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Planning to Meet Next Year's Challenges

Planning to Meet Next Year's Challenges

Another year is racing to a close. It’s time to do the annual agency review and hold a business planning session. Yes, I know... planning is such a CHORE! As a former agency owner myself, I remember well how tedious it could be to crunch the numbers and fret about bills, taxes and payroll. I also remember how exciting it was to think about coming opportunities and strategies for taking advantage of them.

So, for a change, wear your strategic planning hat for your agency as well as for your clients, and consider a strategic plan for the new year.

Where Are You Now?

To plan for next year, you need to know the strength of the base that you will build on. Assessing your present situation will give you a good idea of what you want to do next year. There are a host of factors you must audit to bring your planning parameters up to speed.

Take a hard look at your agency’s financial status. How is your assets-to-liabilities ratio? How much debt are you carrying? Look at profit and sales trends compared to the last few years. Check our ad agency numbers at a glance.

Consider the health of each account your agency currently services, and the potential for getting more business from those accounts. Are client relationships strong? Are accounts secure, or is there potential for clients to put the account into review? Are you prepared to defend your service? Do you want to? Or, are there other accounts you crave to win? Download our Account Profitability Powerpack for more on assessing account health.

Look at your agency brand and reputation. Are you a leader, even “the” leader in your region or market? Is your brand distinctive and well known? Are you positioned to compete effectively with other area agencies and marketing firms? Do you one or more core competencies, and do those niches continue to offer opportunitis for growth?

How is your competition? Look for opportunities to unseat competitors and win their accounts. Consider how you can secure accounts that competitors may hope to take from your agency.

What about new business strategy? How successful were you this year? Look at the niches or vertical markets you serve or specialty services you provide. Can you exploit existing expertise to win new accounts? Are you interested in pursuing specific accounts? Are you prepared (in knowledge, experience and skills) to win those “prime prospects”? Do you have the personnel to pursue this new business? How much budget can you devote to the new business hunt? New Business Retool offers an outline for new business planning.

What are you doing to promote your agency? What initiatives do you want to activate for this year? Check your website, digital/social outreach, SEO, email, direct mail, brochures, identity package, and all advertising materials. Don’t forget “grass roots” marketing, including speaking engagements, civic group networking, and community-based charitable outreach.

Consider human resources, payroll and recruiting. Do you have the people you need, or do you need to budget for new hires? Are you actively recruiting new people? Are your current work and web presence (blog, articles, etc.) appealing to and drawing in new people? Do you have a recruiting program? Are your current employees happy or are they looking to make a move? Are you using “best practice” retention strategies? Can you promote from within, or will you need to hire managers from outside the agency? Will employee training be needed in the near future? Are there specialties for which you need skilled personnel (programmers, data analysts, media specialists, interactive, etc.)?

Look at agency processes. Do you have a functional, efficient workflow system? Does your production process operate smoothly and efficiently? Are your employees communicating and collaborating to be as productive and efficient as possible? What equipment, hardware or software will you need to make improvements? Are there opportunities to declutter your system for greater efficiency?

How is your creative product? Your work—your creative output—is still the most distinctive product your agency has to offer. Do you have the talent you need to compete with other agencies? Do you need copywriters or web developers? Will you need designers with fresh creative skills? Are you fostering great creative through your culture and physical environment? Do you submit work to awards competitions to win bragging rights and build your reputation?

Consider your strategic partners. Do you have good, reliable vendors and outside service providers who can support you and expand your capabilities in the coming year? Are you on good terms with them? In what areas might you need to find new partners?

Project a Budget and Set Goals

Call all of your employees to the table. Talk about where you are today, explain your ideas for where you hope to be this time next year, and open things up for discussion. Involve your people in planning, goal setting and developing action items that employees can undertake to help the agency toward its goals. This vests employees in agency growth.

Put all goals and action items in writing. A strategic plan need be no longer than five pages listing agency goals and detailing your approach to reaching them. Distribute the plan to everyone in the agency. Better yet, post it online and encourage employees to reference it regularly.

As you move through the year, check on plan progress. Update the plan, showing action items completed, and sharing successes and achievements. Recognize employees who are instrumental in getting the job done. Celebrate milestones. By next December, you and your entire staff will be gung ho to draw up your plan for the new year, and you will be enjoying the agency growth you deserve.

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