16 Things I’ve Learned Running An Ad Agency
First off, I don’t “run an ad agency”. Just makes for a catchy headline, you know? I sure as hell couldn’t do this by myself (skip to #9).
Plus, our team is unreal (skip to #15).
2016 has been a whacky year at Wier / Stewart (and America). Honestly, we hardly resemble the company that started the year.
So, I wanted to make a list of 16 things I’ve learned in the past 12 months.
In no particular order:
- Get A Second Opinion – You never know when you’re designing a logo that looks dirty to everyone else.
- Visualize Your Business Model – So, this has been a big one for me this year. We like to keep things pretty simple around here. That’s getting harder. We’ve got bigger accounts, more team members and complex projects with a ton of moving pieces. We’ve got multiple divisions with lots of personnel cross-over. Plus, some projects take a TON of time to complete. It’s not unusual to work on a project for 6 to 10 months before it’s shipped. So, it’s become more difficult to track and ensure profitability on our projects. And we all know how much designers like tracking their time. At the end of 2015, I set out to develop a visual way to understand our business. We’ve got 8 service lines (strategy, content, campaigns, design, interactive, production, media and branded merchandise). I call them “buckets”. Buckets need water (fees/money). Some buckets overflow every month. Some don’t get all the way full (lose money). So, we take the overflow from bucket “A” and put it in bucket “B”. But how big are the buckets in the first place? Our Design Bucket has a ton of overhead associated with it (people, salaries, equipment, software, the light bill, etc). That’s a big bucket. The content bucket has less overhead, so it’s a bit smaller. The point is to ensure every bucket stays full on it’s own. No more borrowing water from other buckets. Still with me? We’ve created smart spreadsheets, graphs and charts that visualize divisional overhead (bucket size). We assign team members with percentages in each service line. If you work 50% of the time on content and 50% on interactive projects, your overhead is spread equally over those two buckets. Some team members are 100% in one bucket, some are spread over multiple buckets. Once we add up all team members, we know the bucket size (divisional overhead). Now, we can create goals per-bucket. We also know when to make a bucket bigger or smaller. This may seem like an over simplification, but I wish I had this model years ago.
- Make Your Team A Part of the Process – There’s no telling how many times I’ve made our team sit through a “bucket meeting” while we figured out our new visual business model. The more they understand how it works, the more they will want to help make it work.
- Promote Your Culture – You’ll attract people and clients like you.
- Companies Grow and People Grow – Sometimes, not in the same direction. That’s ok. Recognize it. Early.
- Do Personality Tests – Yes, they are corny. Yes, you’ll be glad you did. I’m this apparently.
- Go On Walks – Make your next meeting a walking meeting.
- Get Out of the Way – Still working on this one. Letting go is never easy. Certainly when you’ve had just about every job in the office. I’ve done the books, designed the logos, made the brochure, written the proposal, made the websites, made the coffee and loaded the dishwasher (yeah right). My job is different now. I’m in the coaches booth. But, it’s hard not to jump into the game for a few plays. You may score. You may fumble too.
- Running A Business Is More Fun When Someone Else Is Running It With You – Alex and I have worked together almost 10 years. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this by myself. I’m not sure I could have. Celebrating the victories and navigating the trouble is better with a co-pilot. You can’t high-five yourself.
- Add the Talent – Sometimes the right person will appear at the wrong time. There’s no such thing as the wrong time.
- You Can’t Manufacture Attitude – Don’t stop trying though.
- Create Your Own Luck – One of our biggest projects this year was the rebranding of our local university, Augusta University. It was a massive project with a ridiculous timeline. The stakes also couldn’t be higher. Friends sometimes ask, “How did y’all get that job?”. I normally say, “We’re pretty lucky.” And, we are. But we’re also the best team in the region (at least) and have the best work, strategy, process and culture. We’ve proven ourselves. This project was 10 years in the making.
- Sometimes Your Luck Runs Out – Sometimes it comes back.
- Don’t Fear Diversification – You’ll see what I mean in a couple of months.
- Believe In Them and They’ll Believe In You – Our team is unreal. I’m a fairly skeptical guy, but we gotta be doing something right. It’s what I’m most proud of.
- Opportunity Sometimes Comes In The Form of Dad Shoes – I think the Hoodzpah sisters coined that phrase. It’s true. Who would have thought that we’d be able to produce some of the best work and have the most fun with a Credit Union client. Right?
Alright 2017, whatchu got?