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Masooma Memon on December 24, 2020 (last modified on January 5, 2021) • 26 minute read
Figuring out how to improve your marketing agency’s operational efficiency?
Look no further because we have webinars that teach you all about upping your operations’ game, as well as this guide where 35 experts share their best tips for optimizing workflow and improving results.
But, first, let me give you some background: Databox’s CEO, Peter Caputa recently spoke at the Agency Optimization Day 2020 hosted by Mention. Caputa talked about, well you guessed it right: automating marketing reporting. 🎉
Caputa wasn’t the only one who shared valuable insights. Folks from Sendinblue, MobileMonkey, Typeform, and SEMrush shared their insights too.
Regretting you missed it? Again, we’ve got your back! We got these folks as well as others to talk about marketing agency operational efficiency here as well.
So, get ready to learn as we dive into expert insights topped with more expert insights by people running marketing agencies. Or, dare I say, dig into a Double Stacker of expert tips on operational efficiency in the following order:
To begin with, let’s revise what is operational efficiency. It’s an agency’s ability to deliver services in an efficient manner without compromising on the output’s quality.
Think of it like this: you have a lot of work, say blog posts to write, lined up in your pipeline. Dom from the research department has done half his job and learned what exactly each client wants. Anna is going to tackle the rest alongside creating briefs for writers. Susan, on the other hand, is going to handle the invoicing while Masooma waits for the briefs before she can start drafting blog posts.
But, picture this for a second (trigger warning: it might hurt a bit to visualize this), the team somehow misses their most important client’s deadline, messing up their editorial calendar. Meanwhile, Susan forgets to bill the extra hours that the writer spent on doing the extra edits Client Y requested.
Not only does this imaginary team here face these problems, but our experts tell us not all of their agency departments are efficient.
Here’s a summary of which of their internal functions are most efficient and which aren’t. The marketing team, for instance, is the most efficient and employee management department? Well, that area lacks efficiency the most. Project management stands somewhere in the middle.
This is what brings us to operational efficiency or processes that agencies adopt to prevent mishaps like these and worse.
Not only does operational efficiency help you hit deadlines, steer clear from mishaps, and maintain your services’ quality, but it saves you time and helps you focus on things that are important such as improving your client’s satisfaction and experience, ultimately, helping you retain clients.
Want to prioritize operational efficiency? You’re not alone. 77% of global CEOs say they’re planning the same to grow their revenue. With the tips and tools in the next section, you can achieve it all. So read on! 👊
For operational efficiency, you need tools that automate several processes including project management tools, accounting tools, reporting tools, and so on.
Like several other agencies, Generation Marketing also automated processes. Their team’s Eden Chai shares, “At Generation Marketing, we were using many different software to manage our business. A CRM, project management tool, invoice management, etc. which made it easy to get disorganized.
We decided to implement a business intelligence + project management software that would sync all 3 of those to create a workflow that lives in one place.
We can now manage the entire process from lead to customer in one place without having to switch in between. Onboarding this type of tool wasn’t easy, we had to standardize every process that we had to set ourselves up for success.”
So which tools should you use to improve operational efficiency? Here are just some of the tools that our contributors shared they use in their agencies. But we’ve got a full resource on software tools for marketing agency efficiency here.
Niles Koenigsberg of FiG Advertising + Marketing notes, “In the past year, we have implemented an effective project management tool at our agency. The tool, called Plutio, has drastically improved our daily operations by helping every team member track their time and stay on top of their responsibilities. This tool has become even more valuable, as we have added an Account Coordinator to our team.
Our Account Coordinator is following every single task on our Plutio task boards, which helps ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. She helps set due dates, start dates, subtasks, and more on each client task to keep our team members on track with our monthly deliverables.”
Susan Jones from Germany SEO votes for these two. “As a small marketing agency we tried several different project management tools, however, found the most efficient for 90% of tasks were simply to use shared folders in Dropbox and a shared WIP in Google Docs that different people edit to keep everyone updated, then do the rest of communication by email.
It’s simply faster and more intuitive to use these basic tools than have to log in to a project management tool every time you need to update something!”
HubSpot comes as a suggestion from Concurrent Productions’ Kerri Feazell who recalls, “In 2020, we began using Hubspot to automate our email follow-ups. When prospects ask us to follow-up in three months, for example, we can write the email ahead of time and schedule it to be sent at their preferred time. This relieves the task of calendaring the follow-up, reminding ourselves where things were at with the client, and sending an email.”
Nettly’s Thorstein Nordby is a fan of ClickUp. “It has been to consolidate task management, standard operating procedures (SOPs), Kanban boards, and account management in ClickUp. Instead of having multiple subscriptions to different services, ClickUp have all the features I need. In this way, documentation and tasks are in the same place. I can also embed reports from Databox in my client’s folder so that both the agency and the client get one source of truth when working together.”
Finally, SEMrush also made it to this list as a recommendation from Noemi Chavez of Chavez Web Design. “In the past, it would take us hours to complete pay per click campaign because we would need a lot of research finding negative keywords for the campaign. However, negative keyword research got cut down by 95% by using SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool. You type in your positive keyword and it gives you a list of negative keywords.”
As an agency owner, you don’t have to use these tools. You can explore from the variety available, but first, “understand your offer, then building the tools to support it,” in More Meaningful Marketing’s Tiffany Lewis’ words.
“There are so many tools that promise operational efficiency, but until you really understand your go-to-market strategy, you can’t use any of them effectively.”
Let’s now give you a quick overview of what our contributors do to improve operational efficiency, followed by a list of tactics and their details so you can leave with lots of takeaways.
Anna Willems of Mention reminds us of the importance of using only the tools that have real value to your business. Willems shares, “We have reduced our tool stack, making it easier for Sales and Marketing to cooperate and smoothen the lead flow.
This means that we got rid of too many databases, tooling that did have a purpose but no real value, and tried to see whether we could do with the tool stack that we were using already and add to it only for extra functionalities or a better flow.
As is the case for all SaaS companies, marketing SaaS companies are changing their purpose and value over time so it’s good to evaluate a tools’ functionality over time to see if it still fits your needs or, even better, if it fits your needs even better than before!”
Ana Carolina Maciá of Typeform shares how they help marketing agencies to improve their operational efficiency, “We mainly focus on helping marketing agencies automate processes. Running a marketing agency is a challenging job. You need to guard the little time you have to be strategic and creative. Setting processes in place will naturally help you scale your business and grow the team.
Fernando Angulo from Semrush emphasizes the importance of tracking the right metrics, “Choosing and tracking the right metrics has helped us a lot to be more efficient in our marketing tasks. All the time we spend on market research, campaign creation, and content development is much more valuable when we review and measure results.
Adopting a tool to measure clicks, the time spent on each page, and MQL are critical to building an effective marketing team. Experimentation throughout the team should be encouraged, as long as there is a tool to measure results correctly.
With an analysis tool, the team can see what works and what needs to be improved. In addition, having metrics allows you to see what readers and potential customers are looking for, as well as what drives them to buy.”
Matthew Gillman of SMB Compass agrees and shares, “The company has recently implemented new metrics in measuring the company’s overall efficiency. The new KPIs and KRAs allowed us to measure the performance of each employee and department in our organization.
It serves as a continuous feedback that helps us improve our strategic planning on the different areas of the company. Not only that, but the improved metrics also paved the way for strengthening employee morale.
The staff was able to identify the role they play in the company and find the meaning behind their work.
This pushes them to work harder and strive to reach or exceed what’s expected of them.
Having specific KPIs to measure employees’ efficiency allowed them to take ownership of their work, which contributed to the development of accountability in the workplace.”
Alexander Denninghaus of Sendinblue reminds us to pay attention to design, “We are teaching our partners not to ignore the easiest design mistakes. They should always take care of the brand in the emails of their clients. Use the right colors and fonts. If they change anything, their clients’ customers will see it and maybe unsubscribe because it’s not the same brand they love.”
Larry Kim of MobileMonkey on improving operational efficiency: “We recently expanded onboarding qualifications and revised and documented our client onboarding process along with updating our onboarding templates.”
Along similar notes, Omniscient Digital’s Alex Birkett suggests creating templates to streamline processes.
Birkett explains, “One specific thing we’ve done is create a templated onboarding flow for new clients, complete with a ‘Client HQ’ dashboard in Notion.
Each of us has a role in creating this document. For example, I work on the analytics audits and dashboards. My co-founder handles the surveys, questionnaires, and qualitative needs to get us started on our assignment.
Another co-founder handle documentation and initial client communication. It’s like an assembly line, but most of it is automated with templates and Zapier recipes. Saves us at least 15 hours per client, and the communication is so much more open, transparent, and effective that the rest of the engagement tends to go more smoothly too. All we’re doing is providing some order to the typically chaotic onboarding process.”
“The one thing we have done to great effect has been to utilize the video messaging program Loom to record processes for new hires,” notes Crush the PM Exam’s Lacy Summers.
“We brought on a number of new remote employees over the last several months and they were onboarded in the middle of some very important digital marketing scaling efforts that required all of my attention, which left very little time for one-on-one training sessions with new team members.
Using prerecorded videos for training purposes has helped us increase our operational efficiency by eliminating a lot of the time-consuming conversations about training and processes that would have otherwise been needed to bring new hires up to speed.”
But they are not the only ones leveraging the benefits of video. Deepanshu J Bedi of Artofwarseo.com praises the same.
“We run an SEO agency and due to the pandemic, we have started to make mini-video courses for our employees and new recruits. So once a person joins us they are given 2 weeks to go through all the videos and learn as much as they can about the processes that we follow in the company.
This has actually reduced the time we used to give each new employee, and they learn faster than usual. So this is something everyone should apply to a marketing agency.”
Not only does this improve operational efficiency, but it saves you from missing out on important steps and getting everyone on the team on the same page.
At RielDeal Marketing, Stephanie Riel highlights, “Creating and documenting our processes has been major for our operational efficiency as an agency. Having the documentation for how we handle things like client onboarding, and even day-to-day management gives us the ability to scale up quickly when new team members come on board. We leverage systems like Asana, Google Drive/Documents, and video to walk our team through steps. It’s a game-changer for our business.”
Duckpin’s Noah Kain is of the same view: “Building out processes and repeatable game plans that can be executed every month has been the biggest game-changer for our team. We’ve found it pays dividends to identify the actions and activities that deliver the most with the least amount of effort, so we can continue to deliver every month for our clients, even while operating with a small team.”
Noemi Chavez from Chavez Web Design also talks in detail about how they’ve documented their systems. “In the past, we used to train our staff on how to create Google Ad and Facebook Ad campaigns. However, it was hard for our staff to remember to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘I’. As a result, we began to record our process step by step.
Before a campaign goes live, then our staff knows they have to turn in a checklist to ensure that every item is checked off from their checklist. If they forgot how to do a step, then they can refer back to a pre-recorded video that shows step by step on how to complete the campaign.
This has allowed our marketing agency to provide higher quality campaigns much faster. All of our systems can be accessed on a shared drive. This way anybody from our team can view our checklists and step-by-step video training.”
“When clients hire us, for example, they rely on our expertise in keeping with the changes in the industry, especially in terms of technology,” writes Michael Hamelburger from Cost Reduction Consultants.
“When clients hire us, for example, they rely on our expertise in keeping with the changes in the industry, especially in terms of technology. We implement a more accurate system of record-keeping to avoid more potential losses due to mismanagement of billable hours.
We have a dedicated team that administers a software tool that captures billable hours according to our billing guidelines. We’ve improved compliance and accuracy by 90% and avoided writing off billable hours just to fast-track payments from clients. And we do this even in remote work setup.”
Hamelburger continues, “In addition, since our consultants are always on the move, we’ve also benefitted from mobile accounting. We’re able to manage our business while being on the road so our clients can get a hold of us wherever we are.”
The team at All Points Digital follows suit for improving operational efficiency. Joel Whipple outlines, “In 2020, our agency improved operational efficiency from removing the finance silo. Previously, our finance department worked independently from our client operations.
In theory, this worked as staff logged hours and finance adhered to statements of work. In reality, things happen each month and human error occurred in our invoicing process. As a result, our project managers provide oversight and sign off on client invoices prior to issuing.
Finance and PMs worked together to develop a monthly checklist to avoid missing one-off items that frequently happen each month. Ultimately, we reduced our internal costs by 40% by removing duplicative and manual work being conducted by finance. The PMs know each client and should be responsible to ensure they are invoiced correctly. Now, our process reflects that objective and our operations improved dramatically.”
Editor’s note: Track your billable hours and amount, metrics by project, and much more on one screen using this Harvest: Projects Time Report Dashboard template.
This can help save a lot of time. No wonder, Darren Litt from MarketerHire goes on to say “outsourcing is one of the best ways to improve efficiency in your business.”
Litt writes, “there are now so many talent marketplaces that enable you to outsource different skillsets for your business and rely less on yourself or full-time employees. Need help with marketing? Outsource to MarketerHire. Need developers? Use Toptal. Finance? Use Paro.”
Kristina Witmer from Witmer Group is of the same view. “This may sound cliche, but in order to improve operational efficiency within a marketing agency you have got to surround yourself with talented people and then delegate, delegate, delegate.
This process is always uncomfortable at first, but to succeed you must allow the people around you to sink or swim – and the faster you do this, the quicker you can move on and grow. Provide your team with the right tools, give them the freedom and TIME to process the request, and then be there for the end result. All outcomes are learning experiences, whether the outcome is positive or negative.”
But managing outsourcing can be a tough nut to crack in itself. However, a project management system can help, Eric Siemek from Youtech’s suggests. Siemek shares, “We utilize a project management software that allows us to task out work to each team member.
No matter what the service is; SEO, PPC, Social Media, Website design, etc. We have a task template that lists out everything that needs to be done for 100% efficiency and accuracy of every project. Implementing these task templates have allowed us to eliminate errors and letting things fall between the cracks. It also has let us keep people accountable for the work being completed.”
Oh yess! Several of our respondents speak of this as a good tactic to up your operational efficiency.
To begin with, Jonathan Aufray from Growth Hackers Marketing Agency writes, “to improve your marketing agency’s operational efficiency, it’s crucial to have standards operating procedures in place and well documented.
You want to create SOPs for pretty much anything you do at your agency whether it’s to sign new clients, onboard new employees or clients, manage client accounts, create advertising strategies, content creation, reporting, and more. With SOPs in place, you will be able to bring repeatable and scalable growth and results to your clients’ thanks to standardized processes.”
For example, the team at AdChina.io has a SOP for customer onboarding. Seema Nayak from their team lays out the details: “Customer onboarding is a key area where we improved operational efficiency by creating templates and standard operating procedures (SOPs).
This helped us streamline the whole process and saved several 15+ hours of internal meetings every week. Investing resources in creating checklists and templates paid off greatly in the long run.”
Lastly, Chris Davis of Revcarto adds to this: “One way we’ve been able to improve our operational efficiency, and probably the biggest, is creating standard operation procedures (SOPs) for every process.
This makes it very easy to hire new talent and get them trained up as fast as possible without losing too much utilization. This along with having standardized templates for your processes will make it scaling so much easier for any business, especially service-based ones.”
If you’re a fan of checklists like I am, you’re going to love this tip! It comes from Tony Mastri of MARION Integrated Marketing who comments, “Using lists for certain trigger events in our marketing workflow has been incredibly beneficial to our efficiency.
For example, we have a pre-launch checklist that our web developers work through before launching new websites. This list is accompanied by an SEO pre-launch checklist and a master post-launch checklist. These lists help avoid any mishaps and set the new site up for long term success from the start.
We have two different people work through these lists, though there is frequent collaboration when web dev and SEO items impact each other.”
This is super important as it gives you a complete picture of what’s due, what’s in progress, and what’s covered. In this regard, Catriona Jasica of Top Vouchers Code advises, “The best way out to obtain an overview of the entire agency where you can assure the whole team is working efficiently or not is by visualizing your agency’s workflow.
When it comes to improving the operational efficiency visualizing workflow is definitely a key here. What you got to do here is ensure that everyone understands the task clearly and give their best in delivering the kind of work the clients are expecting. This is the best way out to make sure that your focus is on the right task and your current efforts will help progress towards your goals.”
But this begs the question: how can you visualize your workflow? Here are three project management software that can help:
“We have every task assigned in Basecamp to keep things tracked and organized. In addition.” – Kevin Miller, The Word Counter.
“We use Asana for our project management and setting up templates and automations has been life-changing for us. We still can get better, but there is not much that I like more than a system that is well executed.” – Sam Bretzmann, Whiskey SEO.
Editor’s note: If you’re using Asana, you can easily use one dashboard to get an overview of tasks created, assigned, completed, overdue by assignee, and lots more with the free Asana (Team overview) dashboard.
“In the past, we would have to e-mail back and forth with our staff to get anything done. This becomes a bigger problem when you have a lot of projects, then documents get lost, deadlines are missed, and few people really know the status of the project.
We now use Trello for all of our projects and we rarely lose documents or miss deadlines. Moreover, if someone is sick and a project needs to get done, then one of our other staff members picks up where the previous person left off because Trello keeps a history of what has happened with a particular project. The best part is that Trello is free.” – Noemi Chavez, Chavez Web Design.
“To improve operational efficiency in our marketing agency, we document all of our tasks and processes, maintain communication with team members, and define clear roles in our agency so the tasks and jobs are clear,” notes Milkwhale’s Andre Oentoro.
“We think most of the time, inefficiency comes from lack of communication and lack of expectations. By defining these two things, we can avoid operational inefficiency.”
Alexandra Zelenko from DDI Development speaks along the same lines: “In the digital age where more and more people are working remotely, it’s essential to improve your operational efficiency and simplify the process of collaboration for your employees.
With that in mind, it’s important to invest in technology and software that allows your employees to be on the same page. Thanks to communication and collaboration tools, your teams can communicate, share project status, delegate assignments, create seamless feedback loops with a simple click.”
And, Slyecom’s Pir Fahad Momin also applauds improving internal communication and collaboration for improved operational efficiency at their agency. Momin recaps, “I have improved operational efficiency in my marketing agency by making sure that all goals and objectives are communicated and understood by everyone.
If everyone has a clear understanding, it’s easier to come up with a game plan and to execute it with success. Moreover, I ensure that everyone knows their responsibilities, and they have the tools, skills, and support to carry out any task which boosts accountability.”
Looking for tools for internal collaboration? Here’s Brandon Amoroso’s recommendation: Monday.
Here’s what happened at electrIQ marketing: “Over the past few months, we moved over all of our communication assets both internal and external over to the Monday project management system. Now through this tool, all of our team is able to manage tasks, projects, and track campaign progress while also allowing our various clients and partners to be involved as much as they want and oversee all operations,” Amoroso writes.
While internal communication is important, creating a solid culture is also essential, as ContentNinja’s Shriya Garg brings to our attention.
“This might be an unusual answer, but we worked on defining a solid culture code that helped us identify the traits we value in our team, and then built systems to encourage those traits. We use the culture code to hire, promote, and fire – and in confusing situations, it helps to have a mental checklist to compare against – is this right or wrong?
Every Friday, we have a team meeting where people volunteer colleagues in the team who displayed the culture code, which we recognize and reward. Employees know what behavior to emulate – and this has led to more hustle and increased efficiency.”
Another equally thing to do is to make the most of the talent that you have on your team. Priya Kumari of Valasys Media talks about this: “Our organization has started defining and measuring ‘Operational KPIs’ (Key Performance Indicators) and this has helped us come a long way in terms of qualitatively and quantitatively assessing employee performance, satisfaction and engagement.
When it comes to improving operational efficiency, marketing agencies need to assess and unleash the power of their human resources to fullest potential. Every employee is competent in their own unique ways and bring their unique ingenuity and creativity at work but sometimes they might not be inspired enough to generate more discretionary energy to work every day.
Defining and measuring operational KPIs helped our organization overcome organizational drag (loss of the overall productivity capacity).
We have focused on simplifying structures and processes that take unnecessary time and delay the productivity of our employees.”
Related: Best KPIs for Marketing Agencies
Mailbird’s Andrea Loubier also commends this. “To improve operational efficiency, we’ve realized that the most important thing is to ensure that each team member is in the role that best suits them. Too often, companies waste a lot of time trying to make an employee fit a particular role, rather than the other way around.”
Lastly, Melanie Musson of TeenageCarInsurance.com makes the same observation: “Assigning duties based on employee strengths. If someone on your team is excellent at making outlines but analyzing stats comes more difficultly, you’ll operate more efficiently if you leave the stats to a numbers person and let the outline writer excel at what they do best.”
This one’s a hat tip to Lance Beaudry from Avalanche Creative. “Our team has adopted the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) as a way to improve efficiency in managing projects and client deliverables,” Beaudry outlines.
“With this operating system we have a weekly meeting which allows us to address issues and begin to solve them. Keeping a record, we can look back and see measurable improvements to our business every single week. Each team leader in this meeting has a company metric that they are assigned to keep, monitor, and improve. Those metrics are our business vital signs.”
The last suggestion for you today is to write daily goals. Chris Sheehy from Sidewalk Branding Co. opines this helps a lot: “Having a background in operational process efficiency, I can say that having a clear set of daily goals, tasks if you will, is one of the best routines for managing your daily functions.
In the context of an agency, this could allow a single person to set and manage workflow and manage client expectations – in fact, this is what a traffic manager does.
For freelancers (and agencies), this routine could lead you to producing more billable hours each week. Working smarter – not harder as it goes.
When done well, and in concert with setting client timeframe & milestone expectations; you’ll never (okay, infrequently) have to answer the ‘what’s the status of…’ call/email again. Which keeps you in charge of your time and workflow.
For me, Teamwork has been my go-to project management tool for many years. I’ve tried Basecamp, Wrike, Slack, Asana, Trello, Monday, Smartsheet, Airtable, and others, but they just don’t stack-up to Teamwork in function and easy of use – for both me, my partners, and clients. I couldn’t imagine a day without it.”
From visualizing your work to creating SOPs for all processes, there’s a lot you can do to improve your operational efficiency. Start with understanding where your agency is the least efficient and work at solving those areas first by laying out the right steps and documenting the processes. Don’t forget to get your team on board.
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