There is no right way to run a creative agency. Your agency may be a completely different animal to your competitor’s. That doesn’t mean they’re better or worse than you because, ultimately, all that matters is how happy your employees are, how good your products are and how pleased your clients are with your work.
However, it’s human nature for us to compare ourselves to others. This is not necessarily a good thing. Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory shows we evaluate our own value by comparing ourselves to others. This can be a problem if we feel that we are somehow inferior.
This is especially painful when your agency is your baby. You were there for the birth; you’ve seen it through the growing pains. You’re proud of your firstborn agency. No-one loves it like you do.
Like being a new parent, running a creative agency can mean a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of making stuff up as you go. Of course, if you feel that sense of overwhelming responsibility, that your agency’s life is in your hands, you’re not the first person who has felt this way.
We’ve written before about the challenges creative businesses face. Check out the articles here and here. We’ve also looked into the challenges of trying to strike a work/life balance whilst running an agency.
While every agency and each business journey is unique, here’s our selection of scenarios we think you’ll recognise.
So, take heart and know that it’s all part and parcel of Agency Life. You’re not alone.
Long hours and late nights
Only someone running a creative agency knows the hours it takes. Your doors may be open nine to five, but you’re answering emails, writing pitch documents, doing the books and working on creative projects at all hours. You wake up at 3am, still sitting-up in bed, the laptop still open, its screen dark. You were doing the monthly invoices, you check the calendar, sigh, plug the computer back in and carry on.
It’s Friday, it’s 6pm and you’ve finally drawn a line under that project. You’ve just switched the lights off, your keys are in your hand, then the phone rings. It’s a client. They wouldn’t be ringing at this hour if it wasn’t urgent. Or, maybe they’re in America and it’s the middle of the morning for them. Either way, you switch the lights back on, sit yourself down and greet them with a cheery “Hello”.
Your phone is always on
You’ve taken business calls everywhere. There was that time you were negotiating a price with an important client, whilst praying that no-one flushed the toilet in the next cubicle. Remembering brain-storming ideas with your team whilst sheltering from the wind on the beach? Your kids were sulking because you weren’t playing any more. It was your own fault, of course, for thinking you could go on holiday.
Your phone isn’t the only thing that’s always on, so is your creative brain.
You’re in the zone on a job you’ve been working on all day. It’s good work, the client is going to love it. Then the phone rings. It’s a friend, wondering when you’ll have that catch-up you promised. You could really do with an evening off, but you don’t answer, you double-down and do great work.
You make your own hours
When your staff log off at five, you wish them a great evening, knowing that your evening will be spent at your desk. But, your friends and family simply don’t understand. They’ve seen the TV show, ‘Mad Men’, they think that running a creative agency is all about looking at the sky with a whisky in your hand, waiting for inspiration to strike. If only.
Friends and family also don’t understand why creative work takes so long. “You’re the boss,” they argue, “you can make your own hours.”
But, of course, time is money in business. Your time and the time of the creatives you employ is one of the key assets you have to sell. You understand, if you take an evening off and leave a job unfinished, it’ll still be sitting there tomorrow, when you need to be working on something else. Can you work on two jobs at a time? If you have to, but will the quality suffer? Maybe. It’s not worth the risk.
You make it up as you go
Sounding confident at all times can be the key to driving an agency forward and inspiring your team. A good client asks you if you can deliver something you’ve never done before, so you confidently say “Yes, absolutely”, then figure it out afterwards. This is actually a great way to expand your skill set. You probably won’t have the time to develop a new range of abilities, or to add to the pool of specialists you work with, unless a client is paying you to.
This is just an extension of the positive mindset that got you where you are. Remember, back in the day, when you were working in your spare bedroom and you used to play the sound effect of a busy office in the background, before answering the phone? Then there was the time a big client wanted a face-to-face meeting at your place, but you told them you had the builders in so it would be better if you came to them.
You were faking it ’til you made it. Well, the question is, does that ever really end? Every client is unique, every job is unique, which means you’re very unlikely to be doing the same job, the same way twice. In that way, every day’s a school day.
Can you just…
Those three little words “can you just” usually precursor being asked to do something for free. The debate over whether you should work for free is one of those timeless subjects over which everyone has an opinion. Those friends of yours, who possibly think ‘creative’ work isn’t really work, they wouldn’t do something for nothing. But, they’re not playing the long game.
If it’s in your agency’s interest to have a particular company as a client. If adding them to your portfolio will bring other clients – paying clients – to your door, then it might be worthwhile. In the long game.
If an existing client asks “can you just” do twice as much work for the same price? It might be worth it, if it keeps that client happy and ensures that they come back to you with more work.
Nothing your creative agency does is ever free, your staff don’t work for free, your computers, software, electricity, none of the tools you use are free. So, what they’re asking you to do, really, is subsidise their business. You will be paying in order to work for them. But, it might be worth it, in the long game. Only you can make that decision.
Take Heart and let us help
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