Small Agencies Need a Five-Year Plan

Like It or Not, You Have to Grow

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What do you want to be in five years?

Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
This is a question we ask employee candidates frequently. As agency owners I wonder how frequently we ask it of ourselves. Think back to what was going on in our business five years ago. The change in the media landscape and how people are receiving information is definitely different. We don't do any branding programs for a client today without a viral and online component as an integral part. I believe most agencies, especially small ones, are not keeping up to speed on how the world works today. This is part of the reason it is important to ask yourself, "Where do I want to be in five years?"

Do you want your agency to be bigger, smaller or the same size? I think anyone who is not designed to grow is assuring the agency's demise. There is little you can do to stay healthy if you're trying to stay small. I rue the idea of being big. I don't like big, but I have to act as if I do because it is more important to be healthy than it is to be small. You must grow to compete. By looking over the horizon a few years you can have much more control over how you grow. We want to be selective in our clients. That requires enough new-business opportunities on a continual basis to choose whether to participate in a pitch. A new-business plan with long-term goals should always be a part of your overall five-year plan.

Do you expect to have expanded capabilities? Small agencies don't always have the resources to give clients all the tools they need for a successful marketing program. It is easy to be envious of large agency capabilities, but there is no reason a small agency can't be fully capable in the latest opportunities and vehicles of marketing. For example, partnering with specialists in media or online capabilities can be an effective solution that offers clients very sophisticated work. Small agencies typically are the source for all marketing needs for their clients. If yours is capable in the latest marketing techniques you have a huge advantage over your competition. If you don't, you're toast.

Are you going to get better at what you do? There is a value in our business to genuinely loathe your own work. By that I mean we should not fall in love with what we do. We also shouldn't be apathetic about it. Having the attitude that you're only as good as your weakest ad is a healthy way to keep perspective and desire to improve. I've heard a lot of whining over my career about small budgets and close-minded clients keeping one's work from being what it could be. Hogwash. If that were true, all agencies would be bad -- and they're not. Commit yourself to replacing your portfolio with better work every two years. Remember this business is about what you have done lately.

What are you doing different? We all have bad habits that keep us from reaching our true potential. I love change because it forces you to stay on your toes. More importantly, it forces you to look at how you do things today. I hate it when people say, "We've always done it that way." That is the lamest reason I've ever heard. Gordon Sawyer founded my previous agency in 1960 in Gainesville, a small north Georgia town that's biggest industry was chicken farms. Frank Compton used to tell me how Gordon would walk in randomly and make everyone change offices. Frank said it was great because it re-energized everyone, getting them out of whatever ruts they might be in at the time. If a guy from a chicken-farm town can be this forward thinking, I want to be.

Five years is not a long time. If you want to be a lot bigger, a lot better or a lot more successful than you are, begin doing what you want to be doing in five years today.
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