10 things I would do if I ran my own agency

I’ve worked in a number of different Internet-based companies in a heap of locations: Brisbane, Sydney and Dubai. They all varied in size, budget and work style.

It’s been a great experience in all of these companies and I’ve learned to take the good with the not so great.

Upon close reflection it got me thinking about how I would run things differently if I ran my own agency.

So I’ve come up with some points that I’d make sure I implemented in my agency. Appreciate your thoughts!

1. One on Ones.
I want to have a one on one chat with each and every team member on a fortnightly basis outside the office to not just have a chat about how work is going but to make sure the life they lead after hours is alright.

Not that I want to pry but when you get a bit of an idea of what’s happening outside the office, you understand and appreciate people better. If you know someone has a child with special needs for example, you know that sometimes they may be under a lot more pressure than usual or may need to step out of the office at a moments notice to attend to their child. Work should revolve around your family and we as managers, need to be human.

One on Ones also give you a great insight into what’s going on with them in terms of their job. I know one company call their one on one chats ‘No Surprises’ because well, they don’t want to be surprised with a resignation because that employee’s cries for help went unnoticed.

You need to be in tune with your staff and they need to always know that you care – about their role in the office and their role at home.

2. Birthday Holidays.
I want to give people a day off on their birthday. If it falls on a weekend, they can choose a working day before or after it in lieu. Whilst I don’t place a huge emphasis on my own birthday, I know that others in my life do and they’ve given me some truly memorable days and it’s nice to be a little spoiled.

I can see people’s partners planning a day of fun (or just a day to relax and spend time together) and that makes it worth it. I’m also a fan of birthday cake!

A lot of companies are so big they have monthly celebrations but you can work out what is best for your kind of company.

3. Telecommuting options.
I often did the best and most productive work at home, but that’s largely due to not having a telephone ringing every 10 minutes! I do believe having people together in the office is far better for team building and cohesion.

I was lucky to work at head office for Dejan SEO in Brisbane with about 10 other good people. But I felt bad for my colleagues in Melbourne and Sydney who didn’t get to enjoy our company outings or lunches. If I ran my own agency, I would always get people to be in the office as much as possible but if they needed to work from home for whatever reason, that would be ok too. (UPDATE: since writing this back in 2013, my thoughts on remote work have changed and I’m an even bigger advocate for it, where it makes sense).

Again, it relates to my first point about being human. Often people have genuine reasons to work from home and if that won’t be disastrous for the company, then one should allow it. Also if your work can be done from any computer anywhere in the world, then all the more reason to allow telecommuting.

4. Regular team building activities and company outings.
I’d opt for something at least once a month because it gives people something to look forward to and the value it adds to your team by improving morale and cohesion is priceless. Go karting, paintball, cooking classes, laser tag, a day at the beach with a picnic lunch, a trip to a museum or art galleries…. There’s so much you could do. It needs to be fun and social.

I think outings that just involve beer and a pub are not the way forward because not everyone drinks, or feels comfortable in that setting. And besides, you should be able to socialise without alcohol. Surely you’re not that bereft of social skills? Oh and for those inclined, how about weekly/fortnightly online gaming parties? Imagine starting a your week with this instead of a boring status meeting?

5. Regular fitness related activities.
I’ve been grappling with various attempts at getting healthier. Encouraging employee fitness and better health should be the mantra of every good manager. A weekly bootcamp or yoga class would be great! Or a session at the boxing gym. Perhaps extend it further to doing fun runs as a team. It ties in with the previous point but it focuses on health.

When you’re working out, endorphins flood your body and when you’re doing it as part of a team, look out! I think having a 5 side indoor soccer team is a great idea, esp. if its a mixed team. Everyone should be encouraged to join and have fun, no matter the result.

6. Food!
Clearly I love my food and have a weakness for doughnuts but that doesn’t tie in with my fitness related point above does it? but a bit of indulgence is fine on occasion. Everything in moderation!

At Dejan SEO we had a pod coffee machine which brewed up some great coffee and was cost effective for staff. Saving your staff money is awesome! I brought in cupcakes from my wife quite frequently because I know food brings people together in a wonderful way. I invented Pizza and PageRank Friday years ago as an excuse to eat pizza at work (and maybe to discuss SEO) but it blossomed from an occasional event to a weekly thing that now involves all kinds of food from Korean to Indian. SEO doesn’t get talked about much but everyone comes together, shares food and laughs and it’s wonderful.

You don’t need to be Google (free food galore) but you can still provide a little for your team.. lots of fresh fruit, juices, soft drinks, chocolates and sweets, nuts.. little things that go a long way and you don’t need to spend big either. My current workplace has a tonne of nuts and even a few jars of jelly beans and jelly bears. It’s also right next to the huge organic fruit basket for the added guilt trip!

7. Monday morning pump up sessions.
We’re programmed to dislike Mondays and coming to work but what if you made Mondays awesome? What if you had a pump up session that involved music, people in a circle, throwing a ball around and as you catch it, you talk about 1 awesome thing from your weekend? Or how about something else? Make it a bit festive. Get coffee and doughnuts for all! How about playing a small game – like perhaps darts and the highest scorer (or scorers) win a prize? I’m thinking carnival games of sorts. Be creative and make it something people will look forward to.

I know there’s a fine line before it becomes kitsch but you need to look at your team and know what would work. I know it sounds like a Friday arvo kinda thing but that’s our problem – we need to make the start of the week something to look forward to as well!

8. Serious investment in on the job training.
In a lot of industries, you have to learn on your own and in your spare time as you’ll be left with your pants down if you’re not up to speed with what’s up. But there are conferences, seminars and  webinars that relate to your industry happening all the time and if you invest in these and help upskill and educate your staff, it empowers them, gives them a feeling of self worth and importance and above all else, it helps your team grow and get that competitive edge because they’re up to speed with everything.

When you know you work in a bad ass team, you feel awesome. I know there’s a fear that staff will leave once they grow professionally, onto bigger and better opportunities and that’s a risk some people don’t want to take. I think it’s riskier to just assume your staff will upskill on their own time (and dime).

I know people who thought they could run SEO agencies just from working at an SEO agency for 6 months. Needless to say they folded soon after because they not only lacked SEO experience, but their management and agency experience was tiny.

I would invest in my team time and time again before I worried about them abandoning ship. What you can do is get them to write up a summary of takeaways from their seminars/workshops/webinars so that others can also learn and this way even if that staff member leaves, you’ve still gleaned some knowledge and can reuse it for the next person who comes in. Silver lining my friends!

9. Recognition of employee anniversaries and major achievements.
Work anniversaries that is. We know that in this day and age, it’s not that common to see people in the same job for more than 5 years on average. Heck a lot of folks have a 2 year policy with jobs.

Whatever it is, it’s time that no one can wind back. It’s time they have spent working for you and hopefully adding tremendous value and no doubt achieving great things. Acknowledge this publicly. Show them that you recognise their time and effort and want to thank them for helping the company grow. Sometimes a gift card is a nice simple token of appreciation.

How do you really reward someone for their loyalty and hard work? It’s tricky when you can’t really put a value on things like these (in a sense). But saying thanks – that’s something everyone knows the value of. Do it and do it often.

10. Be approachable and accountable, always.
I look at the various managers I’ve worked under in my professional life and there are certain traits that stand out. It’s no secret that I hold Dan Petrovic in the highest regard as a close friend, colleague and mentor but he’s also been the best manager I’ve ever worked with.

I’ve tried hard to mimic his style and whilst my temperament and tolerance levels are nowhere near his, I am working on it. Dan has always been approachable, no matter the issue – personal or professional. He’s also someone who openly admits when he stuffs up and actively tries his best rectify things.

With no disrespect to my previous employers, I’ve always truly felt the clear distinction between manager and subordinate in my previous roles. But with Dan, he’s so approachable, that you often forget you’re talking to your boss.

You see companies talking about their staff like ‘family’ and that’s a culture I’d like to cultivate in my agency. Whilst I’d never go as far as cuddle parties, I’d like to think that my team is filled with people who genuinely care for one another, who don’t tolerate the BS of office politics and who think as one. I won’t pretend this is an easy thing to achieve but with dedication it can happen.

That’s my list. It’s not exhaustive but it’s a start.

I’d love your thoughts on my ideas and what you’d do if you ran your own agency.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.