To be accountable for accelerating the right kind of growth for your agency, it’s essential to set your destination, route and milestones.
If, like me, you’ve reached a certain age, then you’ll know it gets harder to avoid accumulating pounds (or kilos, if that’s your thing). And while I’m all for a doughy middle in a croissant, it’s not ideal on a middle-aged consultant.
So I’ve started myself a bit of a health kick. And it turns out to be the perfect analogy for kick-starting healthy agency growth.
Running to stand still
My first priority was to stop. Stop talking about it, stop procrastinating and stop allowing the urgency of the day-job to crowd-out the importance of health.
This is the elephant in the room for agency growth too. Many leaders feel like they’re endlessly fighting fires. Often time-pressured and defaulting to reactive decisions, they are – as has become a cliché – stuck working in the business, rather than on it.
This is particularly prevalent for established independents – talented enough to achieve some success, but never quite focused enough to reach their potential.
Just like me and my waistline, without pausing for thought and seriously prioritising change, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
Where are you headed?
With space to think, you can properly consider where you’re headed. For me, clearly ‘get less chubby’ wasn’t the world’s SMARTest goal. It lacked specificity, measurability and any sense of timebounded-ness. And so it is with agency visions.
Whether you run the show alone, share equity with partners or report into a wider group, it’s all too easy to never really think about loosely defined concepts like ‘vision’. Even pinning that down to mean some kind of business destination doesn’t guarantee it receives the airtime it needs.
Thankfully, leaders are increasingly recognising that growth for growth’s sake is rarely sustainable – or fun, for that matter. Traditional high-level objectives like ‘doubling in size’ or being the ‘best in the world’ are being replaced by richer goals, like liberation from the day-to-day, creating a more diverse workplace or – my favourite recent one – only working with clients that you’d happily go for a beer with.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with scaling revenue, headcount and geographical spread – if that’s what you and your stakeholders deliberately choose.
Similarly, if you have an exit in mind, then pursuing growth must be balanced with appealing to your most likely acquirers – from headroom on profits and low client concentration, to strong management information and the development of meaningful intellectual property.
Whatever your preferred destination, finding clarity in the complexity is essential. Vision matters.
What’s your commercial reality?
This is where practicality comes into play – the ‘A’ for ‘attainable’ in a SMART goal. With the best will in the world, there’s little point me committing to a sub-six second 100 metres as a forty-something, non-running, non-cheetah.
As you consider your agency vision, it’s tempting to disconnect the ‘what’ with the ‘how’ – especially if you’re aiming high. Having an audacious goal is fine, but it still needs to be grounded in reality. You might yearn to be the first agency on Mars, but unless your side-hustle is rocket science, your odds are pretty slim.
This disconnect is often found in the numbers. That may sound trite, but agencies are usually run by ideas people rather than accountants – which is fine, but it can create a commercial blind spot.
For example, have you pored over your last three years’ accounts to gain every last insight? Have you turned business forecasting into a dynamic, future-facing representation of what’s possible – as well as what’s likely? Have you explored the impact of different pricing models?
From right-sizing your rainy day fund to prioritising profit drivers, this kind of commercial interrogation enables you to refine vision options – and choose between them; making informed decisions about the trade-offs required, not least around risk versus reward.
In short, vision and viability must go hand in hand.
Being accountable for progress
So far so good, but we haven’t actually changed anything yet. In fitness terms, all I’ve done is ponder my goals (probably on the sofa while chomping on Jelly Babies). And in an agency context, you’ve convened your stakeholders and agreed an achievable destination – positive steps, but no action as yet.
This is where we all have to be accountable for change. After all, performance isn’t about achieving an outcome – it’s about doing the things we need to do, in order to get the outcome we want.
For me, that’s been about a personal trainer, a calorie tracking app and a set of scales that measures everything from body fat, protein and water content, to muscle mass, body age and how much I actually weigh (no idea how it does all that – my money’s on witchcraft).
This is why that commercial interrogation is so important. With decisions taken and priorities set, knowing your KPIs is essential. These are the aligned, healthy boundaries that enable you and your senior leadership team to gauge progress, celebrate milestones and stay the course.
Start your journey well
With client demands, personal aspirations and woolly business goals competing for headspace, running an agency can be pretty full-on. No wonder it’s all too common to lack the energy and bandwidth to think hard about the future. And regardless of whether your aspirations are fuzzy or finely drawn, being shackled to reactivity and gut feel will only take you so far.
Ultimately, ambition must relate to achievability. From strategic priorities like differentiation and commercial models, down to daily dilemmas like when to hire and what your financial KPIs are telling you, making robust decisions is essential.
This is where Co:definery’s Commercial Review can help. It’s a short, sharp assessment that aligns your financial reality with your future goals – all built on a deep understanding of agency growth.
Across two workshops tailored to your specific aspirations and constraints, we help you and your senior team decide your vision, identify your strategic priorities and set the right KPIs to navigate the glass ceilings and pitfalls you’ll encounter as you progress.
By connecting where you’re at and where you’re headed, you create the necessary clarity and confidence to accelerate towards your personal definition of success.
So if kick-starting a healthier future sounds good, then get in touch to find out more – but please don’t expect croissants in the workshops.