Granted, in times like these, a small agency's own clients can be trimming the sails, but unlike large agencies, small agencies can pick up the slack with project work and smaller-than-average accounts. If a small agency has been doing its new-biz homework, it should be able to weather a stalled economy. If the agency has been going above and beyond, it may even realize growth.
Getting through the tough times depends on what an agency has been doing during good times. The timetable from first contact to signing a new client is pretty long, perhaps even a couple of years. If your agency has been too busy for new business you will have a tough time cultivating something quickly. I compare it to farming. Any harvesting you do in the next six months will be the result of what you sowed long ago.
Be cautious about what new clients you take on in bad times. Bad clients can unravel a lot of progress. I've seen this happen too often. Clients that are a bad fit can destroy morale. No matter how much employees may love working for you, a bad client will make them leave.
There are good opportunities in bad times. For example, make overdue improvements for your agency. Keep your employees challenged with agency projects that help them see that the agency is moving forward. Use the extra time to recharge your staff. Give each of them a challenge to improve themselves and the agency.
How you use the bad times is determined by how optimistic or pessimistic you view the situation. A bad vibe travels faster through an agency than a good one. As a leader of a small agency, it is important to keep everyone engaged and challenged. I recently asked my department to suggest ways to make improvements in the agency. Specifically, I asked what was the one thing the agency needed to improve on the most. The answer surprised me: dedication to new business. I was surprised because we invest heavily in new business and are continuously in new business pitches. So why is the view of my employees that we need to do more? Could it be we do need to do more? The answer is yes. Even though I felt that we are doing well in this respect, we can do better.
So, we're using these bad times as an opportunity to be better. If all things go as planned the economy slump will be short-lived and we'll all be back to normal. Whatever that is.