BL&T No. 062: Jumping Back Into New Biz

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"You can't paint a picture on top of a picture on a canvas. You can't write a sentence on a page that is filled up with writing. You can't create a future when there is already one coming at you. Before anything is to be created, there has to be a space of nothingness. The canvas must be empty; the page, blank; and the future that you were living into, somehow emptied out."

From "The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life" by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan [Book]


Last Tuesday, I attended our weekly business development meeting for the first time in several months. Years ago, this meeting took place at The Grey Dog, a cafe a few blocks from our Nolita office. The partners met at 9 am, as not to disrupt the 10 am workday. We'd pile into a booth, open our laptops, and talk through new deals, our approach to proposals, and how to get new wins off the ground. We'd also review our list of two contacts, a weekly commitment among the partners to stay connected with our networks. We connect with folks like current or past client stakeholders in addition to potential leads or future hires.

We've come a long way since those early days. For one, the business development meeting now happens during the workday. We have a business development team and a crew of discipline leaders who scope new work, create proposals, and pitch to clients. With the leads driving the conversation, the partners's presence no longer felt necessary. So, we stopped attending the meeting altogether earlier this year.

I decided to sit in on this week's meeting to see how it had evolved. I've been exploring ways to visualize account leadership on projects and figured that attending the meeting where new projects get staffed might be good to gain more perspective. I didn't expect to enjoy re-engaging with the agenda topics as much as I did.

Rather than contributing ideas to the conversation, I offered questions that I hoped might generate some discussion. For any Curb Your Enthusiasm fans, I felt like the "middle-er" referenced in last night's episode. The middle-er is the person in the middle position at a dinner party. It's their role to keep the guests engaged in discussion, making sure no one feels excluded.

I was glad to see these questions generate ideas like evolving select proposals by engaging select team members during the pitch process. It was great to hear everyone contribute and brainstorm opportunities to shift how we do things today.

Overall, I sensed an energy in myself that I don't remember feeling months ago. I left the meeting with a smile on my face and wondered, could I attend every week?

I did a pulse check with Dan, Director of Business Development, moments after the meeting. He mentioned that he appreciated my presence and enjoyed the discussion. Whether or not we win or lose deals, there's often feedback coming in from the client. Looking ahead, Dan and I agreed that this meeting is an opportunity to explore that feedback and invite the team into more brainstorming around new business and account strategy.

When the partners rolled out the C-Suite structure in May, we included a few key themes for each of our roles. As Chief Experience Officer (CXO), my focus includes:

  • Service offering strategy
  • Client experience strategy
  • Team experience strategy
  • Management training

After this week's meeting, I realized that my time spent attending each week could only further support my contributions to the first two areas.

Part of me wondered if the partners made a mistake by no longer attending these meetings. But the truth is, we'll never know, and the more I think about it, I see value in taking a step back.

When I attended these meetings in the past, my role was leading the Creative team. Although I still contributed to business development at a higher level, creative team resourcing and deliverables were at the forefront. If I had never left, my guess is that I'd still be refining deliverables vs. guiding the team to think big and challenging the status quo.

Taking a step away has given the team a new sense of ownership and helped me see things from a new angle. My presence is not required to make progress like it once was. I can add value by facilitating conversations, bridging the gap between various initiatives happening across the team, and charting new territory.

For the rest of the week, I worked closely on a proposal with the team and later attended the client presentation on Thursday. We invited our new Account Director, Alex, to the meeting and experimented with some additions to the deck. I can never be sure if we'll win the work, but it was a lot of fun, and the client only had positive things to say. It never feels good to lose, but it feels worse when we know we could have done better. That wasn't the case here, and I'm happy with that.

All in all, I'm loving getting back in the groove with new business. I am excited to continue collaborating with the team as we experiment with our approach.

Lesson? I recently came across a poster I made in school when I was probably 7 or 8. Apparently, this was my favorite quote: "It is difficult to see the picture when you're in the frame." Decades later, my interpretation has changed, but the new meaning seems quite fitting this week. Sometimes we have to step away to see things anew.

Here's a close-up of that poster. Bonus: enjoy the piece about my future vision (in red).

Thought Starter

Where am I stuck inside the frame?

Join My Newsletter

Every Monday, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Details