The success of your creative agency requires strategy. It is what allows you to win business over your competitors. Strategic planning can help you find your “little something extra”.

Your strategy is your competitive advantage. Hard work is just a pre-requisite. The key to success is creating value for your clients. Sure, clients might want to see you sweat, but in the end they care about value. You need to define your distinctive capability — what your clients value.

It is unlikely that you will find your “little something extra” through an analytical exercise. Strategic planning requires creativity, because by the numbers creative agencies have similar clients, employees, and billable rates. Numbers are great, but they won’t set your agency apart.

Also, it is unlikely that your technical abilities are your competitive advantage. Beware of the professionals paradox: taking your craft beyond the point of creating client value. Professionals spend years learning their craft, and they love flexing their technical abilities. Unfortunately, this rarely creates client value. Too many professionals continue working on projects — past the point where clients care, or can even see changes. This drives up prices, eats away at profits, and erodes the customer experience.

Instead, set your agency apart by focusing on:

  • Increasing client satisfaction. You already do great work, and have a great creative process. Take it to the next level: create memorable experiences for your clients. Invite them to rare events, give them VIP access, and give them unique gifts. Go beyond the obligatory Christmas card, quarterly cookie tray, or industry event. These things matter, but they won’t set your apart. Be unique.
  • Training and skill building. Don’t just focus on technical skills. You can use personality to win your market. Hire people that are both great counselors, as well as technicians. Find unique ways to leave your clients feeling confident and inspired.
  • Improving productivity, not just production. Productivity creates profits, while production creates revenue. Revenue without profits will wear you and your team out. Also, profits allow you to: invest in your business, hold out for great clients instead of immediate clients, and offer competitive wages to the best employees. Profits are essential to long term creativity.

You become more productive when you find ways to eliminate waste. You can do this with technology, processes, and training. Productivity is not about working hard or more hours. It is about working smarter. This allows you to become more competitive, because you can reinvest in your business and be more price competitive when you need to.

  • Get better clients and projects through specialization. Hiring a professional service firm requires confidence — services are invisible and intangible. Speciaization helps built trust that the project will be successful. Trust will make it easier to acquire customers, manage projects, and complete the work. It all comes down to that they know you know what you are doing. The end result is increased profits. Learn how Analyzing Employee Utilization can help you identify the best area of specialization.

Your Strategic Planning Process

Change is uncomfortable. To succeed you need firm-wide buy in. Leadership will fail if you develop a new strategy in isolation, and then have to “sell” it to the rest of the firm. Instead of developing strategy, the role of leadership is to review and approve strategy. As an agency owner your focus should be on setting budgets, making investments, and setting incentives.

“Tell me how you measure and reward partners, and I’ll tell you what your strategy is, because I”ll be able to tell you what choices the partners will make in running their practices” — Managing the Professional Service Firm

For success, strategy must be developed at the practice level. As an agency owner your job is to make sure that the strategic planning process happens, but it is up to your practice leads to make it happen. Those who are closest to clients should focus time on developing strategies to create value for clients.

You time should be focused on reviewing, refining, and approving strategies. This will foster a plethora of ideas, drive employee engagement, and help hold your managers accountable. People join creative agencies to flex their skills and knowledge — the right people will value the opportunity to experience the strategic planning process.

When reviewing strategies you should be asking questions such as:

  • How can you improve competitiveness of your practice area?
  • Why do customers value this?
  • Who is going to do it?
  • How do you plan to pull it off?
  • How will the best competitors respond? Why can’t they match you?

In conclusion, it is important to note that strategy development is a creative activity, not an analytical one. The goal is to be distinctive. Your market is not your strategy — it is the same as your competitors.