Small Agency Conference and Awards

If I knew then what I know now... I wouldn't have hunted unicorns

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In this occasional series, Ad Age asked small agency chiefs what they would do differently if starting their shops today.

When we got to the point with Noble People where we were past survival mode and starting to think about scaling, we got super excited about the kinds of hires we could all of a sudden afford to make and how they would make us better.

Having been so scrappy and sales-y to get us to that point (and probably not having enough confidence that the job we were offering would look awesome to a prospect with other options), we approached those hires the same way – scrappy and sales-y. What we learned was it's not wise to "sell" new hires. Rather, find talent. Present the job and your vision. Then let them come the two steps toward you to prove they want the job and believe in your vision. Don't ever let people think they did you a favor coming aboard.

Greg March, CEO of Noble People
Greg March, CEO of Noble People Credit: David Hall

But of course, just because you've landed as many talented people as you can handle, that still doesn't mean you've built a great team. For that, you need alchemy.

The work required to get your agency going requires individual talent. Scaling that great work comes from alchemy. Uniquely strong individuals will bottleneck at some point, as their great work will attract new business faster than you'll be able to hire uniquely great people.

Simply hiring more unicorns just doesn't scale. They're hard to find, hard to recognize, expensive and, as such, risky. Amazing culture and just the right amount of process can turn mere mortals into unicorns. You can't scale hiring unicorns, but you can help people become them. Truth is most people can be great in the perfect environment for them. Be aware your own culture and process and then find people that will thrive in it, even if they haven't thrived that way yet. That's how you scale.

All lessons in talent aside, the most important thing we are always trying to be better at is appreciating where we're at, and how far we've come. Most days as a business owner you're in the throes of fixing something. You're in a boat. The boat has a hole. Water is coming in. You fix the fucking hole, over and over again.

But what so many fail to stop and appreciate is that each day you keep this thing afloat is an amazing accomplishment. And that's hard to see when you're staring at a hole. You'll never be as proud of yourself as your mother is…unless you're a huge asshole. But take the time every once in a while to look around your shop at what you've created and what you're doing, and remember not everyone is good enough to do this. But you are. Then go fix the hole before everyone else drowns.

Greg March is CEO of Noble People

Want to hear more advice about how your small agency can not just survive but thrive? Be sure to sign up for our Small Agency Conference July 17 and 18 in Marina del Rey, California. Tickets and information are available here.

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