Business coach Thomas Joos (© Emilie Bonje)
Agency founders are often so focused on their projects that they neglect the business itself. Fine-tuning your business model, optimizing the organizational structure, developing cases, … it often doesn’t happen and that puts a brake on the growth and development of the company. For that reason, business coach Thomas Joos sets up group processes for those agencies to boost their business. “I started this from the idea: if only this had been there when I needed it myself.”
He himself has a background in developing agencies, explains Thomas Joos. “That always started very nicely: developing concepts from your creative talents, developing designs, hearing from satisfied customers who in turn bring in new customers, … This therefore entails growth, and consequently the need to shape your organization from a business-technical point of view, in order to continue to work efficiently and generate turnover..”
“That’s where the shoe was wrong, because that revolved around matters such as pricing, business model, organizational structure, sales process, management and leadership, and so on. I found that very interesting in itself, but also too abstract and difficult to quickly take concrete steps.”
“Moreover, in processes at say VOKA, Vlerick or AMS, as a creative person I always felt like the odd one out between those ‘real’ managers, tech entrepreneurs, software and SaaS developers. Those processes seemed to have been developed specifically for them, not for me,” says Thomas Joos.
This made Joos realize that this specific type of entrepreneur – founders of design, marketing, digital development, communication, you name it – always encounter the same issues, but in Flanders there are no programs to answer them. “I then developed it myself. In the form of one-on-one sounding board sessions and group trajectories, and from the need that I personally experienced when developing an agency model.”
“Agreed, those programs do exist abroad, of course, but not everyone has the means, time or desire to follow a very expensive course in New York or Stockholm. I really started from the idea: was this there here but when I needed it myself.”
Focus on core business
One founder who participated in this group process of eight sessions (spread over a year) is Balder Martens, owner and creative director at the Ghent branding and communication agency De Barbaren. “Entrepreneurs who want to get started with their creative talent basically start in the same way: by applying for a company number and opening a bank account,” says Martens. “In the beginning and thanks to the advent of the internet, it is also easy: you put yourself in the spotlight on social media, you build your own website and you find your first customers quite easily.”
“But gradually there is that growth – extra team members, more and larger customers, the need for a sales strategy, … – and you realize that it is not so easy to keep your business streamlined, to implement a good personnel policy, to find and integrate decent CRM software, to bring in more quality leads, to remain financially profitable, and so on. The reaction of many entrepreneurs to this is always the same: oops”, Martens laughs. “Because as a creative person you mainly want to be busy with your core business, and not with all those processes around it.”
“Okay, you do it does, but you pay some tuition for it. Because no one is there to give you the bigger picture, or give you the tools to grow quickly and efficiently, or point out low-hanging fruit. Yes, you read blogs and professional literature that may give you some insights, but that don’t really help you forward,” says Martens.
As a group to the finish
“Hence my decision to sign up for that group program of Thomas Joos, whom I got to know after a session at Flanders DC. What immediately appealed to me was that he started from his own experience: he knew the sectorknew how to communicate with creative profiles, … When I discovered that he also gave one-on-one group courses, I didn’t hesitate for long.”
You are in such a group process with similar, non-competing founders in that program, so that you also learn a lot from each other and can spar in an open way
“And rightly so, as it turns out, because thanks to that experience he knew and still knows how to use a 360° approach: we are now in the fourth of eight sessions and the tools you are given are incredible hands-on. Moreover, you are in such a group process with similar, non-competing founders, so that you also learn a lot from each other and can spar in an open manner. The concept is really around together learn, support each other and get to the finish line as a group.”
“By the way, we also have a Whatsapp group with the participants, so that everything we discussed in sessions remains very lively between sessions,” adds Thomas Joos. “That always spontaneously forms one support network for each other: for example, if someone has launched a company website in the meantime, it is immediately shared in the group.”
Joos also wants to argue against the cliché and the negative perception that business coaching is superficial and vague and ultimately contributes nothing. Also because it does not start from your own experience, or is simply a copy paste of things that you can also hear in other sessions. That is why he emphasizes that his processes are real toolkits, containing templates, frameworks and systems that the participants can use in a very concrete way.
“Beautiful, superficial talk and slides are not for me,” he says. “I offer tangible and concrete exercises on issues such as pricing, pitching, proposition, organizational structure, project management and workflow, give participants homework and encourage others to provide feedback.”
“In this way, everyone not only has the feeling that they have learned new things, but that they can also get started right away. And it enables the participants to question their own business fundamentals and then improve them.”
“There is never anyone who no has made rapid progress with his organization after following my trajectory. That also allows me to say that the investment in my program is recouped at least several times over within the year without exception,” says Joos.
Grow faster and smarter
Balder Martens is enthusiastic about the process so far and gained insights into issues that they have been struggling with as an agency for some time. Of course we want to know what matters this concerns in concrete terms.
“Dealing differently with the given project management and budgeting this percentage, for example. In this way you can draw up your quotations much more transparently and afterwards there are far fewer surprises compared to fixed amounts on the quotation. That was something we had been struggling with for some time, especially because project management can really go off the rails because customers are often – and rightly so – demanding, which means that these amounts regularly went over budget. This regularly put pressure on our profit margins.”
“Now we sell our services in a completely different way, by specifying a percentage of our total budget in the quotation. Is able to just do this too, Thomas reassured us, customers will really understand this. Examining the internal cost model was also very enlightening, so that I now have a much better picture of the profitability of De Barbaren.”
“My straightforward approach is sometimes also one punch in the face”, admits Thomas Joos, “but that is always meant to be constructive. I just put the cards on the table, for the participant to get started with.”