In the first part of a special two episode series, Chip and Gini discuss fundamental skills that PR and marketing agency owners should spend time and effort to improve to be more successful.

The topic was first raised by Gini on her Spin Sucks Podcast.

The skills she identifies include:

  • Networking
  • Financials
  • Estimates
  • Patience
  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Learning

Over the course of these two episodes, Chip and Gini look at why each is important and how to find ways to improve.

No matter how experienced an agency owner may be, there is always room to grow.

Transcript

CHIP:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

GINI:
And I’m Gini Dietrich.

CHIP:
And we’re coming at you today in a special two part bonus double long episode. Why? Because Gini was kind enough, or cruel enough, or whatever to decide she was going to take a vacation.

GINI:
I’m going on vacation but I gave you a few weeks notice.

CHIP:
You did. You did. But you know still it…but sure, that was nice of you. But you know, I mean, people shouldn’t take vacations. I mean, you’re an agency owner. Agency owners don’t take vacations!

GINI:
Oh, I take vacations. I love vacation. I bought a new swimming suit. I’m ready. There’s water slides. I’m going.

CHIP:
Hopefully you’re going somewhere warm then.

GINI:
Miami.

CHIP:
Oh okay. That’s that should be pretty warm.

GINI:
Yeah, we were like what is the warmest place in this country we can go? Look at that. Miami.

CHIP:
It’s probably about right for this time of year. Yeah.

GINI:
Mid 80s, it will be perfect. Yeah, can’t wait. Yeah.

CHIP:
Well, while you’re enjoying that this podcast will be airing and so folks who are listening to it in a timely fashion will get to hear your wonderful voice while you are kicked back, sunning yourself. Remember sunscreen.

GINI:
I will. I will. Oh yeah. I can hear my – my dermatologist who is literally 100 years old. And he speaks like the priest in Princess Bride. “Mawwiage” – he speaks like that. I can hear him in my head saying wear 100 SPF sunscreen. “Mawwiage…”

CHIP:
But doesn’t the research say that anything over like 30 doesn’t really have any…

GINI:
Hey listen, I’m just telling you what he says. I’m not, I’m not the professional.

CHIP:
But he’s 100?

GINI:
I think he’s close to 100. I really do. He’s really old, really old.

CHIP:
Well to each their own. In any case, so that, you know, the, the, the substance of this episode, because we probably should get to that…

GINI:
Not sunscreen? SPF?

CHIP:
Not sunscreen. But you know, I mean, we can keep talking about that. But then we might still be talking when you’re supposed to be on vacation. Probably not…

GINI:
Let’s chop chop. Let’s get to it. Chop chop!

CHIP:
We’ll start creating some real substance here for our listeners. And so you did a podcast recently on the Spin Sucks podcast. Because as listeners may know, you are a podcast maven and have three podcasts.

GINI:
That is true….I’m a masochist or something, I don’t know…

CHIP:
Because you just love sitting behind a microphone….. something. Something. But any case, the Spin Sucks podcast had an episode recently where you talked about skills that every agency owner and others need to build and work on…and, and, and our special guest for today’s podcast. You know…

GINI:
Is my small child.

CHIP:
Well, you know, there’s so many things that I could say there. But I’m just I’m gonna let it go. It was – I will have to say it was more entertaining when we had Jack Bauer as our guest.

GINI:
The thing with the dog is I can’t make him stop. The child, I can make stop.

CHIP:
Again, we’re going to just leave that and we’re going to move right along before Child Protective Services comes knocking on your door. So in any case, as I was saying, these are skills to build and work on. And I thought it was a particularly compelling episode when I listened to it. And, and I thought we could build on it. And there are seven particular skills, if I recall correctly that you outlined there, and it’s not exhaustive. It’s not every single – right – skill that you might ever need to develop, there are lots that you will need. But I think these are seven really good ones. And I think over the course of these two episodes, will be able to talk a bit about the important of each one as well as some of the basics of how people can educate themselves and improve in these areas. So – yes – without without further ado, let’s just jump right into them.

GINI:
I love it. Let’s do it.

CHIP:
All right, well, and I’m gonna put you in the hot seat here, because it was originally your podcast. So the first one is networking.

GINI:
Networking. Um, so I am a natural introvert and I don’t particularly like networking, but I think it’s one of those things that A, I have to push myself really hard on and B, a skill that that people – agency owners in general need to have. Because without networking, you don’t have business, without business, you don’t have an agency. So for some people, it definitely is something you have to work on. Extroverts tend to be better at it, just because they’ll talk to anybody. And, you know, they can make talk to the wall and make the wall talk back in general, but I am not one of those people. And so it for me on the importance list, I think it is one of those things that’s extremely, extremely important at but the other thing I really like about networking, just not just that it helps you build your agency, of course, but you always get ideas. And if you’re a content creator, the idea the idea is that you come from having conversations with people and networking with people is, I mean, you get the double whammy, I think. So there’s the something to be said from from that perspective, as well.

CHIP:
Yeah, and I, you know, look, I would say that, that I am naturally an introvert myself, you know, I am not someone who likes to open conversations. Now, once I start a conversation, you can’t get me to shut up, as I’m sure you figured out and certainly listeners to this podcast, I’m sure have figured out I, I have no problem, no problem. And on and on. But opening the door, which is a key part of networking is something that I’m not as comfortable with. And so it is something that, you know, I, I consciously have to work at in different ways. And look, there’s a lot of different ways to network. So I think one of the things is for folks to find what they’re most comfortable with, right? So, you know, for introverts, it may be, you know, initially communicating more online and then transitioning it to, you know, in person, or phone or Skype, or Zoom, or whatever… you know, whereas extroverts you know, they may love going out to large events and just chatting it up. And so you define what you’re comfortable with, and build off of that.

GINI:
I think social media really open some doors for a lot of people in general, because of that, because it does break the ice so that by the time you do go to an event, or conference or a trade show, you already know people, you know, know as much as you can online. But you’ve already – the ice has already been broken. I have a really good friend Darryl Salerno, and I may have already told this story. So forgive me if I’m repeating it. But we may have some new listeners…

CHIP:
I sure hope we do.

GINI:
I so hope so too. He tells the story of how when he’s at a cocktail reception, or a conference, you know, and an opening night reception or something like that. And everybody’s standing in line for the bar, one of the things that he does is ahead of time, he will give the bartender 20 bucks. And he will say, keep this drink full for me. And then he’ll order whatever it is that he’s drinking a glass of wine, or scotch, whatever it happens to be, but keep it full for me. And so he will go to the back of the line, and he’ll stand there in line with everybody else. And he’ll have conversation with people around him. And as they move up, they continue that conversation. And then he quote, unquote, orders his drink, takes a drink slightly, hands it back to the bartender goes back to the back of the line, and does it again. And what this does is it opens up a really wide array of people that he can talk to. But it also limits the time – amount of time that he has to spend with them. Because if they end up being somebody that’s type OO, output only, you know, only talks about themselves, or it’s not a good somebody that she should be networking with. It’s an easy way for him to get out of that conversation and go on to meeting somebody else. So I remember he relayed that story years ago. And I’m always remember that because I think it’s a really interesting way to network when you’re at a reception like that – meet a lot of people and then go back to the office the next day or the following week and use that to your advantage.

CHIP:
Yeah no, that that can be a really good strategy. And, and again, you sort of have to figure out what works for you, right? So for me, you know, one of the challenges that I have in networking type situations like that, you know, big receptions is I can’t pick out individual voices from a crowd…

GINI:
Ah, sure, yup.

CHIP:
And, and so I generally position myself against a wall or in a corner or somewhere where it cuts down on it, because I have to do sort of a combination of lip reading and listening and sort of contextualizing and gosh, I’ve made some terrible mistakes in that regard over the years. There was one particular case where I’m just, you know, I started doing the nodding and smiling, because I had no idea what the person was saying…

And it turned out that they were telling me a close relative had just died. And I’m sitting there nodding and smiling, and I finally figured it out. I’m like, I wiped that right off my face. And but wow, you know, so. But, you know, you find the ways that work and to your original point, you know, that, that social networking helps break the ice, even for these in person events, you know, I couldn’t agree more with that. You know, there was a number of years ago, I was at a reception in Boston, and I was talking with somebody and somebody turned around and said, Hey, I know that voice! And it was someone who had heard me on a podcast.

GINI:
Oh, funny.

No idea!

CHIP:
Actually, on the FIR podcast. Yeah, when I back when I used to do the Media Monitoring Minute, and so they, you know, so that broke the ice because they had just heard my voice somewhere else before, and it allowed for a natural conversation. So, you know, find the things that make you comfortable, find creative ways to engage with people. But, you know, networking is vitally important, no matter what you’re doing in the agency world.

GINI:
Yup. As is the second one, which is financials.

CHIP:
Yes. Everybody’s favorite topic right next to legal documents.

GINI:
I don’t understand this. I really don’t understand this. And maybe my brain is just wired differently. But why? Why most agency owners and I would say most in like the 70 to 75% range don’t understand their financials is beyond me.

CHIP:
So I think a lot of this comes from the fact that that a lot of agency owners are accidental agency owners, right? So…

GINI:
Sure. But don’t you care about how much money you can replace your paycheck. Let’s start there.

CHIP:
Yes. But my bet is that they’ve probably mostly managed their personal finances from their checkbook. And so they then manage their agency from their checkbook, right. And, and, you know, it’s one thing to do it in your personal life, if you’ve got relatively simple finances, you’re probably not going to screw up too badly, you know, things like paychecks come on a regular rhythm. But when you’re running a business, you know, where, you know, revenue is much more jagged, even under the best of circumstances, because, you know, a client pays a little bit late, it’s not like payroll, where they pay absolutely on a certain day…

GINI:
Right.

CHIP:
Be nice if they did, but that’s, that’s not how it works. You know, so I think that that’s a piece of it. And I think, you know, we’ve talked previously about how agency owners hate math, right? So as long as they’re paying their bills, they’re kind of happy.

GINI:
Mm hmm.

CHIP:
And I don’t think most agency owners understand the importance of knowing financials as far as taking things to the next level, right? Because it’s one thing to just, you know, you can sort of skate by and survive without really understanding your financials. But if you really want to grow and scale and all that, which many agency owners say they want to do, right? You can only do that if you actually understand your financials.

GINI:
Yeah. And so I would say, if you don’t understand them, and and I mean, I’ll admit, in the beginning, I didn’t know what P&Ls stood for, like, I had no idea. I didn’t know what a balance sheet is, what do I do with the balance sheet, I had no idea. And so I befriended somebody – that’s his core expertise. And over the years, he has taught me a lot. And in fact, we just had a conversation about – he and I just had a conversation about Jeff Bezos and how he’s not paying any tax for – any corporate tax on Amazon. And so we have this whole conversation. And, you know, it’s, in fact, he said to me, boy, we wouldn’t have had this conversation 10 years ago. And so, you know, thinking about that from the perspective of if you truly don’t understand your financials, find somebody who does and have them mentor you, talk you through it, if you have somebody that you used to work with, that’s a CPA or an accounting wiz, have them mentor you, and walk you through how to do that.

CHIP:
And And can I just say that, you know, I also think it’s important that agency owners learn what I would call real finances? Yes. And, you know, there are there are a lot of people out there that work with business owners, and particularly in the agency community who sort of have invented some of their own financial metrics.

GINI:
Yes, yes.

CHIP:
And I am not a fan of that.

GINI:
No?

CHIP:
Because I think that it makes more sense to have a common language, that you can use across all sorts of businesses, no matter their size, because that helps you grow. And it also means if you read something somewhere, you don’t look at and say, Well, wait a minute, that’s not how I understand that term to be. Right. Right. So. So I think it’s really important that that agency owners get that. I mean, the good news is, it’s a lot easier today to get that kind of information than it used to be. And, and using things like, you know, QuickBooks Online, or any of these other financial packages, it almost spoon feeds a lot of it to you. Yeah, they’re still not as easy as I’d like to see them. And you still have to have some basic knowledge, right. But, you know, YouTube will help advance you there to some degree, although, you know, it’s sort of like, you know, diagnosing yourself with a medical condition from the internet. Know, know the source of your information and understand what the credibility is. But you know, but understanding your finances, you know, it is something that there’s really no excuse for, for not knowing.

GINI:
Then the last thing I will add about finances is, the better you understand how it works for your own business, the better you are at, at demonstrating results for your clients’ businesses, as it relates to revenue, or some sort of financial target.

CHIP:
Well, it allows you to have a meaningful conversation with the client, right? Because a lot of your clients will have business knowledge….and so, you know, you don’t want to sit there, and when they say, you know, I’ve got my own p&l, you don’t want to just sort of stare at them be like, wow, what? P and how do you spell that, you know, I mean, you just, you really don’t want that. And so, you know, it’s, there’s real value in it beyond just running your own business. And certainly, if you ever want to get to the point where you’re going to sell your agency or merge with another one, you gotta know it, you gotta know it backwards and forwards. And you you also have to know what you’re fudging on and you know, that’s actually probably another good – you know, we always come up with good topics for shows….you know, we one of the things we probably ought to explore at some point is, you know, the things that agency owners do with their p&l to make them look better, right, which don’t necessarily make it as realistic, right, you know, the most common being that, you know, they, they, you know, don’t count their own salary, they just take that out of profits, right? And so all of a sudden, it makes the agency look more profitable than it is, but you need to understand these things really, regardless of what you’re going to do. But certainly, if you’re going to ever, you know, sell or do some kind of transaction with with another business, that’s key.

GINI:
Yep.

CHIP:
Next on the list is estimates. And this is tied into finances, right? Because if you can’t estimate, well, then you’re probably not going to have good looking financials.

GINI:
Yeah, and I think this is one is really challenging, because for the most part, we are very good at saying, Yeah, we can do that. And then we don’t take into account how much time it takes us versus, you know, maybe a contractor or a team member. I was really bad at that in the beginning, because it would take me two hours to do something. And it would take, you know, a junior employee 10 hours, and I couldn’t understand I was like, Why is it taking you 10, well it was because I have more experience in all that kind of stuff. So, you know, you have to get really, really good at that. And unfortunately, the best way to do that, and I know that most people will cringe at this – is to track your freakin time. Because then you can say, you can pull up to your point in QuickBooks, you can pull up a report that says the last time we did this same type of project, this is how long it took and correlate that to how much it costs. Now, of course, they’re going to be things that you don’t foresee, like a client who wants to talk to you for three hours every week, you know, you don’t foresee that kind of stuff until you get into it. So an estimate is an estimate. And you have to have some wiggle room in there to be able to account for those kinds of things that you don’t foresee.

CHIP:
Absolutely. And, you know, if, for some reason, you don’t want to take our advice, and you don’t want to track your time…other than, other than you’re foolish, I’ll come up with a solution for you anyway. And so that is sort of, you know, do the reality check. So that, you know, if you’re not going to build bottom up, at least take what you’re picking as your price for something and then work backwards and say, okay, you know, this means that for me to be profitable, you know, say I’m charging, I don’t know, $1,000, that means I can’t spend more than 10 hours or five hours or whatever the number is, and then say to yourself, could I realistically do all of this within that amount of time, and it’s not as good as bottom up, but it but at least it’s that that good reality check. And even if you’re doing bottom up, it’s sometimes helpful to sort of – reverse engineer it at the end and say, does this does this sound right? You know, and if you say, okay, you know, for this retainer, it’s going to be X dollars per month, which comes up to this many hours. Okay, that’s like, 10 minutes a day? Is that you know, is that realistic? Do I think, you know, based on what I know about this, am I likely to be spending just 10 minutes a day on this or not? And so, you know, there are other ways to get at those estimates that, you know, aren’t as good as keeping time and really tracking it, but at least will allow you to be closer to reality. Because in my experience, most agencies struggle because they’re not getting their estimates correct.

GINI:
Yeah, I would agree with that. Yeah.

CHIP:
And I think most most agency owners don’t realize that that the problem, most of the time, isn’t generating more revenue, it’s being more efficient with what you’re doing already.

GINI:
Yeah, yeah.

CHIP:
You can squeeze a lot more profit out of most agencies than they’re currently doing because they’re just been run inefficiently.

GINI:
Yes. And, and a lot of agencies are giving three or four months worth of time away to clients a year, three or four months. And that’s not an exaggeration. That’s actually probably pretty conservative. That’s a lot of time.

CHIP:
And that’s just what the agency owner hasn’t been able to figure out eventually. Right. Right. There’s probably more seepage out there, because, you know, it’s – agencies aren’t like restaurants, right? So we don’t, we don’t take an inventory at the end of the month and figure out what we had for spillage from the bar. And, you know, food waste we had, you know, from our food costs, but, yes, spillage, exactly. Hey, I’ve been a beneficiary of spillage at many a bar.

GINI:
So have I.

CHIP:
Oh, look, spillage perfect. That’s for me. Great, right? And then I don’t pay for it. Perfect. Yep. And, and, but, you know, but restaurants are able to budget for that, right. But they’re able to have a specific check. other industries have the same sort of thing. But when it comes to time, particularly if you’re not tracking your employees’ time usage, you’re going to have a lot more going out there. Because, as we’ve talked about, before, employees naturally want to keep clients happy.

GINI:
Yes.

CHIP:
Right. They are on the front lines with the clients. They don’t want to get yelled at. So they will put in whatever time is necessary to make the client happy, even if it makes that project not profitable for the agency. And that’s what you have to be careful of. And that’s what you have to be tracking as well, right. So as an agency owner, you know, unless you’ve only got one employee, you’re not really going to be able to know exactly how everybody is spending their time. But if you don’t have that picture, you’ll never be able to build the efficiencies in that drive you to the profit that you want to have.

GINI:
Totally, totally agree. Which I think leads us to boundaries, which we had a whole episode on. So we probably don’t need to belabor the point. But –

CHIP:
Probably not. But it but it’s good, it’s good to hammer it home occasionally. Because I think it is, it is one of the biggest risks for most agencies is, is not having those those boundaries in place. But, in any case.

GINI:
Yeah, it is. And you know, people who say, Oh, I can do that, this weekend. Or I can get to that. And one of the things that I talk about with our agency owner clients is, if you want to do work on the weekend, that’s okay, if that’s how you want to, to work so that you have some free time during the week or whatever happens to be, that’s okay. But use tools like Boomerang in Gmail to to schedule the emails that you’re sending to clients. So they appear during business hours versus on Saturday, because otherwise, you’re setting the expectation that you’re available. And at some point, you may get to the point where you’re not going to work Saturdays, or you don’t want to be working on Saturdays,

CHIP:
right? Right. Now, setting those expectations is is certainly a big problem as well. But you know, the last thing I would just say on on estimates is, as you think about estimates, and as you put them together, you also need to take the time to review them after a project is complete, or periodically, for retainers, right. So look at what you originally estimated, and it’s a good practice whenever you’re putting together you know, a project pricing thing to actually have an estimate that you’ve got in writing, you don’t give it to the, the prospect or the client, but you have it yourself.

GINI:
Right, right. Really good advice.

CHIP:
And so then when the project is done, or every quarter if it’s a retainer – take a look at it and see it, are you tracking against your estimate? And if not, why not? Is there something you can change with that particular project, if it’s still ongoing, to improve it? Or what can it teach you about future estimates, so that you get better at estimating because after all, this whole episode is about developing those skills. Part of the way you develop skills is to look at what you have done, figure out what worked, what didn’t.

GINI:
Love that, love that, super, super good advice.