15 Years, 15 Bits Of Advice On Starting Your Own Agency

September 30, 2016

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of Fast Horse. In honor of the occasion, I offer 15 bits of advice for anyone with dreams of starting their own agency.

  1. Keep the overhead low. Not just in your business, but in your life. I’m a big believer that delayed gratification is the secret sauce to a successful business and happier life.
  2. Invest in things that matter. That means people first. Always.
  3. Let it go. There will always be things you can do better than the people around you. Doesn’t mean you should. Take a deep breath and let some things go. In the long run, everyone wins when you do.
  4. Hire people you’d want to sit next to on a plane. If they don’t pass that test, they probably wouldn’t do well in your culture.
  5. Get it in writing. It’s saved us more than once.
  6. Consider the opportunity cost. Once you understand that principle, you’ll be freed up to make a lot of smart decisions for your business.
  7. Listen. People will eventually tell you what they want and need. If you are left guessing, you’ll often be wrong.
  8. Take breaks. I get it — you’re indispensable. Now do us all a favor and go take your damned vacation, you crabby SOB.
  9. Know that you can’t keep everyone happy all of the time. That’s not your job. There will inevitably be times when you disappoint people and they disappoint you. Strong relationships and good communication will usually see you through those times. Usually.
  10. Find your North Star. Lay out a vision for your agency from the very beginning. What do you value? How will you measure success? Put it down in writing, share it broadly and let it be your unwavering guide.
  11. Remember that loyalty is a two-way street. If you are not loyal to your people, don’t expect them to be loyal to you.
  12. Officers eat last. It’s a Marine thing. I’m far from a Marine, but I believe strongly that good leaders stand last in the chow line.
  13. Hire the best advisors you can afford. Good lawyers and accountants can talk you off a ledge and keep you focused on the big picture. And they will keep you from stepping in it. Don’t skimp on surrounding yourself with the best from the very beginning.
  14. Don’t out-kick your coverage. It’s a football thing. You boom a punt so far that your cover guys can’t do their job effectively. Timing is disrupted. People leave their lanes. Everything you practiced goes out the window and suddenly you give up six because you wanted to be a hero. Do your job well and trust the people around you to do theirs well.
  15. You can’t do it alone. Don’t kid yourself. You might be making the leap, but for this to fly, a lot of other people have to go Butch Cassidy with you. Creating a successful agency requires so many people having faith in you. Clients. Partners. Employees. Family. Friends. It’s humbling in a way that I simply can’t articulate without blubbering. So, as we mark 15 years of Fast Horse, I’ll simply offer a heartfelt thank you to the many who have helped turn this dream into a reality. I truly could not have done it without you.