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Define your ambition to get (and keep) your agency on track for success

Updated February 2, 2022

As much as we may like to talk about things like work-life balance, the truth is that there is no bright line between business and personal when you are a business owner and entrepreneur.

We can achieve many of our personal goals only by meeting specific business objectives.

That’s why the AIM-GET Framework for Agency Success that I created starts by zeroing in on your Ambition as the agency owner.

What do you want from your agency?

There is no reason to take on the risk and stress of running your own business if you aren’t getting what you want (and need) from it.

That means you need to be clear with yourself about what those aims include.

For most agency owners, you will want to look at:

  • How much time do you spend working?
  • What type of work are you doing (and do you enjoy it)?
  • How much money are you making?
  • What is your plan for exiting the agency (and when do you want to do that)?

There may well be other things that are important to you, but these questions are a good place to get started.

The work you do

You’re the boss, so you get to decide how you spend each day. OK, perhaps it isn’t quite that simple, but it is more true than you may realize.

But what about all of the demands that clients have, you ask.

First, you get to choose the clients you have (and how demanding you will allow them to be).

Second, you get to choose the team that you work with (and what their roles are).

When you are working too much or doing work you don’t like, don’t blame clients or circumstances.

Blame yourself.

I know that may be tough medicine to swallow, but that’s why I like to start my work with an agency by understanding what the owner wants from the business.

If you know the kind of work you want to do – and how much time you want to spend working – you can develop strategic and tactical plans that will help get you there.

That doesn’t mean you can fix something that’s broken overnight. It takes time to affect meaningful change.

But only if you know what those goals are can you make the necessary decisions to help you achieve the agency that you actually want to work in.

The money you make

Agency owners often figure that they will work as hard as they can and make as much money as they can.

Earlier in my career, I was guilty of that mindset myself.

I wasn’t honest with myself about how much I needed and wanted to earn from my business.

Some years, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I made.

Other years, I was disappointed that I fell short of where I felt I ought to be.

But in most of those cases, I wasn’t clear before the year started about where those numbers should fall for my own personal wants and needs.

Not having a clear number in mind means that you will pocket your profits in the good times without an adequate plan for navigating rougher seas.

It means that in lean times, you will fall short – perhaps deciding to spare team members of pain and taking it all on yourself.

Neither of those is a good option.

Know what your personal budget is and how the agency will meet it.

Understand what you’d ideally like to be earning from your business someday, and it will allow you to develop an action plan to get there.

The future that is possible

Finally, you need to be thinking about the final days of your agency under your control.

How do you want to exit the business?

Will you be passing it on to a family member, transferring to an employee, selling to a third party, locking the doors and throwing away the keys, or going out toes-up?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. And your idea for an exit may well evolve over time.

The more you want to see from your exit in terms of financial returns or work flexibility, the earlier you need to start the planning process. In some cases, it may take more than 5 years to plan and execute the exit that you want.

You need to know your own Ambition and how that exit fits into it.

Are you inclined to reap the profits over many years and invest it in the stock market or elsewhere to satisfy yourself that you have built something with your time beyond your annual compensation?

Do you want a big payday at the end – and do you understand what that entails, both in the leadup to the sale as well as after the deal closes?

These are all things to explore as you define your Ambition for an exit.

Ego and other stuff

Though we may claim otherwise, it does require some level of ego to run your own business. You must believe in yourself enough that you are willing to take the risk of driving revenue, producing results for clients, and achieving profitability for yourself and your team.

What elements of your ego might drive your Ambition beyond the things already discussed in this article?

Are there trophies that you want to have on the wall to feel like you have been successful?

Do you need to achieve a certain headcount or revenue level to feel like you have “made it”?

Does your photo wall need to show you with politicians, celebrities, or other luminaries to give you validation?

Do you want specific logos on your website or slide deck to prove to others that you could really do it?

None of these things are inherently bad or wrong. The fact is that it is your business so you should be able to aim for whatever you want no matter what others might think about it.

Now, if I’m working with you to help you grow your agency, I will likely challenge you on some of the things above to see if they are really as meaningful to you as you think they are once you understand the tradeoffs needed to achieve them.

But at the end of the day, you get to decide.

So craft your Ambition to include these things and they will help you as you build out your personal plan for the agency.

Without Ambition it is hard to achieve success

If you don’t define the Ambition that you have for your agency business journey, you won’t be able to build an Intentional Agency.

You will likely end up building the agency that you think you are supposed to rather than the one that you actually want.

That’s why the AIM-GET process starts with Ambition – and why you should take the time to think about what you really want to get out of your time and effort running an agency business for yourself.

Chip Griffin

Chip Griffin

Chip is the Founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance and a longtime agency leader and entrepreneur. He helps PR and marketing agency owners build businesses they want to own.

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