Beware Coasting: It Can Sap an Agency's Lifeblood and Grind Momentum to a Halt

You May Be Tempted to Take a Breather, but When the Owner Slacks Others Follow

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As a small-agency owner, you work extremely hard to propel the company forward. It's a tough job, but typically you are a tough breed. As the lead dog, your work ethic has a direct impact in motivating the entire company and ensuring its success.

For you there is a drug out there that is tempting, alluring and readily available -- it's called coasting. Let's define it. Coasting is taking your foot off the gas, even briefly, and allowing the vehicle's momentum to carry it forward -- usually with steadily decreasing speed. This offers you a chance to relax a bit and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Unfortunately, it also offers loss of control.

Coasting can kill a small agency fast. It saps energy and drive and flattens attitude. If you pair coasting with occurrences that you can't control, such as a tanking economy, loss of a client or a change in staff, it can prove to be the demise of your agency. In physics, loss of momentum requires more energy to regain the original speed. Efficiency comes not in coasting, but in maintaining a strong omnipresent push. Your objective is to recognize momentum and maintain it, but not at a level that could lead to burnout.

How do you know momentum when you see it? There are always several irons in the fire: active-client work, pitch work and self-promotion. When momentum is good, you feel that things are slightly unmanageable -- or rather you just wish you had more time. A healthy balance keeps your agency operating at a good speed on those three most important fronts. When you're low on active-client work, you can turn the spigot on the other two and vice versa. It never ends -- and it never should end.

The small-agency owner not only maintains these spigots, but manages the agency's culture and energy level. If you coast, you steer the firm in the wrong direction and encourage your staff to slack off as well.

To combat coasting, I host a company-wide, off-site break at least once a year, as well as various "breather" sessions in-house. Our full-staff off-sites allow us all to walk away from the business (and New York City for that matter) to reset our gauges. In the office, we concentrate on pet projects and stress introspection, which provides perspective on where we are. (Both programs work best with a well stocked bar.)

Coasting is a trap to which we are all susceptible. It sneaks up on us cloaked behind the daily stress that we all endure in a highly charged and competitive industry. In short, coasting kills.

Cruising . . . now there's a place we all can aspire to be.

Anthony Del Monte is the founder and president of Squeaky Wheel Media.
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