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When your agency is an extension of the client’s team

Most of us love to provide strategic advice for our clients. Many gurus tell you that’s what you need to focus on if you want to grow a large, profitable agency business.

The truth is that strategy matters, but so does execution. Particularly when clients may be shorthanded and having trouble hiring, they look to agencies for assistance in getting things done.

There’s nothing wrong with being the arms and legs for your client. 

In this episode of the Small Agency Talk Show, Kami Huyse of Zoetica Media and Smart Social Secrets and Chip Griffin of SAGA discuss when it makes sense to become an extension of your client’s team — and how to do so effectively. They explore some of the pros and cons, as well as how to avoid the potential pitfalls.

Key takeaways

Chip Griffin: “As a community, we need to stop turning our noses up at the idea of being arms and legs for clients.”

Kami Huyse: “As hard as it is for you to retain talent, it’s so much harder for your clients to do so.”

Chip Griffin: “The first thing that clients cut is strategy only. If they’re not getting arms and legs too, it’s going to be hard for them to keep that in their budget if times get tough.”

Kami Huyse: “If you are a great place to work and you have a reputation of being a great place to work you’ll have no problem getting people to come work for you.”

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 Small Agency Talk Show. I’m Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance. And I am delighted to have with me today, a regular panelist and longtime friend, Kami Huyse. Welcome to the show, Kami.

Kami Huyse: Hi Chip! I’m so glad to be here.

Chip Griffin: It is great to have you here. I think we’ve got a really important topic on tap.

But before we jump into that, for anyone who may not be familiar with you, maybe hasn’t seen you on the show before, just give folks a little bit of a rundown of who Kami is and where they can find you.

Kami Huyse: Oh, great. Thank you. So yeah, my name is Kami Huyse and I am the founder of Zoetica Media, which is a small agency. I’m on the Small Agency Show, that’s why. I’ve been doing this for about 20 years now. So I have been on the Hotwire as far as self-employed for a long time. I also run Smart Social Secrets, which I’m now helping also other agency owners to figure out how to make themselves more visible on social media and across the web. And so I’m really excited to be here. You can find me @Kamichat on any social media out there, that there is. Some of them I’m better at than others. I am on TIK TOK and I’m working on I’m playing around with it. We’ll see. You guys can come in. If you’re on TIK TOK, talk to me there, but generally speaking, you can do that.

And also on Instagram @SmartSocialSecrets. And that’s where we do a lot of content about that you might like about how to make your social media more vibrant as an agency owner.

Chip Griffin: And you put out tons of great content. You have your own weekly live stream as well, that you do. And so lots of good content to consume.

So I encourage folks to go out, subscribe to all of it, follow you everywhere. Even on this Tik TOK thing, I guess. I… okay.

Kami Huyse: I know. It’s, it’s interesting, but it’s, it’s the future.

Chip Griffin: Maybe. In any case, we’re going to be talking about the present today here on the show. We’re going to be talking about how your agency can generate business by becoming an extension of your client’s team.

And this is, this is something that I think is important to talk about because there are a lot of folks out there who think that the only way I can, I can really grow and become one of the big boys as an agency is if I focus on strategy and recurring monthly revenue and high level stuff. And I have to, I have to stop selling time and all of these kinds of things, but the reality is that clients are happy when they can get an extension of their team, particularly now, where we’re dealing with the great resignation, we’re dealing with a situation where talent is harder than ever for agencies to come by.

We just had new jobs numbers out here in the US today that suggest the hiring spree is continuing across the board. Jobless numbers continue to decline, which means it’s going to only get worse for agencies and for their clients. And so if you’re in a situation where the client needs help, why not step in and become an extension of their team.

Kami Huyse: Yeah, I think this is so, so important what you’re saying here. I know that we also are worried about keeping our talent. I know that we, I am. And so you definitely need to be looking at that, but it’s even harder for your clients to keep their talent. Like, so as hard as it is for you, it’s so much harder for your clients to do so. And so that has, I think it’s an opportunity for us. I know that if you have long-term stable clients, which a lot of us do, because if you’re a smaller agency generally, you’re going to have longer term, more stable clients that are bringing you in. So you want to be as indispensable to that client as much as possible.

And if they even have a communications person on staff, that’s great for you because you can help that person stay, by being there. So, that’s something that I don’t think, I think it’s really underrated is how much we can help our clients to keep their talent.

Chip Griffin: Well, and I think we, as a community, we need to stop turning our noses up at the idea of being arms and legs for clients.

Because even when you don’t have these kinds of pressures, it’s what the client values most. We think that they will pay a premium for strategy and sometimes they will, but at the end of the day, they actually want someone to help them execute more often than not, as well. And particularly if times get tough and there are some indications that there may be some economic turmoil on the horizon.

Obviously we’re dealing with inflation and all these things, but for the technical analysts out there, they talk about the inverted yield curve that’s popped up again for the first time in over a decade. That suggests that perhaps, perhaps there is some sort of a recession on the horizon. The first thing that clients cut is strategy only. If they’re not getting arms and legs too, it’s going to be hard for them to keep that in their budget if times get tough.

Kami Huyse: Yeah, I totally agree. And usually I’m going to tell this is a little dirty secret. Usually when somebody comes to me and says they want a strategy, generally what they want is an implementation plan.

And so an implementation plan implies that there’s going to be implementation and somebody has to implement. And so if you can build a team that implements for them, that is going to be so much more valuable to them because they need the stuff off their plate so that they can do the things they need to do.

And that’s really the key. And inside of the agency itself, I mean, you should probably focus more on how you get it off your plate as the CEO or as the founder, than really not doing any implementation. So how can you bring your team along where they’re so great at the implementation part that you just bring in the, you bring in the work, and get them going. That’s my thoughts.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And before you light up my socials with hate tweets or my inbox with hate mail, I’m not saying that you should abandon strategy. Strategy is absolutely important and it’s not, you’re not a temp agency. You’re not just there to provide the arms and legs. But if you’re tying together the strategy with the actual execution, that’s when most small agencies have hit their sweet spot with clients. Let’s see if I can say that ten times fast.

Kami Huyse: Yeah. No, I was not saying no strategy. Strategy’s like, you know, it’s like the broccoli you have to, in order to be healthy, you have to have. Oftentimes people won’t buy strategy that way. I mean, depending on what it is, they’ll buy like the idea of strategy. I know they buy strategy.

We sell strategy packages too. Don’t get me wrong. But in the end of the day, what they need is some, some implementation. So even with our strategies, when we put them together, I always include an implementation plan with it, and say, here’s how you implement and what I suggest and what you need for resources to get it going.

And so, and often they’ll look at me and say, Hey, why don’t you come and do this part or do the whole thing or whatever. So it gives you an entree to another revenue stream on the other side of that strategy. And I’ve been in my agency at one time, only did strategy. And my problem with that is then you have to go on.

You’re always looking for the next strategy. You’re always, you’re always on. What’s nice about having, you know, these recurring clients, where you do the work for them on the regular is that it is very good. And during the pandemic, it served us extremely well. We did not have the problems that some agencies did because of it.

Chip Griffin: Well, I think that the other advantage here is that if you’re becoming an extension of the client’s team, you’re becoming more entangled in the work that you’re doing and that they’re doing, which helps you to better understand what their real pain points are. So you can be more effective at what you’re doing, but you’re also better positioning yourself to be sticky because you’re not, you’re not just popping in and out to provide bits and pieces of advice.

You’re actually you know, you’re in the trenches and you’re seeing what’s happening and you’re understanding more about what the client’s needs are. And so you can therefore communicate it more effectively and frankly come up with a better solution for them over time.

Kami Huyse: I mean, we are able to do so much better strategy working day-to-day with them.

I mean, right now we’re working with some clients on Tik TOK in fact. Ones that you wouldn’t even believe they’re doing TIK TOK. And we are saying what’s working, what’s not working here. So there’s a lot of strategic pieces with that, you know, that you can’t get into the nitty gritty on unless you have that long-term relationship and we get more, we get more spin for it too. Like, you know, they’ll, we’ll add a little piece and say, Hey, why don’t you do this little project about this thing? And then we’ll, you know, micro focus on that project. So say we take TIK TOK and we tear it apart and we find all the competitors.

So we’re doing like a mini strategy and that’s another sale. You know, that’s more hours or whatever you want to call it. But for us, it’s another little sale and it bumps our revenue for that month.

Chip Griffin: So how do you think about becoming an extension of the client’s team? In other words, how do you operationalize it?

So let’s assume that everything we’ve talked about to this point has sold you on the idea that this is important and valuable. How do you actually do it the right way?

Kami Huyse: Yeah. So, that’s a really great question. I think because I came from inside PR, this really was my thinking from the beginning.

Part of the reason I started my agency was because I had a pretty bad experience with a pretty big brand name agency that you would all know if I said it. And you know, we were just talking before we came on in the green room about being on Capitol Hill and I was working at a trade association and we hired this big agency.

And then I was spending like nights and weekends, like redoing their work. You know, whether it be a press release or whatever, it’s like, I was kind of burned by that. And I wanted to come into a situation where I was serving a client that my clients, when I finally branched off into my own agency where it would feel like I was on their team.

And so what you do from the first day is that you don’t have that wall. You know, you have like your weekly meetings, your stand-ups and your huddles. And we do that as a fact finding mission. So we don’t come in and say, well, here’s what we’re going to do. And here’s what you’re doing. And you guys are overstating what you need to do. I remember when one of my team members came in and I told them, no, no, you just fix that for the client. You work through that. She goes, oh, you know, oh, you want me to actually solve their problems? Because she’d been in other agencies where they just wanted you to just do the bare minimum of what you were supposed to do.

So you’d have to have a mindset shift, I guess, is that you own that business in your mind. And you’re part of that. So. You, I don’t know, it’s a mindset shift and then operationally, you have to let your employees know that that’s the case, too. Right? So that they are going to solve the problems.

Now you don’t want to get to the point where you’re so much over-servicing that it’s ridiculous. So you have to have a balance there and have a conversation with the client if it gets there. But you know, to do a few extra hours here or there. It really just is – so it makes it feel more like you’re part of their team, you know, like they can call you up and say, Hey, can you do this thing?

And you’re like, yeah, we can do that. And so we’re, yeah, we’re kind of open for open to those kinds of things. To a point.

Chip Griffin: Well, and I think you’ve touched on probably the greatest risk of this strategy, which is over-servicing. And so, you know, there is a balance to be had. But part of that is you need to make sure that you price it correctly.

If you’re going to be an extension of the client’s team and you’re going to be behaving in that way, then you need to price with that assumption in mind. And when you’re an extension of the client’s team, you’re going to tend to go that extra mile in ways that you might not otherwise, right. You’re not going to – if you’re doing it right, you’re not going to say, okay, only two hours a week on this. Right. If something takes more to get done, you’re going to get it done. Cause that’s what you would do as an employee. Right? And so you need to make sure that you’re pricing it correctly. The second thing is you need to make sure that I think your team understands that while they are serving as an extension of the client, they still are your employee.

And so they need to keep the client’s interests in mind, but they also need to keep the agency’s interest in mind and not go out and over-service without making sure that you are in the loop as the agency leader so that you can make sure that it’s the right thing to do.

Kami Huyse: Right. And that that’s a balance thing.

And also here’s the other thing I’m going to say on that side. You know, some people might say, well, that’s scary because the client might try to take your employee away from you too. That I know that’s a fear too. And I look at it like this, I’m a small agency and I don’t have a – we’re not going to be able to get, we’re not going to be able to make career for most people.

You know what I mean? We can’t do that. So I think if I have somebody, you know, for five years, that’s amazing. Right. And I do, I hold onto my team for a long time. And partly because I invest in them, I invest in my team. I invest in their education. I invest in their connection with each other and our connection as a team.

So that’s really, those things are important, but, also I don’t over work them. So that’s the other thing that I think happens in agencies is we will put like six or seven clients on one team member and then they don’t have time really, to ever get in there and be deep. So again, pricing it appropriately and not having so many clients on one team member. That helps too.

Chip Griffin: I’m glad you brought up this fear of losing your employee to the client, because I, you know, I see this all the time as a concern, and I have to say I’ve worked in and around agencies of all different sizes over the last two and a half decades. And it is incredibly rare for an agency employee to go work for the client.

It doesn’t, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. It absolutely happens. I know people who have done that. But it’s not nearly as common as people seem to think it is. And, frankly, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In many of the cases where I’ve seen it happen, it actually strengthened the relationship between the client and the agency, because assuming that that employee was happy when they went over there, they’re now essentially an embed within the client as an advocate for what you do and they understand what you do and how you do it well. So you’re more likely to have a good relationship. So I think it’s an entirely overblown thing. And if that’s, what’s holding you back from this strategy, you’re missing the boat.

Kami Huyse: Yeah. And I’m willing to help my employees if they want to go on and do something better or different or whatever, I actually help them do it because someday I will, I’ll probably be their client probably. Right.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, I think that this whole notion, you know, I talk to agency owners who are so proud, you know, well, you know, we, our employees stay with us forever.

That’s a bad thing, right? If you have every, if you don’t ever have turnover, that probably means your team isn’t in all that much demand or you’re dramatically over compensating them, whether that’s financial or otherwise. And so you need to look at that because there’s, there’s a healthy amount of turnover to be had. No turnover’s a bad thing, lots of turnover’s a bad thing. Find that sweet spot and it’s okay for people to move on and you need to basically create an alumni network out of your former employees, treat them as opportunities. They’re going new places. They’re learning new things. They can, they can provide contacts. They can hire you as you indicated, there’s all sorts of benefits to having this kind of a network out there. And it’s one of the things you get as you grow in size and you age as an agency. So take advantage of it. Don’t see it as a threat.

Kami Huyse: No. I agree with that. Totally. And they’ll refer you, there’s so much that they will do for you. And so, I mean, definitely do not. I know that there’s some agency owners that treat people once they leave, like, oh, you’re dead to me. And I just really don’t think that’s wise.

Chip Griffin: That’s bonkers. No, no, it’s, it’s not. And, and frankly, other employees see that, right? So your current employees see how you treat ex employees. And if you treat them poorly, that’s going to reflect on how you will treat them.

And so, you know, it’s not going to cause them to say, oh, I need to stay here cause I’m afraid. They’re just going to say, he’s not really a good guy. Why do I want to do this?

Kami Huyse: Well, and a lot of the reasons why people leave is because of management anyway. They’ll say all kinds of other reasons, but the real reason is management.

And so, I mean, I think as an agency owner, the other thing that you need to do is spend a lot of time working on your leadership skills because here’s especially right now because of this great resignation. And this is such a great opportunity for us to step up as leaders and to be a place where people can grow.

And so if you always understand, like I have a conversation with my team every year, like, what are you, what is your, what do you see for your future? What is your plans? And they’ll tell me, like, I see myself in corporate or I see myself here and then I’m thinking all the time, like, how can I help them get there?

I almost treat them like they’re a client too. Like how can I help these people get where they need to go? And yeah, I mean, that means I’m going to have to hire somebody new and it’s a lot of trouble, but I’ve come up with a system for hiring that’s working really well. I’ve been able to really vet great clients using my system. And so I just feel like, why not? Like why not help your employees prosper in their life? Why not?

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, I think that that mindset of service that we bring to our clients, we need to bring to our team as well, because ultimately it serves our interests. If we’re helping them grow and we may be able to hold on to them a bit longer, if they’re seeing that we are trying to help them reach their ultimate goals.

So instead of saying, Hey, I need to jump ship this year to go somewhere else to advance my career. They say, Hey, I know that Kami’s helping me out and she’s going to get me to that next level. So that two years from now, I can go where I really want to be, and that’s fine. And, that’s great. So, make sure that, as you say that you’re having these conversations, that you’re, you’re treating them, not just respectfully, but you’re investing in their future by understanding what they want.

Kami Huyse: Yeah. And I had one employee, for example, when she, she left because she needed to go on, she was doing some other things and she’d started her own business and there’s a lot of things going on. And she stayed for a couple of extra months to transition. Just to help out because we have a great relationship and we still have a great relationship.

So I just think you have to think of it as like, you know, I think we’re too fearful. Like we’re fearful that we’re going to lose this great player and we’ll never find somebody ever again. And because it’s so hard right now, I just, I mean, it is hard, but on the other hand, if you are a great place to work and you have a reputation of being a great place to work you’ll have no problem getting people to sign up, to come try to work for you.

Chip Griffin: Right. Exactly. And I think that when you’re thinking about becoming an extension of the client’s team, you also have to be having these conversations with the client. Right? So, instead of sitting there and being afraid to have a conversation with them, because it might be more work or it might, it might draw attention to something that we’re not doing well, you need to be open to having conversations with the client to better understand what they truly need and how they feel about the work that you’ve been doing. And so rather than avoiding it and simply taking orders, because we think that if we just keep our head down, we can make sure that we keep this contract.

That rarely works. You need to be having those conversations because you are an extension of their team. And if you were a team member, you’d be asking those questions and you’d be understanding those things. So, adopt that same mindset, not just with your employees, but with your clients as well.

Right?

Kami Huyse: No. And, and I guess we got off on the employee side. And I guess the reason I got off on the employee side is because if your employees are happy, they’re going to make your clients happy. And they’re going to want to be involved. And by the way, employees want to have new challenges. So actually getting new challenges from your clients is a good thing.

Chip Griffin: Yep. Absolutely.

Kami Huyse: Because otherwise it’s just the same thing. The same thing, the same thing another day, the same thing. And I don’t know about you, but I got into public relations and communications because every day I went to work it was some new challenge, I liked that about it. And so most people that are coming up through the ranks in this career want new challenges. They want to be working on the latest, greatest stuff. They want to be figuring this stuff out because it’s making them grow.

Chip Griffin: Right? Yeah. And I think we overlook that and we always think, ah, you know, we just need to focus on salary or bonuses or benefits or those kinds of things, but employees are increasingly open about wanting to experience those challenges and to have a partner in their career growth. And so we need to adopt that mentality ourselves. If we’re going to be successful.

Kami Huyse: Oh, I’m so with you on that, I am just so with you on that, I truly am. So, yeah, I just, I love that. And I do think that we right now have a huge opportunity as business owners to reframe our messaging around that extension of team thing. So that’s been my messaging for years. The extension of team has been something I’ve always said. And, it works really well. I’m going to just be honest, like people really like that. They’re like, Hey, I really need that. Because what ends up happening with your clients is they feel overwhelmed.

They don’t have enough arms and legs, as you said, to get the things done, even if they know what they’re doing. So I loved working with clients like that. And of course, I think, you know, we’ve been pretty successful at it.

Chip Griffin: And if you frame it that way too, you can often get yourself invited into situations with the client that you might not get otherwise, because they’re not just necessarily putting you into a tiny little box where you have this one thing that you do. And so you can start to see what’s going on. And, and in an ideal case, you start getting invited to not necessarily staff meetings, but internal meetings where they wouldn’t normally have their agency be in there.

And sometimes, you know, at least in the, in the before times, if you will, it was not uncommon for agencies to have an employee on site a day or two a week, or sometimes more with a client.

Kami Huyse: Yeah, an embed.

Chip Griffin: And that’s a huge opportunity when you do it that way, because then you’re starting to have those water cooler conversations.

You’re getting invited into meetings, but even now in the world where we’re doing much more virtually, you can still have those opportunities. And instead of telling your team, avoid those meetings at all costs, because they’re a time suck, factor it into your pricing and encourage them to participate in those events.

Kami Huyse: Yeah. You want to be there because you’re going to hear that you’re going to hear some things and you’re like, oh, we can help with that. Like, we can help you with that. And you wouldn’t know that otherwise. I mean, we had a client, like a year ago that did that with us. They put us on their weekly team meetings.

So like, we were there for the team meeting, like for the big team meeting every week. And sometimes it was sometimes it was useless in the sense that we didn’t talk about anything that mattered, but what was great is I got to hear exactly what their problems were like, what are they struggling with right now?

And I think that’s super helpful, for you as an agency to know that, because even if it’s not in your realm, you’ll understand sometimes why they’re not paying attention to your realm. Oh, there have this other thing going on. So how can you, you know, work your messaging so you’re acknowledging what they’re going through.

Like, Hey, I know you’re doing this and here’s how I think we can kind of do this over here. So that takes it off your plate. So you can focus on that, for example.

Chip Griffin: Right. Yeah. So you understand the priorities. Yeah. You understand the priorities better, which is really helpful. The other thing is it can actually make you more efficient in some of the work that you’re doing, because you don’t have to ask as many questions because if you’re part of these meetings, you’re hearing the information that you need in order to write the blog posts or do the social media, or make the media pitch or whatever it is that you’re doing.

And so instead of having to schedule a separate briefing, you’ve picked it up over the course of these meetings. So it’s not just the strategic element that you can improve upon. It’s actually the execution. So spending 30 minutes in a team meeting with your client once a week might actually save you more than 30 minutes of time that you would have spent researching and getting the answers to the questions you need to know.

Kami Huyse: That is so powerful because I do remember also when I’ve had clients that didn’t let me in like that. And I learn about things that were going on, like kind of almost after the fact. It’s like, I need to know these things. I can do a lot more for you if you’d let me know these things. And so if you are a client out there watching this for some reason that has a team, think about inviting them to some of your internal meetings, right.

Chip Griffin: And it gives them an additional perspective as well, because we, on the agency side, you know, we view our client relationships as so important and they are right. They’re important for our revenue. They’re important for the team members who may only be working on a couple of different accounts at a time.

But for the client, particularly our client contacts, it may only be five or 10% of their week if that, that they’re focused on it. And so they’ve got all these other demands on their time. And the more that we can understand about those, the more we can understand when they’re ghosting us and not getting us the answers that we need or the feedback that we want, or what have you.

Kami Huyse: We won’t go make stuff up, like oh my gosh, they hate me now.

Chip Griffin: Right, right. And so we end up worrying about things we don’t need to worry about. On the other hand, it can illuminate things where we should be worried. Maybe where perhaps we weren’t. Right. So if we start hearing, they’re having financial issues. Okay, well, now we can, we can sort of put that on the warning list and say, okay, well maybe this account’s not going to be around in six months because they’re struggling.

And I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t part of that internal conversation.

Kami Huyse: Yeah. And that helps you as an agency owner to make plans for the future. And that’s really, really powerful. So yeah, I love that. And you know, I always say that we as agency, agency owners, we are the boss, but we also have a lot of bosses. They’re all of our clients. My kids say you don’t have to listen to anyone, Mom, you’re the boss. I’m like, yeah….

Chip Griffin: If only that were true, if only that were true. Yeah. But it, you know, I think that if you adopt that mentality, that you’re, you know, that you want to be part of it. It has all of these benefits that, that go far beyond the day-to-day work.

And that’s, that’s where we all tend to focus so much. You know, we got the check in, we did this work. So, I guess if, if people take nothing away from this half hour, other than the fact that they need to expand the scope of their relationships and, you know, take the blinders off and take a bigger picture view of their client relationships, they’ll probably be able to build stickier, more profitable, more lucrative, engagements.

Kami Huyse: Yes. Thank you. It’s so true. And I hope you guys think about it. If you have any questions about how I’ve done it, definitely you can DM me, message me on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you Instagram, wherever you are. I would love to have this conversation offline with any of you.

Chip Griffin: And I would absolutely encourage folks to do that.

And of course I would encourage folks to, to watch a replay of this or any other episode at Smallagency.tv. You can subscribe to the audio only podcast if that’s an easier listen for you than, than watching us live. But hey, it’s kind of fun to watch us live. I think so. Join us on Fridays at noon for these shows in the future. And so with that, that will draw to an end, this episode of the Small Agency Talk Show. Thank you again for listening. Have a great weekend everybody. And we’ll see you all back here next week.

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