Back in 2008, I took a nervous breakdown.
I mentally crashed due to my non-stop lifestyle of my mid-20s – one of playing music and writing fiction while working full-time as a night reporter and taking full semesters of day classes at a private university.
For a few of those years, I think I slept on average four hours every morning and consumed more booze in three nights than I do in a month nowadays. Back then I wrote more fiction than non-fiction and despised business talk.
But much has changed in a decade, and it did rather quickly.
The change truly happened when I discovered the yin and yang philosophy of maximizing my healthy efforts while minimizing my unhealthy efforts.
As they interrelated, I transformed from a self-professed artist to an entrepreneur.
The yin and yang concept surfaced once again shortly after I launched my agency two years ago – an agency that specializes in the niche of SEO-driven written content with a focus on refining a business’s USPs good old storytelling.
First, let’s revisit the iconic yin and yang concept from Chinese philosophy. The dualism notion is that opposite forces seemingly contradict each other, but are actually complementary and interconnected. And as they interrelate with each other, each one grows.
Though you’ll read more about the concept in philosophy, it is prominent in the world of business – especially when attempting to convey a practical and memorable model for success.
This occurred to me shortly after I launched my business. Just as I focused on the yin and yang principle to maximize health and minimize unhealthy practices after my breakdown, I used the same concept for growing my agency.
This time the growth solution was to maximize confidence and minimize risk. When these two forces flow in unison – picture each chasing each other like a yin and yang symbol – it has helped me grow on both personal and professional levels.
Let’s expose this concept with 10 simple tactics that I have incorporated into my everyday life to strengthen my agency’s success by maximizing confidence and minimizing risks.
The Yin: Maximize Confidence
Every success story begins with you, and to be your best, you must maximize confidence.
The more confident you become, the more clarity you’ll deliver in your messages.
A clear thinker is one who is super focused and doesn’t waste time on meaningless projects, whether in his or her personal or agency life.
Delivering a clear message also is a strong leadership skill. Your employees or clients will naturally see your confidence levels, and place trust in your leadership.
Here are a few simple tactics that have helped me maximize confidence.
1. Focus on Proficiency & Passion
I wish I can take credit for this one, but I can’t. This is from Michael Hyatt’s “Free to Focus.” Hyatt says:
“When passion and proficiency for particular tasks run high, that’s your most desirable work. When they’re both low, our tasks feel like drudgery.”
Agency owners and leaders should focus on prioritizing their most desirable work – work where passion and proficiency reign.
A natural byproduct of this work is confidence within ourselves – confidence to complete that work at the highest level possible.
For example, if a leader is a proficient writer of marketing messages and has a passion for the service, he or she should create – or help create – the marketing content.
If this leader is average in social media and has zero passion for it, he or she should delegate that task to someone else within the company.
The situation will vary from agency to agency, but leaders should not only practice this to save time, but they should also condone it across company culture. You don’t want a PPC manager telling a writer how to write, and vice versa.
This proficiency/passion is an underlying theme for the way my agency matches writers to clients and builds confidence in our services.
We want super skilled writers with a huge passion for the client’s vertical. This makes the entire process smoother.
It may take some time to find the most optimal writer for a client, but once matched, long-term success through content creation is endless.
When a client sees an agency that’s confident in itself, the trust factor builds and sustains.
2. Optimize Productivity
Most agencies I worked with lacked discipline in time management.
The distractions from company chat like Slack were endless, and most everyone was expected to respond to emails immediately – a process that drastically backs an Adobe study from 2018 that says Millennials roughly spend 6.4 hours daily in their inboxes.
Yes – 6.4 hours daily!
This obviously demolishes productivity. And when a worker feels unproductive, confidence levels will drain.
If you see your agency constantly running in reactive mode, it’s time to stop and optimize productivity through strong time management training.
This doesn’t only mean optimizing the day-to-day tasks such as blocking hours, killing distractions and only checking email periodically throughout the day, but also having a sharp and reminded focus on weekly, monthly, and yearly (or longer) goals.
For true productivity, one must have the end result in mind. Only then can you front-load the tasks to optimize daily time and successfully – and with less stress – achieve your goals.
For a deeper look, read 19 Habits That Make You Less Productive (And What to Do).
3. Visualize Your Agency’s Future
Confidence grows when one has a true visual picture of the agency, both in the short and long term. And I mean truly visualize it – like daydream about it.
As part of my “Miracle Morning” (thanks for writing this, Hal Elrod!), I meditate to clear the mind. Once I’m fully relaxed I visualize my longer-term agency goals – say the larger clients I want to acquire or a target revenue number.
Once I refresh my mind by focusing on the long term goals, I visualize exactly what my day’s tasks will look like.
For example, if I need to spend a block of time editing an SEJ article, I’ll visualize myself standing at the desk editing that article.
If I know I have client meetings or a romantic dinner planned, I’ll visualize how I want that meeting or dinner to go.
I’m far from a psychologist and can’t explain the science behind this, but I truly don’t care about the reasoning; it simply works for me.
4. Care for Your Mental & Physical Health
I can’t be my best self if I’m drained both mentally and physically.
There are multiple practices to achieve optimal mental and physical health, but four are a must for me – and all four should occur on a frequent and consistent basis:
- Daily downtime to refresh
- Quality sleep
- Continued education
Everyone’s routines will be different, but all four are a must for me to feel good, which will also increase my confidence levels.
Exercise, daily refreshing, and sleep are a must to control any type of burnout.
Continued education could be everything from working with a mentor to reading – and it’s a must for confidence because the more I know, the more confident I’ll be with the subject matter.
Also, writing about subjects is the best way to learn. One of my favorite teachers William Zinsser goes deep on this subject with his aptly titled book, “Writing to Learn.”
And good writing is needed across every discipline due to the distractions of today’s world, such as 140-character soundbites and hashtags.
5. Learn to ‘Hyperfocus’
This is another one I wish I could claim. One of the top books that I read in 2018 was Chris Bailey’s “Hyperfocus,” which helps readers manage their attention with more deliberation.
By learning to hyperfocus on the most productive tasks, we activate the most productive modes of our brains. This helps us produce our best work, which in turn maximizes our confidence.
Learning to hyperfocus also plays into optimizing production; it allows me to get more quality work completed in less time and allows my mind to think clearer, which allows me to be more confident with my decisions.
The Yang: Minimize Risks
Once you can maximize confidence, its time to focus on the Yang portion of the principal: minimize risks. The more risks you can minimize, the more successful your agency will become.
Following are five tactics that have helped me along the way.
6. Build Agency/Partner Relations
When you’re a smaller agency with a tiny staff (or no staff at all), the client is typically first. But once you grow, the focus should turn to the employee, or as I call them thanks to Howard Schultz, partners.
If you don’t have strong relationships with those that work for you, how do you expect them to develop strong relationships with your clients?
Richard Branson summed it up perfectly when discussing the old adage that the client always comes first:
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Build respect by being honest with them about the quality of their work.
If I see someone who is making mistakes or are not up to quality, but I know they have aptitude and passion, it’s my duty as an agency leader to train and provide ongoing education.
If they fail to learn from their mistakes, they are not a good fit. Get rid of them and find someone else; there are millions of compatible partners out there.
I also strengthen relationships with a surprise bonus every so often. And, above all, by compensating well.
In his epic book “Principles,” Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio says to compensate employees better than the competitors, but not so much that will make them complacent and not grow:
“Pay people enough so that they’re not under financial stress, but not so much that they become fat and happy. You want your people to be motivated and perform so they can realize their dreams.”
I worked for agencies that were full of empty promises, especially in regards to bonuses or salary hikes, even though I was producing. I would never want to do the same to someone working with me.
Solid relationships between an agency and its partners minimize many risks, including everything from invaluable services to missed deadlines to the collapse of a company.
7. Focus on Agency/Client Core Value Alignment
If my agency’s core values don’t align with a client, I won’t work with them.
I learned this throughout my second year of business while working with a few that wanted immediate results with minimum budget/effort, and were about one and only one thing – making money.
This led to me “firing” three clients, which cut loads of stress out of the business, and my personal life.
Yes, revenue was initially smaller, but it allowed me to focus more on our top clients, which I was able to upsell additional services, and on finding new clients that aligned with my agency’s values.
Every agency has that one client they just can’t deal with – the ones who cause ridiculous amounts of stress are never satisfied. This is typical because the core values of the agency and the client don’t align.
One of my agency’s core values is working in stress-free situations as much as possible, and this helps to minimize the risk of a poor and sometimes disastrous relationship with a client.
Again, these types of relationships happen because the core values of the agency and the client don’t align.
I don’t deal with it; there are thousands of other clients who I’d love to work with, and the relationships will foster more value and growth across both companies.
8. Kill the Ego
A cocky agency will earn no respect from prospects, and lose loyalty with existing clients.
This is a typical problem of those agencies that are “me, me, me” talkers – focusing on what they have achieved in the past, whether personally or with clients, rather than focusing on the prospect or client’s actual problems that need to be solved.
I minimize the risk of losing a prospect/client trust or loyalty by focusing on the problems that need to be solved within their business – not my success.
9. Kill the Bloat
This typically pairs with having a huge ego like a strong Cabernet with a Kobe steak.
Once agencies get a few clients, instead of focusing on strengthening the business itself, they attempt to grow the internal staff quickly to provide an illusion of how big they have become in hopes of more sales.
These are simply vanity metrics; it’s like having a Facebook page with 100,000 bought fans – sometimes it’s just a facade to look good.
To minimize the risk of failure, minimize the bloat. I don’t just hire people. I understand the exact metrics of my agency – what needs to be addressed and how.
This is why it’s also optimal for agencies to rely on remote workers or white-label partnerships.
I can hire an SEO tech tomorrow, and add the name to the roster. But I know that work is sporadic, so I outsource it to either a reliable and timely agency partner or freelancer.
10. Continued Education
I can’t discuss minimizing risks without mentioning the endless need for fresh thinking.
I don’t want my agency to become stagnant or average, so I encourage continued education.
This helps minimize the risk of not only becoming an average agency, but also the risk of losing a bored staff.
That’s why I make continued education a highlight of my agency’s culture. People will not only want to work alongside you but put more effort into whatever service you’re providing.
Books and online seminars are a great place to start; my team participates in most seminars by SEJ and SEMrush. And we all make sure to spend at least a half-hour a day reading the latest news for our agency’s focus.
If I work with a new freelance writer for a few pieces and know our values align, I’ll always send a book their way.
I also constantly educate my clients. This establishes our authority and lets them know that my company is always current on the latest and best practices.
This is easy to accomplish through a monthly newsletter. But I’ve found that sending a personal email attracts even more positive attention.
I continue to send my clients my latest guest articles or blogs that will be helpful for their growing their business or personal development.
This minimizes the risk of losing a loyal client and shows that I want to add more value than just my services.
The yin and yang concept runs as deep in business as it does in philosophy – especially for agencies in regards to the principle of maximizing confidence while minimizing risks.
The principle is an iterative process; each opposing force needs to be strengthened and refined often.
By practicing these 10 tips within my agency, I’ve discovered how this yin and yang model can help grow our business by strengthening our services and reducing our personal and employees’ stress.
Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita