Unfortunately, the answer to this question is very often the latter, especially when trying to drive growth through the business. Growth in itself is a really hard thing to manage, and it requires real focus and on-going attention to make it happen. Meaning that, whilst key people focus on getting more work into an agency through both new business and business development, the actual day-to-day management of clients, people, projects and processes gets very little, if any, attention.
And that lack of attention is where it all starts to go wrong. A lack of attention means a lack of control, and expecting a complex business with many moving parts to basically run itself is only going to end one way – quality will slip, deadlines will get missed, projects will over-run, clients will get let down, time and cost will balloon, and profit margins will fall if not disappear completely.
Size can also be an issue in that when an agency passes a certain size it just will not function ‘naturally’ or ‘organically’ as it may well have done in the past.
So strategy, structure, processes and management all become very, very important.
Strategy – let’s be clear about what strategy actually means as it is an over-used word that can often cause confusion, when its purpose is exactly the opposite – i.e. to provide clarity and direction. In fact strategy is all about direction – primarily the direction a business is travelling in, what it does, who it does it for, what defines success and over what time frame. Cliché warning – without a strategy a business is just a rudderless ship.
Structure – another cliché warning I’m afraid, agencies are only as good as the people in them. Strategy is one thing, delivery is another, so having the right team in place AT ALL LEVELS in the business in order to deliver the strategy is absolutely critical. Plus, is everyone clear on their roles and responsibilities, and know exactly what is expected of them? A good structure also revolves around a good mixture of people, ‘Processors’ are just as important ‘Visionaries’, in fact arguably more so where control and delivery are concerned. Processors are rationale and analytical, love just making stuff happen, and doing it diligently in a tried and tested way.
Processes – if the team doesn’t know how to do things then everyone will do their bit differently, with the resulting output being different every time (not to mention taking different amounts of time!). With clearly defined and consistent ways of working everyone knows how a business works and how things get done. Solid processes also breed individual accountability, in the nicest possible way that’s simply because there’s nowhere for anyone to hide.
And finally, Management – great management both overarches and underpins all the points above, without great management there won’t be a strategy, and without great management there won’t be enough of a focus on people, process and delivery. And let’s not forget that monitoring, measuring and constantly improving performance are also signs of a well-managed business.
So, in summary there are 4 key things that will mean you can run your agency as opposed to your agency running you, plus a massive dose of discipline, more displace and then some more discipline. And those last 3 things are hard but become the difference between an average agency and a great one.