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What do agency growth and surfing have in common?

What’s the similarity between surfing and agency growth? That’s probably not a question you’ve thought too much about. Over the course of many conversations with highly experienced and capable agency founders, it comes as no surprise that all agencies are very focused on finding the next client or growing what they have. Most are doing pretty much everything you’d expect to navigate the current economic environment. But what of the future? Experience tells me that maintaining the consistency of growth efforts is a challenge when the good times return (which they will).

And this is where the similarity between surfing and agency growth comes in. If you’ve surfed or just watched the antics of those neoprene clad athletes, you’ll perhaps have noticed that the 30 seconds or so of unmitigated freedom that comes with riding down a perfect wave are followed by several minutes (at best) of sheer bloody hard work paddling back out through the breakers. Surfers realise that to get the best out of their day, they must paddle hard through the troughs to get out to the next wave. But if they stop paddling hard, they get swept into the shore break and the effort required to get out back again is harder still.

Agency growth is very similar. When on the crest of a wave, it’s all too easy to forget that you need to be fit to paddle back out. In agency land, the crest lasts longer, and the feeling is arguably better (in a professional sense). The danger is that as a result, it’s all too easy to relax and to lose the will or the fitness to find the next wave. I refer to this as the agency shore-break – it’s a tough place to be and a difficult place exit from. In surfing parlance, to get back out back ready for the next set of waves.

Like many athletes, surfers are very consistent in their approach. They know what is takes to enjoy a day in the waves. I believe that business has much to learn from their consistency. We all know that in down times, agencies put huge energy into finding new business but then as soon as the business comes through the door, they become too busy to focus on maintaining any steady cadence of sales activity. Inconsistency of approach is the enemy of growth. Any agency that either intentionally or inadvertently loses new business momentum (fitness) will introduce an unwanted inertia into the business.

Maintaining the right cadence of new business fitness through introducing the right processes and systems is key to growth. To use another sporting analogy (sorry!), if you are a cyclist and you start to feel thirsty, it’s too late. You are already dehydrated, and it will take time to rehydrate and to get back to comfortable riding. The same is true of any agency that suddenly realises its pipeline is drying up or its forward-looking revenue numbers are not where they need to be. It will take time to address the problem and to get back to the full potential of the business.

So, the challenge facing agencies today is how best to maintain the clients they have while consistently focusing on new business activities. The two are not mutually exclusive. The trap too many firms fall into is to use up spare capacity by over servicing exiting clients. Well managed agencies know how to deploy teams to both delight clients by doing amazing work while still delivering on established and agreed new business activities.

So, in tough times, build a team that is fit to surf. Enjoy the crests of the waves by achieving great results and by winning cool clients, but be prepared to put the right amount of energy into paddling back out to catch the next set.

Article written by Andy West managing consultant at Westofcenter.

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