6 tips for leading your agency through panic and pandemic

Tom .

For agency owners everywhere, there’s no escaping the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. And whether you’re feeling ripples of change, getting radio silence from your clients, or watching tumbleweed roll through your studio, it’s a tough time to be the boss. So, we’ve put together six practical, doable tips to help you get through the now – and the later. Buckle up…

1. Be the leader they need

Right now, what everyone needs from you is a cool head – a calm voice that can cut through the panic and keep everyone grounded. Both your team and your clients need you to be practical and decisive, even if you don’t feel like that on the outside. Easier said than done, right?

Well, here’s our tip. Look after yourself. You can’t carry everyone if you’re running on empty. So get plenty of sleep, exercise and find yourself a sounding board – a partner, a board member, a friend, or even another agency owner you trust. Share your fears, ideas and potential ways forward. Rant, rage and do what you’ve got to do, but come back to your desk with a clear head, some valuable perspective and, most importantly, a plan. 

Share it confidently, and you’ll bring your team along for the ride. Your people need you more than ever, so keep your door (virtually) open, play to their strengths and check in with them every day. They’re bound to be worried about what the future holds, which is why we’ve written a whole blog on easing your team’s anxiety. Take a look.

But your people aren’t the only ones who need you. Clients are nervous too, and they need someone they can trust to give them sound, solid advice. Step up, be available and be that person, and you’ll reap the rewards for a long time to come (more on this in point 3!).

2. Take control of your cashflow

When there are bills to pay, the buck stops with you, and that’s a scary place to be. But the government is putting plans in place to ease the pain for businesses. And one of the biggest things you can do to safeguard your cashflow is defer your tax and VAT payments. 

Yes, you’ll still have to pay them eventually, but you’ll be able to free up vital funds to pay wages, rent and other overheads for the next few months at least. If you’re not sure where to start, check out The Wow Company’s brilliant guide to getting deferments done.

Find out whether you can defer your rent or rates payments too. The government is banning commercial evictions for the next three months, so you should have some protection in law, but the best place to start is by talking to your landlord and the local council.

If your clients are quiet, your team’s twiddling their thumbs and your cashflow is reaching crisis point, you could consider furloughing some of your people. You won’t be making them redundant or firing them, just releasing them from work temporarily – and the government will pay 80% of their wages while you can’t. It’s not an easy decision, but if it saves the business, it might well save jobs in the long term. You can find out more about furloughing here.

There are several other schemes the government is setting up to help businesses and you can find the latest list here. But don’t forget, any initiatives you might be eligible for could take a while to come through, so it’s important to put some contingency plans in place. Think about putting the wheels in motion and applying for an overdraft or some alternative funding just in case – it’s better to have them ready, even if you never need them.

3. Talk to your customers

There are going to be a lot of difficult conversations between agencies and their clients over the coming weeks and months, as marketing spend is pulled or diverted. But try not to let the distance grow between you. Call them or arrange video chats regularly and find out how they’ve been affected, what they’re thinking and how you can make their lives easier.

It might be that you can give reliable clients more flexible payment terms, or offer discounts to anyone who can pay for a big project up front. You could also think about running webinars for key clients or offering valuable insights on current marketing trends for free. 

If you can be a sounding board, offer support and have meaningful conversations, you’ll be nurturing relationships and laying the foundations for something even stronger on the other side of all this. And if all a client’s got for you is bad news, it’s better to get some honest answers sooner rather than later, so you know what’s coming your way.

4. Reduce risk

It feels like we’re awash with risks, rumours and what-ifs at the moment, and the only way to feel better about them is to look them in the eye and get ready. Whether you’re worried about a depleted team struggling to deliver, some of your clients not paying their bills, other clients disappearing entirely, or your landlord making things difficult, you need a solid plan.

So, sit down and list all the potential problems that could come your way. Map out every scenario you can think of (you might need several strong coffees for this) and the risks each one brings. Then stare each one down and make the tough decisions – what would you do if X happened, or Y? What might be the knock-on effects? What might you have to do next?

It’s not a fun exercise by any stretch, but once you’ve assessed all the risks you can think of, and planned how to address them, you’ll have made a whole lot of difficult decisions ahead of time. So if any one of those risks becomes a reality, you’ll have a practical response ready to go. Things are changing incredibly fast, so think about reviewing your risks weekly to stay a step ahead.

5. Look for opportunities

As difficult as it seems right now, there’s real value in searching for silver linings. Businesses who look for opportunities tend to find them, so get your team on a video chat and brainstorm. If clients in one sector have been hard hit, could you pivot to another? Or repackage your offer so it appeals in new ways? Are there new markets, approaches or technologies you could try? 

If you’re quiet, take the opportunity to get your house in order too. It’s always tough to find time to redo your website, review your branding or rewrite that blog to boost its SEO, but now you’ve got bags of it. So invest that time and use your in-house experts to make you look good. 

Whether you’ve got design, photography, video, coding or writing experts in house, use their collective brainpower and hands-on skills to make sure that once this is over, you can bounce back even stronger from a brand point of view.

6. Don’t be tone deaf

Navigating this crisis is going to take sensitivity, so be measured and think about the actions you take. Don’t encourage a client to run that amazing scheduled campaign you’ve been working on for months just because it’s ready – if the tone isn’t right for where the world is now, save it.

Likewise, don’t let your clients look like they’re capitalising on the crisis. Sometimes the best thing they can do for their business is absolutely nothing. In times like this, silence really can be golden, and appreciated by their target audience. The same applies to your own marketing. Know when it’s best to keep quiet – it’ll be better for your reputation in the long term.

And if all that leaves you with an empty plate, use the time to do good. Run a campaign (on behalf of your agency or your clients) encouraging people to stay home, keep safe or help others. See how you can help your community – and use your social feeds to inspire, support and inform.

Helping you come back stronger

There’s no way to sugar-coat it, times are tough. But while you’re throwing all your energy into surviving, keep one eye on the long game, and do what you need to do to come out stronger on the other side. 

Hold onto your strongest assets, whether that’s your best (but most expensive) developer or that dream client who’s struggling at the moment. Make decisions you’ll be glad of a few years down the line, and nurture relationships – with both your team and your clients.

Above all, be kind. To your team, your clients, your community and yourself. And don’t forget, we’re here for you. So whether you need to troubleshoot, talk something through or find some answers fast, drop us a line or give us a ring on 0203 005 9181. We really would love to hear from you.

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