What's the Plan? Agency Business Planning

I remember well how, as each year waned, my agency would be immersed in a rush of activity: annual reports to assemble, catalogs to update, print ads to run for the January and February trade magazines, etc. We had stable client relationships, and could pretty much count on seeing the same projects every year from the same clients.

As the industry changed, and more competitors moved into our area, our clients began to “surf for deals.” They would send some projects to other, smaller firms offering lower prices. But those firms did not offer strategic thinking and marketing planning. They were vendors, fulfilling project needs without becoming vested in client success.

We began to emphasize strategic planning as a service, and later, as our primary purpose. And something really interesting happened when we began to sell strategic planning—we began to see the value of planning applied to our own business.

We developed an agency business plan that same year and worked to the plan right through the time when I sold the agency to my partner and left to found Second Wind. I have used planning ever since to keep the business focused, and counsel every agency I work with to develop a plan for achieving agency success.

Agencies need to create their own yearly business plans, and ideally, long-term plans as well. Few agencies do this. That is very sad, as there are many benefits to agency business planning. When you know where you want to be at the end of next year, and in five years’ time, you:

  • Gain increased control over your agency’s operational budget.
  • Manage your people better to grow the agency.
  • Hire new employees more strategically, and train your current employees more effectively.
  • Determine which of your current accounts are most profitable, and which you should show the door.
  • Pinpoint the new accounts you want to win that will help grow your business.
  • Discern why and with whom you need to develop strategic partnerships.
  • Identify those employees who will be the agency’s future leaders.
  • Discover when you want to retire and what needs to happen for you to achieve that goal.

There are many additional benefits to planning, small and large. Ultimately, business planning provides agency owners and their firms with a clear understanding of how to move forward toward pre-determined objectives. It sets the spot on the horizon you want to steer toward, and helps everyone in the agency pull together to get you there. Agencies need to “get religion” about planning, and become devoted followers of the discipline.

If you don’t already do annual planning at your agency, it’s time to start. We’re here to help you.

“The future has a way of arriving unannounced.”

George Will


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