CEO of Agency Management Institute, serving 250+ marketing agencies to help their owners build profitable agencies that evolve and scale.
Do you have a reliable right-hand person who helps your agency run smoothly? Or are you still captaining solo? If you answered that last question in the affirmative, you may not be running your agency as well as you think you are.
As an owner, business development should be priority No. 1. However, it’s easy to neglect development if you’re jumping from task to task, constantly managing client crises. By identifying one or two leaders who can help you focus on the bigger picture, you’ll be able to build a stronger, more successful agency.
This person is likely already working for you. You’ll probably find him or her among your key players, such as your director of operations or director of account services. The best candidates will be deeply invested in your agency’s success; they’ll be able to solve your agency’s challenges, mentor your employees and offer ideas for improvement.
It really comes down to what kind of leader you want to be. Do you want to cultivate employees who believe in your company and participate in its growth? Or do you want to rule from on high, treating your employees as simple workers who execute your will? In my experience, the former option is a lot more fun, satisfying and effective.
Identify Your Second-In-Command
As I’ve advised hundreds of agencies on growing their business, I’ve seen the following tips work time and time again for finding and mentoring your next leader:
1. Don’t look for someone identical to yourself.
All too often, agency owners think their right-hand people need to be clones of themselves. Usually, the opposite is true. The people who have been instrumental in helping me build my agency have been vastly different from me in terms of work styles and personalities. These differences are what made us work together effectively; our strengths were complementary and canceled out each other’s weaknesses. Long story short: Skip the personality tests, and be open-minded.
2. Embrace the person who has hard conversations with you.
If one of your team members feels like a thorn in your side, that person might be an ideal pick for your second-in-command. You want someone who boldly dives into difficult conversations and brings up issues that need to be solved. It may feel like they’re always adding to your plate, but think about it this way: They are committed to your agency’s success and how well it operates. This is someone who will be as eager to brainstorm solutions as they are to point out problems.
3. Set clear expectations.
Once you’ve identified your right-hand person, help them become a leader. Setting extremely clear expectations and boundaries is the first step. Give them more responsibility, but also communicate about what decisions will require your input beforehand. You want someone to feel confident handling priority situations while respecting the limits you’ve set.
Set up weekly meetings so that you can touch base. A regular flow of information is critical — I’ve found that the best teaching moments come during one-on-one conversations. Before long, the new leader you mentor will grow into someone you can always trust.
4. Establish accountability through quarterly projects.
Agencies are notorious for their lack of accountability when it comes to internal processes. This is where your second-in-command can really shine. Take that list of operational tasks you’ve been meaning to tackle and delegate it to your right-hand person. Pick one for them to tackle each quarter and review their progress during your weekly one-on-ones.
Ideally, these tasks should have a measurable impact on the agency. Having your leader focus on operational tasks versus client work will mean they’re not billing as much, but you don’t want your agency to be like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes. Your agency needs to run smoothly and invest in its own marketing efforts, too.
As an agency owner, you probably worry about everything from the next economic downturn to whether your biggest client will call it quits. Take some of those worries off your plate by identifying a second-in-command who you can trust to improve operations and help your agency grow. It’s a win-win: You’ll be doing them a favor by helping them move forward in their career, and they’ll be strengthening your agency on all fronts.
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Author: Drew McLellan, Forbes Councils Member