Ad Agencies – Independence doesn’t mean having to go it alone

As the owner of an independent agency, joining the right network is an investment in you and your agency.Not a single person in this business can truly say they do it all by themselves.  We all work with many different resources — vendors, staff, clients, media, consultants, friends, mentors, advisors… Plus, in this age of exploding social tools, we are connected to just about everyone imaginable.Do you share details about your business with all your resources? Come on, answer honestly. Do you tell your Twitter followers all about your struggles with balance sheet issues, or that confidential opportunity to bring in that big client without a review? I doubt it.But, if you are openly sharing with the right people, there is a powerful opportunity to succeed together.Internal versus external partnerships.You may have a business partner. Partner-leaders offer huge merits for both of you and the agency. Partners give each other a forum to share ideas and responsibilities. All too often partners rely only on each other to look into the future. You need more. You need outside input to mix into your thinking. You need to participate outside the agency.I believe every communications agency should participate in a network. There is power in sharing your knowledge and learning from others. Insights you will never get by reading books and blogs, or from attending trade shows and seminars. If you are a part of the “right” group, it can be so valuable to you that it feels like you have a board made up of trusted friends as well as advisors.There are plenty of networking opportunities. Industry Associations, Community Networks, Business Clubs, Professional Advisory Panels, even Trade Groups. Most can be important for your agency. But not necessarily for you – the agency owner/leader. These are organizations designed to support the industry, find business, connect with resources, and frankly – make nice. These are very important for your business. But not always for YOU AND your agency.Sharing the Good, the Bad, and even the Ugly.We all learned to be careful what we say, and to whom we say it. When good things happen to you, are you willing to give a competitor your confidential details? Of course not! How about your big mistakes? Never!It’s quite the experience to sit amongst trusted peers and listen to someone else’s screw-ups. Then stand and tell your own tale of heartache. It’s cathartic to unload the bad stuff to your network of friends in the business, then ask for everyone’s ideas to solve your problem. They all understand your pain, because they share similar business issues. They want to help you – their fellow member. With the right network of peers, it’s amazing how much everyone learns from each other.The key is identifying the group that fits you best. There are many different agency networks for you to consider. Business focus, shared learning, Biz-Dev groups, creative collaborations, management forums, staff-training forums, collective capabilities associations. There is size of agency, ownership versus management, Local/national/global. There is one out there that fits your business goals, and personality. You just need to determine your hierarchy of needs?In my opinion, the most valuable network for the independent marketing/advertising agency owner has a mix of these attributes:       Peer-to-peer interaction. Owners and leaders of agencies are active participants within the group. Everyone is openly sharing ideas that make you better.       Shared capabilities and resources. The variety of size, type, location, skills, creativity could benefit your agency through learning and being a resource when needed. These can be used to enhance a current client relationship, or even to seek new clients together.       Expertise and Experience. Members know stuff you don’t know. It gives you the chance to learn before doing.        Leadership Counsel. There is an overall mission for the group, and seem to be driven forward in the direction you want to go. The entire group understands the importance of sharing insights that will improve everyone’s business.       Strategic Opportunities. Members have clients that may require your agency’s special skills, or you see in others the possibility to tap into their team to complement your work with a client.All of the independent agency networks are different. When you interact with the “right” one, you’ll know it. You’ll feel it. Being a member of a network is an investment that will pay off.Joining a network should be a commitment of your time as much as your money. There are dues and expenses to travel to meetings. Plus, there is a time commitment. You will need to carve out portions of schedule to devote yourself to the tasks with your fellow members. Membership in a network is not a subscription you can read when you feel like it. The more you and everyone devotes a portion of your collective brainpower to the network, the more plentiful the rewards. It’s a collaborative effort. The value comes from the shared insights of all.The right independent network should feel like an investment in yourself. The dividends will be reaped by your entire agency.Just my opinion,Peter Gerritsen/TAAN President

Note: A version of this post appears on the Fueling New Business blog: