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What Does 2020 Strategic Planning Look Like At A Bigger Agency

Posted by Mike Lieberman on Nov 1, 2019 9:45:00 AM

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HINT: It Should Be The Same At Any-Sized Agency

2020 Planning at a Digital AgencyAs October wraps up, you’re probably starting to think about 2020 planning. Everything you read or watch between now and the end of the year is going to be encouraging you to do your 2020 plan.

But at Square 2, our 2020 plan is almost done.

No, I’m not an overachiever. Our company-wide meeting in Philly is in mid-November this year, so we had to get our planning done early.

You might be wondering what annual strategic planning looks like at Square 2. I’m happy to share with you how we do this, what we did this year and some tips on how you can make your 2020 planning easy.

Let’s get into it.

Where Is Your Agency Going?

Planning isn’t just about hitting revenue goals, hiring goals or partner tier goals. Effective planning is about aligning what you’re trying to accomplish as an agency owner with everything your team is doing all year long.

Read that again, please.

For example, do you want to sell your agency at some point? Do you want to grow your agency to be bigger? Or are you happy with a lifestyle business? These are questions that only you, the agency owner, can answer, and generally they are very personal.

The answers to these questions usually inform almost everything else. For example, if you want to grow aggressively, and you set aggressive revenue or team member growth goals, then your plans have to match up.

If you want to sell your agency, even if that is something you see in five to 10 years, you still need your annual goals and planning to support that longer-term goal.

Even if you want a lifestyle business (which is fine, by the way), your annual planning should support that too.

Sometimes knowing exactly where you’re going is hard. I’m not sure you need to know for sure. For example, someone might want to buy Square 2 someday. I might want to sell it someday. Nothing we’re doing in 2020 is directly related to that plan, except that we do try to make decisions that would make the company attractive to a potential buyer — someday.

I hope that’s not too wishy-washy. But my point is not to get too hung up on this.

I like to think about planning in a more practical way, which is why I’m suggesting not to spend too much time on this or other stuff like your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). This is a Jim Collins concept, and you can read more about that if you’re interested.

Instead, focus your annual planning energy on the stuff that will impact the business next year.


Goal Setting

It’s very likely that you’ll have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to finish up in 2019. Your first step in planning for 2020 is to figure out what goals you want to set for the company.

Some planning systems like EOS and Gazelles suggest you set five-year, three-year and annual goals. I think this is a good idea and worth practicing. Again, our industry is changing so quickly that I would not spend a ton of time worrying about five-year and three-year goals. Set them quickly and move on.

Your 2020 annual goals are important.

I like to try and keep them simple and limited to a handful. At Square 2, our 2020 goals are very focused:

1)     Drive more advocate clients, and double our number by the end of the year

2)     Improve our close rate by 25% by the end of the year

3)     Increase the number of sales opportunities each month by 2X by the end of the year

4)     Improve efficiency inside delivery (we’re still working on this number at the time of this article)

I want you to notice that these are not revenue related, but three of the four will impact our ability to get to our revenue goals. We’re going to use these to activate our team and align our resources to hitting these goals and producing business outcomes.

If we hit these goals, there is no way we cannot have a successful 2020 and hit our business goals.

 I want to be clear that we do track other KPIs, like gross profit margin, net profit margin, revenue vs. revenue goals, average revenue per client, etc. But those four above are core to our 2020 plan.

This is where it gets much more complicated and a little tricky.

Simply setting goals like those outlined above will not align your team or change any existing behavior. Identifying goals like those above means there is room for improvement.

To drive real change, you’ll need more tools in your tool kit. Here are the tools we use to activate and align our team toward delivering on the goals above.

Annual Theme

This helps galvanize the team toward the goals and allows you a vehicle for keeping them aligned and engaged.

In the past, we’ve had race, space and innovation-oriented annual themes. Obviously, racing and space have to do with fast growth, and innovation had to do with making what we do better.

Last year we did Four For Four, with a focus on four key metrics: revenue, net profit, client happiness and team member happiness. It has been successful, and as I mentioned in a previous article, it took us almost 10 months to hit some of these numbers. I guess late is better than never.

To be 100% honest, none of these themes delivered as I expected. So this year, we’re taking a slightly different approach.

Love Your AgencyFor 2020, our annual theme is LOVE YOUR AGENCY! We want our clients to LOVE us and we want our team members to LOVE us. I know, it’s not super creative, and it’s similar to HubSpot’s annual theme from a few years ago (Love Your Marketing), but it seemed to speak to us and our goals for 2020.

Plus, we don’t compete with HubSpot, and no clients remember what they did anyway. Our annual theme for 2020 is to do everything and anything we can to get our clients and our team to LOVE THE AGENCY.

Matching The Goals With The Theme

I hope you’re clear on how the annual theme supports our four key metrics for 2020. In case you want a more detailed review, the advocacy metric seems painfully obvious to me. If we get our clients to LOVE THEIR AGENCY, they should be happy to be advocates for us.

If we create a prospect experience that has them loving us, we should be able to increase our close rate on opportunities and drive more leads as well. That covers numbers two and three on the list.

The last one might need a bit of explaining.

The final goal for 2020 is about efficiencies in delivery. On the surface that might seem contrary to LOVE YOUR AGENCY, but in my mind, it’s about balance.

If we’re looking for efficiencies and we have to get our clients to love us, love their experience with us and love the people they work with, then whatever ideas we come up with to produce efficiency can’t jeopardize the love.

And love your agency goes for our team too, so they can’t agree to work harder or more hours. They have to find a way to work smarter. It all fits.

Involve The Team

We have goals and we have a theme, but regardless of your size, you’re going to need your team to execute. This means you have to find a way to involve them in your plan.

I’ll cover communication, rewards and recognition in the next sections, but in this section, I want to talk about how to gain buy-in before you show them your plan.

I think this is important.

For agencies with fewer than 10 people, you might want to consider getting everyone involved in this process. You lead it and you make the final decision, but by including everyone, you’ll get them on board and behind the plan from the start.

For agencies with 10 or more people, you should have a leadership or management team, and you would include them in this process.

At Square 2, we have a five-person leadership team, and we worked together on the goals, the areas of focus, the annual theme, the communication, the rollout and the rewards programs. Ultimately, the final decisions were mine, but their input was very valuable, and they felt heard, part of the process and empowered to help set direction.

In some cases, I send these people back to their teams to get feedback or ask questions, further involving an additional set of team members.

But the involvement doesn’t end there.

The key to hitting your goals, growing the agency and building something special is to keep the team engaged for the entire year. This is no small feat. This is also where your communication rhythms and how you reward the team must be aligned.


First, here’s what not to do. Don’t create posters, put them on the wall and think you’re done.

Communication around the annual theme, key metrics, progress toward goals, success stories and recognition of team members’ contributions all need to be shared as frequently as possible to keep the team (regardless of size) engaged and aligned.

WhatsNewSquare2Ideally, this should be done weekly. We have a weekly all-hands meeting on Fridays called “What’s New Square 2?”

We host it locally with people in the office and via Zoom. It’s run more like a talk show (think “Live with Kelly and Ryan”) than a meeting. You don’t need anything so complicated, but I like to keep these meetings light, fun and highly team-oriented.

For example, we don’t do training at this meeting. We focus only on communication, rewards, recognition and success story sharing. This is perfect for keeping everyone aligned and tuned into your annual theme and goals.

We will lean heavily into this existing meeting. But this won’t be enough. Regular electronic communication will need to be done throughout the week. Zoom or chat communication as well as email communication and other tools should be used to keep everyone “into it” all week long.

It’s especially true if your team is distributed or remote. This type of ongoing communication becomes critical. But even if your team is in-house, it’s so easy to become distracted with work.

You’ll know this is working if your team is talking about this stuff all the time. Along with our LOVE YOUR AGENCY theme this year, we created a set of principles to go with it:

  • Let The Data Set You Free (we want to stop talking about opinions and start using numbers)
  • Respect And Appreciate Each Other (we don’t have anything like this in our core values, and it goes with LOVE)
  • Trust The Process (a little Philly, but we want them to trust what we’re doing this year and lean into it)
  • Enjoy The Journey (we should have fun at work – we’re helping people, not curing cancer)
  • Know Our ONE Plan, Priorities And Progress (stay engaged in the goals and stay focused)

At the rollout in November, everyone will get a small frame with the LOVE YOUR AGENCY logo and these LOVE YOUR AGENCY principles to help remind them daily. That’s more communication.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for YOU to talk about this every day with everyone.

Rewards And Recognition

People thrive in environments where they get accolades, pats on the back and attaboys! The younger your team, the more of this they need.

We’ve always had weekly WOW! awards for people who embody core values and cultural imperatives. People love being recognized publicly and people love recognizing their teammates publicly (plus, the $25 in cash never hurts).

This will continue, but at our “What’s New Square 2?” show on Fridays, we’ll be adding additional segments to help communicate, share and promote our 2020 annual theme.

Every week, we’ll be spinning a “Wheel of Fortune”-type wheel with prizes all related to LOVE. Some will be expensive (but most will be inexpensive) and some might be silly. Whatever the wheel lands on, everyone gets.

Each quarter, if we hit our numbers, we’ll spin a different wheel with bigger prizes. Whatever the wheel lands on, the entire team will get that prize.

If we hit our annual goals, we’re taking everyone who wants to go on a charity-oriented travel experience to have fun and help people who are less fortunate than ourselves. We’re still working out the details of the trip at the time of this article.  

I hope you can see how everything is tied together for the entire year, from theme, to metrics, to communication, to rewards and even our celebrations.

It’s a lot of work, it takes time and we’ve been working on it for weeks. But if it works as designed, we should have the best year in the history of the company.

One comment before I wrap up. We’ve been doing planning like this for the past 10 years. We’ve used the Gazelles system over the years. We’ve considered EOS. We’ve had professional coaches help us and we’ve done it on our own.

What we learned is that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to this type of planning. Don’t feel constrained by any of these systems. If they work for you out of the box, wonderful. But if you’re like us and feel like you need to tweak, adjust or refit any of those systems to work with you and your team, don’t hesitate to make those changes.

The results will be exactly what you’re looking for – systematic growth, an engaged team and a great company.

GET INTO A COHORT TODAYIf you like this stuff, if you find value in knowing what other, bigger agencies are doing, consider joining the Advanced Agency Cohort launching in November. Join a handful of other agencies and work through challenges like pricing, structure, new services, efficiency, client issues and more. The two hours a month you spend with your cohort will be the best two hours of your month - guaranteed! Kade Wilcox, CEO, Primitive,

Start Today Tip – You’re running out of time to get ready for 2020. You don’t want to be working on this in December. You want to be meeting with your team in December. That means you have 30 days to get your 2020 planning done, and in case you missed it, some heavy lifting is required. Start now, set your goals, pick your annual theme, identify your rocks and get your team involved in moving those rocks. Then design your communication plan, build your rewards and recognition program, create your scorecards and roll this out to your team. Your 2020 will be your best year ever – guaranteed.

Agencies 2 Inbound – Helping Your Agency Grow Beyond Your Expectations

Topics: growing an inbound agency, 2020 planning, strategic planning

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