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How to get started with change at your agency

Many agency owners come to me with the knowledge that they have a lot of things that they need (or want) to change about their businesses. It can be an overwhelming feeling as they build out the list of what needs to be done.

In order to avoid allowing that feeling of overwhelm to turn into inaction, it is important to come up with a plan to address the needed changes.

The standard advice: just get started

The advice that people are often given in these situations is to just take one step at a time. Although that is true, it is overly simplistic.

How do you decide which step in which direction should come first?

On some level, it can be just about any step since they are all headed in the direction of improvement. But if you pick unwisely, you may end up with frustration that you aren’t seeing results quickly enough.

Choosing the right first step can help to build more momentum for all of the other steps to follow.

Map out your obvious needs

Start by building out a list of the changes that you already know that you want to make or the specific challenges that you want to solve.

This can be a long list or it might simply be the low-hanging fruit that you can identify right off the top of your head.

It doesn’t need to be exhaustive, however, because you’re only looking to identify your first steps here. Inevitably, this list will also continue to grow as you do more and unearth more opportunities and challenges ahead.

Determine the level of effort for each change

Once you have your list in place, go through each item to assess the amount of work it will take to complete.

For instance, coming up with a clear positioning statement might take just a few days, while rebuilding your website could take weeks or months.

The level of effort should also factor in the cost – both in time and money – to complete it. Some items might be able to be done with existing resources, while others may require you to hire an employee, contractor, or vendor.

The goal here isn’t to have specific numbers of hours or total dollar amounts, but rather to have a general understanding of the effort required. Something as simple as Low, Medium, and High labels would generally work just fine.

Determine the impact of each change

Not all items on your list will have the same level of reward if and when you complete it. Some you will feel personally, others will help the business at large, and some may be necessary but go largely unnoticed.

When it comes to prioritizing your own focus and the resources that you have available, you need to understand how big of a difference something will (or could) make if done successfully.

You need to consider not just the size of the potential reward, but also the likelihood of success. Buying a Powerball ticket has high potential reward, but a very low probability that you will actually get rich overnight. 

Be realistic with yourself when you make these assessments. Updating your corporate identity with a fresh logo, more modern font, and brighter colors might be useful, but freeing up your time to talk to more prospective clients would likely have a greater impact.

As a small agency owner, you need to pay particular attention to the level of reward that it provides to you personally. If it frees up your time, that is much more valuable than something that reduces the workload for someone else. As I always say, you need to make sure that you build a business that you want to own because it pays you what you deserve, allows you to do work that you enjoy, and gives you the flexibility to have the life that you want.

Just as with the level of effort, you can probably stick to simple labels like Low, Medium, and High to assign values to the impact at this point.

A word about risk and reward

The toughest tasks to assess when it comes to change may be those that don’t produce clear rewards but do carry risk if they are not done.

Buying key person life insurance policies or making sure that you have well-done legal documents like partnership agreements and client contracts in place may not generate much in terms of obvious benefits, but they do help to alleviate defined risks.

You should factor risks into the rewards equation or account for it in a separate process. In general, you don’t want to allow yourself to be consumed by mitigating risks, but you shouldn’t ignore them either – even when you have a large list already in front of you.

Compare the two lists

You should now have your tasks broken out in two ways: by the amount of effort required and by the level of potential reward.

Effort vs Reward

Anything that is high reward and low effort should probably bubble up to the top of your priority list. This is truly low-hanging fruit that will enable you to build quick momentum that should give you not just more appetite to tackle the rest of the list, but also the breathing room you need to invest in the more difficult changes ahead.

If you have tasks that are high effort and low potential reward, those are the ones that should probably get added to the “someday” list and not be an immediate priority. 

Once you have dealt with the extreme ends of the spectrum, you will need to work through prioritizing the rest of the list. In general, the tie-breaker if the reward level is the same for a task should be the one that requires less effort.

Now you can get started

With that prioritization out of the way, feel free to follow the generic advice to take just one step at a time. You have identified the first steps that will potentially be most meaningful the soonest, so you are setting yourself up for success.

Most importantly, don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the list of potential changes in front of you. Most small agency owners have lots of challenges and opportunities that they know they should address.

It’s all about figuring out the highest and best use of your time and resources right now – and then taking the steps needed to begin to make change happen.

Picture of 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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