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Hello and welcome to today’s webinar on using the AIM-GET framework to drive your annual planning process for your agency. I’m Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance, and I am delighted to have you with me here today. Hopefully I’ll have a bunch of things that you can take and use as you are starting to think about or maybe have already even begun your 2024 planning process.
So before we do dive into the topic at hand, I do want to go through a few housekeeping issues as I always do at the start of these webinars. The first is that the full webinar replay will be available for SAGA Pro members on the SAGA website itself.
That should be posted within the next day or two. So if you missed something today, you want to go back and watch the replay, feel free. And of course, if you’re watching on replay, you already know that it’s available. If you’re are, if you are attending live, you can use the Q and A function that should be at the bottom of your screen and you can ask a question, ask your question at any time as we go throughout the webinar.
But I will save the questions and take them all at the end for live participants. If you are watching this on replay, the Q&A session will not be included, but you can certainly send me an email directly at email@example.com, and I would be happy to answer it as soon as I can. And in addition, you may want to think about joining the SAGA Pro community because you can have a access to a slack channel where you can ask questions not just of me, but of other agency owners and leaders who might have some additional insights for you.
If you’re talking about this webinar on social media, I encourage you to. encourage you to use the hashtag agencyleadership. See, I try to rush through the housekeeping stuff so we can get into the meaty things. But anyway, the hashtag agencyleadership makes it easier to find things. And finally, any of the resources that I mentioned today can be accessed at smallagencygrowth.com. And of course, there are plenty of other articles, podcast episodes, webinars, and other resources there for you, even if I don’t talk about them in the course of today’s session.
So let’s talk about what we’re actually going to cover over the next 45 minutes or so. First, we’re going to talk about how to take stock of where you are today, because any planning process, while it’s focused on the future, you do need to take a little bit of time to look in the rearview mirror and see how far you’ve come and what things you need to work on.
The topmost thing in the minds of most agency leaders ought to be their own ambition. What do they want from the business? And if it’s not the first thing that you think about, then you should probably reconsider how you’re going about doing it because you don’t want to take on all the risk and stress of running a business, being an entrepreneur, unless you are getting what you want from it.
Next up is talking about setting the course for your agency in the year ahead. We’ll talk a little bit about the differentiation between setting a course and setting goals. We’ll talk about establishing the priorities to work on in terms of challenges and opportunities. We’ll talk about any updates that you might want to think about making to your positioning.
It’s always a good time to do that at the start of each new year and just evaluate if things have changed in the marketplace or in your own expertise or the kinds of things that you want to focus on. You want to think about whether there are any changing management needs, whether, you know, you’ve added a partner or you’ve grown the team to such a point where you need to consider different regulatory requirements, all of those kinds of things.
So we’ll cover that. We’ll talk about building a business development plan because… Frankly, that’s where a lot of agencies start, but all of these other things that we’re going to talk about are important precursors to make sure that you’re going into a business development process in an intelligent way and not just flailing about.
We’ll talk about how to improve efficiency. That’s the execution part of the AIM GET framework. And finally, we’ll talk about maximizing what you get from your team and how you can retain your team more effectively. So with that agenda in mind, we are going to start with the taking stock using the rearview mirror and starting to think about how did 2023 go, 2023 go and what does that mean for the new year, the next 12 months for you.
And so we released something relatively recently here at SAGA called the Agency Health Assessment. It’s a simple 31 question survey that helps you take a look at the, the key elements of your business. It focuses on the key indicators that I’ve seen in terms of success when I’ve been working with agencies, as well as some of the critical pain points that many agency leaders will want to alleviate.
Takes probably 10 minutes or less to fill out. It’s a free download on the SAGA website, or you can just drop an email to me or Jen. We’ll be happy to send you a copy of it if that’s more convenient, and as you go through this, you’ll be able to start to figure out where are the areas that you maybe want to think about putting on that priority list.
We’ll talk about a little bit later. The things that you want to focus on the most. Now this isn’t something where it’s a benchmark per se against other agencies, although it does allow you to come up with a score. The score is really to allow you to see how your agency is evolving over time. And are you continuously improving year over year?
I don’t expect anyone to get a perfect score. It’s not really what the, the design of it is. It’s not a test because there are some areas where you may have to make adjustments in the future. So you may get the point this year and lose the point next year because things happen. And so as you go through that, It will really help you to understand the areas where your business is perhaps underperforming and the areas where you have some opportunities for growth, as well as for alleviating those pain points, because one of the things we’ll talk about is that oftentimes in planning, it’s less about the lofty goals and more about dealing with those things that are on your mind on a daily basis.
So I’ve mentioned already a couple of times now that you need to be thinking about what you want to get from your agency. And that’s why the AIM-GET framework that I’ve created starts with ambition. And just as a reminder, for those of you who may have forgotten or for those of you who are new to the AIM-GET framework, it’s something I created to help you focus on the key areas within your business.
And it starts with A for Ambition, I for Identity or Positioning, M for Management. G is growth, business development. E, execution, client service. And T, talent or team. And so those are the kinds of things that you want to focus on. But it needs to start with the ambition. What are you looking to get from your business?
Because you really need to make sure that you are driving the business, not the other way around. So one of the things that often happens when a new agency owner comes to me and they say, okay, you know, I, I’ve, I’ve grown to 750,000 in revenue or 1.2 million in revenue. What’s the next thing I should be doing?
And my answer is always some variation of, well, what do you want from the business? Because if you sit there and start thinking about, well, what does an agency do at the 1 million mark or the 500,000 revenue mark? What, what is the next thing that you should do? There are certainly some ideas. You can learn from observing what others have done.
But if you try to simply recreate what they’ve done, you may be stuck with a business that doesn’t make you happy, that doesn’t give you what you’re looking to get from it. And you need to remember, one of the reasons why I encourage reviewing your ambition every year is because things in your life change.
Your priorities will change. Perhaps you didn’t have a family when you got started and now you do. Or perhaps you had little kids when you started your agency and now you don’t. Perhaps you’re getting close to retirement and that may be changing some of your goals and objectives. Maybe you went through the whole pandemic era and like a lot of people, probably some of your team members, you had a new fresh look at what you wanted to do with your life overall.
All of these things contribute to the ambition that you have and what you want from the business. And you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes to accommodate those needs over time. And it doesn’t mean that you have to be completely selfish. It doesn’t mean that you have to go about running your business in such a way that you say, I don’t care about my team, I don’t care about my clients, it’s all about me.
But if it’s not at least a little bit about you, if it’s not centered around you and what you get from it, then you might as well go work for somebody else. So think about why you started the agency in the first place. Think about why you want to continue to own your own business and make sure that you’re feeding that into your annual plan.
And not just feeding it in, but it’s actually driving the annual planning process. And so as you, as you’ve now taken that look and you did your assessments, you figured out, Where you stand today, how things have been going, you’ve thought about how maybe your own life changes have adjusted your ambition and what you want to do for the future.
Now you have to think about setting the course for your business. And this is one of those places where I will get into a discussion with agency owners about whether you should set a broad direction or course or whether you should set specific goals and KPIs. And I am of the belief, as many people are, that you get what you measure.
And oftentimes that’s viewed as a good thing. In other words, if I’m measuring revenue, I’m going to get revenue. That is truly a good thing that you are setting forth and you’re saying, this is what I want and going out with a plan to get it. What you have to keep in mind is that when you are measuring something, you often get that to the exclusion of other things.
So I won’t tell you you shouldn’t have KPIs or you shouldn’t have goals, but I would say to think carefully about what the side effects are. So I see this all the time when you put together compensation plans, for example, for key employees. If they are incentivized by revenue, as a salesperson or business development person might be, then what are they going to do?
They’re going to go out and get revenue. But it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to focus on making sure they get the best fit clients, or the most profitable clients, or the ones that you can deliver the most results for. They’re going to focus on that singular thing that they’ve been incentivized for.
Which is getting that contract value as high as possible. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in many ways, a good thing. But you need to think about what those side effects are and whether you are okay with accepting them. So that’s why I prefer to set a broad direction and set forth how you’re going to make adjustments from where you are today.
And if you think about it in terms of that, what are we going to change about the business in 2024? What are the things that we want to improve? What are the things that we need to improve? That’s how you can oftentimes put together a roadmap that gets you going where you want to go, but doesn’t say you have to drive 57.8 miles per hour in order to get there. If you say, I want to drive from New Hampshire to New York, great, put it together and you’ve got a map. And if there’s a roadblock, you can go around it. But if you put together a too detailed plan at the beginning. You don’t have the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities.
It makes it more difficult to course correct. And you need to be really careful that as you’re guiding your business forward in this planning process, that you are making adjustments, that you’re not overcorrecting. You’re not going into this saying, well, last year I was a PR agency and now I’m going to be an SEO agency.
Maybe you want to add some SEO services and see how they work and see if that is indeed the right direction. So make sure that you are being really thoughtful as far as how you set the direction. Make sure that what you’re doing is, it’s not, It’s not so simple to achieve that you haven’t tested your limits, but it’s not so pie in the sky that you are reinventing yourself completely year over year.
And I think if you’re doing those kinds of things, you will set yourself up for not just success, but the kind of success that will help you to get the results. that you are looking for. And that’s why the final thing is, once you put together this course that you’re going to assemble and hopefully do so with your team, and we’ll talk in a future webinar about how to integrate your team into this planning process, once you put this together, make sure that you sit down and compare that to the ambition that you laid out, the things that you want to achieve personally, how much you want to work, the kind of work that you want to do, the kind, the amount of compensation that that you want to earn from the business.
You want to compare your mission for the agency, your plan for the agency against those personal goals, and make sure that even though you started with the beginning, you’re returning to them at the end to make sure that you truly have that alignment. Of course, as you’re thinking about that, you need to figure out what are the things that you want to work on most immediately.
Because any plan is something that tends to be more effective as soon as you start seeing results. So if you put together a plan and there’s no way to figure out if you’ve been successful until the end of the year, that’s a tougher plan for you and your team to buy into. It’s a tougher thing to stick with.
So you want to set some priorities. And these priorities should be based on what you identified using the AHA test, what you’ve found by putting down your own ambition and the things that have changed in your life and that you want to change in the business. And once you’ve figured out the things that you want, now you have to sit down and take a look at how, how much effort does it take to do this? Is it going to be expensive? Is it going to be time consuming? Is it something that I can do on my own or do I need to have outside forces come together in order to make it happen? Look at the level of difficulty of achieving it versus the impact that you will receive from it.
So are you putting together a plan that will have immediate impact for you? So for a very specific example, If you come to me and say, look, right now in September of 2023, I’m working too many hours, I’m feeling burned out, okay? Then I’m going to sit with you and say, okay, one of your top goals for the new year, one of the top objectives for your plan should be to figure out how you can cut back on the number of hours that you are personally working.
And so that would be a priority challenge to address. At the same time, there may be opportunities. Perhaps you’re in conversations with another agency that you are looking to do some joint projects with. That might be an opportunity that is ripe right now because maybe there’s an opportunity. Maybe you’re a PR agency and you’ve got a digital agency that you work with regularly.
Or maybe there’s someone who’s got some real expertise in AI that could really help. your business and your clients. And so maybe that’s something that you want to take advantage of right in the here and now and not put it off until, say, Q2, Q3, Q4 of the next year. So put together these priorities to focus on because that will give you the early wins, the victories that will help build that momentum and allow you to implement the change that you’re looking to put into your business.
It’s something that will help you and it will help your team carry you forward as well. And so understanding what matters to you, what will make that difference, those are the kinds of things that I want you to prioritize in your planning process. But now that we’ve talked about sort of those, those high level things, the rear view mirror test, the, the, let’s see where we’re at.
Let’s reevaluate what you want from the business. And you’ve identified those immediate challenges and opportunities that are just, they’re just sort of socking you in the face and saying, these need to be addressed right now. These are, you need to take advantage of them or fix them right now. Now’s when you get to start working through the rest of the aim get framework.
And so we’ll work through in order because that’s, Typically the best way for most agencies to do this. We’ve got the ambition, the A out of the way. Now we’re on to I, identity. So on an annual basis, I would encourage you to review your agency’s positioning. And I prefer to think of this as finding a focus for your business.
And the reason why I talk about finding focus instead of niching down or some of the terms that some of the other agency advisors out there use. It’s because there are a lot of different ways to focus on the ideal client for your business. And so you need to take a look around you and say, Okay, what has changed in the marketplace over the last year or so?
What has changed with our current client bases? We’ve added new clients or lost clients over the past 12 months. What does that tell us about our own skill? How we’re currently appealing to people? Let’s look at the results that we’ve been producing for clients. Has there been a change in the kinds of tactics and strategies that we’re putting forth that are being effective that the clients are receiving and saying, Yes, those are the kinds of results that we want.
Those are the kinds of results that generate the investment that we’re making in the agency that we’re working with. If you start taking in those inputs and you’re taking a look at how those things have changed over the past, say, 12 or 18 months, it allows you to consider, and I’m not saying you should every year change your positioning, but it allows you to at least consider whether there’s something about your overall identity and focus that is worth addressing.
In this part of the presentation, I think it’s important to talk about how you don’t want to go chasing after the herd and be prospecting in that same stream, just panning for gold right alongside everybody else. And it seems like every year we have some sort of thing out there, whether, you know, one year that might have been, say, Clubhouse or something like that, or today we’ve got AI.
AI is definitely an opportunity for many agencies. It’s a threat for other agencies. But it’s not something that you should use to upend your entire business on the spot. It’s something where you need to take it in, look around and see what the trends are, but don’t just go chasing those trends, because if you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed in all likelihood.
So, understand how they work, understand how they impact your existing client base. Because one of the mistakes that I often see is that agency owners, we’re curious types, we’re out there, we’re looking around, trying to see what’s going on. We want to try new platforms and learn new things. But often we personally are way out ahead of the audiences for our ideal clients.
And so we need to make sure that the kinds of things that we’re doing, the tactics, the techniques, the platforms. All of that match up with what our clients actually need to see real results today. It doesn’t mean you can’t sock away a little bit of investment of your time and a little bit of investment on the client’s time for where the puck is going and where you see the marketplace headed.
But most of the time, most of your planning efforts, your targeting efforts should be on the here and now because that’s where you’re able to produce the results that will cause prospects to sign up and clients to stick with you. And finally, I would say, as you’re doing this evaluation of your identity and positioning, where your focus is, your ideal client definition, make sure that you’re factoring in profitability.
So one of the things we’ve talked about looking at results, we talked about looking at the marketplace and all of that, but we also need to look over the last year or so at how profitable our different clients have been, the different kinds of projects, the service lines that we have and understand what is contributing more to the bottom line for your business. Because that may dictate how you want to adjust that identity and positioning some real world examples here You might want to be looking at whether you need to increase the minimum engagement that you have with new clients. That’s a clear part of your identity and positioning and whether you’re saying we are going to be the low cost provider, we’re going to be mid tier, we’re going to be the premium provider.
Understanding where you fit is in part based on how profitable you do things. If you are bare minimum profitability, then doing high volume, low dollar accounts may not be the best place for you. You need to have efficiencies of scale if you’re going to be a low cost provider so that you’re still contributing meaningfully to your profitability.
So if you don’t have a system of profitability in place, make sure that you are putting a system of profitability in place as part of your plan for the new year, so that you understand every aspect of your business and how profitable or not it might be. So now that you’ve evaluated your ambition, you’ve figured out the, where you want to go, you’ve figured out the agencies, any updates to your ideal client profile.
Now it’s time to start thinking about evaluating any changes you need to make to management. And I’m not talking necessarily about your org chart. We’ll talk about that a little bit when we get to the talent side of things. When I’m talking about management in terms of the AIM-GET framework, this is more, A lot of the boring stuff that most of us don’t want to spend much time on, but it’s important.
And so this is tax and legal and things like that. HR. And so you want to make sure that you are consulting on at least an annual basis, if not more frequently, with your accountant, with your lawyer, with your HR consultant, to review. What’s, what changed in your business? Have you added people? Have you added partners?
Have you added different kinds of clients? Are there things that you need to consider in terms of mitigating risk? Are there regulatory or legal changes that have taken place around you that you need to consider? Have you hit a certain threshold in the number of employees where your state or federal regulations require you to have new policies or those kinds of things in place. If you’ve had an employee handbook around for 10 or 15 years, it’s probably a good idea to sit down and take advantage of your annual processing planning process to set out some sort of an update plan for it to make sure that you are not just in compliance with rules, but you’re also putting together a document that is actually real world effective for the business that you are running today and the kinds of people that you are recruiting.
So, Have these touch based conversations. Make sure that you’re reviewing them. Review your insurance requirements. Frankly, as a business. A lot of agencies don’t carry insurance when they ought to be carrying insurance. And this is a good time as part of your planning process to audit all of those things with your professional advisors who are familiar with your situation and familiar with the risks and the laws and the rules and all of that to help you to navigate those as well.
But you also, this is a good time for you to sit there and say, okay, well, you know, I said, look, I’m not going to put together a client contract. I’m just going to use that freebie that I downloaded from some website that I found on Google. Maybe this is the year that you sit down with an actual lawyer who knows your business and can update it into a meaningful template that you can use for future work.
Maybe you have a partner in your agency and you put together the bare minimum in paperwork that you needed to have to set up your LLC in whatever jurisdiction you’re in, but you never put together proper partnership documents or a buy sell agreement. If you’ve put that off, now is the time to sit down and think about those things and make sure that you have them in place so that you have a good management structure and that it’s been well thought out and not just slapdash put together because you were in a rush at a certain point in time to move forward. And if you are thinking about all these things and using some of the things we talked about earlier to look at in terms of what’s changed in your life and your business, that will often help inform some of these conversations that you will have with your advisors to put together the right management tools. to advance your agency to be the kind of business that you’re looking for in 2024. So now we’ll dive into this is all of the things we’ve talked about now. These are all the things that frankly, most agency owners I know skip right over and they get right here. And when you sit down and you start talking with, with your team or your partners about the next year, it almost always, if you don’t have a framework in place like AIM-GET it almost always starts with talking about business development and how are we going to grow the business.
And sometimes it even just starts with saying, okay, you know, we, we were at 800,000 this year. I want to be at a million next year. So a million dollars is our goal. There are so many things wrong with that. You need to make sure that when you’re putting together a business development plan, that you’re not just making up numbers, that you’re actually sitting down with a spreadsheet in hand and saying, Okay, here’s what we have for existing business that we expect for the new year.
This is what we expect to renew. anticipating that 100 percent of your retainers renew, you’re probably making a mistake. And I would encourage that as you’re doing your forecast, your financial forecast for the new year for business development purposes, you sit down and you assume some degree of attrition.
Maybe base that based on what historical results are, or maybe base it based on, okay, you know, we feel a little bit uneasy about a couple of clients, let’s assume we, you know, we keep two lose one of the ones that we’re nervous about. Make sure that you’re factoring that in and make sure that you’ve got a spreadsheet that shows these things and make sure that as you’re putting together that business development plan, as you’re thinking about your financial projections for revenue, think about, Not just, okay, I want to have 200,000 more in revenue to go from 800,000 to a million.
But what does that mean in terms of clients? And you may sit there and say, okay, well my average engagement is 50,000. So all I have to do 50,000 a year, all I have to do is add four new clients and I’ve got to my million dollar target. Which is great, as long as you sign those people all up in time for a January 1st start.
Because otherwise, the amount of money that they contribute to your bottom line is not 50,000 in 2024. It’s prorated based on the number of months that they’re actually with you. And so this is a place where I oftentimes see financial projections, business development planning fall apart because it doesn’t factor in the real world of when are these things going to actually happen.
And if you get into, say, October, November, and someone’s not in your pipeline already, the chances that they’re going to start on January 1 are really small. So as you get closer to the end of the year, you have much greater visibility into what your likely revenue is for Q1 of the new year. So be realistic about those things.
And then say to yourself, okay, well, if I’m looking to add this number of clients over the course of the year, what do I need to do in order to generate that business? And I think this is one of the things that you want to be thinking about, less is more. When it comes to business development, a lot of times you can sit down and say, oh, there’s all these things I can do.
And again, we’re creative. We’re agency leaders. We’re people who are used to coming up with ideas for our clients. We’ll do the same things for ourselves in these planning processes. But we need to make sure that we’re doing things that we can do on a consistent basis and do well on a consistent basis.
And what that means is that we don’t want to have a list of 20 different tactics and just start jumping in and doing a little of this and a little of that because then we’re not doing any of them well. You’re much better off picking one or maybe two things, doing them consistently and doing them well.
So how do you know which ones to get started with? Well, my first piece of encouragement to you is take a look over the last two or three years. How have you gotten new business? What things have you done in order to bring those clients in the door? Because look, you have an existing client base in all likelihood.
You’re probably not starting out if you’re just listening to this because it’s a planning process for existing agencies. So you, you’ve built a business. You should be confident about the fact that you’ve been able to win clients. Now take a look at what you did to win those clients. Start by doing more of that.
Instead of coming up with creative new ideas when it’s time to grow the business, double down on those things that you know have produced results for you in the past. A lot of times I hear an agency owner say, Well, you know, I’ve grown the business off of word of mouth and referrals, but I know that’s not the best way.
Well, why not? It’s gotten you to where you are today. You’ve been successful to this point. Why not just figure out how you might be able to systematize some of those things better? Maybe turn it into a real word of mouth and referral engine as opposed to just something that’s accidental where you sit down and you wait for the phone to ring.
So think about those things. It doesn’t mean that you can’t try new things. You can’t add a podcast or start writing articles or start giving speeches. All of those are great ideas for how you might be able to grow your agency business, but only do that after you think you’ve really truly exhausted the things that have worked well already.
And so put the effort into making those even better as opposed to starting something new. from scratch because there is no silver bullet. There’s no magic answer for an agency on how to grow their business. And the way that I grow my business is not the same way that you grow your business. And if you watch all these YouTube videos out there from agency gurus, they’ll give you a lot of different ideas on how you might be able to add new clients and add new revenue in the new year.
But you need to figure out what’s going to work for you. If you love cold calling, great, do it. If you don’t love cold calling, I’m not going to tell you you should do it, because you’re going to avoid it at all costs. If you don’t love public speaking, don’t go out and be a public speaker, right? You need to lean into the things that you know work, that you enjoy doing, and those are the kinds of things that you’ll be able to do consistently and well, and those are the things that will contribute to your bottom line as you’re putting together your growth plan for the new year.
So now let’s talk about the client service side of things. And actually, I realized now that I’ve been one slide behind here for a bit. So my apologies. I was looking at the preview pane here. So my, my apologies for not showing you the right slides as we’ve been talking here. In any case, all right, we’re going to focus to next on the efficiency side, the client service side of the business.
And so this is where we’re on the execution part of the aim get framework. And as we think about execution, we’re thinking about how we can mesh together what we’re doing on a client service basis with that ideal client definition that we have, right? Because if we’re out there making promises to the market and telling people these are the kinds of clients we want to work with, we need to make sure that we can deliver for them. So you need to have this synergy between the two. And it’s something that you’ll want to make sure that you are focusing on as you’re doing your annual planning process. So you need to think about what is producing results for the clients. We talked about this on the focus side, but now we need to think about it even more so on the execution side.
Because we need to figure out If we’re making changes to our identity and we’re making tweaks as to the things that we want to sell, we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to execute on it effectively. And so that means that we need to figure out how do we structure our teams to deliver those results.
How do we structure our internal reporting? How do we structure our internal project management in order to achieve those results? And we need to be looking at it from a project profitability basis to understand, you know, if this is what we’re selling, how do we make sure we are as profitable as possible?
And so that means figuring out the efficiencies that you can put into place. And frankly, efficiency is one of the best arguments for having a focused agency and not being full service for all comers. Because if you are trying to serve everybody, it becomes really difficult to become efficient and effective because you’re constantly having to learn new industries, new types of clients, new types of services and solutions.
And so the more that you focus on delivering a similar kind of result using similar tools and techniques to similar clients, the more you are going to be able to build those efficiencies that allow you to deliver much better results for those clients at a much better profit margin for your business.
And so as you’re doing your planning process, make sure that you’re thinking about those things. And even if you haven’t changed your identity, you haven’t made an update, you said, look, we went through the identity review, we were happy with where we were in 2023, we’re gonna stick with that in 2024. This is still your opportunity to sit with your team and say, okay, how can we be more efficient and effective with the things that we’re doing?
Do we need more knowledge? Do we need different kinds of tools? Do we need to experiment with some different things? Perhaps on behalf of the agency. Right. You know, so one of the areas of overlap between growth and execution in the AIM-GET framework is treating yourself as a client. So if you’re not already doing that, a great thing to do out of your annual planning process is to stand up a, your agency as a client team within your agency.
So think about how you serve clients. Set yourself up in the same way. So if you have an account manager that you dedicate to clients. Have the same thing. Have an account manager who is leading the work that your agency does on its own behalf. That’s a great way for you to not just continue to grow the agency.
It’s a great way to give some responsibility to some more junior team members. Because it’s a lot lower risk if they’re the account lead working on the internal agency client as opposed to the account lead for a paying client on the outside. It’s a great place for you to experiment with new things.
Maybe you wrap in some of the AI. Maybe you try some of the new platforms. Maybe you try to experiment with video or something like that that you feel like you should be doing more of on behalf of clients, but you’re not quite there yet. Much lower risk to start doing those things on your own behalf. And if they end up working well, you can then learn from yourself and implement that on client’s behalf, delivering those better results.
Improving the execution that you do on their behalf. So, take advantage of all of these things and consider all of these things as you’re doing your execution planning for the new year. And when it comes to profitability, I know I’ve talked about that a few times. I will be a broken record on it because I’m a really big fan of it.
We do have a project profitability template and workbook as part of the SAGA resource library. So you can access that and you can use that to very easily start plugging in numbers and within probably 10 or 15 minutes, start generating some profitability estimates for the work that you’re doing already.
You can use it for coming up with pricing for future engagements for new clients and all of those are the kinds of things that you want to wrap into your execution planning because if you sit there and you look at your profitability and say, look, we’re selling this for 5,000, but it’s costing us 4,000 even before overhead.
So we’re not where we need to be. Well take a look at those and figure out from an execution standpoint. Could you get 80 percent of the way there with less work? Or could you come up with a way to automate a part of it using AI or some other tool? Those are the kinds of exercises that you want to be going through as part of your planning process.
And let’s say that you identify some existing clients that are not as profitable as they should be. Take advantage of the annual planning process sit down with your team. Take a look at what you’re doing. Is it a scope creep problem? Is it because you’re simply taking too long to do things? You’ve estimated that they should be done more quickly.
Are there ways that you can take things off of people’s plates? Are you able to go to a client as part of your annual planning review and say look we’re producing these three reports. We never get questions on it, so it seems like you probably may not even be looking at them. Do we still need to be producing them for you?
Maybe we could rededicate that time somewhere else. There’s a lot of things that you can do from the client service or execution side of things that will improve your business in terms of the results that you’re producing and the profits that you’re collecting as a business.
And so now we’ll get on to the last part of the AIM-GET framework.
And it’s the part that we often pay a lot of lip service to as agency leaders. But in my experience, a lot of agency owners are not spending enough time on team. And if you are not focused on the talent that you’ve developed, you can’t simply put in your pitch deck that, you know, our team is the difference.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But the reality is that you need to be thinking about how to recruit and retain the best talent. You need to figure out how to get the most out of the team that you have in place currently. And so you need to think about what are your resourcing requirements for the new year.
And the work that you’ve done in the AIM-GET framework to get here in terms of forecasting for new business and putting together your project profitability and all of that. That all informs whether you are under resourced or over resourced currently. What do you think you’re going to need to do in terms of adjusting the team in the year ahead?
Do you need to add more headcount? If so, what kind of expertise do you need? Do you maybe need to keep the same headcount but increase the expertise in a certain area? Can you get that with your existing team members and offering them some professional development? Or do you need to think about making some changes to your existing team?
Those are the kinds of things that should go into your annual planning process to make sure that you are being as proactive as possible with the individuals that you have working for you. Now we all know that the best laid plans when it comes to talent are, well, difficult at best because people decide to move on for all sorts of reasons.
Sometimes we see it coming, sometimes we don’t. And so we need to have a plan that is… You know, gives us a degree of flexibility. And so we want to think as we’re sitting down here at the end of 2023 and we’re looking ahead to 2024, what do we think is likely to happen? What do we want to see in terms of a team in place? But we also want to think about how can we mix the talent that we have in house full time employees with either some part time people or some contractors to fill some gaps. Or maybe some strategic partners that can give us access to some additional labor resources to get things done without the commitment and the rigidity that comes along with full time hires.
So we’re, we’re evaluating all of this as part of the planning process so that we can sort of figure out where we think things are going and what we’re going to need and position ourselves as best we can to make sure that we have the expertise, that we have the bandwidth in place in the new year. And certainly if what you do at this point, if you’ve gone through the Agency Health Assessment and you’ve gone through some of the planning in terms of growth and execution, and you’re sitting there and looking at it, you say, look, we just don’t have enough resources right now.
The team is burning out. I’m burning out. Well, then this is an area you need to focus on sooner rather than later. And it’s the kind of thing where you may have to say, okay, look, I know that we need an additional person to help us. And I know that this person needs this skill set. But then you compare that to your budget and you say, well, I don’t really have that.
Well, now is where you then sort of have to start backtracking through the rest of the AIM-GET framework in order to find the areas where you may need to make some adjustments. Is it in finding new ways to increase revenue? Is it in finding new ways to improve your execution where you can improve efficiencies in some other area so that you have the resource to add the talent that you need?
So the AIM-GET framework, while I encourage you to use it on a linear basis to get started, you’re going to need to hopscotch around a little bit before you end up with your final plan for the new year, because there are going to be places where you’ll make an adjustment in one area, and it’s going to cause you to need to re review something somewhere else.
And then of course, at the end, you need to take it all, and as I suggested at the beginning of this presentation, compare that plan against your own personal ambition to make sure that you are still aligned and that in the process of getting granular you didn’t lose sight of your key objectives and where you want to be taking the business.
But on this talent piece that the talent is the key thing that we have to sell. As an agency, we’re selling labor hours.
We can dress it up however we want. We can talk about different pricing models, value pricing, flat fee pricing, all of those things. I’m not saying you need to charge by the hour, but at the end of the day, what we are doing is effectively selling the labor hours that we have available to us. Almost every agency that I go into, I take a look at the books, and labor is the largest cost.
Not surprisingly, right? That’s what the business is. And so we need to make sure that we’re spending the time in this planning process to get talent right. And it’s not just about figuring out do we have the right people in the right seats on the bus. We need to figure out how to keep the best talent.
And so that’s an important part of your annual planning process. What can you do to make sure that your most talented team members, the people that you really don’t want to lose, how can you incentivize them to stay? And so your planning process should include taking looks at what is your compensation structure?
Is it competitive? Do you, what is your team value in terms of compensation? These days it’s not always about dollars. Sometimes it’s about flexibility. Where and when they can work. It could be flexibility in terms of taking time off. Or pursuing passion projects. There’s a lot of things that motivate employees today that’s different than what most of us would expect to have been in the business for 20 or 30 years.
And many of you who own your own agencies, you’ve been around the block a few times. And if you try to think about, you know, what does a an account executive in 2023 want, and then you compare that to 2013, 2003, 1993 in my case, that’s a very different environment. It’s a very different thing. And so you need to make sure that you are understanding, you’re talking with your team to find out what it is that they want.
What’s going to cause them to stick around? And so go through, as part of this eval this annual planning process, an evaluation of each team member. And I’m not talking in terms of the kind of thing that you do with their own annual review. This is for your own purposes. You’re, you’re sitting there and taking a look and say, okay, where do I see them going?
What opportunities for growth do they have within the agency? How can I give them incrementally additional responsibility and training and education and all of these kinds of things that will make them more likely to stick around, but frankly, also more likely to be effective for the clients of not just today, but the future of my agency.
So really have a clear plan in place for your talent. And make sure that you’re sitting with them to understand what they want, and then frankly you’re communicating with them what you see as the plan, and be open to their feedback. You know, if you’re on your road map, you think, Okay, this person’s going to eventually become a manager, and they’re going to have two or three people reporting to them.
Have a conversation with them. Find out if that’s what they really want. I’ve seen a lot of instances where agency owners have in their mind that someone’s going to become a more senior executive, or in some cases even take over the business for them one day, but they’ve never actually talked to the employee about it, and it may not be aligned with what they’re looking for.
Maybe that person is happy to do things as a worker bee and to clock in and clock out and do a great job in that window, but they have no desire to move up and take on the burden of management or take on the additional hours that they think may be required of them if they are an executive. Maybe they’re really happy with the way things are today.
And so you need to have that conversation and you need to know if that’s not part of if they’re not sharing the vision with you. Because if they don’t share the vision, you may put together a plan as part of this process that falls apart when you actually go to them and find out that it’s not something that they have an interest in.
And now you’re back to square one and maybe you’ve made additional hires assuming that this is what that individual is going to do. And then you’re now stuck with some decisions that you wouldn’t have made if you had a more clear picture. So that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing a webinar later this year on how you integrate your team into the planning process.
Because you really do need to make sure that you’re taking advantage of the insights that they have to offer, the fresh perspectives that they bring to the table. But you also need to make sure that there is alignment with your team. Because in a small agency, there’s not a lot of room for a command and control structure.
It doesn’t need to be a democracy and it shouldn’t be. It still needs to be about you as the owner and decision maker, but you need to make sure that you’re integrating them and either bringing them along or knowing that they’re not going to the same place that you’re going or that you think that they ought to go.
So if you start to think about that and you start to think about how you’re going to plan for the new year, you’re more likely to have the right kind of retention. Because you don’t want to just keep people for the sake of keeping them. You want to make sure that you’re keeping them because you have a growth plan, they have a desire to stick with you, and that all of those things come together in a way that’s really effective for you, for them, and for the business.
So, that will bring us to the wrapping up portion of today’s session. And I think the key thing that I would stress to you here is make sure, well first of all, the SAGA website has lots of resources on the AIM-GET framework, so if you’re not already familiar with it, by all means, go and access those. You can look at the overview there.
Obviously, we’ve touched on a lot of the elements here. But start by downloading that Agency Health Assessment and take that if you have not already. That’s a good starting point to identify some of those areas that you may want to focus on in planning. And it will give you that roadmap. To start moving the process forward.
But certainly if you have questions as you go along, if you’re not already a SAGA Pro member, join SAGA Pro and ask your questions in the community there to get feedback from others. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to answer your question at any point. Obviously, as I indicated before, we’re going to move to a Q&A session here for live participants.
And so if you haven’t already, feel free to submit your question using the Q&A function in Zoom. If you are watching this on replay, this is where the replay will end, but you can shoot your question to me by email or in the SAGA Pro community, and I’ll be happy to try to answer them. So with that, I’m going to close the recording, grab a sip of water, and move on to the live Q&A.