Whether we're conscious of it or not, many of the goals we set for ourselves are vague. At Barrel, we've suffered from setting vague goals. The following are some of the goals we've set for ourselves over the years:
- Our goal is deliver quality work for our clients.
- Our goal is to build a great culture.
- Our goal is to build a roster of amazing clients.
- Our goal is to be a profitable business.
- Our goal is to make our clients happy.
These sound nice, but there's a problem: they're not specific enough. And when we're not specific, these two questions are left unanswered:
- How will you know that you've achieved these goals?
- By when do you want to achieve these goals?
For any goal, if you're unable to answer these questions clearly, it's likely that your goal is underdeveloped and a murky destination that'll be difficult to pin down. And nothing deflates team morale and momentum like the feeling that you don't quite know what you're working towards.
Setting specific goals requires a commitment to concrete action, measurable results, and real outcomes. It means taking the time to think hard about what you want, how quickly you want it, and what it'll take to get there. While goals may be very specific and unique to each individual, team, or organization, it's helpful to look at some examples. Below are five themes with five specific goal examples each that apply to agency businesses.
In business development, the vague goals may be along the lines of "increase sales" or "book more revenue from existing clients". These goals can be made specific by zeroing in on real targets (dollar amounts with a deadline) or by setting targets for lead indicators, metrics that measure the effort that can contribute to the goal vs. a lagging indicator, which only measures the result after the fact.
- Goal 1: Book $2.75 million in new business by end of Q2
- Goal 2: Reach out to 300 new contacts by end of Q2
- Goal 3: Schedule and complete 10 calls with existing clients by end of Q2
- Goal 4: Increase monthly recurring revenue (MRR) from marketing retainers by 40% year-over-year by the end of 2021
- Goal 5: Hit new business win rate of 60% by end of the year (i.e. win on at least 6 out of every 10 proposals sent out)
As an agency owner, there are unlimited ways to impact and shape your team's culture. People's definition of a "great culture" may vary from person to person, so it's important to align internally on what the North Star for your agency culture is and work backwards to define goals that would support this ambition. Another measure of strong culture is how well you attract and retain talent, so these can also factor as specific goals.
- Goal 1: Score at least 90% across all questions in Q12 Employee Engagement survey
- Goal 2: Facilitate 4 workshops on giving and receiving feedback in 2021
- Goal 3: Maintain 85% or higher employee retention rate for 2021
- Goal 4: Plan and hold 8 team bonding social events in 2021
- Goal 5: Have one-on-one conversations with 12 non direct reports across the company (this can be a specific activity by the agency owner to solicit feedback from various employees)
Quality is one of those terms that require a great deal of internal alignment if it is to mean anything. And even then, it's important to break the concept of "quality" down to specific characteristics that are measurable. Measuring quality may come down to predetermined levels of performance or compliance of some kind of quality check. It can also be based on qualitative surveys taken of team members involved on the project, clients, or the clients' customers. Winning awards can also be an external validation of work quality although I'd argue it's more of a marketing investment than actual indication of the firm's caliber of work.
- Goal 1: Full pre-launch / pre-delivery quality checklist compliance on 100% of projects for Q2
- Goal 2: Hit 4.75 rating or higher on internal quality sentiment for Q2 (using the prompt: "We've consistently produced quality work the past 90 days" ask for score from 1 to 5, 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree)
- Goal 3: Win at least 3 industry awards by end of 2021.
- Goal 4: Collect at least 5 testimonials from clients talking about the high quality of work by end of Q2.
- Goal 5: Hit 80% favorable rating on at least 3 customer surveys asking to rate the new redesign work.
Keeping clients happy is paramount to building a successful agency business. In addition to hitting a goal via standard NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys, client satisfaction goals can be centered around proactive activities to keep clients in the loop about things happening with their accounts or giving them a way to provide feedback about the agency's performance.
- Goal 1: 60+ on NPS score for Q2 (at least 50% of clients reporting)
- Goal 2: Conduct at least 8 client "state of the account" check-in calls in Q2 to gather feedback
- Goal 3: Write at least 12 hand-written "thank you" notes to clients in Q2
- Goal 4: Client retention rate of 95% by end of 2021
- Goal 5: Increase per client annual spend by 20% YoY by end of 2021
Marketing for agencies is often a long-term game where the results are hard to feel immediately. Consistent effort to showcase capabilities, to expand the network of potential new clients, and to demonstrate thought leadership are all important aspects of marketing that can be set as specific goals. These typically ladder up to an increase in number of leads, which can be made even more specific by targeting "qualified" leads, or leads that pass your agency's fit criteria and deserve high-touch attention.
- Goal 1: Publish at least 4 thought leadership content pieces on website in Q2
- Goal 2: Publish at least 12 posts about client work examples on LinkedIn in Q2
- Goal 3: Send at least 1 email per month to email list in 2021
- Goal 4: Increase number of qualified inbound leads by 30% YoY by end of 2021
- Goal 5: Increase email newsletter list by 500 new contacts in 2021
Setting specific goals is a great way to clearly hone in on the activities and the outcomes that matter to the business. The examples above may or may not apply to how you view your agency's progress. What matters is taking the time to think carefully about various goals and how they can be simplified into points that drive focused action.