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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Retainers tend to be an attractive option for both creative agencies and clients. With a retainer the client knows their monthly expense will be consistent, and the agency knows that they will have a steady stream of revenue coming in.

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Exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post about some mistakes creative agencies make when managing agency retainers. The blog mostly covered methods to use to avoid mistreatment, having solid data to back up your agreed upon value, and diversifying your service offerings. In this post, I will talk about the importance of consistency and creating easily repeatable processes.
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A difficult question for creative agencies to answer is "how profitable is your work?" It's not like you're manufacturing something with a set cost for each part and a set hourly pay rate for staff. You're providing your services, typically done by salaried employees, for fees that are often negotiated on a job by job basis. This makes reporting on the profitability of the type of work you do very difficult. Here are a few things to consider when calculating creative agency profitability and job costing.

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The agency world is more competitive than ever. With competition comes ever improving quality of work. However, we're also seeing agencies having to lower their fees to compete with prices being offered by other agencies. It's easy to drop your price to win a pitch and worry about the profitability later; but this is a slippery slope.

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There is no doubt there is a correlation between productivity and profitability in business. It's apparent that no matter what type of organization you work for, or who you are, the need for greater productivity will always be there.

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In 1994, I was talking to a client of another business I was involved in. We were discussing a customized computer system designed to improve productivity for designers and production staff in a light manufacturing firm I partnered in.

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The business environment in the creative industry is both dynamic and intense. Many companies that existed in the past 10 years either don't exist anymore or are struggling to stay alive. It's a difficult task to compete in the creativity world where you need to stay ahead of industry trends and effectively organize your processes to ensure profitability.

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And Have Your Customers Love You At The Same Time!

Talking about profit and having your customers love you in the same blog post may seem counter-intuitive, but really it's not! Profitable companies are stable, and we all want to work with stable business partners, particularly if we're looking at developing a long-term relationship.
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All creative agencies know the basic financial equation (basic common sense tells us this):

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People ask us all the time how to measure the financial success of their agency. When we respond, many seem disappointed. “That’s it?” they ask. “Those are all the numbers you track?” The truth is, the agency business is a pretty simple business. Following are our ideas about the most important metrics for agencies.

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