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The value of outside perspective to agency owners

It’s easy for all of us to get stuck inside our own heads. Having someone we trust who can help to provide some independent insight and challenge our own beliefs can be very helpful.

In this episode, Chip and Gini talk about why it is important for agency owners to have someone outside of the business — a mentor, consultant, coach, friend, or even another agency owner — who can help to play that role.

In addition to getting a different opinion and perspective, that individual can help hold you accountable. After all, who wants to report to their advisor that they haven’t met their commitments?

Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “Somebody from an external perspective can help you see the forest for the trees.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Don’t worry about your competitors obsessing about you, and while you’re at it, stop obsessing about your competitors, too.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “You have to be honest with yourself and you have to be honest with the person who is helping you.”
  • Chip Griffin: “I describe the business development process for agencies as very similar to dating. So if you think about it in those terms, if you’re single, you don’t refuse to go out with other singles because you’re in competition with each other. You’re each looking for slightly different things.”


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 Gini, you know, I think we need some outside perspective here. I don’t know if we’re on the right track. And so I’m going to talk to my friend over here to see what kind of advice we might get.

Gini Dietrich: Okay. Sounds good.

Chip Griffin: Right after this.

Sadly, I, I don’t have an actual friend sitting here.

Gini Dietrich: You know who could, we could ask is Jen.

Chip Griffin: We could. I don’t know that that qualifies as true outside perspective though.

Gini Dietrich: She does have an outside perspective and she does listen to this podcast every week.

Chip Griffin: She does. So, so maybe, no, I don’t want to ask her perspective.

Gini Dietrich: Although we should, we, we should ask our listeners and viewers to wish her a very happy birthday, belated, but happy birthday

Chip Griffin: Yes. Happy belated birthday. so what we are going to talk about though is the value of getting some outside perspective when you’re running your agency, because this is something that…

obviously we provide that in the roles that we serve for agencies as coaches and consultants. But any kind of outside perspective that you can get can be potentially valuable because it gives you an opportunity to look at things differently, to have someone challenge you, to have someone to be accountable to.

All of these things that I think most owners would benefit from because most small agency owners… they’re kind of sitting in the corner by themselves for a management perspective. And if you’ve got a team, you can’t ask them for truly candid advice because they know you signed the paycheck.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, the term it’s lonely at the top exists for a reason.

Cause it’s you and you.

Chip Griffin: And if you think about it, most agency owners are accidental in one form or another, they never really dreamed of starting their own business. They don’t have any formal training in business or management or any of those kinds of things. And so having someone who can, you know, offer ideas, ask questions, can really help you so that you don’t feel quite as lonely and you’re at least examining and making intentional decisions as much as possible.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I mean, I’ve, I’ve worked with a coach. I’ve worked with coaches, my through my business, my agency career life, and it’s one of the most valuable things that I have done for myself from a professional development standpoint. I tell this story all the time, but I had a business coach who, let’s just say he didn’t take my BS and he was pretty hard on me, but it was really valuable because I learned a lot.

And I remember sitting down with him one day and being really frustrated because my team kept talking about how burned out they were. And I couldn’t understand why. And he like broke it down for me. And he’s like, okay. What time do they come to the office? I’m like, well, you know, we’re open from, from nine to five and they get an hour for lunch.

And he’s like, okay, but what time do they come to the office? And as he pushed me, I realized that people were coming into the office between seven and eight usually. And were staying until way, way after dinner time. And he kept pushing me and pushing me and pushing me. And I realized that’s because that’s what I was doing. I was coming in at seven.

And I was staying until eight or nine o’clock at night. And because my action was showing that that’s what I expected, that’s what they did. Even though I… I didn’t expect that. And I kept saying, like, really, as long as your work is done, I don’t care. You come in at nine, we open at nine, we close at five.

Those are the hours. But my action didn’t show that. And so he worked with me to really help me figure out part of the reason they were burned out is because they were working 12 to 14 hours a day when they didn’t really need to. And I couldn’t see that for myself. I just, I couldn’t understand that all by myself.

And he just kept pushing me through that to help me understand that even though I’m saying You don’t have to come. Our hours are nine to five. I was demonstrating through my actions something different. And they were doing the same thing. And then when, when I noticed that they were doing it, I didn’t say anything.

I let them come in at 7 a. m. and I let them leave at 7 p. m. right? So like those, that’s a really good example of how somebody from an external perspective can help you see sort of the forest for the trees.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, it, it can be someone like that who is challenging you on your, whether it’s BS or just your preconceived notions.

Yeah. You know, whether it’s someone who is asking you if what you believe is true is actually true You know, I, I talk with plenty of agency owners who, you know, tell me, yep, you know, we, we are absolutely, you know, well focused, well positioned and all that, and then you start digging into it and it turns out really they are a full service agency for everybody.

And so, you know, then, but, but you get there by asking questions and, and looking at information and, and, and pushing. And I think, you know, someone who can offer that independent perspective, whether that’s someone that you’re paying, whether that’s a mentor that you’ve developed over the years, if you’re in a partnership, it can be the partnership.

Although the partnership itself can still benefit from an outside perspective. But certainly, if you have a partner or partners within the agency that gives you some of that, because at least it’s not all inside just your head. You know, it’s great to have the discussion in your head. It’s better to have it with a real person.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Yes. You know, I think this is, this is indicative of many, it’s not just agency owners, but it’s many small business owners where there, we see a lot of the same things. And I actually have a client on the agency side who is running a business. It’s a midsize business, but he, the CEO himself gets stuck in these things that I see with agency owners all the time.

And it’s not delegating appropriately. It’s putting out the fires. It’s reacting instead of being proactive. It’s working in the business instead of on the business. Like that, these are really typical things that every business owner, not just agency owner, but every business owner goes through and somebody external can help you go, okay, hang on a second.

Let’s really take a look at this and figure out where should you spend your time. And it’s something that we talk about a lot. How are you managing your time? How are you pricing? How are you hiring? How are you paying? Like all of the things that we talk about all the time, those are the things that every small business owner gets stuck in.

And somebody externally can help you sort of get out of your own way and make, make a path for you forward.

Chip Griffin: And I think the key is that it is that outside perspective. In other words, It’s not someone who’s telling you exactly what to do because that doesn’t work right. There is no matter how many of these, you know facebook ads you may see or youtube videos you may see where someone says this is the surefire planned agency success Doesn’t work that way. Also maybe it’s a way to agency success, but may not be the kind of success you want or the kind of agency you want to own.

And so, you know, all of us can provide you with that kind of perspective, but you need to be the one making those decisions. And if you’re working with somebody who has experienc, they can share with you what’s worked and what hasn’t for them, but you still need to digest it and decide, is that the path that you do want to go down?

Gini Dietrich: That’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was going to, one of the things that I think it’s really important to understand is that first of all, you have to be honest, right? You have to be honest with yourself and you have to be honest with the person who is helping you. and to your point, it doesn’t have to be somebody you’re paying.

It could be a mentor. It can be an industry friend. It can be another agency owner, just somebody that you have, but you, the number one thing is really to be honest with yourself and then to be honest with them because you don’t, you won’t have the kind of success that you expect if you don’t have that honesty and you don’t have that trust.

So I would say number one, be thinking about that. And number two really help to understand like, these are the things I see myself getting stuck in. I’m not delegating as well as I thought I would. I’m always putting out fires. I’m not being proactive. We set a plan at the end of every year and by April it’s all gone to hell.

Like figure out what’s, what the things are that are getting you stuck and understand that it’s, it’s not unique. This is typical, so there are solutions to your problems, to your challenges, but you have to first be honest with yourself and you have to be willing to be coached. And I think one of the biggest struggles that, that I think we both have in working with agency owners is they fight you.

Certain people will fight you and say, well, no, no, no, no. I can’t do that. Or I don’t want to do that. Okay. You have to open yourself up to the opportunity to be coached. Just like Michael Jordan was coached and Patrick Mahomes is being coached and Tiger Woods had a coach like everybody who is at the top of their game has a coach.

It’s okay to have a coach and to have someone help you, it’s okay.

Chip Griffin: I mean, look, I like a good argument. So I, I don’t have an issue with clients who want to push back. Cause I’m certainly not infallible. I may not have the right answers. I don’t want. people who just push back without any facts or reason behind it.

You know, you have to have something to your argument, not just, no, I disagree. Right. That’s not a very productive way to, to move forward with a coaching or consulting relationship. But I’ll be honest, what, what I find even more challenging to work with are the folks who say, yep, that’s great advice. And then they go off after the call and go do something entirely different.

And, and then you come back and you’re in the exact same spot the next time you talk. And you’re like, but, but you, you agreed it was a good idea. You said you were good to me that’s, that’s much more challenging. And so, you know, you do have to be open to it if you’re. You either have to, I think, be honest with your coach or consultant and say, Look, that’s just not a path that I feel is correct or that I’m comfortable with or whatever.

And so let’s find an alternate path because there are alternate paths. There is not a one single solution approach to it. And again, I’m not infallible. You’re not infallible. They may actually have a better idea. But the only way we can work together constructively, whether it’s a paid relationship or mentorship or whatever is if we’re actually having that honest two way communication.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Yeah, it has to be honest and it has to be transparent and it’s uncomfortable, you know, especially when you first start working with somebody that you may not know very well. You know, if somebody has referred one of us to them and they call and it’s a brand new relationship, it’s uncomfortable, but understand that the relationship is there to help you run your business in the way that you want to run it.

So successful in your however you define success. And also it’s all about chemistry, right? You’re going to be working with this person or two or three people if you’re working with mentors or a board or whatever happens to be. but you’re gonna be working with them a lot. You have to actually like them.

And if you don’t like them, you’re not going to show up for calls. You’re not going to do the work. There’s all these things. So I think that the chemistry piece is just as important as the being willing and open to being coached into taking advice.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. Absolutely. You need chemistry. You need trust.

The discomfort, you’re right, that comes no matter what. I personally lean into that when I work with clients. And so I start out by asking the most uncomfortable questions. You know, how much are you paying yourself? How much do you need to make in order to meet your basic requirements? Share with me your financials.

Share with me your client list. Show me your bank statements. You know, I just… Right, right out of the gate I asked for the most uncomfortable stuff because A it sets the table well, right that we’re going to be sharing this information. Yeah, you know, we have an NDA in place So there’s no reason not to but frankly if you’re working with someone that you trust You shouldn’t need the NDA, right?

I mean, a piece of paper isn’t really going to solve your issues. But you know, you need to be open and you can’t just, you know, hem and haw when you’re working with somebody. You need to be, even if they don’t ask for it, you need to volunteer this kind of stuff. You know, if you’ve got unpaid bills, you know, because you had a cashflow problem, share that information.

If you’ve got a pile of debt, share that information. Even if it’s in your personal life, if that’s causing pressure on the business. Share that, right? Those are all things that make for a much more productive relationship with whoever is providing that outside perspective, and without it, they can’t really give you the same kind of assessment because they don’t know enough about your circumstances. And never as much as you do, but they need to know enough.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really good point. I always ask for that kind of information as well. And it is uncomfortable at first because they think people are like either because they don’t know and they know they should know, which is a big challenge or because you know, it’s, it’s private and it’s sensitive.

And especially for those of us that are running a business alone without a partner, we’ve never had to share that with somebody. So sharing that kind of information can feel uncomfortable. But to your point, it’s part of the trust building and you’re like, I’m not going to, who am I going to share it with? I’m not going to share it with anybody.

You’re not going to share it with anybody. It’s not like we’re going to go blab it on this podcast, right? You know, so yes, there is an NDA in place, but it’s almost not necessary because if there’s a confidentiality, I think that we, that almost anybody who’s going to help you abides by.

Chip Griffin: Well, yeah. And the reality is, and I explain this to a lot of agency owners, there are a lot less people interested in what they’re up to than they think.

Gini Dietrich: That is fair. That is fair.

Chip Griffin: You know, your competitors are not constantly looking for information on you because A, you probably don’t have that many people who are truly competitors in the sense that you know, it’s a fight to the death between the two of you kind of thing. I mean, I, I have seen agencies that are in those kinds of battles.

It’s really rare. It tends to be in really narrow, niches where we’re just, you know, there are only two or three players. And so, yes, they do bump into each other regularly, but for the vast majority of you, that’s just not what it is. It’s not. And so don’t worry about your competitors obsessing about you and stop obsessing about your competitors too while you’re at it.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I mean you’re exactly right There’s you know PRSA has a subsection called Counselors Academy for agency owners And I remember the first time I went I was kind of like I’m here with a bunch of competitors. And actually, I found that that wasn’t the case at all. Yes, we all do the same work, but we may do it in different industries.

We may offer different services. We may charge different fees. We may do project work versus retainers, you know, whatever it happens to be. So there’s a lot of people that are in the same boat as you, but not necessarily doing the same thing as you. And you can learn a lot from other agency owners. So I think that’s another place to look as you’re thinking about, you know, getting some, some outside help is, are there organizations like Vistage, like Counselors Academy that can help you with your, your business growth and your goals aside from a coach or a consultant.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and look, I mean, I have, I have described, the business development process for agencies as very similar to, dating. It’s matchmaking, right? Yep. And so if you think about it in those terms, you know, if you’re single, you don’t refuse to go out with any other singles because, you know, you’re in competition with each other because you’re each looking for slightly different things, presumably.

That’s funny enough. Right? So, you know, if you’re single, you talk to your other single friends, you know, where are we going this weekend? What are we doing? You know, I mean, do the same thing with agency owners because most of the time you’re not in direct competition. And even when you are, to me, you’re still looking for the best fit.

And so, if a prospect chooses a competitor over you, I don’t view that as a loss. Right. Right, because they saw, they felt a better fit, a better connection with that other agency. And so, if they didn’t feel as good a fit with me, I don’t want them. Because that’s unlikely to work well. That’s right. You want people who want to work with you.

Yes. And when you’re looking for the outside perspective, you need the same thing. It needs to be someone that you want to work with. And it wants to work with you because if you don’t have that, that chemistry that we talked about earlier, that mutual desire to be helpful, you know, you’re going to run into problems.

And the whole point of an outside perspective is that you can have these conversations and that you can get feedback. I mean, look what we do, it is not rocket science.

Gini Dietrich: No, it’s not.

Chip Griffin: Most of what we do is somewhere between the blindingly obvious and the slightly interesting. To be honest. Occasionally I have a real gem that I give some, but most of the time it’s the blindingly obvious. But because I’m not in their business every day and I’m not fighting those battles every day, I can offer it up and they can look at it in a different way than they have been.

And so that’s what you get when you’re working with somebody, again, mentor, coach, consultant, friend, another agency owner.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think you can also look at it… I mean, we certainly at a really strategic level helping you see the forest for the trees, but also at a really tactical level, which is okay.

I need some feedback on this. I’ve created a list of red flags that I am going to look for in new business meetings. Can you review this with me? Are there any other things I should, what you, based on what you know about my business, are there other things that I should be looking for? Or, I’m starting to prepare for, for next year and I’ve, I’ve crafted my financial plan.

Can you look over it with me and see if I’m off base, if I’m missing anything, if my profit goals are correct? Like those are the things that somebody from the outside can look at you and to your point, go, Oh my gosh, I see these red blinking lights here because it’s so obvious, but you’re not seeing it because…

it’s like me. I wasn’t seeing that people were burned out because they were working 12 to 14 hours a day because in my mind, I didn’t expect it. But that’s what the reality was, was what was happening. So if somebody can sit down with you and go, actually right here, look right here, because you may not see it, even though it may be obvious by the time you do see it.

Chip Griffin: Right. I mean, the other thing is it’s not just the perspective that you’re getting. It’s also the accountability. And I think this is something that you wrote about on your Facebook page recently in terms of fitness accountability partners and that kind of thing. But from a business standpoint, you know, having someone who’s providing that perspective is also someone that you’ll be providing updates to.

And, you know, I know when I had partners in my business, you know, a lot more happened right before we had a big partner meeting. Because we all wanted to make sure we came in and said, Yep, we ticked all those boxes that we said that we were going to do for the last one. Right. And, and you probably see this with your own teams, right?

Just before a team meeting that you’re having, probably a bunch of stuff gets done, gets knocked off the to do list. There is value in having these check ins on a regular basis with that outside party who you don’t want to go to and say, yeah, I didn’t get to that. Now sometimes you may have to, right?

Sometimes you don’t get to things, but it will reduce the number of things that slide by. And a good coach or mentor will say, okay, well, why didn’t you get to that? And so you can try to evaluate, is it because you didn’t really believe in it? Was it because it was something that, you know, you were uncomfortable with, or was it simply because, you know, you didn’t have the time.

And so therefore we need to figure out how to free up the time if this is indeed a priority. . So having someone who can help hold you accountable and to figure out in places where you missed your goals why you missed them can be very helpful.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, the accountability piece is I mean That’s one of the most important things you can do in life in general. I mean you reference my my Facebook posts. Like I have an accountability partner, I have a coach and I have a team for my fit for cycling So that I actually show up and do the work because a lot of times it’s more about discipline and consistency than it is about motivation.

And the same thing in business. When you have results, it’s because you’re consistent, it’s because you’re disciplined, and you’re getting things done. It’s not because you’re super motivated every single day, every minute of every day to get the work done.

Chip Griffin: We all have those days where we’re not motivated.

But we appreciate your motivation in taking the time to listen to the entirety of this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast.

Sadly, we are drawing this to a close. We are going to move on, and you’ll have to find that outside perspective somewhere else for the next, I don’t know, however long it is until we have another episode out there.

Gini Dietrich: Next week, hopefully.

Chip Griffin: Could be. Who knows? It’s the holiday season.

Gini Dietrich: It is, right? Yeah.

Chip Griffin: Sometimes we slip a little bit.

Gini Dietrich: Maybe we’ll be motivated. Maybe we won’t. We’ll see.

Chip Griffin: You never know. You just never know. 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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