We are not normal. No entrepreneur really is. Taking on risk, putting it all on the line, leaving it up to ourselves, putting in long hours, having trouble 'clocking out'. It's not always easy, and there's a reason many people never consider it.
But ultimately there was something that drew us all to this place.
One thing that always bugged me in my 9-5 was the fact that I sat back and watched my bosses make a ton of mistakes. It was a daily exercise in self control to not lose it with them (I eventually did).
Now that's not to say I didn't learn a ton in the 15 years I spent in the design world working for other folks— I did. In fact, those lessons taught me more than my college degree ever did. But, I digress.
But it wasn't just my ego that pulled me in this direction. There were tons of other factors.
- Wouldn't it be great to spend more time with my family? Yeah, that 40 minute commute each way was a waste of time. I missed the kids school functions, I never got much time off when my kids were born.
- I was hitting a pay ceiling. 15 years working in a small business and I had worked my way past all the promotions and pay increases. Was I really going to make this wage for the rest of my life?
- I wanted something of my own. Working hard is important, and a lesson I want my kids to understand no matter what they do in life... But if I went the 'extra mile' for my employer all that did was create more profit... for HIM!
But those initial desires aren't always sustaining.
We're lucky we've found so many great resources like podcasts, communities, and a whole gang of online friends to share our experiences with. I've benefited from it greatly.
But something I've noticed that is common in almost everyone's story is the feeling of burnout.
While there are many factors that can cause you to get sick of what you're doing (and in some cases lose complete interest) I believe one of the biggest reasons is forgetting why you started this in the first place.
So I asked this question to some of the most successful agency owners I know...
The question is simple... but answering can be difficult. However, when you can answer it you have a compass.
When you have direction, it's easy to focus on the things that ultimately get you to your goal and discard the distractions that don't.
So, what did I ask? Simply...
"What is success in your agency?"
In fact, here's the form I sent all our contributors...
I got a wide range of answers...
Despite what you see on the relentless Facebook ads, no one mentioned "7 figures, bro", or a "mansion on the beach", and only one person mentioned a sports car, but I presume he was kidding (looking at you, Paul).
Success, for people like us, is different..
Marshall Web Studio
"Success is the intersection of financial peace of mind and loving what I'm doing! The path to this intersection may look different as my business evolves and grows, but I'm always striving to arrive at that same intersection."
Propel Digital Media Solutions
"The ultimate goal is to have a sustainable business that contributes to the community and helps other business owners succeed. I don't necessarily want to grow a large agency with dozens of staff members and do millions in annual revenue. The ultimate goal has less to do with "scale" as it does to do with stability, quality, and results. If we can achieve that with 5 people, provide a good quality of life for those involved in the agency, help the community, while delivering top-quality results to businesses, then that is definitely "success" for me."
WP Roadmaps and Coaching
"Because I am now working mostly with other WordPress agencies, teaching them how to manage WordPress projects more efficiently, my definition of success for ANY agency is CONSISTENTLY completing projects
- On time
- With little to NO scope creep
- Within budget, that fully meets client requirements, AND
- Preserves the agency's planned ROI."
"I started my business way back in the 1990’s. Back then, the Internet was seen as the brave new world. Everything was new and exciting. It was like gold had been discovered and droves of people were heading online to claim their fortune.
I was one of them.
As a newbie, it was a struggle to learn the new, emerging technologies – while trying to market and sell them to local business clients.
One advantage I had, however, was my experience from the agency world of the late 80s.
I knew how agencies functioned at a high level, so I wasn’t flying blind in that sense.
Like everyone else, I wanted to make a good living, but I had sense there was something else occurring as well. I felt a growing discontent around building a “agency” style business and found myself gravitating more towards “solo-projects.”
At first, it seemed like I was building two businesses. And in a sense – I was.
With the agency, I was cranking out website projects, building a team and figuring out what new services to add to the mix.
As an individual, however, I was beginning to connect with people one-on-one. I was taking on a different role and becoming more of an adviser and guide. This work was highly fulfilling because it gave me allowed me to be a catalyst and change-agent in other people’s lives.
The agency approach gave me the form and structure that’s necessary. The personal/brand approach built on top of that gave me the freedom to break through the boundaries and restrictions – color outside the lines and truly enjoy this journey.
That’s what success means to me. There was a lot of trial and error along the way."
"For me, success is knowing that I've helped my clients by easing the stress and confusion of getting their business online. My clients are like me, they're small business owners or solopreneurs. They're busy and they're good at what they do but they don't have the time or the desire to waste days, if not weeks, trying to build their website. Knowing that I've helped to simplify and guide them through the process so they can get back to their business means a lot to me. At the end of the day, knowing that I've helped someone is better than seeing a bunch of money sitting in a bank account."
The Dickiebirds Studio
"Honestly, it's easier for me to think about things that lead to a sense of failure (the opposite of success) in order to help me define what might be holding me back. If those things could be dealt with, it would be a very good measure of personal success.
Exactly what those things are in my case is not so relevant. It's more a case that while it's good to look to the stars for one's definition of success, it's equally important to be aware of the things already around you that you can influence right now, today, and make a huge difference to your confidence, wellbeing and chances of really "making it" by your own definition.
That all said. A Lambo would certainly be cool I guess :p"
Red Mill Creative Inc.
"Success for me and my agency is a lot more about a feeling then it is about a number.
Success in my agency is about building a business and team where every day we get to come to work with clients and have a hard time believing this is our job. Where play, family and fun are words we use when describing our work. This is my first goal.
My second, and ultimate goal, is about creating legacy. It's about helping my family, partners, staff and our clients create something that lasts beyond themselves."
Umbrella Digital Media
"Success to me is not measured by having the big house, the flash car or luxurious holidays. My measure of success is having freedom. The freedom to choose what I devote my time doing and the people I want to spend my time with, my family, friends and clients. I love the work that I do and the clients I work with and get great satisfaction in making things easier for them. A happy client to me is also a mark of success.
There’s no denying that we need a certain amount of money to make sure there is food on the table and that the bills are paid. I am in a privileged position that my basic needs are taken care of. Having freedom allows me to be able to manage when I work and with whom. It also means I can devote time to my family and be there whenever they need me. That’s what I call success."
"Our agency defines success by looking at our recurring revenue. Our goal is to build a massive revenue stream of guaranteed pay so we can then focus our time into more risky projects in the future. Peace of mind knowing that we can all go home every week able to pay our bills, support our families, and not have to be stuck in the office 14 hours a day trying to find the next client to keep the lights on. Many agencies like to focus their success on getting that one "big" client like a Nike, Apple, or big TV contract. We definitely want that, but we also understand it's easier to chase that when we have revenue built up that we can fall back into during our growth."
"When I was young, I thought success was a big house and fancy cars. Now that I’m old and wise, success is knowing our team’s families are provided for, our clients are happy, and our stress levels manageable."
"Success is helping clients reach the next milestone faster with desired results and more importantly with a positive frame of mind.
This “success” journey involves a lot of inputs, processes, and assessments closely guided by our expertise. This all starts with the identification of requirements and setting desired goals.
The end result is helping the client acquire the right customers with a robust online web presence, which is a success, right!"
Ultimately, it's for you to decide.
As you can see by all the above answers, there's no clear definition of what 'success' looks like. Ultimately, it's for you to decide.
Where do you want your agency to be? What do you want life for yourself and your family to look like?
Remember to set your compass towards that destination and focus on the things that help get you there.