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Chip Griffin is the founder and the Small Agency Growth Alliance where he helps PR & marketing agencies grow and thrive. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur. He shares 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.

Recent Episodes

Defining your Ambition as an agency owner

If you’re taking on all of the risk and stress of running your own business, you need to be getting what you want from it.

But how do you know that without clearly defining what you want to achieve?

In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss SAGA’s AIM-GET Framework that starts with defining the owner’s Ambition. They look at some questions to ask yourself as you seek to better specify the goals that your business needs to achieve for you in order to be successful and satisfying.

Key takeaways

Chip Griffin: “The first thing that I always want to understand from a client is what they’re trying to achieve. And I think too many small business owners generally, but particularly agency owners, don’t really think about what they’re trying to get from the business and instead, let the business run them.”

Gini Dietrich: “We all craft plans for clients, we all create project management plans to be able to get the work done, we break down every big strategic rock into smaller pieces so that it’s manageable and not overwhelming. It’s the same thing. If your big strategic rock is to work 20 hours less a week, you have to break that down into manageable chunks.”

Chip Griffin: “There’s no point in taking on all of the the risk of entrepreneurship if you’re not getting what you want from it.”

Gini Dietrich: “I believe that if you aren’t happy in your business, and you’re not satisfied with the work that you’re doing, you’re not gonna make any money anyway.”

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 today we’re going to be talking about ambition and goals and what we want to accomplish with this podcast or something.

Gini Dietrich  

So I’m sure we can do that. Absolutely.

Chip Griffin  

Sure, ok. Right after this. I’m actually not feeling all that ambitious today. So maybe we shouldn’t focus on the ambition for this show, maybe we should focus on some other kind of ambition.

Gini Dietrich  

I agree. Because I am also not feeling very ambitious today.

Chip Griffin  

I’m feeling like this is a box we need to check. But we’re still going to put on a good show for you. Because because all of you in agency land know that this happens from time to time that sometimes you don’t feel super motivated to get the job done. But you have to do it anyway. And so that’s where we are. Because it’s 2022 – the 2020s. Over and over again.

Gini Dietrich  

Again, and again. And again. And again.

Chip Griffin  

But I’m sure since we record in advance, by the time people hear this, everything will be magically better. 

Gini Dietrich  

Oh yeah. Yeah. There’s no sub variant of Omicron or COVID going on.

Chip Griffin  

All good news. All good news. Yeah. All right.

Gini Dietrich  

No snow pounding the East Coast or anything like that.

Chip Griffin  

Yes, blizzards. Fun times. Yes. We like those. All right, well, no. So let’s, we’re actually gonna talk about is ambition, because regular listeners may know that I use something called the AIM-GET framework with clients. And the A is for ambition, because the first thing that I always want to understand from a client is what they’re trying to achieve. And I think too many small business owners generally, but particularly agency owners, don’t really think about what they’re trying to get from the business and instead, let the business run them.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I mean, we, we talked about this a bit, in general, but I think everybody does that. Like I went into business thinking I was going to build this great big global firm that was going to compete with the FleishmanHillards of the world. And as I started to grow it, I realized that is not at all what I wanted to do, and I was in business for myself for the wrong reasons.

Chip Griffin  

Right. Well, and I think there is a tendency to think about your your business goals. And so a lot of folks will come to me and say, you know, I want to have this kind of revenue, I want to have this number of employees or I don’t want to have more than a certain number of employees, or any of those kinds of things. We’ve talked about a lot of those topics before. But it really all comes back to that, that root cause of understanding what you want from it, because only then can you really make smart business decisions that are helping to advance your own goals. If you want someone else to make the decisions for you, you can go get a job somewhere else. Presumably, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re running your own business, because you want to have some degree of control.

Gini Dietrich  

Right. And I always say, you know, people will say, Well, why did you go out on on your own and the the reason has changed in the last 15 years. But I love that I can control my own destiny. If it’s a client, I don’t want to take, I don’t take it. If it’s a meeting, I don’t want to participate in, I don’t participate, like I have, I can control that destiny. And I mean, truth be told, if I want to make some more money, or we’re going to make a big purchase for the house or something like that, I can make more money, I don’t have to go ask for a bonus or a raise or you know, work a second job. I mean, I might be working a second job from the number of hours I’m working, but I can make more money. And I am in control of that. And I love that part of owning my own business.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, and for each owner, it’s going to be something different, right? So for some people, it is the financial for some people, it’s the flexibility of the work you do for some, it’s the flexibility of what you can do with your free time and when your free time lands. Because, you know, we certainly you have clients and clients control that quote unquote, to some degree, but you also have some degree of, of control over it yourself. And so, you know, understanding what it is that’s driving you, allows you to be much more satisfied. And I think that if you hate your business, and you just say I’m just trying to do the best I can because I need to make the money and I you know, I want to be able to retire someday, that’s not a good enough reason. You need to have some satisfaction out of what you’re doing if you’re going to be successful at it and and not resent it and not wish you just had a regular full time job somewhere.

Gini Dietrich  

Well, and I believe that if you aren’t happy in your business, and you’re not satisfied with the work that you’re doing, you’re not gonna make any money anyway. So it doesn’t I mean, it….

Chip Griffin  

I guess I push back on that a little bit. I’ve seen some pretty miserable agency owners who actually make decent money.

Gini Dietrich  

Really? I am not that way. If I were miserable, I would not make money.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah. I mean, the problem is that you know, they’re usually they usually still think they should be making more or you know, more often they’re just they’re upset about the number of hours they’re working. Right. So they’re, they’re making good money, but they’re, you know, working 100 hours a week, and, you know, feel like they’re making no progress, you know, but you have to decide what it is. And I love that you said it changes, or it’s changed for you over time, because it does change, right where you are in your life where you are with your business changes what you want to get out of it. So, you know, while I think you do need to sit down, either, ideally, before you start the business, or at some point along the way, and say, Okay, this is this is what my ambition is, and this is how the business will help me fulfill it, you need to review that periodically, to see how it’s changing. For a lot of people, the last two years is has changed some of the things that what they value.

Gini Dietrich  

Absolutely. I actually, I review it annually, I sit down with myself, me, myself and I, and I do have those honest conversations with myself. And I think about things like, what do I want to accomplish this year? What do I want the business to accomplish this year? Are we doing the kinds of work that I want us to be doing? What can we add in, where do I need to bring in talent for certain things, I do that every year. And really analyze if the business is where I want it to be, and if not what we need to do in the coming 12 months to be able to get it there.

Chip Griffin  

Right. And we’ve talked about the importance of your own role as the agency owner. And so if you don’t understand what you’re trying to get out of it, you can’t then design your role so that you’re both happy with it, and you’re producing the best results possible for the business. So they really are, are completely intertwined. And so you need to spend some quality time to think about it. I love that you do it annually. That’s why I recommend generally for people either annually, or if some significant life event comes along, you know.

Gini Dietrich  

The pandemic, kids, divorce…

Chip Griffin  

 Pandemic, kids, divorce, or something, there’s some triggering event, then it’s, then it’s time for you to just, you know, step back, take a deep breath, have the conversation with yourself, have it with friends, or family or whomever, so that you can try to think through where you’re headed. And then you can make those steps. You can figure out what the steps are along the way to get there.

Gini Dietrich  

It’s so funny you say that because I remember, you know, in March and April of 2020, everybody was sort of like, okay, what’s going to happen? And what do we do? And should we, you know, are we going to have to move things around and, and there was that two week period at the last week of March and the first week of April, that I kept having these conversations with clients. Some clients were fine. They were like, Yeah, we’re gonna actually, we can expand our, our online services, and you can help us with that. And some, some clients, we have one client that we had forever, that was in manufacturing, and he was like, I can’t even have people working because, right, we’re in a ship in a lockdown. But I remember having these conversations, and there was one client I had not talked to yet. And he called me that first week of April, and I picked up the phone and I said, I don’t want to have this conversation, do I? And he goes, No. I was like, okay, but it really, I think because I had experienced the Great Recession, and was not prepared for that, I was better prepared for the pandemic and for what that meant for the business, and was able to adjust pretty quickly because of it. But had I not gone through the Great Recession, I don’t think I would have been as ready as I had been.

Chip Griffin  

Right. And and that’s I mean, we should always be learning, right? You should, whether it’s in business or in life, you know that the experiences that you have should inform your future ones, you obviously want to be careful that they don’t make you you know, gun shy that all of a sudden, you know, you, you start, you know, living in your little bubble, because you don’t want to run any of the risks of things going wrong that you’ve seen go wrong in the past. But if you if you learn from those mistakes, you will have an opportunity to to build that better path forward.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s really important too. I love the ambition. I love the framework. I love the idea of even if it’s just you know, thinking about once a year, what you want the business to look like. But really understanding how things that are happening globally will affect that, like with a pandemic, my husband came home in December. And he said, I remember this, he said, I think something’s happening here. And we should pay attention. And I remember going come on like, really? And he was like, No, I really think something’s going on here. And he’s like, just kind of stock up on a few things, just in case. And so I did. Um, but you know, because he was paying attention globally. And he looks at he looks at that stuff through a different lens because he’s in politics than I do. But because of that, I started to look at the team. And I started to look at the the book of business that we had and I knew which clients were not going to be able to sustain a PR firm, an external PR firm. I knew that in January, right? So just being able to understand your ambition, what your goals are, but also how global events are going to affect that, you know, stock market changes, all of that stuff affects the work that we do.

Chip Griffin  

Right And I think there are some some key core things that you need to be thinking about, we’ve touched on some of them. The first is, how much do you want to make, right? If you don’t, if you’re not thinking through how much you want to earn that’s a mistake. A lot of folks just say, Make as much as I can. Okay, cool. That sounds nice. But you really need to figure out what’s the minimum, what do you need to make in order to make this worthwhile? In fact, I get asked pretty regularly by folks who are thinking about going out on their own, what should my hourly rate be? Well, first, you need to figure out how much you need to make. And then you need to figure out how many hours you can work. And now you know, the minimum, right, then you can from there, you can figure out other things. But you know, if you need to make $100,000 a year, and you can work 30 hours a week on actual client work, not other stuff. Okay, now, just do the math. And you can figure out what that minimum amount on an hourly basis you need to be earning. Now, whether you charge on the hourly, we had that conversation with you, but you need to understand how much you need to make and how much you want to make. Right? So that’s the, you know, if you understand what you need to survive, you know, what you can’t go below which helps inform your business decisions. And if you know what you want to make, again, that helps inform those decisions. So focus on that as a piece of your ambition. But it’s not the only thing.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I think the way that you position this, both on this podcast and with your clients is really smart. And it is if you know something happens to you, or you decide that you want to go live on an island and you want somebody to run the business, what are you going to have to pay that person to take over your job. And that’s the best place to start. I say to clients all the time, if you were to go get a job at a in a corporation, what would they pay you? And usually it’s, you know, a quarter million dollars to half a million dollars or more. And I’m like, Okay, how much you paying yourself? 60 grand? What?! No, no!! When your junior level employees are making more money than you are, problem.

Chip Griffin  

Right. But that’s because most of those folks haven’t gone through this process correctly. And they’re taking what the business can give, rather than telling the business what they need to get. Yep. And it really, you are the owner, you need to drive this process. And if you’ve got multiple partners, you need to each have this idea of your ambition, and then you need to figure out where’s the overlap, right? Because if you’ve got one partner who’s like, I’m fine making 60,000. Another one’s like, well, if I make anything less than 180, you know, my spouse is going to kill me. You know, you need to reconcile those things, because they will lead to very different decisions about how you manage the business, how you focus on investments and profitability, and all those kinds of things.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I think I think setting aside the money that you need to make, at a minimum, is really smart. And then building it around, building the business around that is, I wish I had done that in the beginning. Because there were years I didn’t make anything. And because I was paying it to employees, which was dumb, that was dumb.

Chip Griffin  

Terrible. It’s terrible. I mean, and it’s it is unfortunately, it’s less often that that happens in the early stages. More often it happens when there’s a dip in the business, that the owner says, Well, you know, I don’t want to let anyone go, I don’t want anyone else to have to take a haircut. So I’m just I’m gonna take it on myself, right? And a lot of times, it’s because they blame themselves for certain conditions. And maybe it is their fault, maybe, maybe not, maybe it’s external. It’s probably partially their fault for whatever reason, but it doesn’t matter. You still need to take care of yourself. You own the business, there is no excuse for not taking care of yourself. I know that sounds selfish, but it is so important. Because if you are unhappy, if you don’t do what needs to be done to take care of yourself, the business is going to die anyway. And your employees are going to lose their jobs anyway.

Gini Dietrich  

Yep. Yeah. It sucks to let people go, badly. But sometimes, you have to do what’s best for you. And…

Chip Griffin  

It sucks to lay people off. It’s great to fire them for cause. As you know, I like to do that.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, well I don’t like to fire people either. That’s why I outsource that to you.

Chip Griffin  

You keep saying it, but you know, I still haven’t had a chance.

Gini Dietrich  

I haven’t had to fire anyone. It’s great. I have a great team. It’s amazing.

Chip Griffin  

Great team. Congratulations, all you Spin Sucks people. But it isn’t just about money. It’s also about you know the amount of time that you’re working. And this is this is probably the even more so than than financial. The biggest complaint I get from clients is I’m working too much. I just I feel like I don’t ever get to take a break. I can’t take time off. I’m working 70, 80, 90 hours a week. And so part of your definition of ambition has to be how much time do you want to work? When do you want those hours to fall? Do you want them to be just Monday through Friday? Okay, well, that leads to some business decisions. You probably don’t want to be in web hosting or crisis comms where Saturday and Sunday are fair game. You can’t just tell a client I’m sorry, you cannot have a problem on a weekend. I mean, or you need to really be staffed up so that you don’t personally have to be involved. Right. But those are, again, it’s understanding what your rules are, what your targets are, and then making your business’s decisions based on that so that you can fulfill that ambition.

Gini Dietrich  

You just reminded me of a story. We had a client pass away on Thanksgiving. And he was famous. So we had to go through the whole rigmarole. And we knew it was coming. He was very sick. But it literally happened on Thanksgiving day. I’ll never forget, I was sitting on the couch in the living room, there’s a turkey in the oven. Like I have family everywhere. And I’m like talking to the New York Times about this. Sorry, it just happened on Thanksgiving Day. Nothing I can do about it. Like, I wish that I it had been the day before or the following week. But yeah, you have to decide if that’s the kind of work that you’re going to do or not. And if you are, you have to be prepared for a death on Thanksgiving Day.

Chip Griffin  

I think the only day that I can remember of the year that I’ve never had a business call would be Christmas. I don’t – I can’t ever recall one. Christmas Eve, for sure, even late Christmas Eve, but I can’t recall ever in my 30 years on it. But every other – Thanksgiving, New Years. All those others I certainly have had business calls.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I don’t think I have on Christmas day there. But all the others I have for sure. Yeah.

Chip Griffin  

So but that also means, you know, you need to understand, you know, how important are those things to you – define them, you know, how important is flexibility? How important is the work that you’re doing? Right? Is it – You know, for me, one of the reasons why I love running my own businesses, is because I get to try a lot of new things, learn a lot of new things. And I have the flexibility to, to see an opportunity and go after it in a way that you can’t as an employee. Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you like to stay in your lane. And that’s what you want to do. Okay, that’s fine, you need to understand that because those, again, will lead to very different business decisions. But you should be making them and not saying, you know, what’s the opportunity for the agency? Where should the agency be going, if you don’t know what you want, personally, first, because you can very quickly end up with a business that is on paper successful, but makes you miserable.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah. I’ve mentioned before that I’m running the marketing department for a client and my own agency, and I’m exhausted. Um, I definitely had more ambition last summer than I do now, shen I took this on. But I will say that one of the things that I did early on, and I’m so glad I did, as I said, I put certain things off limit, like you can’t, I don’t do meetings before 10am their time, they’re on the east coast. So nine o’clock my time, I don’t do meetings past three o’clock their time, which is two o’clock my time because I want to be able to do school pickup and not have to worry about, you know, trying to manage meetings and zooms and all that while I’m in the car, or after when when she’s home. I don’t want to I don’t want to deal with that. So I have set pretty strict parameters in place. I will say however, they very much take advantage from the between the nine to two period. In some cases, I have 15 minute after 15 minute after 15 minute after 15 minute meetings. But I will say that’s one thing I did that was really smart in the beginning is I just set those expectations that that does not happen. In fact, they they asked if I could do a call tonight. And I was like, nope. After two o’clock not happening.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah. And look, I mean, here’s the thing. I mean, when you sit down and you you define your ambition, you’re not necessarily going to be able to get there immediately whether you’re just starting your agency or whether you’re trying to course correct. Right. But but you need to know where you’re headed. Because then what I’ll do is is I’ll say to you, okay, well, this is what you want, what needs to change for you to get there? And so, you know, because then you can start working through okay, well, you know, I’d like to go from 70 hours a week to 50 hours a week of work. Okay, great. Well, let’s take a look at how you’re spending those 70 hours, what can we move to someone else? What just doesn’t need to be done at all? What can be done more efficiently? How can we rearrange things over time to get you there? Because that’s not going to be an overnight thing. It’s not like you can say, starting in March, I’m going to be working 30% less. Odds are that’s not going to turn out too well. Right? I mean, maybe you’ll get lucky it mean, it probably means you have a lot of fat in your day, if you’re able to just snap your fingers and wipe out you know, 30% of it. But if you know where you want to go then you can start taking those manageable steps. And so you know, it’s relieving two hours here, three hours there and all of a sudden, you know, it starts to add up and you get to where you want to be eventually because you knew that’s where you want it to go. And if you don’t get really specific about it, then you’ll be in a situation where you just say I want to work less Okay, well, what can I do? Well, I you know, I can hire someone else. Why? What are they going to do? You know a lot of times I see people go out and try to hire someone thinking it’s gonna relieve their burden. And in fact, it doesn’t, because they picked them to do the wrong stuff. You really got to figure out what can come off your plate and make the biggest difference in your day.

Gini Dietrich  

It’s like anything else, right? I mean, we all craft plans for clients, we all create project management plans to be able to get the work done, we break down every big strategic rock into smaller pieces so that it’s manageable and not overwhelming. It’s the same thing. If your big strategic rock is to work 20 hours less a week, you have to break that down into manageable chunks. How are you going to do that so that by the end of the year, you’re working 20 hours less a week?

Chip Griffin  

Right. And it’s, you know, just as you do with a client, and you say to them, you know, why do you want a new website, or an email marketing campaign, or a press release? You know, because you want to understand what the business purpose is behind it. So you can tailor your strategy for them, you need to do the same for your own agency business and say, Why am I trying to accomplish this? And that’s, that’s really why if you are the owner, if you are the partner in the business, you need to understand that for yourself. And one of the things I’ve got on my website is a list of questions where I suggest how you can start to think about it, it’s not a be-all end-all list, but it’s a good starting point to think through the things that you might want to include in your definition of ambition. So you started, we talked about the first one, which is how much do you need/want to make? How much do you want to work? So we talked about that. How do you feel about risk, which is a good one. Risk is a huge one, you really need to think about that because you can structure your business in a couple of different ways. As far as tailored to your preferred risk level, I guess is how I put it.

Gini Dietrich  

For sure, Yeah. Um, what type of work do you want to do? We talked about that, how important is flexibility to you? Who do you want to work with?

Chip Griffin  

The who is big because who is not… This is not just, you know, who you want to surround yourself with, because it is partially that right? The team that you want to work with the kinds of folks that you want to work with. But it’s also the kinds of clients that you want to work with. I mean, I work with plenty of agencies who say, you know, I want to work for clients who are making a difference, or I don’t want to work with clients who are in this sector or that sector. And that’s all fine. Know that in advance. So that you can, you know, structure an offering and structure your ideal client definition to include or exclude whoever you want.

Gini Dietrich  

This next question I love, where do you want to live?

Chip Griffin  

Yeah. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s what I didn’t really have pre-pandemic. But now, so many people are giving renewed thought to it that I think it’s a specific one that’s worth considering. And again, this is one of those ones that can change over time. And I’ve been working with a lot of agency owners over the last couple of years, who have decided to move to entirely different locations. Because that’s, you know, what was going on around them just motivated them to say, you know, what, I’m sick of living here, I want to live there. Great. And your business can support you in that as long as you know, what you’re trying to do. And again, it helps inform those decisions. Because if I want to live in Alaska, you know, I probably don’t want to be doing a lot of work that is time sensitive to the East Coast, or I’m going to be working some really strange hours. Or to Europe, for that matter. It’s pretty easy to work with Europeright now. But if you go another two hours behind, or three hours behind that’s, that’s pretty rough. Right. Yeah. I mean, I’ve tried working with some agencies in Australia. It’s a real challenge. 

Gini Dietrich  

That’s a real challenge.

Chip Griffin  

Because one of us is going to be dramatically inconvenienced by the call schedule. It’s just it’s impossible to talk to someone in Australia from the east coast of United States without someone being up at an obscene early hour, or obscene late hour.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, that’s true. How much do you want to travel?

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, another one, cuz that’s, that’s flex. I mean, that’s really related to flexibility. You know, but it’s also related to the timezone question and, you know, in a lot of other things, and if you want to build a business around travel, you know that that’s something to think about too, because, you know, maybe you want to go meet with clients in a lot of different places. And so you’re, you can craft an agency that allows you to travel for business, and still see a lot of the world.

Gini Dietrich  

When I started my business, I did that. I did I found clients in very great locations where I like to ski. So I had clients in Deer Valley, I had clients in Montana. I had clients in Colorado it was great.

Chip Griffin  

Right? I mean, and that’s fine, right? I mean, if, if that’s what you know you want from the business, then you can start targeting clients in those areas. And it gives you – it allows you to mix what you’re personally trying to achieve with what the business is trying to achieve. And to me that’s really what this is all about. There’s no point in taking, you know, on all of the the risk of entrepreneurship if you’re not getting what you want from it.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I think there- you should drop a link to these questions in the show notes. Because there’s several others. And it’s a really good list. But it really helps you start to think about it. And it may not be to your point, it won’t happen tomorrow, it may be a three to five year plan. But if you start thinking about that now and start thinking about how you can chunk it down into manageable to-do’s to be able to get it done, then that’s gonna be really helpful.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, and then you can start seeing the progress. And I think that’s, that’s so important, because a lot of times people want to make dramatic changes in their agency. And if you break it into manageable chunks, you know, it’s like a weight loss program, right? You know, if you say I want to lose 100 pounds, you probably be disappointed. If you say I want to lose 10 pounds that’s achievable. And then kind of keep growing from there. Or shrinking, I guess. So, anyway, the amount of time we have available is itself shrinking. So that’s going to bring us to an end of this episode, the Agency Leadership Podcast, but I hope that you had chance to think about your own ambition and you’ll spend some more time thinking about it, and defining it for yourself so that you can shape your business around what you actually want to get from it rather than allowing your business to drive you crazy.

Gini Dietrich  

Amen. 

Chip Griffin  

With that, I’m Chip Griffin. 

Gini Dietrich  

I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  

And it depends.

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