Founding a creative agency is a bit like creating a sculpture. There are two phases: (1) mining a big lump of granite, and (2) chiseling a work of art from it. While artists get to show up just for the second stage, entrepreneurs have to do both.
In the mining phase we look for the right place to find the rock, gather the tools and labour, and sweat buckets while digging. In this phase in an agency we're saying yes to everything, jumping on every project with all hands, and it's all about the hard labour. It's exhilarating and full of adrenalin. Eventually we're left with this big lump of something that exists, but isn't pretty.
In the sculpting phase, we have this big block and we need to make it beautiful. We use a soft mallet, chisel and sandpaper, cutting away the bits of rock that aren't part of our eventual vision, to reveal the work of art inside. In an agency at this stage, we're saying no to clients (and even firing some), turning projects down, stopping providing some services, parting ways with some of the team, focusing more on what we do best and most profitably. At the end of this we're left with something beautiful we can be proud of.
The mining phase is about sheer hard labour which feels like 'proper work', while the sculpting phase is more about applying wisdom and expertise — the art — which can feel like it's not real work. The reality is that it's the sculpting phase that improves your margins, team satisfaction, client satisfaction and your own pride.
Once you're past the startup phase, or pushing through a new growth phase, making a great agency is not about going down the mines every day to sweat buckets. Take time to sculpt your business too. Stand back. See the art you're working to create, and think about how to smooth it's rough edges away.
We've got live zoom training workshops coming up on positioning your agency, a CEO's guide to agency finances and KPIs. Plus we launch our first elearning course this week if you prefer to learn at odd times and at your own pace :)
Over at Agency Radar, the intelligence agency for agencies, we published an in-depth report for members on Agency Boards. We found too many agencies just have a 'catchup' meeting rather than something that provides real strategic value — so we researched how fast-growth entrepreneur-led tech startups do board meetings, and found lots to learn from.
There's another episode of the Convivio Agency Leaders podcast coming out this week. Subscribe at that link, or search for it in your podcast app, to make sure you get to hear it. We've heard from some brilliant agency leaders so far, with really good insights into how leadership styles need to envolve and grow.