Everyone, no matter what they do, is faced with the same challenge; how should I spend my time most efficiently. Time is our most valuable resource and properly investing it can make the difference between success and something less. Time management in advertising agency new business is particularly challenging. It often feels like you aren’t in control, you can’t plan, and whatever you intend to accomplish gets turned upside down when the first fire drill of the morning begins. Ah yes, agency life at its best.
We all know that life. You pour your first coffee, look over your plan for the day, and dig into the first task when the time suckers arrive at your desk. I had drinks with my trainer last night, and he needs a proposal today. Or, so sorry, I know I was supposed to have the strategy done but my car needed service and IT is updating my laptop. Or worse, we really need you at this meeting. No one can agree on the company picnic venue. And then, my client has a new director and wants me to brief her on our agency mission, vision, and capabilities. I don’t have the latest. Finally, it wouldn’t be an agency without the SVP stopping by to question whether you are spending enough time making cold calls. All before your 10 am colonoscopy. Arrrgghh!
The five biggest time sucks at an agency
- Unqualified prospects
- Poorly defined agency positioning
- Uncooperative agency people
- Unnecessary meetings
- Unstructured prospecting program
As the new business lead, there are a million things you should do, another million that you want to do, but only a couple that you must do. Focusing your time and energy on the must dos is the secret to your success. You probably already know this, but when I talk to new business leaders about their daily activities, it’s painfully clear that they spend upwards of 50% of their time on things outside of their fundamental responsibilities. Not surprisingly, when I talk to CEOs, I often hear them lament that their BD person isn’t spending enough time on BD. Brilliant!
Let’s break it down
- Priority one is finding new leads and prospects
- Second is converting warm prospects into clients
- Third is project managing the agency in support of your needs
- Fourth is administration, tracking, analyzing, reporting
While you can’t control everything that comes your way and the demand on any one thing will vary at any given time, in the long term, balancing your activities according to these four functions and tracking your hours against them will pay dividends in managing your time effectively and managing your bosses strategically. The greatest tool you have for any time suck is the judicious use of NO. Not to be uncooperative or a slacker but to be responsible and productive. At the end of the day, BD people are not judged on how helpful they are or even how many hours they work. They are paid to bring in new clients. Considering all the inherent challenges doing just that, it’s no wonder the average tenure for a business development person is under two years.
New business can burn up your time like a wildfire and will burn you out in no time at all unless you are disciplined about how you spend your time. You could choose to spend every hour on one task, leaving the rest undone, and sometimes you must, but in the long term, too much of that will be your undoing. A balance of activity focused on your four fundamental responsibilities will ensure the greatest degree of success within the time and people that you have. Unfortunately, BD people are often the most helpful souls in the agency, sacrificing their own demands to save a colleague. As deadlines pass and the pressure mounts, that colleague is nowhere to be found, but the pitch deadline remains.
The job comes with immense pressures in every direction; from the top, from agency members, from prospects, and yourself. When an RFP or pitch is due, your time must be dedicated to accomplishing the best possible result within seemingly impossible deadlines while leaving everything else on hold. You have no control over that deadline, but you do have control over the many other things on your to-do list. You must be brave. You should be selfish. You have to be in control. And you have to get back to your schedule as soon as possible.
High performing BD people share some common skills. They come armed with data to support their priorities and use it politely to reject the time sucks to focus on what the entire agency needs – more clients. They have an uncanny ability to let the CEO know that taking their time away from the pending pitch could cost the agency millions. They have the diplomacy to let the CD know they can’t move the deadline because the rest of the process and the other execs will not be happy. They have the guts to let HR know they would love to help plan the company picnic but are focused on finding new income to pay for the picnic. They have the foresight to set the agency credentials in stone so that everyone will sing the same tune. And they have established a BD program that is well defined and humming away.
A general guide for time management
- 50% prospecting – encompasses all aspects of prospecting from strategy and systems to research, identifying leads, outreach, inbound, networking, research, follow-up, content development, etc.
- 20% converting – includes strategy development, proposal, pitch, and RFPs, lead nurturing, content development, meetings, presentations, pricing, negotiation, etc.
- 20% project management – covers just what it says, managing agency people, processes and production to ensure business development activities are completed on time and budget such as website content, case studies, mailers and emails, newsletters, presentations, demos, research, RFP documents, landing pages, videos, etc.
- 10% administration – those pesky things like time sheets, and time analysis, BD KPI measurement and analysis, procurement and acquisition, expense reports, status reports, etc.
Of course, circumstances will vary by agency, by staff, by available support, and by person or team, and other factors but guess what, that leaves no time for unqualified prospects, reinventing the agency positioning, uncooperative agency people, unnecessary meetings, and restarting the prospecting program again and again. Sorry, but NO, said nicely, of course.
Hint: The greatest of all BD time sucks is lurching to and fro chasing anything that moves. All four of your primary responsibilities will work better if you refine, simplify, and focus – your results will prove it. If you take the time up front to develop a strategic business development plan and all the components within it, you can confidently plan your time, dedicate the right resources, and justify your existence with a comprehensive strategy that leadership has signed off on. You can confidently say NO to things that are off strategy. Hallelujah!
Bonus: When you become a master at “Just Say No” you’ll find that the people who used to hit you up for favors, accommodations, deadline forgiveness, accepting crappy work, and all the rest of the needless time sucks, will stop asking and go pick on someone else. It will take time to change their bad behaviors but rest assured, it will happen. The real bonus is when on the rare occasion, you decide to say YES, your efforts, whatever they are, will be much more greatly appreciated and valued, and you’ll be able to bank a return favor to use when you need it most.
The good news; if you have a well-defined new business program with strategic planning of time and tasks, and tracking data to support it, it’s much harder for the agency to steal precious time by taking you off task. The simple tool called NO backed up with data that shows what it takes to be successful is a powerful weapon against time sucks. And, a great way to prove you know what you are doing and the things you choose to do are in the best interest of agency growth. I know, I know, it’s a lot easier said than done but it is a lot better than letting someone else derail your job because you don’t know what your next task is.
I’ve got some ideas about how you can keep your agency, and your business development focused on a successful strategy, and I’m happy to share them with you. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. #LetsGrow!