Agency Leadership — Imparting Your Vision

Over the past few months we’ve talked about how to build and grow your SEM business. I’ve looked at setting up your SEM, finding clients, marketing your agency, selling your services, recruiting the right people, and training your staff. In this article, I’ll bring it all together by talking about your role as an agency leader and how to expand your own personal growth.

Like my journey, yours may have begun with an interest and knowledge of search engines. At some point, you decided it was going to be your career, so you freelanced or started your one-man shop. If the entrepreneurial spirit was strong enough, your workload increased, and you decided to hire an individual or a team to help you. Perhaps at this point you moved out of your home into your own office space. And so your agency continues to grow.

Now you’re a business owner. You no longer work in the trenches. You’re motivating others to perform and helping to schedule their workload. You’re involved in discussions about finances instead of keywords, involved in building sales incentives instead of building links, and reading about venture capital instead of the latest Google updates! You’re no longer a search marketer — you’re a leader!

Becoming a Leader

Many entrepreneurs are terrified to make the leap toward leadership. And, in many cases, they don’t have the skills to make this transition. However, the drive and ambition that brought you to this point can also take you to the next level. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I saw the need to transition some time ago. For the past few months, I’ve worked with an executive coach one-on-one to help me navigate through this transition. This type of coaching is more valuable than attending a training course. I can take real-time examples to my session and put the solutions to work immediately. Often, I returned from a training course full of enthusiasm only to discover that once I was back into the day-to-day grind, I quickly forgot it all!

What is a Leader?

Leaders don’t manage. Leaders empower and influence others. As a leader, it’s your job to guide your agency to meet its current and future goals. True leaders are self-directed and have clear vision. They create ideas based on their values and create teams who share those values. Great things start to happen when an agency is built on a leader’s integrity and strength.

It can be tempting to deviate from your core values when the cash flow is negative and you’re desperate for help. Don’t ever do this! Instead, surround yourself with like-minded people who believe in your vision.

True entrepreneurs have outstanding instincts, so never ignore them. Drive and determination are the foundation of leadership. My agency has gone through many sticky situations and, without my persistence to keep going and my will to succeed, we could have gone under in many instances.

Leaders take responsibility for their actions and for the actions of those whom they lead. They set an example for team members to follow. That’s why a successful agency needs a leader at the helm, as opposed to say a search strategist.

Leaders Communicate

One area I used to have trouble with was effective communication. When you’re working in this industry, it’s so easy to keep your head down and just get on with your work. However, being involved in an agency setting with departmental functions and dedicated employees means that you have to be an effective communicator to succeed. Communication is an important aspect of leadership. The tried and tested way to become a better communicator is to become an effective listener.

Leaders Build Relationships

Your job as leader involves developing close relationships with those who work under you, as well as with your peers, business associates and customers. This can include goal-setting, supervision, welfare, human relations, coaching, and teambuilding.

In many ways, you’re also a leadership mentor, helping others to develop similar skills. Strong leadership is evident at all levels of a successful SEM agency.

Your Own Personal Growth

I’m constantly looking at paths to self-improvement. When I started my agency, I looked for ways to acquire leadership skills. This meant studying and attending courses — and believe me I did a lot of these.

However, the greatest way to learn is by observation. There are many ways you can observe leaders at work. Leaders from my previous occupations gave me inspiration at challenging times. I also found a mentor who had held an outstanding track record as a CEO to guide me in those early days. He’s still a mentor and a dear friend today. Also, when I’ve attended client meetings, supplier presentations, or industry conferences, individuals have shown great leadership skills.

The key to leadership is to know your role, and also know when to delegate tasks. You need to feel comfortable encouraging and strengthening employees and developing teamwork within your agency.

Are your employees following your lead? If not, you should be strong enough to take action when an employee doesn’t fit well into your agency. I’ve learned to trust my instincts in situations like this.

As a leader, you should have a strong vision for the future of your agency. Change and innovation should be central to this vision. I aim to maintain today’s standards (both resources and systems) while continually looking towards and adapting for the future.

My own personal experience has been personal growth through adversity! The best lessons I’ve learned are from the mistakes I’ve made in the past. Humility and staying grounded are also characteristics of a true leader. Always share the credit with the people who have helped you on the journey. And remember to enjoy the next phase of your development on a professional, and very importantly, on a personal level.

Join us for SES Toronto, June 16-18 at Metro Toronto Convention Centre (South Bldg.).

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