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New Year's Resolutions for Creative Leaders – 10 Prompts to Propel Your Shop to Success in 2017

Ah, New Year's Resolutions. The time of year when we reflect on what did, and didn't work in 2016, and make well-meaning plans to improve ourselves in the coming year, plans usually made over a glass or ten of wine and forgotten in the morning.

Boozy nights aside, the New Year is an excellent time to think about goals and plans for your business in 2017. To help you get in the swing of goal-setting for your agency, we've come up with 10 resolutions you could make as a creative leader in 2017. Check them out below:

1. I Resolve to … Raise Rates

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Maybe your agency is doing really well, you're booked solid and business is booming, but this simply isn't reflected in the profits. This issue usually arises when rates aren't hire enough to cover the business growth while also paying the staff and bills.

If you're not measuring your profitability, you need to get started. Like, yesterday. Many of our clients find time tracking an essential part of this process – how do you know what to charge unless you can see how long projects are taking and what profit margin you are earning? Get all your employees on board with time tracking, and use the results to formulate a plan.

If you're ready to raise rates, here are a few things to think about:

  • You don't have to use the same rates sheet for every client. Many agencies will keep current clients on the same rate and only offer the new prices for new clients.
  • Remember that rate rises are normal and reflect the rising cost of business, the increasing complexity of work, and your agency's continual improvement within the marketplace.
  • There seems to be a direct correlation between the most difficult clients, and the lowest-paying clients. Raising your rates will get rid of many of your headaches.

2. I Resolve to … refresh our website

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Your agency's website is your online calling card – it's what you present to potential clients as an example of what you can do. If a client looks at your website and sees something uninspiring, boring, out-of-date, or non-functional, they aren't going to want to work with you.

Your website should go through updates at least every two years, just to keep it looking current. If you haven't done this for a long time, perhaps you'll need to:

  • Update your staff page with all the new faces (and get rid of the old guys)
  • Write and schedule some new blog content to ensure it remains up to date over the year.
  • Rework your portfolio. Remove older projects and replace with your favourite projects from the previous year. Make sure you are showing off your skills.
  • Ask your clients what information would make your website more useful to them, and create some content around those ideas.
  • Update your contact information – often, email addresses or phone numbers change and we completely forget to update them! Make yourself easy for clients to find.

Check out our posts on 25 Awesome Agency About Pages, and 6 Content Marketing Tips for Agencies, for some tips on creating the best website for your agency.

3. I Resolve to … get Rid of Dead Weight

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At some point in your career, you will make a hiring mistake, or you will inherit a creative team that isn't as good as it should be, or you will choose a software program or other tool that doesn't do the job the way you want it. If you've been dithering about what to do with the issue, 2017 is the time to get it sorted.

Getting rid of dead weight is about making your shop run more efficiently. Maybe you actually don't need all the staff you've hired? Maybe it's time to consider a new software suite? Perhaps you could move to a flexible work model and ditch the office space completely?

What is dragging your business down? What is holding your agency back? Be honest with yourself about the root of the problem. As soon as you've identified it, you can work on fixing it.

4. I Resolve to … Win a Different Class of Clients

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For an agency to grow and become a success, its goal should not necessarily be to gain MORE clients, but to gain more of the RIGHT kind of clients. One single high profile client can make an agency's name, and if you want your shop to grow, you should focus your marketing efforts in 2017 on appealing to a new clientele.

If you want to attract bigger brands, or clients in a certain industry, then you have to adapt your marketing campaign to appeal to them. What attracts a small business won't appeal to a global corporation, and vice versa. This might mean:

  • Rebranding your agency to appeal to a higher-priced client.
  • Offering additional services as part of the new cost.
  • Tendering for work and pitching clients directly.
  • Asking your network for contacts within certain organizations.
  • Attending industry events and arranging face-to-face meetings with potential clients.

Our article, How to Win More Clients for Your Agency, should help you start thinking about the types of clients you want to target.

5. I Resolve to … Enter Awards

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Being able to tack the words "award-winning agency" after your name is a big deal. Various bodies give out industry awards each year for innovative design and successful campaigns. Being nominated for or winning one of these awards is a huge deal, and gains you name recognition, press coverage, and some cool prizes.

Look out for a detailed blog post about entering (and winning) design competitions in the New Year. Meanwhile, here are five quick tips:

  1. Read the instructions carefully. Send in exactly what they ask for and ONLY what they ask for.
  2. Learn from the winners. Study the past year's winners and look at what stood out to the judges.
  3. Study the judges. Learn about their industries and interests. Tailor your entry to what they are specifically looking for.
  4. Choose the right awards. Enter competitions you have a good chance of winning. Choose awards that fit with your style, and place in the industry. A good idea is to look for regional or local awards, where your local expertise will be seen as an advantage.
  5. Get professional help. A copywriter, marketing consultant or business strategist will help you perfect your award entry.

6. I Resolve to … Improve Productivity

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If you're keeping accurate records and time-logs (you are, aren't you?) then you should be able to see if your agency is inefficient in any area. The first stage of increasing productivity is being aware of the areas you need to work on. This is why our clients love WorkflowMax so much – they can see in an instant if their leads have dropped, if they are charging enough for their work, and which types of jobs are no longer profitable.

Once you've identified areas for improvement, you'll need to brainstorm ways to increase productivity and efficiency. This is a great opportunity to involve the whole team and get everyone invested in improving the agency. You'll find some great brainstorming tips in our recent article.

Here are five quick ideas to improve productivity in your agency:

  • If you don't already, allow your team to work flexible hours and possibly telecommute for a few days a week. Many people get their best work done outside the 9-5, and studies have shown that for certain people telecommuting improves productivity.
  • Create employee ownership for the successful completion of projects. For example, tying employee rewards to project successes can be a great way to incentivise productive work.
  • Introduce time-tracking (if you don't do it already). This helps staff become accountable for their time, and often boosts productivity.
  • Ask your staff what their biggest time-sucks are. They may have insight into areas you weren't aware of.
  • Create a system for answering email. The best way to deal with email is to set aside a certain time each day for checking and replying to email. At all other times ignore the inbox. This has proven to successfully improve productivity.

7. I Resolve to … Network

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Ah, networking. As creatives, we love to invent unique solutions to client problems, but we're often too shy to go out and sell our business. But networking with other business owners doesn't have to be a scary prospect. And with a bit of practice, you'll soon learn the value of cultivating mutually beneficial business relationships.

My advice is to start with some kind of structured networking event, such as the networking evenings run by your local chamber of commerce, or a referral-based networking group like Venus or BNI. These events – and the friendly people who frequent them – will help you get over any initial reservations you have about introducing yourself and handing out business cards. You'll quickly learn that networking isn't about throwing your cards at anyone you see, but about being helpful to other business owners who will remember how awesome you are when they are in need of your services.

The article Networking Tips for Creative Leaders should also provide some insight.

8. I Resolve to … Pay it Forward

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Perhaps your agency is thriving. Perhaps you've landed that dream client and everything is going perfectly. Maybe your goal for 2017 shouldn't be to improve your business, but to figure out how you can improve someone else's life.

Behind every successful leader is a whole team of people who've helped him/her get to the top: mentors, colleagues, family & friends, associates, and idols. You can never pay back the people who've got you to where you are, but you can continue the legacy of giving by helping someone else make it to the next level.

In 2017, you can pay-it-forward by:

  • Becoming a mentor to a younger businessperson.
  • Teaching classes at your local school or community college.
  • Volunteering time or resources for causes you believe in.
  • Using your company's skills to work on meaningful charity campaigns.
  • Create free resources that help others learn from your successes and mistakes.

9. I Resolve to … Learn a New Skill

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You are never too old, too busy or too stuck in your ways to learn a new skill. As a business owner, you understand the benefits of up-skilling your employees, but all too often the idea of furthering your own knowledge doesn't seem so important. Well, it's time to change that, starting right now!

2017 is the year you learn a new skill you can apply to your agency endeavours, whether that's mastering a certain type of software, learning a second language, or finally taking up a new sport, you're sure to see the benefits in both your personal and professional life.

Here are 5 tips for finding the time and learning a new skill:

  • 5 minutes a day can make a huge difference. Every morning, or at the beginning of your lunch break, set a timer for 5 minutes and study French or practice your kerning or whatever your skill is. When the five minutes are up, you can go back to work, and you will have got some practice in for the day.
  • Night classes are an excellent way to optimise learning without giving up time at work. They're also a great place to network with other people across various industries.
  • You can also find great courses you can do online in your own time. These are often significantly cheaper than taking a course in a physical classroom.
  • Remember that there are many skills that can be transferrable to agency management, just as the act of exercising your brain and learning something new will improve all aspects of your life. So choose something you'll enjoy, even if it's not directly applicable to agency life. You will be surprised when it could come in handy.
  • Remember not to treat yourself too harshly! You don't need to become a maverick overnight – learning a new skill should be a fun and challenging exercises for your brain, not something that adds stress and hassle to your already crazy life. You don't have to be perfect right out of the gate!

10. I Resolve to … Make 2017 the Best Year Ever. 

Believe it! 

A catch-all resolution that covers pretty much everything listed above. While this isn't exactly a SMART goal, it's definitely the aim of every creative leader. We'd love to share your success with you as your agency grows and you see all your dreams come true. Cheers to the New Year, New Opportunities, and New Friends!

Share your goals and resolutions for 2017 in the comments!