It's not the size of the agency that matters, but the size of its ideas. Big ideas, and a big commitment to risk-taking creative, is what it takes to win. Not-so-large agencies, like Viva, can deliver both fast and efficiently. Smaller agencies have their own "economies of scale." We're streamlined, with fewer overhead costs. Plus, with fewer issues to worry about-how the stock price is doing; what smaller agency to swallow next-we have more time to focus on clients, original strategies and great creative.
So, John, while you try to discourage others from entering this game, I say this: It's played best by those who love it most. If you love it, jump in. But getting established will be tough. I'd like to share wisdom that helped me guide my company in its first years.
* Prepare your own marketing plan. You'll become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Treat yourselves like "the client." Take a ruthless look at where you need to beef up to reach your goals. At Viva, we also meet as a team to refresh our plan. Reviewing the plan is a benchmark moment in an ongoing assessment and evaluation. Because everyone is involved in the decision-making, everyone is equally committed to implement the elements with focus and enthusiasm.
* Hire the right people. Use a team approach. Impeccable character and strong core values are as vital to success as talent or experience. Viva's team approach keeps communication open about everything, including revenue and cash flow. There are no secrets creating a barrier between management and staff. Individuals know they're valued as well as accountable.
* Know your business and your clients' business inside and out. The more you know, the more options you'll see for every situation. There's no way to fake it with clients, and clients are your reason for being in business.
* Be meticulous about expenses. Stick to essentials. Be prepared to cut costs at the first sign of a downturn or client loss. Look for nontraditional ways to do traditional things. Try e-mail communication, trade shows, special events, direct mail. Keep employee expenses from inflating by investing in multi-talented people who can perform many tasks well.
* Have creative energy. The joy of creating is central to advertising. Make a "wish list" of clients you'd like to have. Design a campaign as if you already had the client signed up. Get to the decision-makers in that company, offer to do the advertising to get your creative thinking out there and talked about.
Before starting your own agency, however, make sure you have an abundant energy surplus for tough times. And never give up.
Linda Lane Gonzalez is founder-president of Viva Partnership, Miami, an independent Hispanic ad agency, and executive director, Intergrupo MercoLatino, a network of independent agencies in Latin America (firstname.lastname@example.org).