Business Strategy

5 Lessons Your Business Can Learn from the Agency Model

What your business can learn from the agency model

This is one of my posts that originally ran on AllBusiness. See the original version here.

In my career, I’ve worked in corporate, nonprofit, and agency settings. I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of businesses hiring agencies as they can get things done quickly and well, and because they generate creative ideas. Applying the agency model to your own business or nonprofit can help it become more creative and agile. Consider these five agency lessons:

1. Set and Keep a Deadline

The thing that drove me the most crazy about working in the nonprofit and corporate environments were the endless meetings. There were even meetings to plan the next meeting.

In an agency setting, if deadlines aren’t met, money doesn’t get made, which means jobs are lost. Each project runs on a defined timeline, which speeds the decision-making process and limits institutional angst and excessive hand-wringing.

Approach each project as if there is a client waiting – one who cannot tolerate a missed deadline. That means setting a timetable and sticking to it. Projects without defined check-in and ending points tend to get pushed to the back burner or – even worse – group-thought into mediocrity.

2. Any Decision Is Better than No Decision

Pick a direction and go with it. That doesn’t mean every decision will be the right one, but you won’t know what is right or wrong without trying.

3. Fail Forward

One of the main sources of business paralysis is the fear of “what if.” What if it doesn’t work? What if customers don’t show up? What if someone writes a bad comment on our Facebook page?

Change these “what ifs” into “so what ifs.” So what if it doesn’t work? So what if customers don’t show up? So what if someone writes a bad comment on our Facebook page?

Your business will never innovate if you are paralyzed by fear of the unknown. Move forward, be bold, and if things don’t work, learn from your failures and keep moving. You’ll find that most of the things you are worried about won’t happen, and even if they do, it won’t be that big of a deal.

Brands come to agencies for new ideas and new ways of approaching old problems. That requires agencies to be nimble, to take chances and to fail forward – always learning and growing. With this mindset, your business will also continue to stay fresh, instead of sitting comfortably in mediocrity.

4. Set Some KPIs

Every major undertaking your company undertakes – whether it’s an ad campaign, a new social media account, a sale, a contest, or new product launch – should begin with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). How will you define success? What does it look like in clearly measurable terms?

It’s not as important what you choose to measure; it’s that you measure something. If you were hiring an agency, you would demand some type of measurement showing you what you are getting for your money. Why would you demand any less from your own company?

This sounds elementary, but you would be amazed at the number of large brands I have dealt with that are not measuring. They aren’t measuring the effectiveness of their email campaigns, they aren’t measuring their web analytics, they aren’t measuring their social media analytics.

I recently worked with a client who had a large contest, but the contest didn’t have any established goal. It brought a lot of traffic to the website for a month, but then it faded away and traffic went back to normal. What was the goal of this contest? Just to have people see the website briefly? The client couldn’t tell me. This contest would have been better with a clearly measurable KPI, such as signups for an email newsletter.

5. Don’t Worry About Getting Your Feet Stepped On

Everybody doesn’t need to weigh in on everything; if a decision really only affects a few people, have those people make the decision.

In my own experience and from watching clients, I see businesses and nonprofits where the heads of every department attend every meeting, whether the meeting has anything to do with them or not. Also, they all feel like they have to contribute something so that their role in the meeting is validated.

This exemplifies a corporate structure where everyone is worried about missing out or having their toes stepped on. It leads to meetings that are so big they prevent meaningful discussions from taking place, resulting in watered-down groupthink. It also slows progress, as everyone has to be available for any decisions that to be made (lest they be insulted).

Stop worrying about your place in the conversation, and only join meetings if you are directly affected. Everyone will benefit from a company that is nimble and progressive.

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