I’m a mid-level manager and just joined my first agency as a subject matter expert. I’ve never seen such inefficiency and chaos. I’m trying to stay focused on my job but I keep getting pulled into new business meetings that hijack all my time. Then management tells me I have to be billable, which means I have to work way beyond reasonable hours. This is madness. How do I get out of doing new business so I can do my job? H.F., New York, NY
Welcome to agency life! Start by capturing your reasons for moving to the agency side. Remembering why you chose the service side will help when you’re triggered by “inefficiency and chaos.” In the moment, you can remind yourself of the benefits you’re receiving. Recognize that you’re judging their behavior by your past experience, which is a totally different kind of business, so you’re using an inaccurate measuring stick.
As a mid-level manager, new business is part of your job. It is actually part of everyone’s job—because that’s how an agency survives/thrives. The benefits of working on new business far outweigh the downsides. You get substantive exposure to decision-makers, opportunity to expand your skills, the ability to learn other businesses quickly, and a front-row seat to strategic decision-making.
Those who spend their time complaining about working on new business either don’t understand the benefits they’re receiving or don’t value them. I guarantee these people are not destined for management roles/opportunities.
To address your “reasonable hours” request, be clear that you won’t get everything done every day. Your goal is to appropriately prioritize competing requests. Understand that every day you’re going to get unexpected projects. Be flexible and know that this is what agency life is like. Make sure that you manage the expectations of those you’re working with so they know when to expect you to deliver.
As a subject matter expert, you’ll be pulled in a lot of directions. When a request comes to you, ask yourself if it is the best use of your time in the moment. You’ll have to put boundaries in place and expect that you’ll get pressure from those who want an immediate turnaround. Be mindful of how you frame your boundary so people don’t see you as recalcitrant. Try, “Okay, I understand you need a POV on X, for your Y project. You need a paragraph or so with some references as backup in case the client medical/legal needs them. I can have that for you by Z date.” Congrats on your new job!
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