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Letting go as an agency owner

Just because you did everything when you started your business, doesn’t mean that you should keep doing it all. It’s probably time for you to let go of some of the things that you have your hands in today.

Letting go doesn’t just free up time on your schedule to do higher value work, it also empowers your team to produce better results. It drives increased retention of both clients and staff. And it helps you create a business that you are happier with.

In this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip Griffin and Gini Dietrich discuss why you need to let go, what you should be looking to give up, and how to do it effectively without losing the secret sauce that helped you grow to where you are today.

Key takeaways

Chip Griffin: “You need to create that culture where your team understands that you are going to trust them to do the job that you’ve hired them to do.”

Gini Dietrich: “When somebody says, do you need to look at this before it goes to the client? My favorite thing to say is, Nope, I trust you.”

Chip Griffin: “Rather than making it better, which is what you instinctively think is going to happen when you pull up your sleeves and help out, you’re actually undercutting the confidence of your team.”

Gini Dietrich, on letting your team do their jobs: “It may not be the way you want it done. It may not be the way you would have done it, but that’s okay. It’s okay.”

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 I’m just going to let it all go today. Gini, I’m letting it all go.

Gini Dietrich: I feel like singing. Let it go…

Chip Griffin: Oh, please don’t. How about we go to this music instead?

Plus, I don’t really want a copyright strike.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, fair. Okay. All right.

Chip Griffin: If you start singing lyrics to popular movie songs, the YouTube algorithm would flag us.

Gini Dietrich: Strike us down.

Chip Griffin: Shame on you.

Gini Dietrich: I did spend five days in Facebook jail, so I don’t want to be put in YouTube jail too.

Chip Griffin: Well. What did you end up in Facebook jail for?

Gini Dietrich: I told somebody I would kick their butt on a bicycle. And they took kick your butt, which was not the exact word I used the A word. Yes. They took that as me being, as me being harassed as me harassing the person and like really kicking their butt. Like

Chip Griffin: in fairness, you were harassing them, but not in the context.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. So it was not context was lost and they put me in jail.

Chip Griffin: You know, I’ve seen more and more people getting put into Facebook jail over the last few months.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, like the robots are out of control and there’s zero context zero.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, some of them probably belong in Facebook jail, you know, and it’s nice to get, you know, a few days break from them sometimes.

Yes, it does seem like it’s a pendulum has swung a little bit too much in the other direction there, but you know that’s what happens when you try to use technology as a sledgehammer to solve problems. That’s not what we do here. We use absolutely no technology to solve problems here. It’s pure gut and intuition.

Yes. You know, maybe a little bit of life experience along the way, but what we’re actually going to be talking about is letting it go. And, and there are people who have argued that I let it go a long time ago, but that’s, that’s a whole different topic. Instead we’re going to talk about how owners probably ought to be letting go a little bit more when they’re running their agency.

Gini Dietrich: Or a lot more, for that matter.

Chip Griffin: Well, baby steps, baby steps.

Gini Dietrich: Baby steps. I mean, I’ve had that experience right where I hire some really smart people and I didn’t have the experience either to let go give up control or put in the right process to be able to do it. And it cost me relationships. It cost me clients. It cost me a lot of money.

And I also, I have I noticed this about myself the more mature I get is that when I’m really, really busy and I’m stuck in the weeds, it’s harder for me to let go. And so I have to take a step back and say to myself, this is the moment. You can either stay up all night and do this yourself. Or you can rely on the really smart team that you have.

And that’s hard for me. I have to remind myself of that more often than I’d like to admit.

Chip Griffin: Well, I mean, the problem is that when you don’t let it go, You continue to make things worse and worse. And so rather than making it better, which is what you instinctively think is going to happen when you pull up your sleeves and just help out.

You’re actually you’re undercutting the confidence of your team. You’re perhaps causing them to, to not invest as much the next time around, because they’ll be like, well, Chip’s going to edit this anyway. Right. Why should I have deliver A effort? I mean, all I can do is get some words on the page and then he can do whatever he’s going to do to it, you know?

And, and so you need to create that culture where people understand that you’re, you are going to trust them to do the job that you’ve hired them to do.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, and it makes your life so much easier because you think, oh, like my, my big thing is I procrastinate so much that it gets to the point that if I ask somebody to do it, they’re going to have to work, you know, extra hours or over, you know, into the evening or whatever to get it done.

And so then I don’t do it. So that’s, that’s a big one for me. So I have to say to myself, okay, you can’t procrastinate. This, it has to get done. And you have to trust the team that you have. That they’re going to do it. And it may take me a little extra time on the front end, but life is so much easier when you do that, because now to your point, the team knows that you have the confidence in them that you trust them, that they can do the best job that they can do.

And you’re going to be like, great. This is amazing. Let’s continue forward. It may not be the way you want it done. It may not be the way you have done it, but that’s okay. It’s okay. I promise. It’s okay.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, you always have to ask yourself, is it good enough? And I’m not talking, just kind of phone it in just barely, you know, you can still do excellent work as an agency, even if it’s not exactly the way that you would have done it.

And, and you have to keep in mind that it’s good enough in your mind. It might actually be better in the client’s mind than whatever you would have done had you done it personally.

Gini Dietrich: That’s exactly right. And you know, I think that’s the thing is we have… I actually just wrote a blog post about this, but we have, we have the curse of knowledge.

So we have this, this bias, I would guess I would call it around the work that we do, that there’s only one way to do it and that’s our way is the best way. And what you find when you trust those really smart people that you’ve hired to do their jobs. That sometimes their way is actually the best way. And the client is extremely happy and you didn’t have to do it.

And, you know, I, I have always, always said, and I say this to my team all the time when a client has decided that they are at a point they don’t need us anymore because we’ve taught them everything that they can do to go on to the next level, beyond what we do. That’s the best situation to be in.

It’s not fun to lose a client, especially when you’ve been working with them for years to build something. But when they say to you, you have taught us so much. Thank you. Now we’re going to go on and we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. We’re going to build an in, I’ve had clients go build an internal customer service team to handle all the leads.

Like I’ve had lots of different, not that they’re hiring a different firm, but they are transferring that money to something else, because they’ve been so successful during the work that we have. And that’s the best situation. It’s not, but I relate that because it’s the same kind of thing with your team.

Like if you get to the point where you’re like, oh, you’ve handled this and I don’t have to worry about it. That is the best feeling in the world. The best.

Chip Griffin: And I think it’s also important to understand that that letting go as an agency owner… it’s not just about saving time, because in fact, sometimes you have to invest more time.

It’s really about giving up control. And so that means that sometimes you actually have to go the extra mile. And so we’ve talked about some examples here where you can let it go, let your team handle things, but that also means sometimes you need to involve your team in things. And I’m thinking in particular, when it comes to business development, owners like to put together proposals and pricing and not consult their team because they don’t want to bother their team.

They don’t…

Gini Dietrich: It’s not billable work.

Chip Griffin: It’s not billable work. And I need to maintain these utilization rates for my team. And if I do this, I’m going to drive those down. And I was told I need to have 85% billable. And if I, if I work with them on this it’s going to drive that down. It’s nuts and you need to involve your team so that your proposal has the right solutions, the right timelines and the right pricing, because now, you know how much it’s actually going to take to get it done.

And you’re not basing it off of your own estimates of what it would take you to do some of these things, because the further you are removed from the day-to-day as your agency grows, the less accurate your estimates are going to be about timelines and amounts of time and all that. And so you’re going to get pricing wrong, get scope wrong, and you set expectations wrong.

It’s all bad. So letting go is giving up control. It’s not just saving yourself time.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And that there’ve been many times where I’ve said, oh, I can write a news release in 15 minutes and then put together a media list in a half an hour, and then start pitching. And that is crazy cause most people can’t do that.

I remember back back back in the day, a friend of mine said to me, how long does it take you to write a blog post? And I said an hour and he was like, wait, what? It only takes you an hour. And I was like, yeah, but it’s just something that expectation of someone on my team to write a blog post in an hour is not accurate because they don’t have the same expertise that I have. They don’t have the same cursive knowledge they don’t have, like for them to write the same article that I can write, just because of my experience, they’d have to research, they’d have to do all those sorts of things. So involving your team to say, okay, if we’re going to write, if we’re going to do a PESO model program for this client, and we’re going to include social media ads and landing pages and pillar content and webinars, how much time is that going to take?

And then you start to work it backwards from that, because the time that it’s going to take you is significantly less just because you have the experience, than your team does. And in some cases they may be faster than you too. So you have to take that into consideration as well.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, absolutely.

And, and it’s, you know, this is one of the reasons why hourly rates can vary as well. Right? So one of the knocks on hourly rates is, you know, oh, you know, it only takes me 30 minutes to do it. And you know, so, so we don’t get paid enough if I charged by the hour. Well, but that’s why you, if you can, if you can write a blog post or an OpEd in 30 minutes or 60 minutes, you would charge a higher hourly rate to account for that level of skill versus someone that might take three hours to do it.

Right. And so you should still be getting fair value for it at the end of the day. And so, you know, if people lose track of those kinds of things, but you really need to be talking to the people who are doing the work, that’s the only way that you get scope, timetable and workload correct. So that you can actually be putting together proposals that can win business and produce the results that you say they can, not just for the client, but for you too.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I would also add to that, that it buys them into the process. So you have much higher success rate of them enjoying the client and enjoying the work if they were, they were brought in, in the beginning and they were part of crafting the plan versus you creating it and handing it to them and saying, okay, go do this.

They’re not bought in at the same level. In some cases they may not be bought in at all. So having them involved in the beginning of the process is extraordinarily important just for that buy-in.

Chip Griffin: Well, and that buy-in helps in a number of different ways. I mean, it certainly typically helps you produce a better proposal.

It will help you from the perspective of they’re now doing work, that they’ve helped you frame. So there they, they do have that buy in, which hopefully means it will be better work. The other thing, frankly, though, is it makes it easier for you to press them to stick to the timelines, scope, because you can say you helped you create this.

Well, if you had asked me, cause I mean, how many times have I talked to, to a team member over the years who said, well, you know, if you talked to me first, if you had consulted with me, I never said we could do that. You know, those kinds of things. If you actually engage them it takes that off of the table. And so that can help as well.

Hopefully it doesn’t even come to that because they were involved. But if it does, it takes that little bit of ammunition they might have a way, and then you can have a meaningful discussion. Why is, why is this timeline being pushed? Why is it taking more time than we thought? And look, we all get estimates wrong.

We will get them wrong if we’re the ones doing the work all on our lonesome. Right. Things come up, things happen. We, you, you hit an unexpected snag. I was doing some work myself last week and I hit just a ridiculous snag that shouldn’t have been there and it turned what should have been an hour long project into like an eight hour project. It happens.

It’s frustrating as all get out. But those are the kinds of things that, that happen. So you can’t just explode when someone doesn’t hit those timelines, but if they’re involved in it, your likelihood that it’s accurate is going to be much higher than if you are making your own predictions based on what you did five or 10 years ago when you were just like them.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I think, you know, it’s giving, letting it go, giving up control, trusting your team to do the best job that they can do. And listen, you know, there’s plenty of situations for me right now, where I close my eyes and I go, it’s okay. It’s not, it’s not to your level, but we’re still getting engagement. We’re still getting click throughs, people are still going through the funnel.

It’s okay. And I literally have to have that conversation with myself because otherwise I would be micromanaging the process and then my writer would get fear, get upset and she would leave. And I don’t want her to leave because she’s very good. So I have to do that too. I have to self-talk myself all the time and I do it all the time, all the time in giving up control.

Chip Griffin: Well, and it could hurt your relationships with clients as well.

Gini Dietrich: For sure.

Chip Griffin: And not just because you’re producing the wrong, if you’re not letting go clients pick up on that and clients will notice that, that in a call with them, in a meeting with them, that you’re stomping all over your team. And you’re the one who’s answering questions. Or worse you’re undercutting them openly where they say something and you correct them in front of the client.

Oftentimes completely unnecessarily. Sometimes it may not be needed at all. Sometimes it could be done after the meeting. It doesn’t need to be done in front of the client and you start doing those things. And the client just starts to think to themselves one of two things. Either well, I only want to work with Gini because she’s the only one who has the answers.

Right. And that’s not good. Or they start thinking these folks are just a bunch of clowns. Why are we working with them at all? Right.

Gini Dietrich: That’s exactly right. Yeah.

I keep a notebook of things for that very reason. And I write things down and as when we’re in a meeting. And then at the end of the meeting, after we’ve left and you know, we’re either off zoom or out of the room, I go through that list and I decide if there are things on there that need to be discussed.

If I can just let it go. And most of the time after I’ve gotten out of the meeting and calmed myself down a little bit, most of the time it’s stuff I can just let go. And there’s no reason for followup, but you know, I’ve made all those mistakes. I’ve made them all. I’ve all of them.

Chip Griffin: Yep. Same here. Absolutely.

Gini Dietrich: All of them.

And I’m sure that every person listening to this has made these mistakes and may still be making them, like I said, I have to self-talk myself all the time.

Chip Griffin: And, and the worst part is we’ve all seen our own bosses in our early careers do the same thing to us. And yet we keep repeating the same behavior and you really do have to make an effort to break out of this.

Because, it creates more problems than it solves. And your idea of make some notes in the meeting and then decide afterwards what really needs to be raised. You should also be doing that for things that are sent to you for your approval before it goes to a client. If you’re getting a design, a blog post, whatever it is, and you have to review it before it goes onto the client.

Be really picky about the things that you’re choosing to edit or provide feedback on and ask yourself, does it really change the impact of this? Does it, is it something that the client will have a serious objection to? Or are you just making it more the way you would do it. Right. Right, right. And, and, and so, and even within that, there are lines, right.

You can say, Hey, in the future, I might do it this way. For this it’s fine, but in the future. Right. And so you can, you can really modulate the feedback that you’re providing to your team so that they continue to have confidence, that you are demonstrating that you can let it go, but you’re still helping to coach and mentor them into being better players on your team, in the future.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. My favorite thing to say, when somebody says, do you need to look at this before it goes to the client? My favorite thing to say is, Nope, I trust you. And people love that. People are like, Oh, okay. So I will say, Hey, I know we’re doing a big piece on X and I’d really like to just give it a glance over if I want to see something.

And occasionally they’ll say, do you want to see this? Do you want to see that? And, and I like to, I love to say, Nope, you’re good. And let them go on their way. But it’s been very challenging for me. That has been a really hard thing for me to, to do. For sure.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I mean, you know, one variation that, that I would typically use with team members is instead of saying, no, I trust you.

I would say, is there something that you want me to look at? Right. So, because you know, sometimes a team member wants you to weigh in on something. And so I like to give them that option to say, Hey, you know, and, so that’s, that’s one of the tweaks that I made over the years. Because I was, I started out in – when I started being more cognizant of this – I started with the, no, I trust you. But then I would come to learn that, that there were some team members who wanted something to have another pair of eyes on it, or they had something in particular that they were like, you know, I’m not sure about how I framed this or that. And so.

You know, what I shifted to was is there something that, that I should be looking at? Is there something that I should be concerned about? That, you know, and so, you know, try to get them to be thoughtful about the process so that you’re still putting them in control, but they also still understand that you are a resource for them if they need it, and they shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of it.

Cause that’s one of the challenges with letting go, right? You need to let go in such a way that they’re not afraid to come to you if they do need help, they do need your input, guidance, intervention.

Gini Dietrich: I had a boss really, really early on who, when I would turn something in, she’d say, tell me why this is the best thing you’ve ever written.

And the first couple of times I was like, uhhhhh…

I don’t know. But it trained me A to turn in the best thing I’ve ever written and B be prepared to stand up for my why I had written, what I had written. And what I learned from that is that a client was going to say, Oh, why did you take this approach? Or what did you do here? Why did you do it? And I was able to, then what she was training me to do is be able to stand up to the client and say, this is why we did it.

Right. And I always thought that was really interesting, but those first few times she asked me, I was like…. and if I couldn’t answer it, and she did this with everybody, if they couldn’t answer it and tell her why it was the best thing they’d ever written, she’d send you back to your desk. Come back when you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. But it taught me to stand up for what I had created.

Stand up to the client when, when I was questioned, be willing to stand up for the piece and for the work that we were doing and also have the confidence to do it. So I don’t necessarily know that that’s the right phrase to use. I wouldn’t use that phrase.

Chip Griffin: No, I think that’s fraught…. you know, particularly if you have someone on your team, who’s perhaps a perfectionist, uh..

Gini Dietrich: I literally would be like uhhhhh…

Chip Griffin: Where they may never turn a piece into you, and of course the truthful answer to that question more often than not is hell no. Right. I mean, it’s not like every piece you write is going to be the best piece you’ve ever written. It’s the, it’s the best in the moment for what I’ve been asked to do. Sure. I can agree with that, but I mean, every time I’m asked to write a something for a client over the course of my career, am I going to claim it’s the best thing I’ve ever written?

I personally am not, but you know.

Gini Dietrich: The, I mean, I would not use that phrase, but she was teaching.

Chip Griffin: But, but the idea behind it is a very good one because, because you do want your team to be able to stand up to the client and explain why they’ve done something and not because it is a challenge. A lot of more junior team members have a very difficult time with clients and they immediately fold as soon as they meet any resistance from the client.

And so you need to have confidence in the approach that you’re recommending, whether it’s the words on the page or the strategy or the tactics or whatever. And if you don’t, you know, the client may not even be inclined to disagree with you, but if you show weakness, they may start wondering, well, wait a minute, this person’s not really confident in what they’re presenting to me.

Is it the right thing? So those are, those are things that in order for you to let go successfully, you need to help your team improve their skills in these areas. So instead of you know, micromanaging the specifics of what they’re doing, think about how they’re doing it and how you can help them to do it better in general, not on that specific task by micromanaging them.

Gini Dietrich: Let it go.

Chip Griffin: Okay. There we go. There’s a copyright. We’re going to lose like the million dollars an episode that YouTube pays us. No.

Gini Dietrich: Doesn’t happen.

Chip Griffin: No, it doesn’t. Alright, well, we are going to let it go. And we’re going to let this episode go and let you go back to your day because we don’t want to micromanage your day.

Gini Dietrich: No we do not.

Chip Griffin: Well, we do appreciate you listening and we will instruct you to come back here again next week with the asterisk, you know, the weeks we publish. When Gini doesn’t decide that she’s just too important to record that episode.

Gini Dietrich: That’s not true. I was on my deathbed, on my deathbed.

Chip Griffin: Anyway. All right. With that, 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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