Running your digital agency is a challenge.
How many times have you heard stories of entrepreneurs starting a business they love but burning out because they became engrossed in their new venture and forgot that there’s more to life than work?
We all have the same amount of time in the day, so how do successful agencies manage the stress that comes with juggling multiple clients at the same time?
We reached out to seven agency owners and asked them to share their tips, tools, and techniques for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
You can read their answers below, but first here’s a summary of the key findings.
Plan your time
The overarching piece of advice shared by our agency owners is to set aside time for planning before you do anything.
As motivational public speaker and self-development author Brian Tracy says:
“Every minute spent in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.”
Here are the top tips for planning your time.
#1 Plan your day the night before
Allow yourself some time at the end of the day to prepare for tomorrow. It’s good to take stock of what you’ve achieved for the day and what you need to accomplish tomorrow. When you start work, you’re ready to go!
#2 Prioritize tasks
Part of your planning (the night before) should involve prioritizing tasks. Some things are more important than others; e.g. following up with prospects before using social media. Choose two or three tasks you want to achieve first, then go back to your list and prioritize again.
#3 Identify your most productive time
When you plan your day, always consider what’s the most productive time of the day for you. Some people work better in the morning, while others work best in the afternoon. If you’re a morning person, then schedule your most important tasks for the morning.
#4 Delegate or outsource tasks
Remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself:
- If you manage a team, delegate tasks to those who have the capacity or skills to complete a job quicker than you.
- If you’re working on your own, then consider outsourcing some tasks to a virtual assistant.
#5 Block your time
One of the most effective ways to plan your time is to group similar tasks into blocks of time. For example, you could set aside two hours in the morning to create and schedule content for one client, and then another hour in the afternoon to engage on social media.
Another activity to block is checking emails. Some people prefer to wait until the end of the day, some like to clear email at the start of the day, and some allocate a couple of check-up times a day.
There’s no right or wrong time – find a time that works for you and stick to it.
Blocking time allows you to batch process and focus large amounts of time and energy on a single task, rather than bouncing from one task to another.
#6 Take a break
Taking regular breaks throughout the day is essential. There are plenty of scientific studies suggesting different work-to-break ratios. For instance, you could try the 25/5 technique, or the 52/17 rule, or the 90/20 method.
Develop good habits
Successful people have good habits. So what do digital agency owners practice?
#7 Turn off notifications from apps on your phone
There’s nothing worse than the sound of a notification on your phone:
- New email
- LinkedIn connection request
- YouTube kitten alert!
You name it; they’re all designed to interrupt your workflow and rob your time. So switch off notifications or flip to airplane mode.
#8 Organize your filing system
Some of us are more organized than others. But there are a few basic things you can do to stop wasting time. For instance, you can develop a good filing system, so you have files, documents, and notes for each client.
“The average office employee spends 1.5 hours a day (6 weeks per year) looking for things.”
A lack of organization creates more work for yourself and eats into your relaxation time.
#9 Take regular exercise
It’s good to take regular exercise, whether that’s walking, swimming, bike riding, or whatever you enjoy. When we exercise, our bodies increase ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin in the brain. And when we feel happy, our energy levels rise, too, leading to improved concentration and productivity.
Manage your relationships
Working in an agency entails working and interacting with people. As an agency owner, you decide who to work with.
#10 Trust your staff
Managing your staff starts by hiring the right people, either as an employee or a freelancer. Hiring the wrong person can upset team dynamics and cause you to stress, not to mention additional workload. But hiring the right staff means you can trust them to do a good job every time.
#11 Choose the right clients
As well as having the right staff you need sound clients. It’s important to remember that not all prospects are a good fit for your agency. If you take on a new client that’s not right, then it causes undue stress and unhappiness. Get the balance right - better to have several ‘good fit’ clients rather than a load of ‘bad fit’ clients.
#12 Invest in yourself
Last, but not least, you need to be able to invest in yourself. Nobody knows you better than you do. If you don’t take care of yourself, you have no chance of cultivating relationships with staff and clients. Nobody wants to work with a grumpy agency owner :(
7 Agency Owners Reveal Their Work-Life Balance Tips
We asked seven agency owners how they maintain a healthy work-life balance:
As an agency owner, how do you maintain a work-life balance and manage the stress that comes with juggling multiple clients at the same time? Please share any tips, tools, and techniques that you find beneficial.
Here’s what they had to say:
Cathy works solo in her digital agency.
It can be hard: I run my agency and also run courses on LinkedIn and Facebook Ads. Plus I have Facebook groups to run too, so it can get frantic if you let it.
I try to be very focused. Everything gets put in the diary, including time for marketing my own business. (Treat your business like a client!)
I work in bursts – longer than the 25 minutes recommended in the Pomodoro Technique, but less than an hour. During that time I switch off notifications and concentrate just on the piece of work I am meant to be doing. Every client gets a slot, and I check all active Facebook Ads every day.
I also outsource as much as I can and have an excellent VA who helps me stay organized.
Maya is the CEO of a small team of specialist professionals in 3 countries, and also a freelance writer and remote teams consultant.
To share a single tip, I'd say, you need to work from a single list of commitments and manage that.
It’s a topic I have written about extensively, including co-authoring the book Thinking Remote: Inspiration for leaders of distributed teams.
Your personal boundaries and plans need to get scheduled, and your professional obligations need to be met. The old-school GTD (Get Things Done) approach of a master list of EVERYTHING, broken down by projects and tasks, will help you prioritize.
Before jumping into any projects, I go down my list of clients and categorize them by the level of priority and time it will take me to accomplish their tasks. This allows me to prioritize my items at the beginning of the week and get the quick tasks done first.
By budgeting my time at the beginning of the week, I am able to assess my tasks and leave time for my personal life. In my project planning, I aim to budget time for two personal activities for myself each week. It may sound silly scheduling personal tasks for yourself, but time is money and creating a 'budget' for your time can ultimately allow you to spend it in a more efficient and productive way.
Ultimately, I balance agency life, by scheduling personal time like my professional time and getting the quick tasks done first.”
James works solo in his digital agency.
I don't believe that there is a right or wrong way to do things in terms of managing your work-life balance, as it is a personal thing for each individual.
However, in terms of making things easier for yourself, you need to be organized and write everything down. Every day I write a new to-do list for each client with short-term and long-term tasks on it. If you don't write things down and don't have systematic ways of storing files, documents, and notes you waste time searching for what you need to complete projects. This lack of organization creates added work for yourself, but if changed it can give you more time to spend on your life away from your business.
It is certainly difficult to maintain a good work-life balance as when an 'urgent task' pops up from a client the natural reaction is to deal with it there and then, even if that means aspects of your personal life are affected.
The most important thing to remember, however, is to not put too much pressure on yourself. For the majority of us, the reason why we started our own agency was that we love the field that we work in and want to be successful. I would argue that real success is happiness and therefore if you are unhappy because you are neglecting your personal life, you have to make a change.
Being happy, having 10 clients and having a good work-life balance is far better than having 15 clients and feeling under-pressure and miserable.
Andy is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of digital agency, Orbit Media Studios. Although he’s in a marketing role, about half of his time is spent doing client service and sales. He gets pulled in a lot of directions, but fortunately, he has great managers!
The key is to start your day with highly productive time. Do important things before urgent things. For example:
- Write an article before checking email.
- Follow up with prospects before using social media.
- Make progress on a project before starting your day of meetings.
Here's how time breaks down for a lot of low and high performers:
Image source: 7 Habits of Effective Content Marketers
If you develop a habit of going to bed early, getting up early and getting results before the urgent work pours in, you will be far more likely to meet your goals.
Andrea is the founder and social media strategist for her social media agency.
One of the ways I maintain a work-life balance is by turning off the notifications on my cell phone.
When I first turned them off in January of 2017, I was afraid that I would miss something important. What I found, though, is that when I'm working, I'm often checking in manually anyways. From Facebook, to Asana, to the Gmail app, I was making sure to keep a pulse on my client's accounts and my inbox.
I also found that when I was taking time off in the evenings and on weekends, I wasn't getting distracted from personal life by work obligations. I could check in early Saturday morning and spend the rest of the day enjoying life instead of getting interrupted by a social media or email notification.
I think as agency owners, we have to remember that it's so rare for something to truly be an ‘emergency.’ And even if it is, I have my cell number listed in my email so that clients and team members could reach out if needed. Otherwise, I've found that it can usually wait for business hours.
Robbie manages a three-person search marketing agency working primarily with B2B SaaS companies.
Here are my three tips:
1) Time-blocking: I try to theme my days by project type. For example:
- Mondays I'll do most of the internal company meetings.
- Tuesdays I have zero meetings and work only on client content-related projects – keyword research, content briefs for writers, editing, etc.
- Wednesday mornings are reserved for client reporting and status updates, afternoons for PPC campaign audits and adjustments.
This allows me to batch process and focus large amounts of time of a single project, rather than bouncing around.
2) Plan tomorrow, today: I prioritize my projects based on the day's theme the night before so as soon as I enter the office, I know exactly what to work on.
3) Email checking: I try only to check emails at 11am and again at 4pm. I used to constantly check my emails and let others dictate my schedule. Productivity killer.
Those are three simple things that have helped me get more done during work hours so that I can spend more time with family or on personal projects in the evenings and weekends. No paid tools required.
Note: I highly recommend agency folks read the book, Essentialism.
Gareth is Client Services Director at the digital performance agency, Clever Little Design (CLD).
1) Hiring the right people and trusting them to do the job you're asking them to do it. Someone once said you should only hire people you'd be willing to work for, and I like to stick by that. It means you can delegate with confidence.
2) Maintaining good, honest and open relationships with clients. It's not just about producing great work; it's about being open and honest with your clients: knowing their business and being forward about what's going to work for them (and what's not) makes a big difference.
3) Take on the right clients. Agencies experience stress when they don't have the right clients. That might be price point (over-servicing because the client can't afford your usual rates), and it might be cultural. Following every lead isn't healthy.
4) Use the right tools. We use Asana for task management, and it gives us a client view of tasks as well as a personal view – which means anyone can dive in at any time and get an instant view of what's happening at any point in time. Not having that means you're looking at multiple different tools to see what's going on - and that's when miscommunication happens.
5) Ride a bike.
6) Find a hobby you’re passionate about, or have children! These things demand you have a work-life balance.
It’s possible for agency owners to maintain a healthy work-life balance, as our guests have outlined above. Planning your time and developing good habits is crucial if you want to avoid burnout managing multiple clients. Manage yourself, so you’re in a fit state to manage others.