High up on my personal list of “Mistakes agency owners know they’re making (but just keep repeating)” is allowing things that are urgent to take priority over what is actually important. Whilst this is a pitfall for any type of business, the nature of the model makes it particularly common in agency world: Constant deadlines, demanding client expectations and having people-heavy businesses are all factors that conspire against us. The result is a seemingly endless stream of issues to distract our time, attention and resources away from what would really make a difference to our business.

The result of not managing this is a familiar one: That “Two steps forward, 1½  steps back again” feeling of never making progress and the constant sense that you just need one break to get over the hump. Except it never seems to be a hump; just a series of false summits getting in the way of what we need to be doing. Exhausting.

“Yes, THIS!! How do I fix it?”

Eliminating the inertia this problem causes can have an incredible impact on your business. Reliably achieving more of what needs to be done more quickly means hitting your goals sooner: Whether those goals are financial, personal or more nuanced, achieving them sooner and with more certainty has great value. No surprise then that the internet offers us no end of charismatic gurus willing to solve this issue for the right price. The truth though is that you don’t need to part with money to solve it. You just need three things, all of which are free.

  1. Planning
  2. Organisation
  3. Discipline

That might sound like the sort of advice that is too simple to be useful, but it does happen to be true. When trying to tackle inertia in my own agency I bought all the books, attended the webinars and workshops and even checked out some of the pricey programs. They largely all boiled down to those same three points dressed up with large amounts of glitter and fluff.

Let’s step through each of the three points in a little more detail (but without glitter or fluff):


It’s difficult to make progress if you don’t know where you are going. Agencies tend not to be the type of business created with a strong vision in mind. They’re often started out of a genuine love of the work, which means the focus gravitates to the work rather than the outcome. “Vision” is one of those words that makes me cringe a little, but a clear picture of what type of business it is that you are building is important.

You should know what you want to achieve and by when. This doesn’t have to be cast in stone, but it should be clearly defined and written down so that any change to that objective is a deliberate thing. Knowing what you want to achieve by when allows you to set regular goals that you can then measure progress against. I’ll go into the process I eventually (after many tries) settled on for doing this in a later article. However you tackle it, your plan should define the outcome you want and lay down the path for how to get there from where you are today.


With your plan made it is time to get organised. The best way to make your plan become reality is to set fixed, regular time aside to make that happen. This is what we should be doing when we talk about “working on the business”. Rather than firing up excel and moving a few numbers around from column A to column B we should be actively working on the tasks that need to be completed to make our plan reality.

When I do business planning the result is key tasks that need to be achieved each quarter to keep the business on its chosen path. I use the terminology of the Traction / EOS system for these and describe these important tasks to keep forward momentum as “Rocks”. This helps to distinguish them from all of the other tasks and priorities that unavoidably surface. Each Rock has an owner and that owner should have sufficient time blocked in their calendar to ensure those Rocks get delivered.

Time blocking is important, but not the only organisation needed to ensure that Rocks are completed reliably every quarter. Means also need to be put in place for progress to be tracked and blockers to be tackled: Usually through clearly structured monthly reviews.


Few agency leaders are going to be surprised to hear that it takes planning and organisation to bring about change. Most will have even gone down that route multiple times, without ever achieving the pace of positive change that they were hoping for. The missing piece of the puzzle is more often than not discipline. Knowing what you need to do to achieve your goals might not be easy, but having the discipline to then deliver on that can be far harder.

The first step is to give this important work the respect it deserves. Constantly running from one fire to the next is a guaranteed way to stop progress on your plan. Sometimes you just have to decide what can be left to burn in order to get the important fire-prevention work completed! When we entered a period of rapid change in my own agency we talked very openly about “which balls we’d allow to drop” and the whole team understood the importance of that to bring about what we wanted to achieve. That wasn’t an excuse to do bad work, but it gave the team confidence to say “I can’t do that now. I have more important work that needs to be completed first”. That can be a difficult mental shift to make, but if there isn’t the time to bring about needed change then it might be the only way.

Learning to prioritise the business is only one part of the discipline needed to make change happen. Consistency and accountability also have important roles to play. Consistency means that once you set direction, process and schedule you stick to them. Changes to the plan should only be made in a considered way, never on the fly, and everyone involved should always understand what is expected from them and when it is expected.  Accountability means everybody involved having someone to be accountable to in delivering their part. There is nothing like knowing you have to report on progress to ensure that progress is made! Those regular review meetings provide the perfect opportunity for this and each person reporting on their progress and blockers should be part of a fixed agenda.

Accountability doesn’t just apply to our teams, but to us too. If you don’t have someone who will hold you accountable for sticking to your part of the plan then find someone. I do this for a number of agency leaders as part of my mentoring service, but it doesn’t have to be a paid advisor. Peer groups, business partners, and even senior employees who are confident to call you out can work. The important thing is to have somehow will ask you for progress and hold you to account if you are not sticking to the plan.

You know what needs to be done. Go make it happen.

I believe most agency owners have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done to improve their business, even if they haven’t yet found the time to think it through in detail and write it down. The bigger challenge is usually in actually making improvement happen. Defined goals and a clear plan help us see the path we need to take to get there. Organisational structure and discipline are then needed to make it happen. It’s not easy, but the reward is worth it: The business you want.

None of this requires a secret process or expensive x point system, but it can still be difficult to make happen. If these problems sound familiar and you would like some help in overcoming them in your business, I’d love to have a chat. These principles form an important part of my approach to the affordable mentoring service that I offer to agency leaders. You can learn more about that here.