The importance of working ‘on’ your business

I would love to have the opportunity to review the internal workings of an agency when things are going fairly well and they have time to make improvements. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. I normally get the call when something major has happened and they need my immediate help!

The trigger could be a major client loss due to the agency’s inability to deliver to the client's requirements. Or, perhaps they have won a big client but don’t have the team or structure to manage it. It could be that key people have started to leave or are absent due to burnout and this is naturally causing issues.

How can agencies prevent these problems?

In most cases, the signs were there a long time ago, but a solution was not put in place to prevent the problem from getting any bigger. It’s very easy to get trapped in delivery mode and focus all your energy on delivering projects. However, if you really want your agency to succeed, you need to spend some focused time working ‘on’ the business as well as the creative output.

But how can this actually be done? This is the topic of this blog post! My number one recommendation for all creative agencies (not just those that are struggling!) is to have a formal monthly management meeting. It is as important for a five-man agency as it is for an agency of 50+ people. Honestly, any and every agency will benefit from this in so many ways. So, what can an agency do to implement it sooner rather than later?

The monthly management meeting

The purpose of the monthly management meeting is to secure regular, valuable time to discuss anything and everything to do with the management of the business. Due to client demands, it is often difficult to take a step back to review the needs of the business because everyone is just too busy. By making a regular schedule, this becomes easier to fit in.

There also needs to be an opportunity here for agency owners and senior management to delegate some tasks, so that the responsibility for keeping the business running does not rest solely on their shoulders.

To ensure the monthly meeting is as productive as possible, I would recommend that you formalise the structure of the meeting. This includes setting an agenda, using report templates, and having a PA take the minutes of the meeting if possible (and not somebody who needs to contribute to the proceedings!).

The day and time of the meeting are also very important. Typically, most agencies don’t need to set aside more than an hour, although the first couple of meetings may need longer so that everyone can get used to the format.

It can be tempting to reduce the length of the meeting or reschedule it when there is unexpected client demand. But don’t underestimate it when I say that the monthly management meeting should be seen as a very important part of the agency! To minimise any disruptions, a day and time need to be agreed upon in advance and should be chosen as the least likely to impact the meeting going ahead.

However, even with the best will in the world, a last-minute client request will have to take priority. On these occasions, I would recommend that you reschedule to a time when your full attention can be given to the meeting, rather than rush it and devalue its purpose.

What should the meeting include?

To make the most of your monthly management meetings, there are a few things that I strongly suggest you should include and/or cover each time. These key things are the agenda, reports, and minutes.

The agenda

At the meetings, every effort should be made to stick to the agreed agenda. I don't doubt that at times the conversations will sway into current projects and other topics. This is fine, as long as the meeting is brought back on track and everything that needs to be covered is covered. A suggested agenda may look something like the below, with a clear topic and name of who will be covering or leading that segment:

  • Minutes from previous meeting
  • Finance update
  • Sales update
  • Client servicing
  • Creative output
  • Operational issues
  • HR update
  • Any other business

Reports

Reports are key to cover in the meetings, as they can give everyone a better idea of how the business is doing. A report template will clarify what topics everyone needs to bring to the meeting. Ideally, the reports should be circulated a couple of days before the meeting to give everyone a chance to read them, digest the information, and make notes of any important points or questions they may have. This will enable the meeting to be more effective, as time is not used up with people reading and trying to make sense of the reports in the meeting itself.

Some suggested report topics you may want to consider include:

Finance:

  • Revenue vs target
  • P&L summary
  • Debtors
  • Budget overview

Client servicing:

  • Client challenges
  • Project delivery issues
  • Team concerns
  • Training requirements

Creative quality:

  • Creative quality issues
  • Team concerns
  • Challenges with other teams

Operations:

  • Resource management issues
  • Project delivery issues
  • Budget concerns

HR:

  • Personnel challenges
  • Recruitment updates
  • Training requirements
  • Team wellbeing initiatives

Minutes

Having someone take minutes for a meeting with only four participants might seem like overkill, but in my experience, it is the difference between an effective management meeting and a bad one. So, no matter how many people are in your monthly management meetings, you should ensure that proper, effective minutes are taken. At the end of the meeting, you want to have clear action points with responsibilities and timeframes attached. Individuals can then be held accountable for these, as the previous minutes are read out before the next meeting starts.

I would recommend that you assign a PA to take the minutes if possible so that the participants can all completely focus on the meeting. The minutes should summarise conversations and clearly state any action points. Every action point must indicate who is responsible and when it needs to be completed by. Ideally, the minutes should be sent out within a couple of days after the meeting, so that everyone can get started on action points as soon as possible and before the meeting is forgotten about in the day-to-day goings-on.

Monthly management meetings: summary

Most small to mid-sized agencies don’t have a formal monthly management meeting. They prefer to have ad-hoc meetings as and when an unexpected issue arises. However, the most successful agencies meet regularly to properly discuss issues and implement suitable fixes. This enables the agency to move forward and build a sustainable business.

If your agency does not yet have monthly management meetings, you should consider implementing them as soon as possible. What takes up just a few hours per month can ensure that changes are implemented and keeps everyone on track, the importance of which should not be underestimated when it comes to agency growth and profitability

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