How to Empower Your Team and Avoid Agency Owner Burnout

By Jason Swenk on December 11, 2022

Are you trapped working 24/7 in your agency? Do you know who to hire and how to empower them to make the right decisions? How do you build the culture for a growing team? Discover how one agency owner built and scaled a successful agency with multifaceted hires who wear many hats. She is currently working on her building her second agency and shares some of the lessons she’s bringing to round two.

Gina Michnowicz is the CEO and CCO of The Craftsman Agency, an agency specializing in experiences and creating magical moments. They work with clients that want to do something innovative across the digital space and also in-person events. They started their journey working with big clients like Disney and Cisco, although they also work with some small and medium brands as well.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Finding your first employees who can wear many hats.
  • Creating the right culture and empowering your team.
  • How to avoid burnout as an agency owner.


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Starting an Agency with Big Clients Right Off the Bat

For Gina, ending up as an agency owner was the moment her career came full circle. Right out of college she interviewed at an advertising agency. However, they didn’t have any open positions at that moment so she ended up working in HR. She then worked at a management consulting company running part of the digital practice. The idea of starting her own agency came from others who enjoyed working with her and offered to be her first clients. This is how Gina’s agency started with two big clients, Cisco and VMWare —  a big break for a young agency!

While most agencies work for many years to earn big clients it can also be quite challenging considering they can be very complex and political. Big brands tend to be siloed, which can make things difficult.

Luckily, Gina is very good at picking the right clients and was able to handle it as a new agency.

Hiring Multifaceted Talent to Get Your Agency Off the Ground

Gina started working by herself but reached the breaking point very quickly, during the first quarter. She was lucky to have someone from her old job who wanted to work with her. It turns out this was a very multifaceted person who could wear many hats. Finding this type of talent is super helpful when you’re starting out and don’t have a lot of resources.

More recently, she continues to rely on more traditional ways to look for new talent for her agency. She is very active on LinkedIn, where she built a large network she can rely on when it comes to looking for new talent. She also uses ads, although they tend to bring in more unqualified candidates.

Gina’s agency is in the process of creating an intern program to receive candidates from some great schools. She finds this is a great place to start recruiting because today, young adults graduate with fantastic instincts and insight.

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Creating Culture By Getting to Know Your Team 

Your team members need to feel empowered to make decisions. Admittedly, it’s hard to let go of control. Gina sometimes catches herself wanting to intervene and take control of a situation. In these cases, she reminds herself the leadership team can handle it.  It’s not only okay to step back, it’s important to do so.

It’s also important to make sure the leadership team is very connected. If you are disconnected at the top, this feeds into the rest of the team. As leaders, we have to show up as our best selves. If we’re not, permeates the rest of the organization.

It also comes down to relationships. Are you working on building relationships with your team? Do you know them as people beyond their agency role? Get to know the person, not just project manager. Talk to your team about what they are passionate about, and what they like doing. It’s important to create opportunities and spaces where these conversations happen naturally by encouraging team activities.

How to Avoid the Burnout Point

Having trusted key employees who became her right and left hand helped Gina avoid the trap of overworking. She delegates important tasks to them and keeps a healthy work balance.

Unfortunately, one of those key employees had an unexpected leave during the pandemic. In order to stay profitable, Gina and her other trusted employee took on those tasks and worked non-stop during the pandemic. As a result, the agency had a phenomenal 2021 but they were both burned out by the end.

To reclaim her time, she made herself a new routine that includes time to meditate and walk each morning and small workouts throughout the day. Blocking time to rest has also worked. Now, she now tries not to pack her entire day with meetings if she can avoid it. You have to create rules for yourself and be strict about following them to have the time to focus on yourself. Finally, it’s all about knowing when to take time off, which she now does and encourages in her employees.

Why Engagement is the Key to a Successful Remote Model

If you’re managing a fully remote agency, Gina advises you to be really engaged and ensure your employees are also engaged. Engagement is a big factor in seeing whether or not someone is happy and passionate in their current role. Lack of engagement stems from a variety of factors. As a leader, it’s your job to try to understand what can be done to help someone be comfortable with their role in the agency.

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