If you are experiencing high employee turnover at your marketing agency, you’re definitely not alone.
Agencies everywhere — especially small ones — see a stream of great employees walk out the door.
There was a time when IMPACT was scrambling to keep our talent, which in turn stunted our agency’s ability to grow. It felt like a neverending hamster wheel of employees leaving, having to search for new candidates, and then training them — only to worry if we were putting in a ton of effort to onboard employees we would eventually lose anyway.
Thankfully, we’ve been able to foster the type of environment where people wake up each morning and love to bring their A-game every day, but it's been a slow process that's taken a lot of focus.
Though IMPACT’s journey has been far from perfect (we are still learning a ton and have room to improve) the changes we’ve made have helped us not just meet our revenue goals, but exceed them. And a huge part of that is because of the staff we’ve built up over the years.
In this article, we’ll share with you everything we know about reducing employee turnover and making your marketing agency a workplace people want to be part of, especially during difficult times of employee retention.
The information herein comes to you from our Vice President of Services Katie Coelho, who has been with IMPACT for almost a decade. She’s been here from the beginning and has seen what it takes to grow an inbound marketing agency from the ground up.
In this article, I’ll share with you her tips for attracting and retaining top talent in the marketing industry.
Why it’s important to decrease employee turnover at your agency.
Six concrete ways to avoid employee turnover.
These tips will ensure your employees love showing up to work every day and help make your agency an incredible place to work.
In turn, you’ll have a far easier time offering high-quality services — and your clients will be happier too.
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Why it’s important to decrease employee turnover at your marketing agency
Frequent employee churn is a strong indication that there are structural and cultural problems afoot at your agency. If you aren’t able to fix these issues, inevitably, the churn will affect your ability to scale your business and can even affect how your clients feel about working with you.
Is it completely normal to lose top talent here and there? Of course! People grow in their careers and they move on.
It’s when you experience a mass employee exodus at your agency or a general decline in morale that you will start to see the bigger issues surface, such as stalled agency growth and difficulty generating revenue.
The bottom line is that when your agency is able to create and support a healthy work environment for your employees, they’re happier and are able to do better work. High-quality work is essential for the success and ultimate growth of your agency, and talent retention is essential for accomplishing this.
The downside of too much employee turnover at your agency
The problem with too much employee churn is that you’re constantly forced to search for and replace those people. That includes all the onboarding that goes along with it.
Hiring and onboarding new employees is time-consuming and expensive, draining resources you could be putting elsewhere.
Your employees want to work in a consistent work environment, and too much change is tough for them. They have more work on their plates as a result, and it can spread your team thin and lead to burnout.
A little effort to set up and create an awesome work environment can go a long way to growing your agency.
“Most agencies start out small, and the person in charge of onboarding is typically the agency owner. Even if you don’t dream of growing into a huge agency, you at least want to stabilize. You’re never going to be able to stabilize if you’re constantly onboarding people. If people don’t want to work for you and your agency operates under a negative work environment, it makes it that much harder to achieve your goals.”
And your clients can feel it too.
Inevitably, when there are employees who don’t feel happy or pull their weight, clients will see it as a lack of commitment to the work your agency is doing.
Your clients may also feel resentful if they have to keep teaching new people on the account. For example, they might need to reteach everything to a new person, such as information their industry, company, and how things work.
It’s important to avoid this, if possible, since it asks a lot of your clients, and instead of feeling like your agency is helping them, they might conclude that working with you isn’t worth all the heavy lifting.
How your agency benefits from reducing employee turnover
When your agency is able to foster a healthy, happy work environment where top talent enjoys working for your company, your agency will benefit in the following ways:
You will be able to build a consistent work environment for your employees. This will help your agency:
Avoid a lot of time having to reteach and onboard new hires.
Build trust and foster stronger relationships among the team.
Better define and strengthen your agency culture.
You will also be able to provide consistent support for your clients. This will help your agency:
Reduce the number of times clients need to educate new team members. (This also helps your team and clients focus on what needs to get done.)
Now that you know what’s possible if you’re able to improve your employee retention, let’s look at some of the concrete ways you can avoid turnover.
1. Provide your staff with strong managers
If there’s one thing that can cause a mass exodus of employees, it’s bad managers. As the adage goes, people leave managers, not companies. A Gallup poll showed more than half of people who quit their jobs say that a poor relationship with management was a key reason.
While there are always exceptions to this rule, having a strong management team in place can often make or break the morale of your team.
Katie suggests taking special care when investing in management and leadership training for your staff:
“Your managers are your staff’s biggest representation of their experience with your company. If managers aren’t trained well, then employees won’t have the best experience working with your agency, and that could cause them to leave.”
Facilitate productive one-on-ones and build trust.
Provide strong career advice and help employees grow.
Give employees enough guidance, while also letting them learn on their own.
Also, keep in mind that it’s sometimes beneficial to groom and promote managers from within your agency versus hiring outside talent. Some of our best managers have worked at IMPACT and grown from within. Their institutional knowledge and understanding of the organization’s culture makes them ideal for the role.
Sometimes if you hire a new team member from the outside — while they might have a lot of good qualities — they will carry over habits from other companies that don’t align well with your agency’s culture. You might end up with different subcultures within your team, which can cause friction among team members.
If you need to hire a manager, look for people who share the same core values. Perhaps it’s someone you’ve worked with before. You might know someone who aligns well with your company’s values and you can trust them to represent your agency well.
Also, if your agency structure isn’t yet set up the way you think would work best, bring in a consultant to work closely with your leaders. Not only does this take the burden off of you to train staff, but it also helps your team develop new skill sets and holds your appointed leaders accountable for leveling up.
2. Seek and follow through on feedback
The occasional performance review isn’t enough. Your agency needs to embrace continuous feedback.
Asking for feedback is never easy. But if you’re able to strike that balance of seeking feedback and acting on it in a meaningful way, it goes a long way to building trust with your employees.
The trick here is that you can’t just get feedback from your employees about what it’s like working for your agency and not act. If you are serious about reducing turnover, you need to solicit feedback — then put what you learn into action.
To do this, ask those you trust most to provide you with feedback about what they like and don’t like about working for your agency. Conduct a survey with pointed questions, such as, “How would you rate your happiness working here?” or “Do you feel supported by your managers?”
You can’t always address everything, and that’s OK. But aim to rectify the issues that will make the most impact.
For example, if there are a handful of valued employees stepping up to say they feel burned out, dig into why. Don’t just ask for this feedback and then sit on it. Explain to your team that you hear them and lay out ways you can work with them to fix it.
This allows your employees to feel heard and that if they have any issues working for your agency, you are willing to not only listen to what they’re struggling with, but you’re also going to solve it.
Most companies that solicit feedback in this way do little about what they learn, so addressing these issues and coming up with ways to mitigate your employees’ grievances can go a long way to foster a better work environment.
3. Carefully evaluate your team members
Even though you don’t want to lose more people if you’ve recently had a lot of turnover, you might find value in evaluating the people in your company to gauge if they’re a good fit for your agency or not.
Is there someone on your team who is causing some of this turnover? Could it be a leader who doesn't have the right values or experience? Is there someone who is always negative? Someone against your team culture who is hard to work with?
This is where having a strong set of core values helps because if you know your company needs a certain value set, and there are people on the team who don’t exhibit these values, it makes it easier for your agency to weed out bad fits.
To create this list of values, which can serve as your hiring and career development compass, come up with a list of people who fit in well at your agency. List the reasons why you love working with them so much.
Do the same exercise with the people who don’t seem to jibe well with others in your organization. What values do they lack?
You can use this information to firm up the framework of your company culture. Later, it will be your guide for helping you hire, develop, and part ways with employees as needed.
4. Host frequent team-building activities
When you facilitate activities that build your team, you’re allowing your agency employees to get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses. This not only helps break the ice, but it also helps your employees discover how to work best together.
For example, our team recently took the CliftonStrengths assessment, and then each of us shared how we like to learn and contribute best. We learned a lot about each other (and ourselves) in the process.
Many of these team-building opportunities happen over time in small moments, so be cognizant of taking the time to allow them to happen — whether you celebrate employee successes at the end of an all-hands meeting or set up a full-day workshop with a business or communications trainer.
These activities, though they might seem insignificant, can make your employees feel good about being on the team.
This way, when problems surface that the team needs to solve, they’ve already built that trust ahead of time, and your team is set up to solve problems together without you.
5. Encourage professional development
Providing access to career development opportunities and advancement can be a huge deal to your employees. They want to experience professional growth, and when your agency supports this, your employees thrive.
This is an especially good idea for smaller agencies since they don’t always have the budget to hire a training company or invest in an intricate onboarding process — but they still need to level up their team.
These career development ideas are typically low cost and highly effective:
Pay for your employees' books to encourage them to read and build their learning on their own. Set up a book club for your employees to discuss what they’ve read. It will help them develop a shared language and bond on a deeper level while being relatively low cost.
Get a group of people together for mentoring. Another low-cost, low-effort way to foster professional development is to pair people up in the company. For example, a greener person who needs to build certain skills can be paired with someone else for a shared learning experience that's not managerial.
Bring in a consultant with a special skill to teach your team. While this option might be more expensive, hiring an outside source that doesn’t take time from your leadership can be valuable in developing your team. It might take time to work up to this option, but once you’re able to invest in an outside consultant, there is a lot of insight your agency can gain.
6. Promote a healthy work-life balance and culture
Creating and supporting a healthy work-life balance in your agency can be difficult to do well, especially since this balance means different things to individual team members.
Zero in on what it means for each individual on the team and have agency leaders coach them on how to do it well. There’s really no one-size-fits-all approach here.
Logging on at 9 a.m. and off at 5 p.m. might not work for everyone. Whatever your employees define as feeling balanced is important to understand and keep a pulse on. Your employees will feel the most balanced when they’re able to do things at work and at home that are fulfilling to them.
First, figure out how to structure your team members’ roles and days so that everybody’s needs are met. Get a team together and identify where one person has strengths that another person doesn’t, and mix up those jobs. For example, if you have one designer who excels at creating deliverables quickly and one who takes a bit more time, try putting the faster designer on larger projects so you can continue to get a decent amount of work out of your team.
“This can be tricky to do and it depends on your culture, but at IMPACT it’s less about the hours we’re putting in and more about the output. So if your employees are able to meet the needs of the job, but they sign on at 7 a.m. and then take a two-hour break in the middle of the workday and then sign back on and finish work, and you’re happy with it, then that’s what it takes.
As long as the work meets your agency’s needs and it doesn’t interfere with team interactions, such as meetings and others’ needs — and it makes your employees happy — there’s no reason to hinder someone from having that flexibility.”
Build an agency everyone wants to be a part of and reduce employee turnover today
At the end of the day, if your employees aren’t happy and fulfilled, they’ll leave.
So when you get stuck in the turnover rut, go to your core set of employees — even if you only have one or two — and get their help to figure out how to tackle the problem and divvy up the work. Figure out what is vital to complete at that moment and how you can work with the current team. But also, as you hire new employees, make sure you have a support system in place.
A little more effort up front will save your team from having to put out too many fires and constantly be doing damage control.
With our certified coaching program, we offer extensive communication training and teach you how to build better relationships with your clients. You’ll also gain a community of agency owners and coaches that will support you while you build an agency that attracts and retains top marketing talent and has an easier time pleasing clients.
It’s the one step you can take today that will help you grow your agency for years to come.