How to Manage the Future and Skyrocket Agency Profitability
Is your agency as profitable as it could be? Are you successfully forecasting agency finances? Nate “Agency Dad” Jenson has built his business around helping agency owners drive profitability. Nate is a certified management accountant and internal auditor who focuses on offering the tools and accounting practices necessary for a thriving agency, with his business Agency Dad.
On his second visit to the podcast, Nate talks about forecasting and the importance of managing the future, instead of wishing you could change the past. He explains why you, as an agency owner, are very in tune with your business and can make a pretty good forecast of where it will be in three months. He also offers valuable advice on how you can take that first step to start managing the future.
3 Golden Nuggets
- Having a plan is the 1st step. One of the questions Nate gets the most from agency owners is “when should I hire a new team member?” You need to do your forecasts, he says. What are your sales going to be in the next 3-6 months? There are a number of methods you can use to make that forecast, like linear regression. He recommends the Dilbert method, where you sit down and write down what do you think sales will be in the next months. Most agency owners are pretty in tune with their business and can make a pretty good estimate of what a few months in the future will look like for their business. You’ll never be exactly right. The important thing is to be looking forward.
- Have a line of credit. Even with forecasting, you can find one month you don’t have enough money for payroll. Of course, no one wants that, but you have a lot more options if you catch it weeks in advance. You have more time to make some adjustments, reduce expenses, or take a loan. Jason always advises mastermind members to get a line of credit, even if they don’t need it, for those cases. You may think you don’t need it, but things may not be that good a few months ahead. It’s better to have it than to go through the embarrassment of missing payroll. Your team may start jumping ship, and finding the right talent is not easy.
- Fixed vs. variable. You should really understand the difference between fixed costs (payroll, rent) and variable costs (sales commissions, direct media spend). Nate advises moving your fixed costs into variable costs. The more you do this, the easier it is to be profitable. Basically, if you can change those fixed costs to variable, your breakeven number goes down. And so as soon as you hit this number, you’re going to hit that profitability sooner each month. So your sales can be lower and you’re still going to make more money.
Stop Focusing on the Past and Start Managing the Future
Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. I am excited for another episode. On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about why it’s important for you and how you can actually forecast your agency so you can actually be more profitable. I have a repeat guest, Nate, who is amazing at all of this, and let’s go ahead and jump into it.
Hey, Nate. Welcome to the show.
Nate: [00:00:29] Jason, thanks for having me on again. I appreciate it.
Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah. I’m excited to have you back. Uh, so for the ones that haven’t checked out, the, the first episode that we had you on, uh, tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do?
Nate: [00:00:43] All right. So I’m Nate Jenson, uh, the owner and founder of Agency Dad. Our, we’re an accounting firm. We focus on helping, uh, marketing agencies become more profitable.
That’s really, that’s really, our niche is how do we, how do we drive profitability? Uh, we don’t do any tax work. We don’t do anything like that. We do bookkeeping. We do, uh, financial reporting. So everything we do is geared to make you more profitable.
Jason: [00:01:06] Well, we all want that, right? Because I think too many agency owners always focus on, you know, just top-line revenue. Hey, Jason, I want to make it to the million mark. Then I want to make it to the eight-figure. Mark. I’m like, well, what’s the profit?
Nate: [00:01:20] Yeah. If you could work less and make more, I would rather just have a lower top line and more profitability. So…
Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. Well, let’s, let’s talk about like, are there, like, how can we create forecasts? Because, you know, I think a question I get asked often, and I think as you do as well, like, can I afford to hire someone? Or what does it look like when I need to hire someone next? Like how do I figure that out?
Nate: [00:01:47] Yeah. That’s, that’s probably the question I get more than anything else. Can I hire somebody to, when do I hire somebody? And if somebody asked me that my, my response is, well, what are your sales going to be in the next three to six months? And if we can’t, if we can’t answer that, then we really don’t know if we can hire somebody. So, so for me, the forecast is where you start.
Jason: [00:02:06] And so if that’s where we need to start for, like, what is our sales look like for the next three months? How can we forecast that out?
Nate: [00:02:14] Okay. So there’s, there’s a lot of methods, right? Uh, if you’re like me and you’re really into accounting, you can use linear regression. You can use exponential smoothing.
There’s a lot of, kind of analytical tools like that. If you’re an agency owner and I say linear regression, you’re probably tuning out and…
Jason: [00:02:33] Yeah. I kinda, I kinda almost passed out when you use those big words cause I’ve never heard those before.
Nate: [00:02:39] Yeah. So there’s, there’s a method that, that… If you’re an agency owner and you just want to sit down by yourself and, you know, do your own forecast there’s a method I would recommend.
And I’ve, I’ve heard it called different things, but the term I like is the Dilbert method. So if you’re familiar with Dilbert the comic strip, uh, there’s a lot of, uh, let’s say questionable business practices used in that comic strip. Uh, but the idea is you sit down and you basically say, hey, what do I think it’s going to be?
You know, what’s my best guess? And so I’ve actually found, Jason, most agency owners are pretty in tune with, with a lot of the ins and outs of their business. You know, so I can do, I can do the linear regression, but if, if someone says, hey, I happen to know that every December our sales go way down, because you know, the seasonality of the business. Uh, a business owner or an agency owner, they can, they can say, well, my, my sales were, you know, they’re 500,000 in November. I’m expecting them to be, let’s say 400,000. Just because that’s what happens.
And for a, for a simple kind of first pass, I think that’s a totally appropriate way to set up your first budget or your first forecast.
Jason: [00:03:51] True. And then now that we kind of set out the future forecast for sales for the next quarter. What’s the next step in order to, you know, making sure we’re profitable or when we can actually hire?
Nate: [00:04:04] Uh, similar again, if you’re using the Dilbert method already, uh, the next step is… Think of a forecast, like your profit and loss statement, right? You look at your PNL for the prior month, what did I sell? What are my costs of goods sold? What are my expenses? And so you’re setting up a PNL, but it’s in the future. What about, what am I going to sell? What are my costs of goods sold? What are my expenses?
Okay. Get your rent, get your payroll and get all that in there. And what am I expecting my profit to be? And it’s hilarious, Jason. A lot of people will say, hey, well, I’m, I’m, I’m not good at this. I don’t really know how to do this. Uh, having a plan is, is, is the first step, the, the number of times that I’ve actually set up a forecast for a client and I’ve come back to that client and said, hey, if everything goes according to plan, you’re going to lose $10,000 a month, right?
Uh, that it, that happens all the time. And the one thing that we know about a forecast is it’s going to be wrong. No matter what it is, it’s going to be wrong. You’re going to be high. You’re going to be low. But if you, if you do the forecast and your plan is to lose money, you know, you’ve at least got to take some action, make some changes.
Jason: [00:05:17] Yeah. You know, one of the things that we did, uh, that I think is really easy for all of you guys listening, is we had our bookkeeper export out all of our expenses on a spreadsheet. And literally, you know, like, like you were saying, and then we had, like, we basically put out 12 months, so he said January, so here’s what it is fixed. And then we copied that all the way through December.
Then we added a couple of columns to the spreadsheet above and said, well, here’s what we think we’re going to bring in revenue. Kind of like what you’re saying for the quarter. And then we could play with the model, uh, because then we did all, you know, we put in the easy formulas, you know, minus income minus expenses, and then, you know, divided that by, you know, to figure out our profit margins.
So if we wanted to hire someone in the future, let’s say three months from now, we would put in their salary under payroll. We would add them in there. And then it was really easy to figure out going, well, man, okay, we can afford this person because we look like we’re bringing in, you know, a million more dollars this quarter and we can afford to do this, this and this.
And it still keeps our profit margins at X. Is that what you’re saying?
Nate: [00:06:37] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Um, you can always go deeper, right? You can always go and say, hey, we can’t afford it, but should we afford it? Should we maybe look at raising our prices before we do it and so forth? There’s all that stuff.
But just for a first pass. Yeah, exactly what you said as you build out your model, say, it’s say it’s only three months, right? Maybe it’s the year, but maybe it’s just a few months. And you say, hey, we’re making this, you know, this net income at the end of the, each of those months. Like you said, play with the model.
What if we add one person? What if we reduce expenses here? What if we can get one more client? And again, you’re never going to be right, right? It’s just a forecast, just a guess anyways. But if you’re looking forward and you, you can play with that model and say, can we hire, can we, uh, you know, can we, should we reduce our rent? You know, should we not renew our lease? All these kinds of things.
Uh, you’ve just got to look forward. So many, so many people manage just historically, right? They see how did we do last month? Oh, we didn’t do as well as we thought we would, well, what are we gonna do different this month? Well, let’s just, let’s work harder, right? That’s not a plan, you know, you, don’t working harder is well… You’re gonna just gonna work yourself to death.
And that’s when you say let’s get more revenue because we don’t really know why we’re profitable or not profitable.
Jason: [00:07:52] Yeah. I, I remember one time I came into, you know… we used to do our budgeting and our forecasting really not existed. And I remember coming, looking at the bank account right before I went into a leadership meeting and I was like, holy cow, this is the lowest it’s ever been.
And I was like, we’re not going to be able to make payroll in the next two weeks. If nothing changes. And we were able to, we made payroll for all 12 years. Um, we just made it that one. But after that I realized I needed to do forecasting and build a performer out to really show me, is it like… Because you’re always going to have in the future. Like if you do this modeling, right, you’re going to see where you actually start losing money where you don’t have money, right?
And it’s just about how far out is it, and then it gives you that time of going, wow, man, I got six months to get my act together in order to make a major change. Especially if a big contracts about to end. And that’s going to take a really big dip in your income. You know, let’s say, Nate, you probably deal with, you know, these, this all the time where some clients have a huge contract, that’s like 40% of their revenue.
Nate: [00:09:16] Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And, and when, uh, when business comes in kind of in a lumpy way like that, uh, that’s much harder to, that’s much harder to deal with. Um, like one of the things as I was preparing for this podcast, and I was thinking about… Is there’s really two kinds of, of revenue that I see and predicting the revenue for each of those kinds takes a different sort of mindset.
One is the retainer revenue. If, you know, if you have a book of clients and you’re like, hey, I know who my clients are and how much they pay me. Your revenue forecasting is actually pretty easy. And if you have, uh, you know, if you have, your, you know what your payroll is, uh, it’s pretty easy to say my retainer is enough to cover my payroll, my other expenses, and so forth.
If you’re a more project-based, you know, say you’re a web developer, uh, you’re, you’re much more reliant on, hey, how much business do we think we can pick up in a given month or a given quarter? And it’s interesting, Jason, I’ve actually seen, I don’t know if, I don’t know if I’d call it a trend yet. But I’ve seen quite a few of my clients who are on that, uh, in that project-based kind of revenue.
They’ve actually, as they’re doing their forecasting and I’m helping them with their forecasting. Some of them have actually moved from a, uh, traditional employee type model on the expense side to contracting a lot of that. Because… Yeah, well, yeah, predictability. When your revenue is so lumpy, it’s very nice to have your, your, uh, cost be a lot more variable, you know?
Even if a contractor is more expensive per hour… Might be cheaper overall if your revenue is, is way up and way down.
Jason: [00:10:59] Yeah. You know, the, the other thing, I have a lot of mastermind members that… In the past couple of months, and even right now, they’re going through acquisitions and they’re getting bought. Uh, like I’m thinking of one of our masterminds Dean that just sold maybe three months ago and… uh, you know, very successful business, you know, in the multimillion-dollar range.
And he never really did forecasting. He never put a performance together. And when they actually, and this is why it’s good too… Especially if, if you guys are listening both, it’s good for predicting out and profitability when you need, and to make yourself a little more relaxed rather than that volatil… volutary…?
Nate: [00:11:41] Volatile.
Jason: [00:11:43] Yeah, there you go. Big words I can’t say. I went to Florida State, guys, come on. Um, but uh, all the people that are looking to buy you are going to look for the future cast. And they want to know because that’s what they’re buying sometimes. And if you don’t know it, that’s going to send up red flags. So for your sanity, for your predictability, and especially for, if you want to be able to potentially sell one day, please make sure you do these on a regular basis.
Nate: [00:12:17] Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s again, it’s driving that profitability right? Managing to the future instead of just wishing you could change the past. Um, but, Jason, there’s something you mentioned a few minutes ago that I wanted to get back to. You talked about that time when you were almost out of money for payroll, right?
We actually, and I recommend this as well, but we actually do for our clients, uh, multiple kinds of forecasts. So the first one is the PNL forecast, but we do a separate cashflow forecast. So we’ll usually have that, like a rolling eight week forecast. And the payroll is a perfect example…. Is if it’s, if it’s Monday morning and that’s when you run your payroll and you’re out of money, you’re like, do I have personal money I can throw in the business?
Do I have a really good banker friend that can somehow can be aligned really fast? And even if you do, you know you’re going to pay through the nose on that rate to get the money. Uh, it’s, it’s a totally different experience if you’re looking ahead and you’re like, oh my gosh, eight weeks, our bank account goes negative.
Uh, what can we do? Well, if you need to get a loan, you have eight weeks to get it. But you can say, hey, maybe we can reduce expenses. Maybe we can not take that owner distribution I was planning on. You have a lot more options. So the PNL forecast is where it all starts. Uh, but you need to take that and go to the next step and say, how’s my cashflow going to change based on, you know, based on my expectations of sales and expenses and so forth?
Jason: [00:13:43] Yeah. You know, um, that reminds me, I tell our mastermind members and I tell people in agency playbook, the first thing I want you to do is get a line of credit. And they’ll be like, hey, Jason, I’m good. Like, I got a ton of cash I can operate for over three months.
I’m like, things are not always going to be that good. Um, and so get a line of credit when you don’t need it. And so if you ever do come into hard times, you don’t have to miss payroll and you don’t have to be embarrassed. Because if you miss payroll and you tell your employees and your team that, or your contractors, they’re jumping ship. And finding the best talent is very, very hard.
And I always say, get a line of credit. I don’t care if you don’t need it. Like, I think we tapped into it one time when we actually need it. And then here’s the other trick with the line of credit. They will cancel it all the time if you never use it. So every month I would just take out like 5,000 for one day, put it back in so they see some movement.
Because it doesn’t cost you anything, if you don’t use it.
Nate: [00:14:49] Absolutely. Totally right. So it’s, but the point is, I think you, you have that use it when you need it. Uh, have, you know, get it before you need it, like you say. But just, you’ve got to look forward, again, the number of times I’ve seen people who they just, they have no idea where they’re going.
They just know where they’ve been or where they are. And, and then they want to know, hey, should I do this? Should I do this? And should I do this? You got to look at the future. And I, I know this can be an overwhelming thing for people. And that’s why I say, hey, if you can’t do a 12 month forecast to a three month forecast. You know, look at your sales for three months and then once a month, sit down and add on that next.
That’s gonna, that’s gonna get you way ahead of where you are if you’re not even doing that. And it’s just a great place to start.
Jason: [00:15:35] So awesome. Well, Nate, this has been awesome. Is there anything I didn’t ask you before you tell the listeners about this cool, special offer?
Nate: [00:15:46] Uh, let’s see. I would have one thing I guess, and this isn’t just with forecasting. This is with, you know, kind of bookkeeping and reporting in general.
One thing I wish my clients understood more, uh, when they, when they became clients, was the difference between what a fixed cost is and a variable cost. Uh, if you have a lot of what we call it, fixed costs, and that’s a cost that just you pay every month, it might change, but it doesn’t change because you sell more.
So you have rent, you have insurance, uh, you have your payroll and things like that. A variable cost is a cost that does change with sales. And so if you have sales commissions, that’s going to go up the more you sell. Any direct media spend obviously is going to go up the more you sell. Uh, so if you’re contracting your work, that kind of stuff’s going to go up the more you sell.
Uh, the more you can move your fixed costs into variable costs, the easier it is to be profitable. Because the more fixed costs you’re like, I’ve got to sell this much every month just to break even. And then when I go above that and that’s my profit. If you can change those fixed cost to variable, uh, your, your breakeven number goes down.
And so as soon as you hit this number, you’re going to hit that profitability sooner each month. So your sales can be lower and you’re still gonna make more money.
Jason: [00:17:06] Awesome. Yeah. You know, I, I didn’t really learn that until kind of the very end and, uh, you know, it, it makes a big difference, so, uh, great advice.
Well, Nate, this has all been amazing. Um, if people want to know more and you know, possibly work with you and, uh, because they they’re like me, they look at numbers and they go, uh, dizzy. Um, what can they do to reach out to you?
Nate: [00:17:32] Oh, thanks. Uh, first of all, one thing we actually do is we… We take most of the numbers and we put them on charts, graphs, and we make them really easy for people to just see a picture and understand it and move forward.
So that’s number one, but if they want to get a hold of me, uh, agencydad.money is our website. We do have a free offer for your listeners. It’s agencydad.money/freeaudit. And what we do is we actually do an audit of their financials, uh, comparison, compare their financials to some industry benchmarks.
Jason: [00:18:03] I like that. Yeah. You guys better take Nate up on that offer. That’s uh, that’s crucial. I mean, because we all want to know where we stack up and where we actually need to go. So make sure you guys go there. Say the URL one more time.
Nate: [00:18:16] It’s agencydad.money/freeaudit. And, just because of the topic of this podcast, I’ll mention that’s a third, a forecast that we do is we actually forecast people’s metrics. So they can see in the future, if their metrics are getting out of whack, based on what they should be. Just another way to give us a red flag on something.
Jason: [00:18:38] Awesome. Well, everybody go check out that and get that free audit.
And until next time, have a Swenk day.
Nate: [00:18:45] Thanks, Jason.