I was talking to a tax lawyer the other day about the impacts of moving Bonehook from Oregon to Texas. He said something that might alert many small business owners, particularly small agency owners. He said the company was virtually worthless from an assets perspective.
Thankfully, I understood what he meant. He meant that a service-based business like Bonehook has all its value wrapped up in the partners (and our ability to win business, manage the business and produce the work). In other words, we have no taxable assets.
Copywriters and art directors are almost never trained to be managers or business owners and we’re not trained to sell. This is a big problem throughout the industry. We’ve separated the workers from the reality of the business we’re in. #agencylife
— Bonehook (@bonehook) November 28, 2018
While I don’t take offense to this strict portrayal of the company, it’s not something I’m okay with, not by a long shot. We may wish to sell Bonehook someday, and this clearly means there has to be something here worth buying. And that means developing the kind of systems that future owners can use to reproduce the kind of financial results that attracted them to our company in the first place.
It Helps To Know What Business You’re In
I’ve been working in the agency business since 1997, first as a copywriter, then as a creative director, before launching Bonehook in 2009 and becoming a business owner and wearer of many hats. Thus, I feel confident when I say that creative people don’t care much for systems or the idea of reproducible results. Because we all do custom work.
Do you know who does like systems and reproducible results? The customer.
My friend Charlie Quirk, a brand strategist for Google, says, “The best creatives of any flavor realize it’s not about them, but service to the client’s biz.” He’s a problem solver working in communications. The industry needs more Charlies.
Better Creative Is the Means to An Important End
The good news for our customers is the work we provide is an efficient and affordable means to their desired ends—more customers, more voters, more members and/or more advocates.
History has shown that great work that helps to define brands takes lots of time and money to make. This is the old framework based on the billable hour, which punishes efficiency and haste. So, aside from project-based billing, what does Bonehook do differently to be efficient and affordable while keeping the quality of our thinking and our creative outputs high?
The better we are at assessing a customer’s communications problems and offering practical solutions, the faster we can move into the making phase. And the better we are at managing the account and the entire production process, the more money we make.
It’s critical that our customers know how we make money and why we’re in business. We can’t keep our distance and serve our customers’ needs properly.
What we do is highly specialized, but it’s no big mystery. A company like ours needs systems that are capable of churning out reproducible results.
We didn’t know this in the beginning. Now, we do.