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How to write your job description as an agency owner

This SAGA Member Webinar is available only to individuals with active memberships. Login or join to gain access.
Webinar presented live on February 2, 2023

Most agencies don’t have a written job description for the most important employee: the agency owner.

You spend plenty of time thinking about the job descriptions of the people you hire, but what about your own responsibilities and expectations?

If you want to improve your agency’s performance and your own satisfaction with the business you own, you need to start by clearly defining your own role.

In this webinar, Chip Griffin explains how you should think about your job description and how you can use the process to help you better understand the path to getting what you want.


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Okay, I think we’ve given folks a chance to log in here at the top of the hour, so we’ll go ahead and get started. Hello and welcome to today’s webinar, how to Write Your Job Description as an Agency owner. I’m Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance, and I am delighted to have you here with me today.

While we talk about something that is incredibly important, and that is your role as an owner and how to make the most of it. And so today we’ll be walking through a number of steps in that process that hopefully will make it easy and accessible for you so that you can start making a difference and really enjoying the job you do and getting the results that you’re looking for.

So before we jump into some of those details, we’ll talk about the, the actual agenda that we’re gonna cover today. The first is why you should have a job description. Second, how do you get started with that process? How do you design your ideal job so that it is something that is giving you the satisfaction that you want?

Because as I always say, if you’re gonna take on all the risk and stress of being an agency owner, you should actually enjoy what you’re doing and get the rewards that you’re looking for from it. And then finally, how do you map out a plan in order to get from here to there? So, Of course on the housekeeping side of things, I always remind folks that the webinar replay is available to SagaPro members in the webinar replay library on the SAGA website, and you can access lots of different topics in the past, whether it’s managing employees or setting a focus for your agency, or time tracking all sorts of things.

Some of them I’ll be actually referencing in today’s talk because some of those lessons will be useful to you as you build out your own job description. Use the q and a function at the bottom of your screen to ask questions. Feel free to submit them at any time, but I’ll take all of the questions at the end for people who are participating live.

If you’re watching this on replay, then feel free to reach out to me either on our community Slack channel or at chip@smallagencygrowth.com, and I’d be happy to answer any question you may have, whether it’s about this topic or something else. If you’re going to share this on social media and tweet about it or something like that, feel free to use the hashtag agencyleadership so that folks can find the discussion easily.

And finally, if you’re looking for more information about SAGA or all of the resources that we have and some of which may be mentioned today, just go to smallagencygrowth.com. Okay, so let’s begin with the big picture question of why should you have a job description? And when I talk with agency owners about writing their own job description, I won’t say that I get reluctance, but there is sort of a question, you know, why do I need to do that?

I’m the owner and essentially it’s, it’s my job to grow the business, to run the business and do anything else that needs doing. And that’s an admirable attitude and we’ll, we’ll talk more about that here in a minute, but it, you really do need that structure and you need that structure so that you are figuring out how you are investing your time in the business.

There is no more valuable resource to an agency than the owner’s time. The owner cannot increase the amount of time that they have. We have 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and that’s it. And so how we as owners choose to deploy that is critically important. The only way to get more owner time is to have more owners, which means diluting, of course, your equity stake in the business.

And most owners don’t want to do that. Even if you’ve got partners, that’s still finite, right? If you’ve got two partners, you’ve got two times 24 hours in a day, and presumably you’re gonna sleep and do some you know, life activities and those kinds of things as well. You’re not gonna work around the clock, so you need to think about how you are spending that time because it really is an investment in the business.

It’s also important to have a job description because it helps to establish clarity, both for your team and for yourself. And let’s start with the team aspect. If you have a clear job description and your team knows what your role is versus what their role is, it makes everyone’s life a lot easier. One of the things that I often say, and it’s, it’s not unique to me, I’m not, I haven’t invented this on my own, but you cannot have two people in charge of anything. If you have two people who are responsible for something, it really means that nobody is. There needs to be a clear understanding of what everyone’s role is so that people can make the right decisions, they can get the right approvals, they can have the right accountability for the tasks that they’re taking on, and that includes you as the owner.

And so, It’s great that you are, you know, willing to step up and do anything, and you do need to set that example. So it’s, it’s just that it, you can’t have that be how you go about your day, just stepping in and doing whatever needs doing, whether that’s taking out the trash or talking to your top client or winning new business.

And you need this clarity for yourself as well, because what it does is it helps you to say yes and no to different things that come across your desk or into your inbox to make sure that you are making the, the proactive decisions on a daily basis to make the most of the resource that you have and that you’re giving to your business.

And you need to do this so that you can be intentional about those things. Because too often when we adopt the mindset of we’re willing to do whatever it takes, we end up doing low value tasks that someone else could do or that maybe shouldn’t be done at all. And we’ll talk a little bit later about how you can figure those things out and how you can address each one of those.

But the last reason that you need a job description is, It’s effectively a way for you to outline what it is that you want to be doing for the business. So yes, some of it is of course things that have to be done. There are certain things that only an owner can do, but it should also be things that you enjoy doing.

If you enjoy doing it, you’ll do it better. You will enjoy the fact that you are working for your business as well as owning it because they are two separate roles. And I would encourage all of you to to read an article that I wrote recently about the difference between owner compensation and profits because you do wear two different hats, both as an employee of your agency and as an owner.

And you need to delineate those roles clearly, and your job description will help you do that and help you to get the most out of them. So how do you get started with writing a job description? I mean, certainly you can just grab a standard job description template. If you’ve got employees, you probably have job descriptions for them.

If not, I would certainly encourage that you do this for your employees as well, even though that’s a different topic for a different day. But it’s more than that. You need to figure out what goes into it. And I, I sort of suggest a two-stage approach, which is first, write the job description as it is today, and then write the job description as you want it to be.

But let’s start with today. How do you, how do you put together a job description that even describes what you’re doing today? I mean, obviously it starts with making a list and you can sit down and, and start writing down all of the different things that you do on a daily basis, weekly basis, monthly basis, even quarterly or annual, because some tasks that you as an owner do may fall into those categories.

But it’s more than just making that list because a lot of times we forget things when we’re just working off of our mental recall. And so I’m a big advocate of time tracking. I think many of you already know that, and your whole team should be doing time tracking, not because you want to be big brother and looking over their shoulder to figure out what they’re doing, but rather because it’s how you will figure out the way that you are running your business and whether or not it’s profitable on a project and client basis, and that then flows up at a company level. It also allows you to figure out that profitability in a way that helps you to set pricing better. And if you set pricing better, it helps you do targeting of prospects better because you want to make sure that they’re people that you can generate meaningful results for within a certain budget range that you typically charge for the work that you do.

And so all of this time tracking on an employee basis helps, but it really helps you as an owner. And the reason why it helps you as an owner is in part, it feeds into those profitability numbers, but in part because it helps you to really, truly see and uncover how you’re spending your day. And I would guess that if you sat down and wrote out roughly how much time you think you spend on certain tasks and then you kept track of time properly for a few weeks and compared them, those numbers probably wouldn’t be the same.

Here’s why. We typically remember the things that we dislike doing the most, as if they took more time than they actually did. The things that we enjoy doing, we may remember as taking less time. So in my case, for example, I think most of you know that I enjoy doing videos and podcasts and webinars, and anytime you throw a microphone in front of me, I’m, I’m happy to just start talking.

And so for me, I tend to think of that as taking less time than it does, but there’s a lot that goes into that. There’s the preparation, there’s all the technical work that goes with it. There’s the promotion after the fact. All of those things go into that bucket, and I may not think about those as much as, say, doing bookkeeping or accounting type work that I just, I don’t enjoy.

I mean, I frankly don’t know many agency owners who do, and so I would, I would probably recall those painful tasks as taking longer than the time that it takes me to do things in front of a microphone or circulating around creating content. And so you wanna make sure that you’re using time tracking so you can really identify those things that are taking up the largest chunk of your time.

Make sure that you’re using this data for a lot of different purposes, but in this case to craft the job description as it exists today. Later you use that time tracking to check against your new job description, the one that you’re trying to grow into, and then make sure that your job description is being reflected by how you are actually spending your time.

Now, you should be including everything that you do on this list right now as of this getting started stage, even if you know it’s something you shouldn’t be doing. There are things that we, we all do. They are time killers, whatever. Put it down, put it on the list. If you spend two hours a day surfing Twitter or LinkedIn to jump into conversations, but you don’t have a particular purpose around it, make sure you have that on the list.

Doesn’t mean you should stop doing it. It may just mean that you need to figure out how to do it a little bit more strategically or understand the value that you’re already getting and just don’t realize. Now. Finally, what I would suggest to you here is once you’ve built all this out, you should get a second opinion.

Talk to a trusted team member, a partner if you have one, an outside advisor, someone else who can just take a look at the list that you’re putting together and this initial job description that describes what you’re doing today. And they can say to you, is this, is this really what you’re doing? Are you leaving this out?

Is there something else that you should be considering? And it’s really helpful anytime we’re doing an exercise that involves self-reflection to try to get someone else to chime in and offer their perspective, because we will miss things that we’re looking at on a day-to-day basis ourselves. Now finally, the last thing I would suggest to you is an exercise where you take all of these tasks and activities that you’re currently doing, and you put it into a grid.

And I’m going to try to show you here with my, my excellent penmanship and my sort of full whiteboard here, what I’m talking about. So you start with a basic grid like this, and what you want to do is you want to have four different grids. And so, What we’re doing here is we have tasks that we like and tasks that we dislike, and then we have tasks that only I can do or anyone.

And by anyone. I don’t truly mean anyone. I just mean someone else. And so as you start taking that list of tasks that we talked about before, you start putting them into each one of these boxes. And you want to have eventually, as you’re working on the ideal job description, which we’ll talk about here in a minute, want to have as many as possible in the category of only you can do them and you actually like doing them.

And you want to have very little here in this area where it’s someone else could do it and you don’t like doing it. And if you start thinking about your tasks in this fashion, you will start to be able to craft a much better set of tasks for yourself and much better allocate your time so that you’re getting the results that you want.

And I think as you start looking through those things, you’ll realize first of all, there are a lot of things in that only I can do bucket that really probably could move and migrate. There are things in that category that it may be almost anyone can do. There may be some things that that only one specific person within your orbit can do.

But it doesn’t matter if it can come off of your plate, you want to know about it because anything that can be off of your plate, there needs to be a really good reason for you to hold onto it. But it doesn’t mean that there’s not a good reason, and we’ll talk about that in just a minute because you need to craft a role that works for you.

Because what you’re doing is you are truly creating your ideal job description. Now, we’ve created a job description for what you’ve been doing, what you’re doing today, and it’s just, it’s factual. This is what it is. But you want to have something to move toward, and this is where you’re making your intentional decisions about how to have the role you want in the business that you own.

And if you don’t get the role that you want, You know who to talk to. You just put up a mirror that’s that is who got you, who kept you from having the role that you want. You can’t blame someone else for it. And if you have an actual proactive process in place in the form of your ideal job description, you are in a much better position to actually achieve it.

And so this job description, as I mentioned, should be unique to you. This is not the kind of thing where you want to go out and ask other owners, what do you do? I, you know, I need to know what I should be doing. And it’s a question I get a lot. I get asked by clients many times, what percentage of my time should I spend on client service or business development or administration, or R and D or any number of the different hats that you can wear as an agency.

The reality is that we are all different, and I’ve worked with agency owners who love business development, who want to spend as much time as possible on that. I’ve met others who love the client service aspect and want to really lean into that. Whatever you like to do should play an important role. It shouldn’t dominate.

It shouldn’t be the only thing because you do have responsibilities as an agency owner, but you should shape it around that. And so if you love client service, I’m not going to tell you that you should eliminate client service and day-to-day client service activities from your job description. I’ll probably encourage you to decrease it from where it is likely at today, but we’ll have a good, meaningful conversation around that as we write a job description, because I don’t want to take it off of your plate if you actually enjoy it, if that’s what’s giving you the satisfaction of running your own agency, because there is no single model.

There’s no magic formula, there’s no silver bullet that gives you a successful agency because what success is is different for, for each one of you. It’s why In the AIM-GET framework that I use, we start with Ambition. That’s the A in AIM-GET, and it allows you to figure out what do you want from the business?

What kind of compensation do you want? What kind of time do you want to invest? What kind of work do you want to do? And this job description is all about the kind of work that you want to do. And you should start with a clean slate. So even though we’ve built this, this preexisting job description, don’t rely on that.

Don’t take that and then edit it to come up with your new one. Sit down and say to yourself, okay, if I could wave a magic wand, and this is the job description that I would write as an agency owner, this is what it would look like. It doesn’t matter whether it feels all that realistic in the moment, because it may well not be realistic in the next three weeks, three months.

It might not even be realistic in the next three years depending on the trajectory that you’re on and what you’re you’re looking to do. But you need to know what it is that you would like to have as that ideal job description. And if you’re honest with yourself about what you want, and you answer it in terms of I want to spend time on client service or business development, I don’t care what someone else told me is the way to build a successful agency.

And I don’t care what my friend Sally, who’s got her agency does. I want to have this as my job description. And now as you write that, as you put this together and you, you lay out what this job is going to be, now’s where you get a second opinion again. And this second opinion, it certainly might be from the same person who gave you or people who gave you second opinions on that first job description.

But in this case, it’s, it’s less about finding someone who is able to tell you what you’re doing today and whether or not this is accurately depicting it and challenging you on that. This is more someone who can challenge you on is this what you really want and really pushing you and asking you what it means if you have that kind of role that you’ve laid out for yourself, because you really want to make sure that you’re getting this as right as possible.

It’s not permanent though, and we’ll talk about that in just a moment. Because once you’ve got this ideal job description and you’ve got your current job description, now you’ve got the two end points. Today and the future. But how do you get from here to there? And of course, almost anything where you want to make progress, you have to make some kind of a plan.

And so here in this case, you really need to look at what those differences are. And so if your job description is pulling you out of one kind of work and into another, you really need to look at how do I gradually decrease the amount of time I’m spending on these activities today? And how do I gradually increase the time that I’m spending on different activities in the future?

But it may not be just about the amount of time that you spend. It may be that you need to develop skills or knowledge in order to get better at some of those things. So let’s say that you’re doing very little on the business development front now. You may need to spend time investing in figuring out how to do business development.

And so that may be an interim step, not just freeing up the time to devote to business development, but freeing up the time to learn and develop those skills and put together new plans that allow you to be more actively involved in that sort of thing. If it’s that you want to pull yourself out of client service, it’s starting to think about, okay, well how do I staff up in such a way that I can pull myself out of it.

But I would challenge you. Do you even need to staff up or is it one of those things where you’re duplicating effort of your team? One of the things that a lot of agency owners do is they spend too much time in meetings that they don’t belong in as the owner. If you’ve already got a team member who is managing a day-to-day relationship with a client, or even if they’re not technically managing it, but they’re doing all the day-to-day work, maybe you don’t need to be on every single call that that client has with your agency.

And so pulling yourself out of that can be very helpful. It’s particularly important for agencies with partners. I work with a number of agencies where there are partners, and both partners show up to the same meeting. There needs to be a really good reason when you’re doing that because it’s duplicating effort.

It’s doubling your cost, and is it adding twice the value? Oftentimes it doesn’t, and so you need to think about those things as you’re, as you’re migrating your job description. How do these things impact it? How do I, how do I start making those subtle changes? Even if it’s only making an hour or two shift a week?

It may be helping you get to that ideal job description that you’ve crafted. And you want to do these things where you’re defining milestones that are achievable in reasonable periods of time. So if you’re spending 80% of your time on client service today, and you want to get it down to 20%, that’s not gonna happen overnight.

In all likelihood, you’re not gonna be able to just say, starting tomorrow, I’m, I’m down to 20%. So how do you do that in increments and what does it mean? One of the things you always need to be careful about is talking about your time purely in percentage terms, because it sounds great to say, I’m going to spend 10% of my time on business development.

What does that mean? What activities are you going to be involved in? What time are you going to devote to it specifically. Is it going to be on Tuesday afternoons or Friday mornings, or you know, when are you going to do it? And what gives? You can’t spend more time on something without taking time away from something else.

Even if that time on something else that you’re taking away is your off hours. You can certainly agree to invest more time in your business, and I’m not going to tell you that that’s an irrational decision, but it does take something away from your personal life and your downtime. Are you willing to do that?

Do you understand what that means? If it’s taking it away from another task that you’re doing, does that task just not need to be done? I mean, one of the, the, the key things that you want to do as you’re putting together all of this work is continuing to look at all the things that you’re involved with and say, and challenging yourself.

Does this even need to be done? And that’s true whether we’re talking about your current job description or your future one. Is this task actually necessary? Is it adding value? Because we spend a lot of time on things that are not truly adding value, and we need to make sure that it’s all connected to where we’re trying to go with these activities. So your plan needs to have those bite size chunks, those reasonable goals that have enough detail below them that it, it helps you to understand that it is truly realistic, and so stay away from, you know, rough percentages or nebulous things that are just really hard to wrap your arms around and figure out how to address.

You also need to think about what’s a reasonable timeframe for doing all of this, and the bigger the difference between your current job description and your future job description, the more time that you need to leave. Now that said, small agencies are often more nimble, able to make adjustments more quickly, and so you will probably have the opportunity to make progress faster than someone who is an owner or a partner at a mid-size or large agency.

Because there are, there are less moving parts that are required in order for everything to fall into place. And so you can often see some fairly substantial differences in a relatively short period of time. I’ve seen owners who were involved or who were spending 80 or 90% of their time on client service to within 12 months being down to 20% or less.

It is doable. That’s obviously a very aggressive target. I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy. I’m not going to tell you that it’s something that you should expect, but you do have that ability potentially, depending on how your business is currently structured and how you lay out those interim steps in order to achieve your goals.

But the last thing I want to say here, and I, I mentioned earlier that your ideal job description is not a permanent fixture. You need to be prepared to make adjustments. Adjust your plan, but also be willing to adjust what that ideal job description is. As we all get older and wiser and gain more knowledge, we will make decisions that in the past, we might not have made. We might have priorities that are different for us either professionally or personally. If it’s a personal priority that’s different, it may impact our professional priorities. And so we need to be willing to make those adjustments to our business and not feel stuck because we’ve committed to this for our business, and now it’s putting pressure on some other aspect of our lives.

Again, if we’re the owner, if we are in charge, if we’re taking the risk, we should be able to shape this in the way that we want. A lot of times, you know, people talk about being self-employed and say, oh, you know, I’m my own boss. Well, that’s true. As long as you act that way. You don’t want to mistreat yourself as the boss of yourself.

And so think those things through as you’re crafting your job descriptions, as you’re crafting your plan and pulling all these things together. And that will actually pull together this conversation on writing your job description. Hopefully, I’ve given you the building blocks that you can use and some of the information as I mentioned, there are lots of resources on the SAGA site that will help you with this. I would particularly encourage you to check out the time tracking webinar in the SAGA Library that will help you to understand how to craft a good time tracking program, not just for your team, but for yourself. I would encourage you, we’ve got a number of podcast episodes that Gini Dietrich and I have done where we’ve talked about how to owners get help, how to owners manage their time more effectively, and I think you’ll find some of those discussions beneficial.

Gini talks a lot about the way that she builds lists with clients to help them better prioritize their time. It’s similar to mine, but not exactly the same. All these perspectives can help because again, you need to come up with something that’s going to work for you to help you get to the, the role that you want in your own business.

And so with that, that will bring us to the end of the formal prepared portion of the webinar. We’ll move into Q and A in a moment. For those of you who are participating live, for those of you who are watching on Replay, this will draw the recording to an end. If you have questions, feel free to email me at any time at chip@smallagencygrowth.com or hop on into the SAGA community and ask your question there, and I’d be happy to answer it as I’m sure other people would in the community as well.

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