Anthony Del Monte is the CEO and founder of Squeaky Wheel Media, a Web design and development agency based in NYC, as well as the co-founder of IHadCancer.com, one of the first social-networking sites for cancer survivors, fighters and supporters.


When you look out of the window hours before you leave the office and it is already dark outside, you know it’s the special time of year right before the holidays – the time when you can start to think about the year that has passed. As a small agency owner or entrepreneur still in business, it’s okay to pat yourself on the back.

In doing so, you might lament about what could have been. Instead, try to concentrate on what was. Provide yourself with some time to reflect on the body of work you have taken as a whole, as well as individual projects and how they contributed to your bottom-line.

Keep in mind that the bottom-line isn’t always found in the ledger. Yes, your firm must produce more revenue or cut costs in order to stay healthy – but the health of your agency is deeper than pure financial growth. As such, I’ve developed a sort of “score card” with four simple categories.

Finances

Profit: Duh. This is what makes a business. Collectively, your year must be profitable, but there is benefit to looking at projects individually. Define which ones provided you the strongest profits that led to your ledger’s health. A large profit for small agencies affects the immediate profile of the agency, allowing for new hires, the ability to market yourself or perhaps to build a war chest for the next downturn in business.

The strong profit margin assignments may be few and far between but if you identify the ones that were, you can look to them in the future as a model of what was ideal.

Revenue: As a small agency, you are always in search of revenue. Some projects you take on knowingly that they will be break-even at best. These projects allow you to continue feeding the engine that, depending on your payroll cycle, makes noise twice a month (ugh). These projects not only keep the lights on but they keep you fighting the good fight. As a service business, they let you service.

Recognition

Let’s say that you’re considering a project that doesn’t fit into the financially fruitful scenario. You know that this project is offered within a buyer’s market where the client knows they are a hot commodity and therefore will leverage you to the smallest margin possible. You both know that this project will get you recognition and therefore is desirable.

Taking on a project that will provide your agency recognition should be considered as an investment for your future and an endeavor that is worth the lower profit margin. When the phone rings because of something you were recognized for – whether through an award, press, or other outlet – you’re now spending less time marketing and your cost of sale is much lower.

We all do great work but the question is who does work that the client wants to emulate or tap into?  Great work is the key to your success and recognition is the key to winning great opportunities.

Education

Learning new skills and adding capabilities is the best protection against obsolesce. When you’re negotiating a potential assignment that won’t pay a handsome profit or result in recognition, ask yourself if it will help your agency grow in knowledge.

What can your team learn from accepting this assignment? This new project may result in your team learning a new technology, skill, experience or provide you a foothold into understanding a new industry. All of these benefits will help grow your team exponentially.

If you take the opportunity to master new capabilities, you will open doors to new business down the road and insulate yourself against stagnation.

Altruism

You own your agency, which means that you have an opportunity to help. This may strike a chord in some readers and not so much for others, but I think that being a good business steward requires giving back to a wider audience, other than yourself or your employees.

You spend so much time in your agency, it’s practically impossible to give back as an individual. That’s why taking on a client that has a mission you believe in will allow you to leverage your core competencies for a greater good. Your employees will feel better about the impact that they have on the world outside of your walls and after a year of both success and failures, this is a positive as you head into the holiday season.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of ways to measure the past year’s successes. Creating a scorecard that allows for a wider metric of valuation, besides dollars and cents, may enable you to more accurately reflect on how successful you were.

I’m guessing for most of you – you deserve another pat.

Image credit: Konstantin Chagin/Shutterstock