Early in my career, I worked with a talented creative director who taught me an important lesson: The quality of work improves in direct correlation with the number of people involved. From his experience, a smaller team means better work. It allows for faster results, the ability to protect great ideas, and an opportunity to work alongside a group of people that are focused and committed to the task at hand.
That lesson has stayed with me and is probably the reason I’m drawn to the unique benefits of working at a small agency. While I sometimes miss the big agency perks, I have to admit that the work I helped produce in larger agencies wasn’t always some of my best.
Here are five things I’ve learned to embrace through working at a small agency:
Enjoy the daily start-up culture. A small agency is really entrepreneurial and depends on a dedicated group of self-starters to keep the engines of creativity and productivity running at full speed every single day. Regardless of what title we hold, there’s an understanding among staff that our actions together will impact the agency’s future. Whereas larger corporate structures depend on chains of command, a small agency survives through constant teamwork, executive leadership entrusting their employees to make the right calls, and having the opportunity to wear a bunch of different hats. That’s exhilarating.
Keep it simple. When you have a seasoned, smaller team, you don’t spend time spinning wheels over ridiculous agency executives’ egos, pet projects, or needless red tape. Politics is not the name of the game, and you first and foremost get to focus on serving the client.
We’re all ninjas. Even with four-year and specialized degrees, there’s no real training in advertising – you learn on the job and get ahead by proving your ability to finish projects with tactful comprehension and efficiency. When working at a small agency, you get to work on a lot of things involving different departments, which keeps your skillset sharper than if you were to spend years working in one vertical on one brand for one team. Give yourself the chance to be surprised at what you’re capable of accomplishing.
Relationships are more rewarding. Coworkers become family. Clients stay for years, and we watch each other’s kids grow up. It’s a labor of love. We make our own decisions about who joins the team and when times are hard we close ranks together. Smaller agencies can often provide more human, intimate experiences in an industry that’s known for the opposite.
We’re masters of our own destiny. When it’s all up to you, you can’t blame anyone else for your failures. You dust yourself off, listen to feedback (if you’re smart), and tackle it again until you get it right. Sure, that can be scary, but when you’re successful – there’s no better feeling.
Years later, I’ve realized that I’m now the seasoned leader young talent reaches out to for advice when taking the next step in their careers. I feel honored to serve in that role, and I can use my own experience to give them a great perspective on the industry and doing better work. I like to think my previous creative director would be proud.