whole, Dick Wolf has a whole series of three, FBI, FBI most wanted and FBI international. I think something like that.

Gini Dietrich: I know what I’m doing tonight.

Chip Griffin: The Dick Wolf model of TV now is basically you just take over a whole night for a network.

And so this is, I think, CBS. Oh, I, I watch streaming, so I can’t swear to that, but it’s, so they just take the whole block, just like Law and Order is, you know, all three episodes of Thursday night. And the Chicago’s are, I don’t know what network has the Chicago’s. I think that’s NBC also. But yeah, Dick Wolf has what, like nine primetime TV shows right now?

Gini Dietrich: He’s gotta be a hundred years old too.

I mean, I, I have no idea. I know the name because it shows up on the title card. Right, right. Every episode by…

I will check it out. I did not know this.

Chip Griffin: It is a good show. I recommend it.

Gini Dietrich: Okay.

Chip Griffin: But I don’t think Dick Wolf really makes bad shows, to be honest with you.

I’m sure he has at some point. I, I can’t speak to all of them.

Gini Dietrich: But not anymore. He definitely has the formula figured out.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I mean, it’s not, you know, it doesn’t like drive you to think carefully or anything like that, but I like it because you can put it on, you know, you know, there are some common threads through it, you know, keeps you interested, but you don’t have to pay 100 percent attention because usually I get the TV on in the background while I’m doing something else.

Gini Dietrich: Doing something else.

Yep. Me too. All right.

Chip Griffin: I’m sure listeners are real. This is probably why the message hasn’t gotten through because we go off on these tangents and so now people are all out there Googling FBI so they can watch a Dick Wolf show instead of,

Gini Dietrich: It was at the end.

Chip Griffin: You know, focusing on the core message here, which is stop micromanaging, trust.

Gini Dietrich: Stop it.

Chip Griffin: Let it go.

Gini Dietrich: Stop it.

Chip Griffin: We’re going to let this episode go. Thanks for listening. 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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