From ‘big’ to ‘boutique’ – the loss of my ‘big agency stabilisers’

Published 28/10/2022 / THOUGHTS

It’s officially two years since I left gainful employment. It’s time to reflect on my jump from ‘big’ to ‘boutique’. 

Creating an agency from scratch, without big agency stabilisers has its moment. It’s exciting, nerve racking and motivating. It’s also a popular pastime, 34 New Agencies emerged in 2020. And, many more like us in 2022.  

We’ve had an amazing ride so far – we won Best New Agency at the UK Agency Awards. And, our New Agency credentials have been recognised by PR Week, PRCA and PR Moment. Most importantly though, we get to work with some amazing clients every day.  

So, how did we get here. And, what advice would I give to a new agency founder?   

  1. Re-Write the Rules, Create a New Way – There is no point starting an agency unless you are going to re-write the Agency Playbook. Think about what didn’t work in your previous agencies, and experiment with new policies. Start-ups are best positioned to drive agency change and address our industry’s high burn-out rate.    

  1. Say No, More Than You Say Yes – Your formative clients are crucial to your success. Make sure your first clients are a good fit. And, you don’t over-stretch by onboarding too many clients. Ask Yourself: Do your clients motivate the team? Are they ambitious? Are they fun to work with? And, of course, do they have decent financials! 

  1. Eye the Detail, Check the Legal – When you are small, you might not think you need a bookkeeper. You should invest in one, as early as you can. It will save you time down the road. QuickBooks is great but closing the month end accurately requires an eye on the detail.     

  1. Automate It, Build a Tech Stack – Walking out of a big agency, will leave you with sweaty palms when you think about all those the lost log-in details. Equally, it will turn your head to tools you had never heard of before. You will experiment and improve the way you work, for the better.  

  1. Build Structure, Set Expectations – I am a process geek, it’s in my blood. I like time sheet data. All-client performance dashboards, up-to-date press/influencer lists and clear rules of engagement. Why? Operational excellence is the key to success. It keeps you agile and expediates time to delivery. It also allows you to spot areas for improvement.    

  1. Live the Cycle, Create Speed – Stories are only relevant in a moment. News stories go-live within minutes, social media posts go viral in seconds. Creating a successful communications agency, means you must ensure your clients are relevant at the right time. Build a process that ensures you and your client can react at speed.  

  1. Keep it Lean, Build the Cash – Never a truer word when facing a recession. It’s imperative that you take as little out the company as you can and invest your profits as cash flow. It will give you the flexibility to make hiring decisions down the road. There are lots of alternative ways to do operate, reach out to other agency founders to find tips.  

  1. Back Yourself, Say No to Investment – If at all possible don’t take investment. Not having shareholders gives you the freedom to run at your own pace and sets you up for the future. It means when you hit a growth spurt, you can pause on new business, based on the needs of your team and clients.  

  1. Train Hard, Reach Peak Performance – I don’t mean train as an athlete, I mean in your job. I’d never thought about reaching my peak work performance before! How to use my energy and time for the better. It’s why we’ve created our working policies and have sought advice from WorkAthlete, to help us reach our Peak Performance.  

  1. Say Hello, Ask for Advice – Many agency founders have gone before, many will come after you. It’s imperative to say hello, learn from the highs and lows of others. And, share what you’ve learnt along the road. They say, paying it forward, gives returns.   

  1. Give Back, Share the Love – No, I don’t mean hugs. Our industry is struggling with an Account Manager shortage. Yet, many agencies fail to offer formalised training for Account Executives. That’s why (free) community training is the way forward. Let’s share the agency love and build training for everyone.   

  1. Lean In, Embrace Family Skills – Not everyone is lucky enough to have a commercial lawyer, two sales directors, an accountant, wellbeing coach and IT architect in their family, alongside having entrepreneurs as parents (who incidentally were far more successful than me at my age!). Beyond these useful skills, they are also our biggest cheerleaders – my mum likes every 3THINKRS LinkedIn post within seconds.   

3THINKRS officially launched in July 2021. If you believe sharing is caring, get in touch to find out how you can help with the academy.  

Much Love to all.  

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