Advice to help agency owners see the wood for the trees

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Running an organisation with as many variables as an independent marketing services agency means that challenges, issues, problems crop up on an all too regular basis. Being the boss can be a very lonely place. You might be surrounded by a team of enthusiastic people, but if somebody wants answers, then the buck stops with you. When tough decisions need to be made, it’s your office door people come knocking on.

In reality, you are not alone. Wow works with hundreds of independent agency owners, all of whom are facing the same issues, challenges and headaches as you in their pursuit of creating the perfect agency business. While Wow is great at managing agency finances and offering advice based on the numbers, it’s always invaluable to get the advice of someone who is walking in your shoes.

So, to that end, as part of a recent benchmarking study Wow conducted, they invited agency owners to share with their peers their one killer piece of advice – the one thing they wish somebody had told them the day they hung their name over their agency door and opened for business.

Here, we have chosen a dozen pearls of wisdom from the hundreds that Wow received that we feel every agency owner should know so that you can build a truly profitable and stable business.

Alex Minchin, managing director, Zest Digital

"Stop defaulting to 30 day payment terms. Just because others do this, it doesn't mean you have to. Implement zero day terms (payment in advance) and direct debit payments by default. Zest went from 76 average debtor days to 15 within three months of implementing this policy. You are not a bank, so why give credit? When it comes to finances, cash will your grow agency, not kindness."

Ian Finch, managing director, Mando

"Get as much advice as possible. Learn from other people's mistakes. You don't have to always learn from your own. Do adapt that advice though as you apply it, don't just simply adopt it."

Seema Sharma, Founder, Onyva the Agency

"Don't go for clients that barter, they want a reduced fee, but in our experience they are the most demanding.”

Peter Hoole, co-founder, Cact.us

"Sit down and take time out to think about where the future of your agency will be in three years time. Make a plan to hit that target and visualise what that will look like. Review the plan every 3 months to ensure that you are on track and take action if you aren't. Drive your agency, don't be a passenger."

Nick Howe, founder, Uniform

"Never lose sight of the balance between your creative output, commercial success and company culture - it's not easy, but I believe it's crucial to building a great design business."

Andy Weir, Born + Raised

"Invest in experienced talent, but get a healthy mix of fresh talent keen to learn too. Give them the freedom to grow and listen to their ideas, you can't do it all on your own."

Tom Cowan, managing director, Bamboo Creative

"Never underestimate the value of being able to upsell and cross-sell within existing client accounts. Growth doesn't always have to come from quantity of clients."

Tom Rosillo, operations director, Bring Digital

"Focus on your hourly rate and profitability. Increasing revenue is great, but if you increase revenue with a cheap hourly rate, it will catch up with your bottom line."

Tom Walton, founder, Emblime

"Add a contingency to you costings. Don't be afraid to turn down work if the client doesn't have the budget to cover your quote. Your time is better spent marketing in the pursuit of bigger budget projects."

Farzana Baduel, CEO, Curzon PR

"Be aware of your revenue per head, as well as your staff salaries/fee income ratio. It's very easy for staff salaries to inflate and productivity to reduce when these stats aren't monitored."

Nick Johnson, owner and creative director, Precept

"Define your purpose and develop your culture and ethos around that. Only then can you attract the right staff and the right clients. Choose a specialism or create your own methodology that defines who you are. In a very saturated market, agencies are their own worst enemy when it comes to their USP (us included). Practice what you preach and become your own best case study."

Jilly Cross, founder, Bravand

"Don't sacrifice culture for revenue - the team is what makes you and culture can get everyone working for the common good. Share your objectives with your team and it will be a lot easier."

Overall, Wow had over 400 pieces of fantastic advice shared in their 2017 survey. We packaged all of our favourites into a handy downloadable PDF. If you’d like a copy please get in touch with Wow’s agency expert, Rory Spence on 0345 201 1580 or email rory.spence@thewowcompany.com.

Rory Spence

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