What Success Looks Like at Your Firm

A great client recently asked me to outline my definition of success for their firm. I really enjoyed doing that, and below is a version that you can adapt to your own situation, putting your own stamp on it:

  • Partner compensation equals or exceeds industry benchmarks.
  • After that is achieved, you still 20% net profit.
  • The more entrepreneurial employees are satisfied that their contribution to your gain is recognized and accounted for.
  • Partners and employees in key roles will have already tasted competence in the area of your focus, or they will experience it within nine months of joining the firm.
  • There will be few or no young employees who value variety over expertise.
  • When employees talk about your firm, while still employed, their private comments will be complimentary.
  • When partners and employees head out the door to work for the day, they look forward to the challenges, the companionship, and their participation in the overall culture.
  • As a firm you will not require extraordinary people (in the true sense of that word) to be effective. Your training and processes will be such that ordinary people will be quite enough.
  • You will always have 3 to 4 months of overhead set aside at all times.
  • You will never have a single related source of work that represents more than 25% of the total.
  • The group of well compensated and productive employees, including normalized principal compensation, will not exceed 45% of the total AGI.
  • You will have no debt of any kind except for typical and current payables.
  • Your realized hourly rate, whether disguised or not, will be a blended $160+.
  • Clients will describe you, when serving as references, as the smartest, most honest firm they have worked with. They will be eager to recommend you, and in fact will ask to be a reference, with no hesitation about sharing the hidden gems that they have found.
  • Your points of view and ways of working will be so determined and established that they will serve as an early and definite filter to attract the right clients and repel the wrong ones, very early in the process.
  • You will almost always have more opportunity than capacity, allowing you to be choosy about which clients receive the benefit of your expertise.
  • You will talk about money naturally and early in the relationship, without any hesitation or fear.
  • You will not knowingly enter competitive contests for new business.
  • Your pricing will be such that both partners and a few selected employees will have the time, absent client pressure, to develop original thought leadership based on primary research to maintain your market position
  • The content that you disseminate will be so intriguing and compelling that prospects will willingly identify themselves as eager consumers of your thought leadership.
  • Your positioning will be so clear that unqualified prospects will self-select themselves out of the running without giving you a chance to waste your time pursuing them. In terms of compensation, they will know that it is not a fit because the total possible engagement does not meet your ideal annual minimum, nor do they wish to spend the amount required for the first project in what is hopefully a long-term engagement. But they will leave their exploration of your firm admiring your position and strength, not feeling patronized or dismissed. In other words, you will be viewed as helpful even if a business relationship does not materialize.
  • Your control in the marketplace will be such that you drive the client relationship, explaining to them what they need and how you will provide it. In the process at least one half of your fee revenue will flow from largely predetermined packages. And these packages will be defined on your website, with deliverables and prices and timelines.
  • You will not give away you are thinking, as applied specifically to them, until you are fully engaged.
  • Your deliverables will consist of roughly 1/2 of the current material, and then even that will be prioritized with single-digit recommendations that are actionable and substantive.
  • You will not hide behind reams of paper or tactile devilerables.

Is there anything in here that you can use? I hope so. I hope you can think of things to add, too. Why not pare it down, change some of the language, and throw it on your website, too. Let's talk about it in the comments below.

Comments RSS


Greg Daake

I would like to add something about purpose. What's the meaning of all of this work we do all day long? Beyond effective work and profitability and fun - is it possible? How do you measure purpose for the success equation?


Richard Podsada

@Greg, although it doesn't apply to marketing firms specifically, one of the best books I've read which described how to infuse a company with purpose and to use this to create a powerful, lasting culture is "The Method Method" by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry. Overall this book is fantastic, but they really nailed the idea of using a higher purpose to shape their culture.


Mark Mitchell

What does this mean?

Your deliverables will consist of roughly 1/2 of the current material, and then even that will be prioritized with single-digit recommendations that are actionable and substantive.


Ben Weeks

@Mark Mitchell: Thanks for asking, I wondered about that too.


ingo moeller

David, absolutely great article. It's good to see I already set the right goals (with your help). Hope to see you at a conference next time!


Jeff Dolan

Really well done post. Thank you for writing this.


David C. Baker

Mark/Ben, here's the quote you were asking about "Your deliverables will consist of roughly 1/2 of the current material, and then even that will be prioritized with single-digit recommendations that are actionable and substantive."

What I mean is that too many firms are nervous when their primary deliverable is not tactile, but rather ideas. So early in their career as a more consultative provider, they "hide" behind lots of paper and lots of recommendations, subconsciously eliminating any chance of the client feeling like they didn't receive value from the ridiculously high fee.

Over time, though, as they get more confident and as their point of view becomes more refined, they quit hiding behind volume and rely solely on well-articulated substance, shortening it substantially (thus the 1/2) and sticking with the core, more critical suggestions (thus the single digit, or 1-9 instead of 23, e.g.).

I recently was paid $65,000 (up front) to solve a particular issue at a large in-house department. My recommendations were about 9 pages long, and had 7 suggestions. They were thrilled.

Does that make sense now?


Mark Mitchell

Thanks, it now makes sense.


Stephanie Silver

As always, this is an excellent and thought provoking article. As a small agency that competes against larger agencies all the time, we often wonder what our growth goals should be but I prefer to look at these types of success goals instead...much better perspective and much better results for the agency as well as the client. Thank You!


Laura Creekmore

Stephanie, agreed. It's too simplistic to me to benchmark in terms of total revenue or total headcount. These measures are far more meaningful -- and they should represent the RIGHT $$ and the RIGHT headcount when you play them out.


Ben Weeks

Thanks David, I understand now. Substantial insight indeed, your example was helpful too. Thanks for asking Mark.


Dana DiTomaso

Thanks so much for this. I just used it as a starting point for our own "definitions of success". It felt much more like a conversation about the things that are important than the usual money metrics.


Add a Comment