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Agencies 4 Growth Festival Logo
Agencies 4 Growth Festival Logo

10 common mistakes agencies make again and again

'Tales from the non-exec’ harnesses the insights and lessons gained from the board rooms of marketing agencies around the UK and abroad from one of the most experienced non-exec directors in the sector, Miles Welch, the founder of Milestone Advisory and former CEO of Digitas and COO of Harvest Digital. Issues such as business strategy, exit planning, growth pains, expansion, culture, leadership, process and people will be covered in the form of tips, tools and advice. Powered by The Drum Network, ‘Tales From the non-exec’ is an essential read for any agency leader looking to grow a better business.

I was chatting to an agency owner over dinner last week who had just taken some investment from a PE fund. I'd worked with him 2 years previous, helping to shape their growth strategy and market positioning and it was lovely to see them on an exciting new journey.

Milestone are non-exec advisors to agencies in the marcoms sector.

It got me reflecting on how success comes easier and quicker to some and not others, even when they appear very similar. Sure there are some obvious markers but it often comes down to an interesting mix of actions and behaviours. Here's a brain dump and hopefully some useful advice to start considering:

1. Can't let go - there is a founder mentality that it's easier and quicker to get things done yourself rather than risk empowering a more junior person to get things done. This is a really limiting behaviour and may be faster and easier in the short term but will mean you're unlikely to grow if you don't have time to focus on growth and the business. Yes you need good people you can trust but you have to empower them to take on responsibility, even if it means them making mistakes in the process

2. No long term vision or strategy - Albert Einstein got it right here, 'You have to learn the rules of the game, then you have to play it better than anyone else'. Getting your ducks in a row and building a solid plan, market proposition and refining what your USPs and differentiators are the first step to a successful business

3. No roadmap - what use is a strategy without a solid roadmap to get there? Business plans don't get read, so don't use them, instead develop something that lives and breathes with the business.

4. Retaining ownership - consider the benefits of incentive schemes and sharing ownership if it gets you to your vision quicker. Owning 100% of a small business is not necessarily better than owning less of a much larger business that others have helped you build and feel ownership in.

5. Rear view mirror - many agencies don't plan for profit, it’s a consequence of doing work. This approach is really risky, especially if the economy turns or sales fall. If you can plan for how much profit you'll make and adjust the plan along the way then you'll be able to plan investments in the business with some assurance

6. Don't invest - if you don't invest in growth you won't get it. Reinvest available profits to grow.

7. I have the right people on the bus - I can't reinforce how important this one is. You'll all no doubt have the same ethos, but are you really running your business in this way? Are you 'living' with the wrong people, working around them? Is each person the best you can get? Are you performance managing people who are failing?

8. Unaligned operating model - businesses grow organically and so do the operations. Unfortunately the strategy of the business sometimes outstrips the pace of the operating model and this leads to inefficient, poor structure and low margins. I see this a lot.

9. Poor sales & marketing capability- this can't be ad-hoc and needs to be an area for investment. Sales needs to be sustainable and marketing needs to support sales.

10. Get advice - Getting some regular external advice from a non-exec, especially around board meetings, means you'll generally make less mistakes and get to where you're going in less time.

Milestone are non-exec advisors to agencies in the marcoms sector, specialising in board advisory, growth consultancy and preparing for exit. Miles can be contacted at

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