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The day to day running an agency business is hard, and when you overlay the need for a Business Plan to be created and executed on top of that it almost becomes twice as hard.   Plus, let’s face it, to us marketing and creative types who want to work on really interesting, challenging and strategic projects for our clients, the mere thought of having to pull together a Business Plan is enough to make us think that tidying our inbox is an immediate priority!

This is for 4 simple reasons, Business Plans are believed to be:

1.  Difficult to pull together

2.  Boring to do

3.  Time consuming

4.  A waste of time anyway as they’re big, unwieldy and out of date before they're finished.

In truth, all 4 of the above can be true.  HOWEVER that’s more a reflection on the process and model than it is on the business plan itself.   And therein lies another problem - where to start.  A simple Google search for ‘agency business plan templates’ delivers back an unsurprising and uninspiring myriad of results, paid and organic, and straight away you’re stuck with that perennial Google problem of so much choice, not knowing where to start, who to trust and even how to evaluate what is in front of you.  Similarly asking other business owners (agency or otherwise) rarely provides that much help, again just because there are so many different ways of creating a business plan.

However, things are change in the agency world, and there is a bit of a groundswell around Traction by Gino Wickman, and the EOS model within it.

I first stumbled upon Traction, EOS (the Entrepreneurial Operating System (snappy I know!!))  and the VTO ( the equally as snappy Vision/Traction Organiser) a few years back in chance conversation with a potential client when the word ‘Rocks’ was mentioned and I wondered what the hell he was talking about.   So I asked and he started to explain Rocks (I'll do that in a separate post) and their roll in EOS and the whole Traction ‘thing’.   It was quite a formative moment as, for the first time ever, someone had been able to articulate and explain a business plan model in a quick, easy and highly compelling way.

So I did some digging of my own, bought the book, signed up to the EOS email programme, listened to various Podcasts - and the more I heard the more I liked.  And the thing I liked the most was the output - a business plan on 2 sides of A4:

Basically the first side, Vision, is the strategy, and the second, Traction, the plan.   AND it’s a live, working document that is constantly used and iterated (the Traction side in particular).  Seriously - what's not to like about that?!

So that was the theory of the model, which sounded great. But we’ve all been there haven't we - what’s in like in reality?  So I did the right thing and started to road test it on my own business.   Although self-learning and application is not necessarily the most efficient way (both strategically and practically) of developing and implementing anything, it was important for me bearing in mind I was evaluating the model in terms of being able to use it with my agency clients in helping them create and implement their plans.  After all, I have to practice what I preach.

It was remarkably straight forward to complete - the structure and process is clear, simple and easily applied by anyone who has a marketing/agency background (not least because many of the questions you need to answer are the sorts of questions you would be asking  your clients everyday!).  So the process of completing the VTO was painless - as was the feeling of reviewing, completing it and crystallising my thoughts around the plan for my own business.

So I took it to a couple of my existing agency clients, explained it (as much as I knew anyway) and asked if they fancied giving it a go in their business.  As we were both learning on the job, and therefore there was chance it wouldn’t work/be right, we jointly invested our time in the process and put some hard stops in it in order to review and feedback on both what we’d done and where we’d got to.

But guess what?  It worked pretty much straight away, and not only was the process a relatively straight forward one but, more excitedly, the output was really valuable.   In truth, my subsequent experience of helping creative agencies build out their VTO’s has mirrored that first experience - it's a pretty simple, and actually enjoyable experience.

However, and there is definitely a however, it turned out that that's the easy bit.  The challenge of making it happen then arrives - and this requires both time and effort.  I typically now set this stage of the implementation process up by running a session around ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’, which is both an instruction and a warning.  We all know that forming new habits is a hard thing to do, and when it requires a business as opposed to just the Directors to do so, which is pretty much always the case, then that is by no means an insignificant task.

So the key learning here is to engage everyone, but start small in terms of the implementation, Rocks, tasks and changes required; learn from how it goes, share the successes (which reinforce the reasons for doing it all in the first place) and add in a little bit more next time round.  And so and so on. 

By sheer coincidence, I was talking to a client late last week and he described the VTO perfectly - "having a clear, simple document without any fluff whatsoever that holds our strategy and plan for the business, and is shared and understood across the business, is incredibly valuable.  We’ve never been in any thing like this position before, either as a Board or as a business as a whole".

One final thing, the book is really well structured and written, it's here on Amazon if you want to have a read.

This article was first published on LinkedIn

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