First impressions are lasting, and for some agencies, they are lasting in the wrong way.
Before engaging a new client you need to have your back office in order. All of your “ducks” lined up so that you can create the ultimate experience for your clients to make them feel appreciated, valued, and most of all confident that you can deliver results.
Lots of agencies get swept away by the adrenaline rush of client acquisition and growth, that they forget about their own backyard. It’s no good growing at a fast pace unless you have the team, processes, and environment to deliver client outcomes. Because what appears to be “growth” will end up being a hamster wheel of churn and staffing headaches.
Here are some agency processes that you should have in order if you want to retain clients beyond the honeymoon period.
Training and Recruitment
As you grow your agency, training and recruitment become an integral cog in your ability to continuously deliver client outcomes and retain their work.
Simply put, you need a way to quickly source high-quality talent if and when you need it.
The reality of running an agency is that you are likely to hit staffing headaches at some point on your journey. Finding and keeping great talent is hard in this space, and unfortunately, agencies are renowned for high staff turnover. You need to be prepared for the inevitable challenges of resourcing unfulfilled client demands.
As well, when it comes to reducing churn, your employees are critical. What happens if your leading account manager for your biggest account decides to leave… Do you have someone that can slot in and fill that void?
Your clients are likely connected personally with your account managers. They enjoy working with them and that is why they are sticking around. But as soon as that individual leaves your organization your tie with that client becomes flimsy.
Whether you need to satisfy demand because you lose a staff member, or you are acquiring new clients at speed and need more hands on deck, here are some tips to consider:
- Build a community of freelancers and contractors you can rely on when you need to fill a gap.
- Outsource or white label certain parts of your services to enable scalability.
- Be proactive in the job market and connect with active industry contributors regularly.
- De-risk client relationships with multiple touch points from more than one or two employees.
- Hire for cultural fit and train skill so that employees are more likely to stay around.
- Build tight onboarding processes for new employees and regularly review them for improvement.
Improvement and Learning
Training and recruitment are where it begins, but you need to extend this way of thinking and embed it in the day-to-day operations of your business, by creating a collaborative environment that is underpinned by continuous improvement and learning.
Your clients are paying for expert advice and you need to give that to them at every layer of your organization. Encourage and challenge your team to be at the forefront of the industry. Test new marketing concepts, adapt to trends and apply the things you learn with agility and speed.
Look for ways to embed learning and improvement in the days, weeks, and months of your team’s working life.
How? Here is an example run sheet:
- Hold daily mini-meetings (10 minutes) with your team to start and finish the working day. Share challenges, seek advice from others, provide feedback, and commit to next steps. Working remotely isn’t an excuse to avoid this ritual.
- Encourage one team member, per week, to attend a webinar, training event, or networking opportunity and share their key takeaways and action items with the rest of the team.
- Conduct quarterly goal-setting meetings with all of your employees, or with their managers, to discuss and align learning opportunities with their goals.
- Take your entire team to important industry events. Prepare together, debrief together, and create a plan for executing the things you learn with real client accounts.
Motivation and Productivity
The perks of having a highly motivated workforce should be pretty obvious… motivated employees are generally happier, more productive, and more invested in making your business or brand succeed.
You may think it’s the easy way out, but there is one thing that won’t motivate an employee to bend over backward for clients… And that’s money.
Money is NOT a motivator.
If they wanted to exchange money for hours, they’d become a freelancer. Not work in your agency.
People are motivated by making a meaningful contribution that is aligned with their own aspirations and life values. Not by money.
Below are three effective ways you can motivate your team and increase their productivity – not one of them involves a monetary benefit.
1. Align your efforts with their values and beliefs
Values and beliefs are fundamental to the way we live our lives… Both personally and in work.
They guide our thoughts, actions, and opinions, and subsequently form the basis for which a group of people become friends.
How well do you understand the differing value sets your employees hold?
If you are regularly encouraging behavior or delegating tasks that directly clash or contradict with someone’s value set and beliefs, they will be unmotivated and disengaged with your business.
However, if you can combine teams, construct projects, assign tasks and manage your employees based on the values through which they see the world… They become more willing to do whatever it takes to contribute and progress the betterment of your company.
It might sound high-level and hard to action, but it’s just about listening to what your staff cares about.
While not values-specific, Gallup’s Strengths Finder is a great tool for better understanding what makes your employees tick.
2. Draw a line to their aspirations
It’s well understood that a self-set goal is far more likely to be achieved, than one handed down by a manager.
That’s why personal goal-setting on a regular cycle is so important for the motivation and engagement of employees.
At least once a quarter you should sit down with your team, one at a time, and talk through their goals and aspirations:
- Start with the big picture, where do they want their career to be in 5 or 10 years time? What about their life in general?
- Once you know the overarching aspiration, what are the incrementally smaller milestones along that journey they can strive towards?
- And finally, what is the very next milestone along that path and what are some short-term goals they can set to feel like it has been achieved?
Of course, whatever you discuss needs to align with the direction of the business, but give them some room to be creative.
In this situation, I love to use the football field metaphor.
You’ve got your corner posts… These are the boundaries that they can’t go outside of.
Within that, you’ve got the goals. These are how you win, the things you want to achieve and the ideal outcome of the business.
Anything within those parameters that progresses the objective of scoring more goals is free game.
At the beginning of your meeting with them, articulate the boundaries and the goals. Then let them fill the space.
Human behavior and effective management practices are perhaps the most important influencer over how motivated your team is to fulfill your clients’ desires.
Once you understand their BIG aspirations and map out a path to get there, you can start to help them understand why the day-to-day things they do for clients are an important cog in that journey.
Aligning personal and business goals is an ongoing process that requires lots of communication and engagement between management and employees. Help your team members understand their part in achieving the business goals, provide consistent feedback, and recognize people for their contributions.
3. Have a digital system in place
It’s essential to have a good digital system in place to help you communicate and track your goals, tasks, and deadlines. Many agencies end up using a bunch of different tools to do this, using email for basic communications, cloud-based software platforms like Google Drive for file transfers, and an array of other disconnected tools to get things done.
The holy grail is finding a tool that offers an all-in-one-approach and keeps everything you need in one place. When everyone’s using the same task management tool in a workplace, you’ll find everyone’s productivity improves immensely.
Basecamp is a great option for team collaboration. It offers a centralized place to keep all your communication, projects and client communications. It makes it easy to connect employees with certain apps, services, and resources they need to get work done. But it also includes other features, like automatic check-ins to ask people to update what they’ve been working on, and email reports that summarize your team’s activity for you.
Having these features makes it easier to keep everyone on track and can improve workplace transparency.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter which tool you use – just have some sort of solid digital system in place. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself flailing around looking for emails, invoices, and contracts right in the middle of crunch time. It will kill time as well as productivity.
Communication and Collaboration
It will come as no surprise that better team collaboration will likely result in higher productivity, improved client outcomes, and long-term retention. And effective team collaboration is underpinned by communication.
When I say “communication” many people think about verbal conversations, video conferences or phone calls, and email chains. But communication is so much more than that – it has a number of bells and whistles that you should be aware of in an agency environment.
Effective communication comes down to the delivery of a message in its intended form that is perceived in a way that allows the receiver of that message to understand and take action.
Here are some tips for improving team collaboration and communication in your agency:
- Be supportive and give everyone a voice. A big problem with team-based working is that the alpha’s take control. One or two big voices get their way, and everyone else follows along. This can drown out great ideas, and sometimes progress not-so-good ideas. Deliberately give everyone a voice in team meetings so that you truly capture the benefits of a group of intelligent marketers.
- Define what success looks like. It’s common to fall into the trap of assuming that your team knows what it means to be successful in their role and in a team environment. Oftentimes your definition of high performance and success is significantly different to someone else’s. So sit down and determine a vision, an outcome, an endpoint somewhere in the future that everyone is chasing. Then, create a list of steps that will add up to achieve that future state. Make sure everyone on the team has a common definition of what success looks, smells and tastes like.
- Set priorities right from the beginning. Too often agency teams find themselves going in different directions because priorities haven’t been accurately defined from the get-go. Set the vision, map out a strategy, and then categorize the steps and tasks needed to pursue that vision so that everyone on your team knows what is most important at each stage.
- Look, listen, and observe to find gaps. Just like with individual performance, a great team regularly evaluate their performance and strive to be better. Set team-based goals and create a quarterly cadence of reviewing those goals and opening up constructive feedback sessions with the group.
- Create an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. Everyone needs to be on the same page and understand what role they are playing in the team as a whole. Be transparent with goals, workloads, deadlines, and task assignment – it will create accountability and healthy competition.
- Use a team-based rewards system. Individual rewards are necessary, but quite often they result in favoritism or a work environment driven by competition. By using team-based rewards you truly encourage everyone in your team to work together and achieve the best possible outcome for the business.
- Develop rules for communication. Not every decision needs to be made in a face-to-face meeting or a long email chain. Look to create rules for communication with your team so that the important things are given the attention they need, and the not-so-important things are kept in channels that allow for that style of communication. There are tons of different ways to communicate with teams today. As the leader, it’s your job to decide: What should be kept to email? Skype? Basecamp? Slack? [Insert Tool Here]?
Do you have your agency processes in order?
It’s easy to get lost in the rush of client acquisition, but if you want your agency to thrive in the long-term you need to give this more than a passing thought.
Your team is the one communicating with clients and delivering on the strategies you sell to them. It’s your job to build internal processes that will find, hire, train, motivate, and inspire this team to exceed your clients’ expectations.
These processes are the metaphorical bridge between the land of average agencies where everyone is fighting over the scraps, and the promised land full of high-paying, low-touch clients, that exists on the other side of the rainbow.
Where do you want to hunt?