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The Build to Own mindset

Too many PR and marketing agency owners end up trying to copy someone else’s idea of success or following the “simple formula” that some guru preaches.

Often this guidance centers around the idea that you serve as a temporary steward and your decision-making should be based on getting the business ready to be sold in the future.

The very popular and informative business book by John Warrillow titled “Built to Sell” has fed this notion that selling should be your North Star. While that book does have a tremendous amount of useful insight, it can lead to bad decision-making justified by the idea that it will make the business more valuable to a potential buyer.

Build to Own as an alternative to Built to Sell

What if instead you adopt a Build to Own mindset for running your agency business?

Rather than asking if a choice that you make will cause the agency to be more attractive to a potential buyer, why don’t you ask if that decision will increase your satisfaction when you go to work each day?

Most of you will own your agencies for many years before you sell it – if you even ever do sell it. Don’t you want to enjoy that time instead of seeing it as a slog to get your reward at the end?

Build to Own and Built to Sell are not mutually exclusive

The truth is that there is overlap between these two philosophies.

If you create an agency designed to be sold, you may find that some of the decisions you make will actually make it more enjoyable to own. That’s a secondary theme in Warrillow’s book, in fact, but one that many readers end up overlooking.

At the same time, if you build a successful agency that you enjoy owning, there’s a good chance that someone else might be interested in acquiring it from you one day so that they can reap those rewards for themselves.

The Build to Own difference

Despite the overlap, there is a fundamental difference in building to own versus being built to sell.

With a Build to Own mindset, you will structure a business around what you want to do, the amount of time you work, and how much you choose to earn.

You won’t be thinking about your revenue growth percentage and its impact on multiples and valuation.

You won’t be choosing to do work that you don’t enjoy just because an M&A advisor tells you that it will make your agency more attractive to a buyer.

You won’t change your own job description so that it makes a potential acquirer more comfortable even though you may not enjoy how you now spend your week.

Build to Own requires knowing your Ambition

Adopting a Build to Own mindset requires you to clearly understand your Ambition for your business, both now and in the future. The AIM-GET Framework begins with Ambition because it is so important to have it serve as the foundation for the strategic and tactical decisions that you make.

It will take you some time to refine your definition of Ambition. You need to be honest with yourself and ask yourself some tough questions.

You must recognize that your Ambition may not be the same as mine or any other agency owner. No guru can tell you how you need to spend your day, how much you should make, or how your business should be structured.

There’s nothing wrong with consuming expert advice, but you need to view it through the lens of what you want to achieve.

The benefit of adopting Build to Own for your agency business is that it improves the odds that you achieve your goals and find satisfaction from your business – regardless of what happens a decade or more down the road.

The Build to Own principles

If you decide to adopt the Build to Own mindset for your agency business, there are a few commitments that you should make to yourself:

  1. You will make business decisions that increase your own satisfaction.
  2. You will ensure that you always meet your own current compensation needs first.
  3. You will not develop any life plans that rely on the sale of your agency for funding.

These simple principles will help you to shape your agency business in such a way that you maximize your chance of success, both in the near future and over the long run.

As important, by not depending upon the sale of the agency to meet a future goal, it allows you to avoid making decisions out of desperation and to ensure that you have the ability to plan for a financial future with more confidence.

Don’t create someone else’s agency, Build to Own the one you want

There is simply no reason to take on all of the risk and stress associated with owning your own business if you aren’t getting what you want from it.

Justifying dissatisfaction today with the idea that it will all pay off “someday” when you are able to sell the agency leads to bad decision-making and often fails to meet expectations.

If you dread going to work and do so only because you envision a big payday, chances are you will end up disappointed.

If you focus on building an agency that you enjoy owning and helps you meet your personal goals, chances are someone else might be interested in acquiring it. 

The Build to Own mindset prioritizes your satisfaction and allows you to wake up each morning excited about the prospects for your business, how you will spend your time, and the amount of money you will earn.

If you want to achieve your goals and reap the rewards of entrepreneurship, build a business that you are happy to own.

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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