There are 3 primary pillars to running a smooth (agency) operation.
An agency that runs smoothly has good people that have put great systems in place. There are three primary pillars in this system:
Here’s what each means, and how to install that structure into your organization.
The vast majority of agencies are struggling with a good organizational structure and the proper tools. There is a lot of fragmented information laying around that’s not accessible when you need it.
The solution is to create a centralized hub. There are a number of tools you can use to do this. Make sure your team gets comfortable using the correct tools (consistently) to stay organized.
Here are the primary tools that my team and I use across the entire agency:
- Asana for project and task management
- Google Drive for documents, files, and procedures
- Zapier to connect different tools and flow information from one tool to another.
As a full-service agency, it’s important to have a collaborative environment to avoid hiccups with the project. Our project managers are in charge of making sure that everything is organized into folders, sub-folders, and follows our naming convention.
Good organization allows you to move quicker and keep information centralized for new clients and projects. Something that took you 20-30 minutes to do, will only take you 5-7 minutes to do the next time. You will be able to:
- Know exactly where your project files are
- Know where your documents are
- Know where to retrieve information when you need it
- Integrate it with other systems for easier access
Organize expectations with your clients. One important factor to building trust with your clients is transparency. As a freelancer I always spent time communicating with clients about updates on their project via email or phone.
As I brought on more clients, I ran out of bandwidth quickly. I didn’t set proper expectations because I was extremely unorganized when I started. Establish a portal of some sort where you can stash materials, assets, and deliver updates. This streamlines the communication cycle and improves the delivery cycle. All the time wasted emailing, is time wasted not working and making progress.
Make one thing clear with your clients (and yourself):
Think about someone paying you to build a house for them, they will want to see progress. The same thing goes for your agency clients, they need that same attention. This is where organization comes into play. You have a system, you can deliver on a scheduled basis so your client knows where to look and when.
Systems keep everything flowing internally with your team and externally with your clients.
Internally we have a system on how each project should be handled and what the expectations are when it’s delivered to the client. Naming conventions for projects and clients across all of our different tools follow the same structure.
Whether it’s the project manager, designer, or developer everybody knows the standardized system and how things work when the ball is in their court.
This makes it easy when you bring on new employees or contractors. They can jump into a project a lot quicker. Here’s how we do it. A tool we love to use is Thymeline - it allows us to save the most important pieces of each project into a chronological view so that we don’t need to scramble across different softwares systems.
The project management system
When we onboard a client, our designated project manager will go into Asana to create a new project from an existing template. That template is systemized to add all the main people inside the agency that need to be in the loop. The project manager doesn’t have to think about doing any of this manually. They do one thing and the rest just happens. It automatically populates.
The money system
blocks of hours as a monthly retainer. We only start work once we have been paid for 40 hours of our time. It helps us with capacity planning and finances, plus it helps the client budget easier. It also builds trust.
Previously as a freelancer, I didn’t have a smooth payment or invoicing system. I would just start working without any sort of upfront payment from the client and that became a nightmare.
I learned very quickly that clients like to delay payments and they want their work done quickly. Unfortunately that’s not how things work. Some change their mind about the project and don’t feel obligated to pay you for the hours that you put in. There is always something that comes up.
Client updating system
We have a system to update our clients every two weeks on a Friday. They know exactly how many hours have been burned on a project, what’s been done, and what they can expect before the next update.
Don’t waste unnecessary time and money on manual labor.
Technology has evolved and 90% of any multi-step process you are currently doing can be automated.
Before you delegate a task to someone on your team, ask yourself: can I automate this somehow? You will be surprised how often the answer is: yes.
You don’t realize how much time you’re wasting until you start automating something. This is where the real time (and money) savings come into play, you start automating, you start making your life and your team's life easier. You kind of start feeling like a fool, but that’s part of the learning curve—we all go through it one way or another. The advantages are:
- You save time
- You save (manual labor) dollars
- You save yourself (and your team) from making mistakes or forgetting a step
At my agency, we focus on making the entire process—from closing a deal, to onboarding the client, educating them on our process and how we do things—all within two to four days. A lot depends on how quickly the client moves with certain project approvals.
Any multi-step process that you are doing manually today is an opportunity to automate.
Some of the best tools:
One quick example from my agency: Our entire process inside of Asana is automated on our project boards. We use kanban style boards to have a more visual look and feel, it just works for us. We have a column for: backlog, definition, to-do, in-progress, QA, product review, client review, ready to ship, done.
Everytime a task is moved from one column to another, something is triggered within the task.
- A due-date is assigned or removed
- The task is unassigned or assigned to someone
- Automated comments are added to a task
These little tweaks allow the project managers and anyone else touching the tasks to spend less time worrying about the task details everytime something needs to be handled. It removes layers of liability and mistakes, which requires less micro-management, and allows more time to move the needle on the project.
When a project is created in asana for a new client, there are also triggers that create a shared folder within Google Drive in order for the client to share files with us quickly.
Spend more focused time on client work
By following the three primary pillars to running a smooth agency, you’ll spend more time on the work, and less time on logistics.
Improving your organization, systemization, and automation will create an efficient process. As the saying goes “work smarter, not harder”.
I specialize in entrepreneurship, product development agency building, and business coaching. Send an inquiry through my Upwork profile and we can discuss the best options for your needs.