What makes an effective agency NXD?

What is an agency NXD?

Agency NXD, Non-Executive Director, Non-Exec, NED. Whatever terminology they use, many agencies are now utilising the skills of an experienced person who is not directly involved in the running of the business but supports the directors in its development.

NXDs are not the sole preserve of the agency sector of course, far from it. The role of an NXD originated and is widely used in larger companies and in particular PLCs across sectors. Indeed, an independent director who oversees the executives’ management of the company is a key requirement for many organisations whose shares are publicly traded.

Historically, these NXDs were very experienced retired or semi-retired former executives. Increasingly, NXDs are now younger and either employed as an executive at another company, running their own business or even operating as a portfolio NXD.

There are many benefits to having an NXD. They are particularly highly prized in larger companies. Stakeholders can take comfort in the fact that there is one, or often several, NXDs monitoring and challenging the activity of the executive team. As NXDs are not full-time they are comparatively cheaper and can act as a sounding board for directors and a safety net for non-director shareholders.

The role of an NXD

The role of an NXD is to hold the executives to account for the delivery of the business objectives.

NXDs are focused on 2 areas; governance and growth. Whilst good governance is crucial to any organisation. In a smaller business, and in most independent agencies, it is the pursuit of growth that usually takes precedence.

Running any business can be exhilarating, fulfilling, challenging and frustrating. When you’re running an agency you can experience all these emotions in a single afternoon! 

Its a cliche of course but it can be lonely at the top of an organisation. As an agency principal, even if you’re not a sole director, it can feel like you have nobody to turn to for advice or counsel. Balancing the demands of your clients and your people can seem like an impossible task.

Having a supportive agency NXD who understands your challenges and has walked in your shoes can be of great asset to your business.

It is appreciated that NXDs cannot give the same continuous attention to the business of the agency. However, it is important that they show the same commitment to its success as their executive colleagues. 

The characteristics of a good NXD

NXDs are usually selected for their personal qualities, experience and specialist knowledge. Its vital that they not only possess wisdom, but are familiar with current trends and developments.

Some of the key characteristics of good NXDs are:

– Independence – it’s crucial an NXD has a strong relationship with their exec colleagues but retaining a level of independence is key. It not only provides objective scrutiny but enables the NXD to maintain a “helicopter view”. They must not get too close to the business so that they can’t see the bigger picture. This is usually why the directors need an NXD in the first place.

– Challenging but supportive – the NXD must be able to probe and challenge without creating conflict. They need to be constructive and diplomatic so they can ask difficult questions whilst offering support and guidance on problematic issues.  Mutual trust is vital.

– Courage and integrity – NXDs must have strong principles and the courage to stand up and say if they feel something is wrong or risky. Despite being engaged by the business, they require the courage to disagree.

· Great communication skills – they must be able to communicate complex ideas clearly and without being dictatorial. They should command respect but listen and absorb information as much as they talk and have input.

– Deep understanding of the business – whether they have industry experience or not, they need to quickly understand the products/services, the culture, the management team and the customer base. 

– Breadth of experience – we are faced with more operational issues than ever before. Reputation management, health and safety, ethics, social responsibility, risk and technology are all vital areas to observe when running a business. Companies need NXDs with specific knowledge and experience to frame discussions around these areas.

My own experience

We had a total of 6 people who operated as our agency NXD over the 15 years I was running my agency.  A number of our NXDs had agency experience, others had very little agency knowledge at all. At the time, this was a conscious decision on our part. We wanted to work with people who had different perspectives. This included other agency experience but also client-side and similar businesses operating in different sectors.

Looking back, I consider the people with agency experience to have been more effective as they hit the ground running and needed less context around some of the issues we discussed.

We chose to work with one NXD at a time, but we could have appointed more than one person.  In hindsight, I think this would have further supported and accelerated our growth. That said, we were in a fortunate position. Not every agency has the ability to invest in one agency NXD, never mind two or more.

The benefits of an agency NXD

In addition to the benefits to the agency outlined above, one of the key things myself and my business partners wanted from an agency NXD was personal growth. We recognised that even if you are not the sole director, leading an agency can still be a lonely role. It can also be a hard position from which to achieve progress in personal development. You’re often fire-fighting and switching your attention between interacting with clients and staff. It can leave little time or outlet for you to develop your own skills.

I’m a believer that you can learn something every day from anybody, but even if you are working with incredible people as I was, there is a massive benefit to bringing in external knowledge, experience and opinion. It’s not just about expanding the gene pool though. You can get very comfortable and familiar with your business partners and work colleagues. Too comfortable. Challenging them and yourself to improve your performance in the agency can become harder as time goes on. 

When we sat down in a board meeting it was hard for us to challenge each other if certain actions hadn’t been completed. We usually knew what had taken priority instead and invariably we ourselves were in a similar situation.

With an NXD in attendance, we knew that they wouldn’t be aware or concerned by the reasons why certain objectives hadn’t been met. We all raised our game when it came to these meetings as we knew an external person was attending and we wanted to ensure we continued to make a good impression on them.

Thinking back to the non-execs we used, whilst they all brought different perspectives, support and additional knowledge to the table, the real benefit for us as directors of an agency was the added accountability they instilled in the business.

This was the real value I got out of working with an agency NXD.

Do you need an agency NXD?

If you’re agency owner considering working with an NXD, I would ask yourself 3 questions:

1. Why do I need an agency NXD?

2. What benefits do I want them to bring to the agency?

3. What sort of person do I want to work with?

The reality is nobody needs an agency NXD. They need somebody to help the problems they are facing.

I see a lot of agency owners considering agency NXDs as a new business channel. Independent directors can bring a larger network into your agency and this can, in theory, bring new client opportunities. In reality, I’ve never seen this really bear fruit. If this is the primary reason to appointing an agency NXD then I would think about the position again.

No matter what level of experience you have, there is always an opportunity to learn from others. Whilst an agency NXD is likely to have more experience than you, even if they don’t, they will definitely have different experiences than you. That said, it’s vital you think through and articulate what value you want them to bring to your business. How will you – and they – measure their success?

As with all recruitment, nobody really wants additional headcount. You want the value that a person can bring, not the role itself. Good chemistry is crucial though. You must connect and enjoy working with the agency NXD as much as you do the other members of the senior team.

Gareth Healey
Gareth is the founder of Beyond Noise. He has 25 years experience in the agency sector. A business coach and mentor, he works exclusively with ambitious owner-directors of established independent marketing agencies. His book STANDOUT OR DIE: How to make your DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY more visible, desirable and valuable is available on Amazon now.

How to improve agency efficiency

How to improve agency efficiency

In this article, we’re going to look at how to improve agency efficiency with TIM WOODS. You would be forgiven for thinking TIM WOODS is a new member of the Beyond Noise team. Things are not always what they seem.

Every agency owner wants to increase the profitability of their business. The easiest way they think they can do this is to increase revenue.

Did I say easy? As we all know winning new business is the lifeblood of all agencies, but it’s far from easy and far from predictable. Improving profitability can be delivered not only through incremental business but improving your agency efficiency.

When my agency clients ask me how to improve agency efficiency, I introduce them to TIM WOODS. 

Sadly TIM WOODS is not a colleague of mine. Neither is he the good-looking guy pictured at the top of this article (that’s a stock image). TIM WOODS represents the 8 wastes of Lean.


My own agency was a big operation. We employed 175 people across 2 offices. Although we grew it to that size, the business was established well before I was involved. We acquired the agency in a MBO in 2002. Despite being a creative agency, it was a business that thrived on process. It had to, as the volume of work my team produced in a year was quite staggering. The small number of errors that were made was equally impressive.

Having lots of processes in a business brings lots of benefits. However, it can also create some challenges (particularly where processes evolve, develop and are added over time).

My business was a successful agency and we ran a very effective and efficient operation. Nevertheless we were always thinking about how to improve agency efficiency.

We wanted to become more profitable of course, but we also wanted to be faster and more responsive for our clients> W wanted to make things simpler and easier for our people. In order to achieve this, we invested in deploying the principles of Lean.

Lean process thinking is a systematic approach to improving efficiency developed in the Japanese manufacturing industry. Lean is a huge topic in its own right. A key concept in Lean is the pursuit of reducing or removing waste – or Muda as the Japanese call it – in the process. 

Who is TIM WOODS then?

Lean is a large and multi-faceted subject. As a concept developed for the manufacturing industry, some of the principles and applications are not totally suited to marketing agencies.

However, I found the focus on identifying and removing waste in an organisation to be extremely useful when we were considering how to improve agency efficiency.

As you may have already gathered TIM WOODS is not a person but an acronym. TIM WOODS represents the 8 elements of waste:

Transportation, Inventory, Motion

Waiting, Over-Processing, Over-Production, Defects, Skills

When I utilised Lean in my own business, there were only 7 wastes, but the eighth  (Skills) has been added since. It’s a good one and particularly relevant for people based businesses like agencies.


How can TIM WOODS help agencies?

You might be forgiven for thinking waste is the preserve of manufacturing businesses or companies that work with raw materials, but waste has many forms.

Reducing waste in an agency improves efficiency. It increases the speed of delivery, productivity and profitability.

TIM WOODS helps to identify – often hidden – wastes in an agency and can be used as a principle to explore how to improve agency efficiency.

The biggest impact TIM WOODS has for me is how it can help to change our mindsets as agency owners.

When looking at how to improve agency efficiency, it’s common for agency people to want to add things. Additional reporting and adopting – more – software products are usually the first thing people think about.

The key to improving efficiency though is not to add, but to take things away. To reduce complexity not to add more layers. Complexity is the enemy of efficiency and wasted effort, resources, time etc all contribute to complexity.

Please don’t implement a new productivity app in your agency without first looking at the processes. Adding new software without looking at the process behind it may at best paper over the cracks, At worst it can add more complexity and added tasks to an already bloated system.  

Let’s have a look at what each waste means… 



This refers to the unnecessary movement of materials or information. In an agency, this could mean transferring information between productivity software, databases and or documents.


Most agencies don’t produce physical products. We do have inventory though in the form of tasks, projects, briefs etc. Work stuck in queues, inboxes or backlogs that are “in-progress” but not finished and delivered to the client can be considered as waste.


In a manufacturing business, this usually refers to the needless movement of people. This can apply in an agency setting (unnecessary travel to meetings for example), but it can also involve navigating numerous programs, databases and performing multiple clicks or actions to get to the desired result. Too much motion is bad for effiicency.


Often a source of waste in an agency. Waiting for information to start or finish a task. Waiting for approval from other people in the agency or waiting for the client can be a huge source of inefficiency.


Over-processing can be a result of too many processes in an agency. Often agencies accumulate processes over time. People may be doing things that are unnecessary because they are told: “that’s how it’s done here”. It might have been required once, but maybe not now?

Other forms or over-processing include producing elaborate and detailed reports when raw data would suffice, or producing numerous options or polishing creative work to a high standard (when simple concepts would be acceptable for now).


Producing work or completing tasks that the client either hasn’t requested or doesn’t value are often examples of where an agency can be creating over-production. On many occasions, this is unintentional or done in the mistaken belief that the client appreciates it.


Perhaps the biggest source of waste in most agencies. Amends, rework, iterations, revisions are all ways we use to rectify defects. They directly cost the agency both time and money as well as being a huge opportunity cost.


At some point, the 7 wastes of Lean became 8. Wasted talent is a vital one for agencies though. You may have people doing tasks or work that they are not suited to. Other people could be performing and producing for you to a much higher standard of quality or output in a different area, if only they were given the opportunity to do so.

Lean in…

You don’t have to be a certified Lean process Black Belt (yes that is a thing), to apply some of the principles of Lean. Just take a deep dive into your processes and ask questions. Lots of questions.

How can we do this simpler? Do we really need to do that at all? Why do you do it that way?

We talk a lot about code bloat in agencies. When you’re looking at how to improve agency efficiency, think about process bloat. How can you reduce waste and friction in the system to make your people, clients and accountant happier?


Gareth Healey
Gareth is the founder of Beyond Noise. He has 25 years experience in the agency sector. A business coach and mentor, he works exclusively with ambitious owner-directors of established independent marketing agencies. His book STANDOUT OR DIE: How to make your DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY more visible, desirable and valuable is available on Amazon now.

Managing Millennials and Gen Z

Managing Millennials and Gen Z 

I was invited to speak at The Digital Marketing Hub event in Manchester recently. The organisers gave me free rein on what I wanted to speak about. It didn’t take me long to think of the subject matter; managing Millennials and Gen Z.

I have a deep interest in all aspects of leadership and management, but this is a subject that interests me for 3 reasons:

1. Personal Experience – I ran my own agency for 15 years and grew it to 175 staff. I learned a great deal about managing and leading people. I also learned was that no matter how much insight and experience you gain, the challenge of managing people is never finished. Its a game with no end as the rules are constantly shifting and evolving.

As I got older, naturally the age gap between myself and our younger team members grew wider. It was clear that the younger members of our team had different attitudes and wanted different things than I did. They needed to be managed, motivated and led differently. Of course, in hindsight, I made mistakes when I was managing people. Nothing serious, but there are certain things I could have done differently.  I was certainly influenced by the negative stereotyping that Millennials are plagued with.

2. Sector Challenges – One of the biggest challenges facing the agency sector is recruiting and retaining talent (of all ages). Young people, in particular, have far more choices and are in more demand than ever. How can you hope to recruit and retain people if you can’t manage them effectively in the way that they want to be managed? Beer fridges and ping pong tables are nice, but they’re not the answer to getting the most out of our young people (or them getting the most out of us as agency owners). 

3. My Clients – My agency clients frequently point to managing Millennials as a source of frustration. This applies to agency owners of a similar age to me as well as directors who are Millennials themselves. Usually, my agency clients are not concerned with how problematic it is for them. They genuinely want to understand more and upskill themselves to provide a better agency for their younger people to work in. 

The Generation Game

The exact dates of when “generations” start and end are often disputed. The figures below seem to represent a consensus. It can be useful to split Gen Y (Millennials) into 2 groups. Millennials have experienced such a volume of change in their lifetimes. The attitudes of older and younger members of Gen Y can vary significantly. People currently in their 30’s have different attitudes to those currently in their 20’s. This has been shaped by the sheer velocity of technological advancement. The recession of 2008 was also a big influence.

When I researched this article, I’m not sure which of these facts came as more of a shock…

The fact that, at 48, I’m an “older” member of Gen X?

The thought that Millennials can actually be as old as 38 years of age (not that I consider that old)?  

The revelation that Millennials already represent around 50% of the UK workforce. 

The realisation that older members of Gen Z have either already started their careers or will soon be leaving University?

Myths and Stereotypes

Given the age profile of Millennials its surprising that you often still hear people referring to them as young people. Even more surprising is the amount of myths and negative stereotypes that are still following this group around.

If you Google Millennials, the content is skewed towards negative sentiment. The “WE Generation”, the “Me Me Me Generation” are some of the labels they attract. Indeed, Millennials are accused online of killing everything from doorbells to entire industries (N.B. as a parent of Gen Zers,  I can bear witness to the redundant doorbell in my own home).

The traits of today’s younger generations are often called into question. They’re accused of being lazy, entitled, self-obsessed narcissists who lack loyalty and will hop from job to job without a moments thought. Despite the fact that many of these myths have been debunked by studies such as The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, the stereotypes seem to linger.

Ultimately its a fact of life that older generations complain about the young. Even Peter the Hermit (born circa 1050) is said to have griped that young people “think of nothing but themselves”. Before you ask, no I didn’t know Peter!

Whatever the reasons, Managing Millennials and Gen Z employees is seen as a difficult task and remains a hot topic of conversation.

Breakfast anyone?

When my agency clients ask me how they can improve managing younger members of their team, my answer often surprises them; stop managing them(!) 

Young people don’t want to be managed (at least not in the way my generation did when we were at the early stage of our careers). Millennials want to be in an environment where they can thrive. The environment might be augmented by physical things such as quirky furniture, ping pong tables and the like, but its the company culture that really makes the difference.

Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This is something I’ve used to guide me throughout my career. His principle point that your people really make the difference, is particularly true for agencies.  Drucker died in 2005, but I’m sure if he was around today he would view the right culture as being paramount for motivating, nurturing and getting the best from young people in the workplace.

Company culture is a huge topic in its own right. Culture can’t be defined and created overnight. It’s borne out of the values of the agency (which are themselves heavily influenced by the values of the leaders of the business). Its effects are more wide-ranging and far-reaching than just the impact it may have on younger workers.

I’ve identified 4 key factors for agency owners to focus on in order to develop their culture in the right direction. This will enable the culture of the agency to support and influence how its younger team members interact, grow and perform.


Today’s young people want to be inspired. They want to work for a business with a purpose beyond just making money. A purpose, not just a profit motive.

If you and your agency want to leave a mark on the world, this will be attractive to young people. They want to do the same. Your ability to convey the purpose behind your agency in simple clear language will not only be engaging and inspiring to your team members. The purpose (or WHY) is a vital part of your Customer Value Proposition and crucial to winning new business.

A word of warning; your purpose must be AUTHENTIC. Millennials and their younger counterparts hate hypocrisy. The mission must be genuine AND be at the heart of the agency.

Millennials don’t want to be managed, they want to follow inspirational leaders and be guided, coached and mentored by them. 


Today’s young people have grown up with more easy access to information than ever before. I remember having to wait in the University library for the right textbook to be returned! Millennials have no concept of this.

Younger workers need information like oxygen. It’s like fuel to them. They also demand the ability to see behind the scenes of what they are interested in. They use social media to view their favourite celebrities at home etc. This, combined with a more ethical and stronger stance on business with a purpose, makes transparency a vital ingredient to Millennial culture.

You can’t share every piece of information with your team but share as much as you can. When they understand what you are trying to achieve they will be far more likely to want to help you achieve it.

Millennials want progression. They want to see what is possible for them to achieve and understand the steps they have to take to achieve it. 

I’ve learned you can’t over-communicate with Millennials. The more information you give them, the more they will want. It can be quite challenging at times, but its a mindset of a generation and its not going to change.

Despite being digital natives, I find younger people respond well to face to face communication from their leaders. I think this in-person communication is something that some agency owners have started to overlook and feel is not relevant in the age of Slack etc. They are wrong.

Admitting mistakes and showing a degree of vulnerability is not something that features in many management textbooks. Whilst nobody wants mistakes, encouraging people to be open about them provides learning opportunities. Crucially, if you as an agency leader are prepared to open up about the fact you don’t always get things right, then this creates the sort of human connection Millennials crave. Despite being surrounded by technology (or maybe even because of it), they value human relationships with their colleagues more than ever before.


Millennials and Gen Z people need to be heard. They need to feel like they have influence and are using it. Once again, technology plays a part here. The ability to publish to the world online is something young people are predisposed to do.

Gen Y & Z are generations that have been lavished with praise, recognition and awards for achievement since childhood. From the classroom to video games, badges of achievement have been bestowed upon them.


With this background, it’s not surprising that younger colleagues expect to have a voice, as well as regular feedback and praise. Like information, you simply cannot give enough praise, acknowledgement and feedback when managing Millenials and Gen Z people. As if this wasn’t enough, it’s very important that it’s delivered in a timely fashion. The more that you communicate in person the better. Don’t just tell them they did a good job, tell them why it was such a good job and why it made a difference or impressed you! Make sure they’re seen as the heroes and they get the credit where it’s due.

A few words of caution. Studies show that Millennials as a generation prefer more public recognition than their older colleagues. However, the old adage of praise in public, reprimand in private still holds true.

It should also be remembered that people are individuals. If you have a young Millennial in the agency who is quite introverted, your idea to present them with a bottle of Champagne in a company meeting using a song you’ve written just for them, might not go down as well as you expect!


Millennials crave autonomy. They’re a generation that is full of self-belief. They want responsibility early and the flexibility to achieve goals how they want to achieve them. This means you must give them latitude and not try and turn them into clones of yourself or other members of the team.

What worked well in the past might still work well today, but Gen Y and Gen Z are focused on putting their mark on something (not slavishly following rules).

As a business owner though, of course, it’s only right that you want some control. You need to give them autonomy but within a framework. In order to achieve this its best to set boundaries or guidelines rather than rules. I describe it as ten pin bowling with those child-friendly rails up. Let people bowl how they want, but show them where the outlying barriers are (and have some checks in place to stop them crashing into them if you can).

Younger staff members are more entrepreneurial than their predecessors. Many of them have grown up in the Gig economy. They don’t understand the concept of working for a company all your life. They want to grow and develop. They want to follow and explore their passions. As an agency owner, at the very least you should encourage this spirit. Allow people to research and explore their other interests. Support people with their external learning and/or side hustles. Give them either time or resources – or both – if you can.

Last but not least, the world of work is changing. 9 to 5 office hours are not the norm they once were. Millennials and Gen Z don’t live to work, they work to live. They’re more comfortable with working from home and at hours to suit them.

You must think productivity rather than presence in the office here. The more flexibility you can embrace around hours and working patterns the more attractive an employer you will become. That said, this is one of the most challenging aspects of managing Millennials and Gen Z employees. Agency businesses are fluid and priorities are forever changing. For most agencies, this needs to be a transition and not a blind leap of faith.  

Don’t manage, motivate.

Clearly there are a lot of things to consider when managing Millennials and Gen Z people. It’s vital that you focus on creating a culture they can thrive in rather than trying to manage them to closely.

When it comes to Gen Y and Gen Z, culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but it eats traditional managers and outdated thinking for lunch.

Gareth Healey
Gareth is the founder of Beyond Noise. He has 25 years experience in the agency sector. A business coach and mentor, he works exclusively with ambitious owner-directors of established independent marketing agencies. His book STANDOUT OR DIE: How to make your DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY more visible, desirable and valuable is available on Amazon now.

Grow Your Digital Agency

Gareth Healey speaking at the 2019 Grow Your Digital Agency Summit with Robert Craven

Grow Your Digital Agency Summit 23rd October 2019

I was asked by Robert Craven to open the inaugural Grow Your Digital Agency Initiative Summit. On 23rd October I joined close to 100 agency leaders and agency growth coaches, some of whom had flown in from as far afield as North America for a full day of presentations, debate and networking. 

The day was a massive success and surely will become the first of many Grow Your Digital Agency conferences. I look forward to the next one, but in the meantime, you can read a transcript of my speech below.

Good morning Grow Your Digital Agency!

I’d like to start by taking you on a quick trip back in time. Back 20 years to 1999…some of you may have been still at school or at least still in education. Mark Zuckerberg certainly was. He was a freshman in High School. He did have a website though, although Facebook was just a twinkle in his eye.

Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, I was starting a new job as an account handler at an agency in Leeds. Gratterpalm wasn’t a great name for an agency but it was an established design business with about 35 people. A family business, it was run by a very charismatic and successful chap, but it was very much his baby and everything started and stopped with him.

It was something of a surprise when just 3 years later he approached 3 of us about doing a management buyout so that he and his wife could take early retirement. Once we looked up what a management buy out was…it seemed like an opportunity too good to miss and we acquired the agency.

Over the following 15 years we grew the agency into one of the largest regional agencies in the country. We evolved into a large integrated agency, embracing broadcast media, digital and everything in between, We worked with some of the biggest brands in the UK – ASDA, Greggs, B&Q, Ladbrokes Coral, Pets at Home, DFS

Three partners became just the 2 of us and we achieved £12.5M Turnover with an EBIT north of £2M. We acquired a London digital agency giving us a headcount of 175 and putting us in the top 1.1% of businesses in the UK by employee numbers. Of course, like many GYDA members we were award-winning, but the award I was most proud of was the Investors in People Gold accreditation.

Despite being CEO and equity partner for 15 years, by 2017 I’d had my time with the business. I needed a change and a new challenge so I exited selling my shareholding to my business partner and I now work as an independent consultant and with Robert on the GYDA Initiative.

So what did I learn in 15 years of running an agency?

Of course, I learned a lot. We made plenty of mistakes but had our fair share of successes too. So to open the GYDA Summit, I’m going to briefly take you through the following:

Some things we AMAZINGLY well

Some things we could have done BETTER

A couple of things I RECOMMEND you do as GYDA agency

One thing you simply MUST do.

Things we did amazingly well…

We understood SIZE is not a strategy. We didn’t obsess about growth. We obsessed about doing a great job. Indeed for marketing agencies, especially in today’s market, it is the smaller agile specialists that are more geared up to thrive. Our growth was a consequence of our actions rather than our plans. We were 100% client-focused and got a kick out of making clients happy and delivering for them. Consequently, they tended to give us more and more work.

We built STRONG relationships. We hated losing clients. We were great at client retention and brilliant farmers (if you are familiar with the analogy of hunters winning clients and farmers developing them). We were certainly not harvesters, we took retaining clients VERY seriously and as a consequence had 3 or 4 clients with a relationship of 10 years or more. A project from a new client was only ever a foot in the door in our view. The long game was always to retain them and if possible land and expand into other areas or channels. We specifically targeted clients that need ongoing support and monthly of not weekly output. We created, if not always contractual monthly recurring revenue, certainly monthly relationship revenue. A client service ethos ran right through our organisation. We learned so much from our clients as well as gave them a lot. It’s for another time, but frankly, I’m worried that modern agencies don’t have the service ethos we did. I’ve witnessed levels of service or attitude to clients that I just wouldn’t find acceptable (although not from GYDA members I hasten to add!)

We nurtured our people and our CULTURE. Your clients can never be happier than your colleagues. People and talent are the lifeblood of every agency, and a good culture is obviously important to any business. They say 1/3 people you hire are great, 1/3 are OK, 1/3 are a disaster. We managed to disrupt those odds. When they did leave for whatever reason people always used to say it was the people that made the agency.

We embraced the NUMBERS. From Day 1 we had a firm grip on then finances and internal metrics. Maybe we had to as we’d done an MBO, mortgaged our houses ad loaned money from banks (yes GYDA you could do that back then!).

We focused on a NICHE market. We were specialists. When we bought the agency we quickly realised our niche was retail. Maybe it’s not a niche I would choose now with the High Street announcing retailers going to the wall every other week. As owners who were client-facing people we enjoyed the knowledge and authority we had in this area. We were seen as experts and this gave us confidence. We understood retailers, we knew their problems and how they liked to work, we were familiar with their terminology. We didn’t need someone to explain it to us. We onboarded clients far quicker and easier. We benefitted from referrals of course.

We GREW with the agency. We navigated the growth journey, learning and adapting as we went. My business partner and I transitioned from Account Handlers to Business Owners to CEO. It wasn’t always easy and we did make mistakes but we were willing to learn, retain the essence of our values but adapt our style and approach. We tried to grow as people and as leaders as the business grew. I can’t tell you what the secret was, but it was rooted in an acknowledgement that the same systems and process and thinking that helped you to survive, are not the same ones that help you to thrive. You can’t operate a business of 5, 15, 35 people in the same way you do 55 or 155.

We deployed and optimised a lot of PROCESSES. Consistency is a friend of growth. Complexity is an enemy. Repeatable processes helped us run a more efficient and predictable agency. We were transparent with the results and clear on the goals.

Things we could have done better…

So what would I reflect on what we could have done better, and what might I recommend you do to grow your digital agency?

We DIVERTED from our specialism. Focus scales, depth does not. We had a strong market niche in retail and had the focus to maintain it for a long while, but we succumbed to pressure to broader. Don’t do that GYDA members!

We didn’t evolve our CULTURE. Monitor the impact your culture has on your business model (beyond service). We had a great culture, but it was designed to deliver one outcome; no mistakes. We prided ourselves on accuracy and attention to detail. This made us a lot of money, but it limited our creativity.

We were poor HUNTERS. Marketing and sales are different things, both are your responsibility as the agency leader GYDA members. We entrusted our New Business to a succession of New Biz people. Sales is the last thing you should stop doing as an agency owner.

Things I recommend Grow Your Digital Agency Initiative members do…

These are some of the things I definitely recommend you do to grow your digital agency…

Have a Long-Term vision but a Short-Term activation. Making plans is great but executing plans is better.

Productise and Systemise. Scaling means serving many customers frequently. You can’t do this if you don’t have the right processes in place.

Create digital ASSETS and IP. Scale needs reach and a successful sale (of your agency) needs assets to maximise the value you receive.

Solve client problems and deliver VALUE. Don’t be a service business, be a solution business.

Enjoy the journey and enjoy the Grow Your Digital Agency Summit

“It’s not the destination its the journey” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Too many agency owners I know are focused too much on the destination. A sale or “value creation event”.

Don’t think about the end (the exit)…think about making the journey better.

Enjoy the journey, it really is the best part.

Thank you GYDA!


Gareth Healey
Gareth is the founder of Beyond Noise. He has 25 years experience in the agency sector. A business coach and mentor, he works exclusively with ambitious owner-directors of established independent marketing agencies. His book STANDOUT OR DIE: How to make your DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY more visible, desirable and valuable is available on Amazon now.
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