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Characteristics of a Build to Own Agency

The Build to Own philosophy centers around the idea that you create an agency business that you enjoy waking up to and leading every day.

You’re not developing the agency of someone else’s dreams because you think it is what you are supposed to do or because you believe it will help you sell the business someday.

I have discussed the importance of the mindset around Build to Own, but what are the specific characteristics of an agency that you create with that outlook?

You do the kind of work you want to do

One of the biggest reasons that agency owners become dissatisfied with their businesses is because they are spending time doing work that they dread.

In a Build to Own agency, you write your own job description first. You shape your day and then fill in the gaps with the team you assemble rather than taking on all of the tasks that nobody else is doing.

You will still have necessary chores to do for the agency that you won’t love (we all do!) but if you spend most of your time doing the kind of work you love, you won’t just be happier, you will also achieve more.

You work the number of hours you want to work

The entire agency industry has a bad reputation for overworking employees, and that often includes the owners.

This usually results from not scoping and pricing projects correctly for clients, so you absolutely need to get that right in order to gain control over your own work-life balance.

But it starts with agreeing with yourself how much you want to work (and what kind of flexibility you want/need in your schedule in order to meet individual commitments, like kids’ sports, family trips, personal matters, and more).

A Build to Own agency owner knows the hours that they want to work and shapes their resourcing decisions around those goals.

You earn the amount of money you want to earn

There is no reason to take on all of the risk and stress of running your own business if you don’t get the financial rewards that you want and deserve.

If you try to grow an agency based on some expert’s formula or “best practices” that you have read about, you might figure that you will just harvest as much money from profits as you can.

But would you agree to take a job without knowing what your salary and bonus structure was going to look like?

Of course not.

When you grow a Build to Own agency, you need to be clear with yourself about what your base compensation needs to be and how you will take advantage of profitable growth to put more money in your own pocket.

You serve the clients you want serve

Sometimes I will have an agency owner ask me if one sector or another would be a good one for them to pursue, usually based on something that they read in the media.

Chasing the latest hot industry – like cannabis in recent years – might make sense if you have passion and experience to bring to the table, but if you’re doing it just to chase revenue the chances are that you will end up disappointed.

Rather than panning for gold, target a client base where your own interests and experience (and that of your team) can be brought to the table to create outstanding results for the people who hire you. 

There is no reason for this to hold you back because if you get creative you can structure an agency business that serves almost any type of client in any industry or geography both profitably and effectively.

You spend time with colleagues you want to spend time with

If you spend a large chunk of five out of every seven days with a group of people, they ought to be people you enjoy working alongside.

That doesn’t mean that you should hire all of your friends to work for your agency, and you don’t need to spend time with your team during your/their free time, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be trying to avoid conversations with them because you don’t enjoy those interactions.

Most agencies stick with underperforming or difficult team members too long because owners want to avoid difficult conversations.

In a Build to Own agency, you need to understand that the culture you create should be good not just for your team but for you, too.

Make your agency a place you actually want to work, not a business that you feel obligated to serve.

You achieve the outcomes you want to achieve

A successful Build to Own agency produces some of the specific results discussed above, but it also must help the owner achieve their own long-term goals.

That can mean different things for different people. While the Build to Own mindset means that you shouldn’t be relying on the equity value that you create for retirement or other life goals, it doesn’t mean that you can’t strive for that as an added bonus.

Your agency can also provide a vehicle for you to achieve other outcomes that you desire beyond direct monetary benefit, however.

A successful business may enable you to more easily engage in philanthropic endeavors or civic engagement. Your agency might be the cornerstone of a larger business empire. 

Owning your own business could give you the freedom to live where you want – or travel without a boss telling you that you can’t.

If you know the goals that you want to achieve, both now and in the future, a Build to Own agency can help you do just that.

Chip Griffin

Chip Griffin

Chip is the Founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance and a longtime agency owner and executive. He helps PR and marketing agency leaders build better businesses.

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