I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My parents owned a travel agency from the time I could walk. I remember sitting in the office organizing their latest direct mail promotion, setting up their annual cruise show, and listening at the dinner table as they talked about what happened during the day.
It’s probably for this reason that I’d always envisioned myself owning my own company. Of course, I had all the vision of grandeur seeing myself set the direction and closing big deals. Little did I know what was actually in store for me when it came to building an organization that could consistently grow and serve our clients well.
As I began writing this post to share my experience with the most important priorities a successful agency owner has, I realized that the list is really no different than any other mid-size organization. That I run an agency is really secondary to the core components of building a successful business. This is a key point to remember.
Here are the things every agency owner should prioritize:
1) Set the direction of the agency for employees and clients.
I wrote a book with my parents and brother titled Parenting The Office. The main thesis behind the book was that successful management and successful parenting have a tremendous amount in common.
The single most important role of an agency owner (much like a parent) is to create an area of certainty and safety where people can thrive. This means that it’s my job to craft the vision of the agency and communicate this in a way that is clear to all members of the team.
I see a lot of principals and owners of both agencies and other businesses who try to delegate this, but this is ineffective. If the owner isn’t clear on where the organization is going, no one will feel safe, and the organization will stagnate.
2) Own the culture and live it.
I’m still learning the importance of this area, and frankly, struggling to figure out how my role can influence culture. I, like many who have started businesses, was a bit of a rugged individualist. I didn’t need or want to be managed and had the work ethic and desire to go out on my own.
Culture isn't created by making speeches and sharing dreams. It requires focus, many conversations, and a strict hiring policy. It also means having difficult discussions that you’d rather avoid.
At the end of the day, if the top person in an agency doesn’t represent the values you proclaim to have, and he doesn't lead and manage in accordance with those values, you have no chance of having a culture that will sustain growth.
3) Get the right people in the right seats.
An agency owner's focus should be on finding the right people -- those who naturally represent the values and culture of the agency -- and make sure they’re in the right seats.
We define someone being in the right seat as one who:
- Gets and understands what needs to be done in the role.
- Wants to do the job well. We judge this by actions, not words.
- Has the capacity and capability to do the job well.
4) Allocate resources.
My next priority is to figure out how the company will allocate our time, money, and energy.
This involves deciding what initiatives we will invest in, what our overall priorities are, and how we will approach these projects. The biggest challenge here is balancing the opinions of others with your viewpoint. As your agency grows, you must allow your team to shape more of the vision and contribute to how the agency evolves its service model and approach.
5) Manage growth.
I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t growing, you’re shrinking. Here's why:
- The right people want to grow, and if they don’t see growth within the company, they will leave.
- The business world continues to get increasingly competitive and complex. If you're not growing, your capabilities won’t grow. Ultimately, you will fall behind.
- Our agency has far more to do than the resources to do it. The only way we can get better is to grow the resource base we have.
The biggest challenge I have is managing this desire for growth against the various constraints we have on capacity, which of course feeds off the other priorities.
It’s been a fascinating journey from watching my parents deal with these issues to learning how to deal with them myself. The exciting part for me is to see how focusing on these priorities will result in growth.