An article in AdWeek Magazine titled “The Survivors” promised to teach readers, “How to make it as an indie agency in the merger era.” (For those of you not in the agency business, that means how small, independent can survive without being gobbled up by one of the giant advertising conglomerates that dominate the industry).

What Does Survival Look Like?

The author listed six “survival tips” she believes are crucial for indie shops to prosper, or at least continue to :

  1. Stay small so you can remain nimble.
  2. can be your advantage.
  3. If you've got a great idea… break and start up on your own.
  4. Much organic growth is… coming from the indies.
  5. Make sure to diversify your client base.
  6. Take the time to cultivate your culture.

Nancy Hill, CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) says that in the last two years 26 independent agencies have joined her but, “we lose agencies every year because they can't afford the dues or they go out of business.” 

Of course, Hill doesn't point out that many agencies may leave because they simply don't find value for the price they have to pay, but then you wouldn't expect that degree of candor from a CEO, would you?

Judy Neer, CEO of ad consultancy Pile + Co. says that balance is critical to survival. “For a creative agency… the challenge is having enough resources to manage a client's business and having enough income to warrant having enough people.”

If you stop and think about it, isn't that the challenge of most small to mid-sized business? You need to be able to provide the services that your customers need and you need enough business to support the infrastructure to provide those services.

How To Build Value Really is That Simple.

Taken further, aren't Neer's words a good way to look at a basic challenge of all of your relationships? You need to devote the time, emotion, and effort necessary to maintain your relationships while also earning enough from them to nurture your own needs.

Of course, the benefits aren't solely judged in economic impact. Often, it's worth doing things simply because of how they make you (or the others in your life) feel. Or because they're the right things to do. Or because they matter to you. 

That ratio – of resources in compared to benefits out – is not just a great way to look at all of your building and business activities and your relationships, but also a mighty fine way to establish priorities and decide what you're are going to do. And what you're going to say “no” to.

Because before you can say “yes” to the things in your life that pass that ratio test, you have to know what it is you want and what pleases you.

When I ran my ad agency, and when I'm asked to give a on stage, the first question I ask my clients is always the same:

What Success Looks Like

“What does success look like?” That is, when I'm done doing what you've paid me to do, what will happen? How will your customers or your audience feel? What will they think? And what will satisfy you?

By knowing upfront what my client is looking for, I cannot only know how to do the best job for them, but I can also decide which jobs are for me and which aren't. Because as much as I enjoy earning the fees for what I do, if I'm not the right person for the job I want to know that upfront too. That's because not only do I want my client to feel that they got great value for the time, money, and resources invested, but I also want to those same good feelings for myself. After all, when we both come away thinking that our deal provided value for everyone involved, everyone feels great about the interaction.

Or, as sang in the very last piece of music they ever recorded: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

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