Companies Need The CEO Role To Be Filled, Not Manned Part-Time By Someone Working In The Agency
I hope the title resonated with many of you because in all the years of coaching and consulting with agency owners, this seems to be an issue for almost everyone.
You probably started this company because you’re awesome at PR, graphic design, building websites or getting companies found on Google, and now you're trying to do a whole bunch of other stuff.
While you used to spending all your time designing, now you’re handling sales, hiring, accounting, and real estate. You might not even be doing what you love. It’s the common e-Myth scenario. Pam the pie maker doesn’t spend any time making pies anymore.
The work you did to get you to this level is not the work you need to do to get you to the next level.
And ultimately, agency growth is about having you hover UP over the agency and be the CEO/leader your team needs, instead of the doer that you might think you need to be today.
This is a very hard move for most agency owners to make, but my practical experience is it can be extremely rewarding and is one of the secrets to unlocking growth and seeing your company flourish.
Here are some keys for moving from CDO (chief doing officer) to CEO.
How To Transition Out Of The Day To Day
The best way to transition out of the day to day is to have a proactive plan to do so. Without this, you have no hope. That plan should start with an identification of how you spend your time. This is easy if you track your own time, but most owners don’t do this. Instead, keep a journal for a week and write down everything you do and how long it takes.
This is going to quickly identify where you're spending your time and this will help us move that work to someone else, freeing you up to do CEO level work for a change.
Spending time with clients? No problem let’s look at the capacity level of your team. Can they pick up the work you’re doing with clients without jeopardizing their other client work? Let’s look at the experience level of your team. Do they have the experience and skills to handle the work you’re currently doing?
Generally, the answer to both these questions is yes. If that’s your situation, then sit the team down and tell them that you’re out of client work. Help them work through the transition. Make sure they understand your expectations. Communicate with the clients and you’re out. It’s that simple. Now don’t get too excited. This transition doesn’t happen overnight. So now plan out a schedule. It might take a couple of months to slowly transition you off client work in a way that makes your clients comfortable.
Spending time on HR, admin or office tasks? No problem. Let's look at some ways to get this stuff off your plate. If you have an office manager, controller, financial person, you could give them additional responsibility, a small raise, and a title change to move all of this stuff off your plate and onto theirs. You could also consider upgrading your current admin support with a more established HR, finance or office admin person who has in the past handled all these areas. For a bit more money, money well spent, you will have someone who has done this type of work in the past.
Spending time on selling? Consider adding a salesperson to the team. You can promote a client services team member into your new sales role. This unconventional move has worked well for us in the past. My theory is that they have the service stories to make prospects feel safe. Hiring from the outside adds a professional salesperson but they lack the stories. Plus, are we really selling anymore or simply consulting with prospects like we consult with clients?
If you structure the comp correctly, this shouldn’t be a burden financially and when the start closing new clients, you’ll be happy to pay the bonuses.
There is one nuance to this entire transition story and that has to do with you and what you love doing. We dig into this in the next section.
How To Select The Right Role
Moving from Chief Doing Officer to CEO doesn’t mean you have to give up everything other than CEO work. Part of the transition should be to move you off stuff that feels like a burden while keeping you on work you love doing.
For example, I often see owners who love taking care of clients but who hate selling. Then there are those who hate taking care of the clients but love selling. If you’re doing both, by moving just one of the roles off your plate, you can free yourself up to do CEO level work AND keep the other work you love.
For a lot of owners, this is the optimal condition and one I highly recommend as a step one for moving you to CEO.
For help in selecting the right role. Simply ask yourself, which type of work you prefer. You have to pick one. Whichever you enjoy more, leave the other for your team or your new hire.
If you choose to keep working with clients but give up sales, this does not mean you can never talk to a prospect again, but it does mean you’ll be moving most of those sales and sales process chores to someone who does love this kind of work.
Even if you can free up four to six hours a week for you to think about CEO level items, your company will be better for it in very short order.
Key Tip For Letting Go
This is, by far, the most difficult part of this type of initiative. Yes, you can plan for this. Yes, you can hire for this. Yes, you can schedule it out over time. But in the end, you have to make a big shift in how you work with your team. You have to let go and let them do what you should trust them to do.
Here is the biggest tip I can give you to try and make this a little easier.
You have to accept that your team might not handle every situation as you would. They might not have the same exact conversation as you would. They might not recommend the exact remedy or fix you would. But what they will recommend will be just as effective.
You have to trust that you’ve hired and empowered the right people to make the best decisions within their abilities. You have to give them the guard rails they need to be confident, that you trust them to make those decisions and then you have to install the coaching, mentoring, guiding and advising necessary to help them continue to improve their ability to take care of your clients, prospects and other stakeholders.
It’s a big ask, but it’s the biggest challenge preventing you from growing and letting go. This helps your company grow into the newest and best version of your current company.
How To Proactively Manage a Transition
This is also a big issue with a lot of agency owners. Proactively managing the transition is almost never part of anyone’s short to mid-term planning exercises.
If you are serious about making the transition, then you have to plan for it. This means a potential hire or a shift in the responsibilities within your current team. I like to have initial conversations with the people affected before making the changes. You might have to set interim goals if hiring is not in the budget right now.
Something like, “When we close our next two retainers, some of that money is going to fund a new hire, so I can start the transition plan.”
If it means a reorganization of existing team members' responsibilities, some early warning, advanced planning and some initial conversations might also be helpful. Also, make sure all your team members understand “why” you’re doing it.
In some cases, less mature team members might view this change as, “you wanting to do less or work less.” When in reality nothing could be farther from the truth. Perception is often reality and if your team doesn’t understand what you’ll be doing with your extra time or why you’re making this change, you could lose their attention and energy.
What Being The CEO Meant For Square 2
I’ve always tried to share insights from my own experiences even when that brings you inside the operation at Square 2. I’ve always found that when we make moves to grow, the metrics almost always follow.
When we made a hire that perhaps we couldn’t afford, the agency grew up around the new hire and the budget right-sized itself based on revenue. When we invested in our own marketing or our own human resources team, our business grew because of it. Our financials weren’t stressed, the energy freed up by the move allowed us to grow into our new skin much faster than even I expected.
I think you’ll realize the same experiences.
Growth Often Requires Risk
When it comes to answering the question “Why aren’t we growing?”, this is one of the most common answers. You can’t grow if you’re still chief cook and bottle washer.
There are some very specific and immediate actions you can take to make sure you’re not the reason the agency isn’t growing. Like everything else, you’ll need a plan and a concerted effort for an extended period of time. This change doesn’t happen instantly. It takes time.
Think about your agency like a snake. You have to shed your current skin to allow you to grow bigger. Shedding skin might be painful, it might take time, and it might be frustrating while you get that last bit of skin to fall to the wayside. But once it's off, its full speed ahead.
Risk isn’t bad, it just needs to be mitigated. Whatever risks your planning, make sure you have a plan to mitigate or limit those risks. For example, you can always revert to a smaller team, you can always pick up the tasks you’re trying to offload. While not optimal, it's not horrible. Don’t let fear prevent you from taking risks.
"The Advanced Agency Cohort was perfect for helping us get to the next level." Pete Brand, CEO, Mindscape, HubSpot Platinum Partner
Start Today Tip – You're doing 2020 planning over the next month or so, make sure to include a few action steps that allow you to move out of the doer role and into the CEO role. That might mean a key hire. It might mean changing your approach to how you work with the team. It might mean sitting a few key team members down and saying, “I trust you; I won’t be as involved and I know you guys can handle this.” It might require some restructuring, and it will require you to accept the fact that your team might not do it exactly as you would have, but their way is going to be just as effective. It’s hard letting go, but if you have the right team and you trust them, letting go might be the key to growing your agency.
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