In this occasional series, Ad Age asked small agency chiefs what they would do differently if starting their shops today.
We are in a relationship business. As I look back, with the benefit and clarity of hindsight, I recognize how much of our agency's survival rested on cultivating strong connections.
Here are the five pieces of advice I would share, all through the lens of relationships.
Aim for longevity
In the beginning, any job was worth taking and we treated each assignment as just that -- a singular project. We put our blood, sweat and tears into the work and did our very best to impress the client, but we didn't have the initial foresight to build a longer relationship. Eventually we realized the value of developing deeper partnerships with brands, which is a more holistic way of working that enriches everything we do as an agency. I would advise steering away from purely transactional jobs and aiming for long-term relationships.
Looking back, I would have hired very strong performers sooner than we did, right out of the gate. I recommend committing from day one to having people working full-time at the agency, instead of relying on independent contractors and freelancers. We're in the business of people and you want the best ones reflecting your brand.
Put ego aside
Successful relationships require balance and ensuring both participants feel heard and respected. As a business owner, I've learned the hard way through trial and error, you need to actively listen and absorb the feedback, perspectives and ideas of the people in your organization. You might not agree, but if you're only listening to your own voice you'll never grow or progress as a team.
While we're all tempted to put the best, most polished versions of ourselves forward, it's best to let your personality shine. You want to make authenticity your top priority, infusing every touch point with clients or potential partners. Wear your identity as a badge as opposed to being hampered by it. The best business relationships are built on real connections, not professional facades.
When you know, you know
Starting a business is fraught with many potential risks and rewards, but you can spend too much time analyzing and letting your head overtake your heart. We waited to start EA until after we gained experience from several other jobs, but looking back, I always had the desire to start my own agency. I spent a decade waiting to take the leap, but I knew this path was "The One." If you have the conviction and the passion, start now.
Fergus Rooney is co-founder and CEO of Chicago-based agencyEA.
Want to hear more advice about how your small agency can not just survive but thrive? Be sure to sign up for our Small Agency Conference July 17 and 18 in Marina del Rey, California. Tickets and information are available here.