When an agency first starts up it tends to  say 'yes' to anything that comes its way. Especially if there's money attached.

But once you get past that scrappy start-up stage, at around 10 people, saying yes to everything is no longer useful behaviour, and can be harmful.

Any agency can go around saying yes to every project and client request that comes its way, and many do. But a great agency becomes better-defined as a result of what it says 'no' to:

  • Reputation is defined by saying no to projects that won't allow you to demonstrate your craft and expertise in action
  • Positioning is defined by saying no to projects that aren't your sweet spot, so prospects can see from what you do work on, what other work they should bring you
  • Market status is saying no to low-margin low-impact work, so you become known for the high-margin high-impact work
  • Your culture is defined by the behaviours you are seen to say no to. If you let undesired behaviours slide, they'll become the new normal.

As leaders our role is to enable our teams to know what to say no to — and we need to put the agency itself in a position where it can say no even when there's a pile of money involved. No is the word that can define your agency.

Saying no to all the wrong or not-quite-right things will leave all of the agency's time and attention to say a very big yes to the right things. That then becomes a virtuous circle.

Be choosy. You're worth it.

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The latest episode of our Agency Leaders Podcast is out now, featuring Jim Bowes who led his agency from startup to sale, and then took a key role in the company they sold to.

And speaking of podcasts, I was interviewed by Lucy Mann on the Small Spark Theory podcast. She's a great host, and I ended up revealing more than I usually do about my career!