In this post, 40+ experts running agencies share their secrets for improving operational efficiency including visualizing your work, developing SOPs & more.
Agencies | Dec 24 2020
Kevin Kononenko on March 5, 2018 (last modified on September 2, 2020) • 20 minute read
Agencies were asked about the biggest factors that were holding them back from growth. Here are the results:
The top response was “finding new clients,” which is no surprise. But the second most popular response was, “Not enough free time to focus on administrative tasks.” If your team always feels like they have a mountain of work that they need to complete, then they will never be able to spend time on improving the operation of the agency.
One way to solve this is by investing in new agency software tools that can improve the efficiency of the whole team. Then, you can roll out new processes across the agency that will automatically cut down on information gaps within your agency or between your agency and your clients.
To learn about the actual tools that agencies use, we polled agency leaders from the Databox Partner Program to see which tools have been most helpful to their teams. Here is what they shared.
There is one tool that owns the workflow automation category: Zapier. Zapier integrates over 1000 web apps so that you never need to manually transfer data between apps again.
How It Works: Zapier makes automating administrative tasks and complex marketing workflows easy for non-programmers. It’s a tool that can streamline everything from creating Trello Boards to Slack messages to updating Databox from Hubspot contacts. We’ve even used it to create a company music playlist from Spotify that anyone can add to.
How It Saves Time: If anyone has had to toggle back and forth from one application to another, and manually add data to a spreadsheet, the efficiency in creating a Zap and letting it run is obvious. Having an automated process to create Tasks from emails and Slack save more than time…it helps prevent projects from falling behind.
Marketers spend hours each month updating their client KPI spreadsheets or formatting data into a slidedeck. Automated dashboards allow agencies to scrap this entire process.
How It Works: Maybe everyone has heard this too many times from Databox, but it is amazing the amount of time we used to spend building reports for customers that we didn’t even get to analyze until we built them or even present them to the customer. Databox has helped us automate this so we can allocate the time towards analyzing, not building, the report
How It Saves Time: It saves us time that is not productive. Building a PowerPoint presentation is wasted time. As consultants, this time is much better spent analyzing a report and then taking action over it. It used to take us about a week (after the month was over) to build the report we then presented a bit late to the customer, and the time analyzing it was done in about a day. Now, since we analyze on a daily basis with a report that updates in real-time, we can spend the time monitoring KPIs to see where we need to do better.
Considering how many steps go into the release of a new campaign, it is an absolute no-brainer to ditch spreadsheets for a PM tool, even if you just use the free version.
Clariant Creative Agency
How It Works: DoInbound is a general project management tool specifically designed for inbound agencies. What’s unique is that it’s designed to promote “templatizing” your work processes, which helps ensure consistency of work across the agency.
How It Saves Time: Prior to DoInbound, everyone sort of did their own thing. There was not a lot of consistency, which led to problems with quality. And when we brought on new people, it felt like we were reinventing the wheel with everything we do.
How It Works: We use 10,000 ft weekly to build staffing plans across our portfolio of client projects. After planning, each team member receives a complete work plan with pre-filled timecards, making time entry a breeze. 10,000 ft’s reporting features help us to predict financial and project performance by as much as 90 days.
How It Saves Time: We used to spend 3-5 hours per week on resource planning with a whiteboard. Today, we’re able to align the entire team on a weekly staffing plan within a single 1-hour meeting.
How It Works: Asana is software that manages our client’s projects and tasks – all at the same time. It helps us create and delegate tasks, set deadlines, and easily communicate internally on a project by project basis. Also, you’re notified of your project’s current progress. Besides saving us a lot of time, we can always stay up-to-date, and our team is able to work more productively!
How It Saves Time: Responsibilities are clearly distributed, and there are fewer things to ask questions about, ensuring no task will be forgotten.
How It Works: Asana is a great project management tool which makes it easy to create and manage projects, assign tasks to team members and communicate about those tasks. We use it both for internal projects/operations, and also for work for our clients.
How It Saves Time: Asana simplifies and clarifies our communication around work. Before we used email and slack (we still use email, but mostly for communicating with clients) but those tools don’t provide enough structure for communicating effectively.
With Asana our communications are focused on the specific tasks and projects we are working on. This saves time by itself because everything is more clear, but also because everybody knows what everybody else is working on and provide valuable input. Something that just isn’t possible with email.
Blue Steele Solutions
How It Works: Asana is a project management tool that not only saves us time and makes us more efficient, but that actually makes our job possible in the first place. Large content projects would simply be impossible without it, and the same goes for large development and design projects.
Many of our projects take months to complete, and without a clear list of tasks, assignments, due dates, and dependencies, we would be at a loss when trying to keep everything straight when trying to juggle multiple projects.
Asana allows us to do exactly that in a simple manner. You don’t lose tasks or forget requirements because they’re buried too deeply in the software (as you often find with other project management solutions) — everything is clear and obvious, and you can easily see the whole project at once, which makes work infinitely easier.
How It Saves Time: The main way Asana saves us time is by keeping all tasks at a high-level — before, with other project management solutions, you had to drill down from one task to another, and things inevitably got lost, because you just couldn’t see them without actively checking.
That being said, Asana DOES allow you to create a basically infinite supply of subtasks if you’re so inclined, but that’s not necessary for most projects. Our previous solution forced us to hide critical task information at progressively deeper levels, which ultimately meant things got lost.
How It Works: Last year we transitioned to an agile marketing setup, and without Jira, this would not have been possible. It allows us to track all of our work in one location, know who is responsible for what, and keep everyone on the same page. As we get better with the tool and agile marketing, our efficiency increases every week.
How It Saves Time: Before Jira and agile marketing, we used paper tickets and Basecamp. While these tools are maybe ok for a smaller agency, as we have grown, they did not grow well with us. Paper tickets would get lost, individuals did not always know who was responsible for moving a project forward, and we did not have the insights into our process that we now do.
How It Works: Airtable is like Excel on steroids – the functionality is incredible. You can create multi-sheet projects, assign ownership to team members, set due dates, and more. We use it to create editorial and marketing calendars for our clients, as well as deliver some of our services like technical SEO audits.
How It Saves Time: Most of our clients can’t access Google Sheets, so we would use static Excel spreadsheets to manage their blog calendars. Airtable is much more efficient because everyone gets a real-time view of where content is in the creation, review and publishing cycle. We’ve found it keeps the process moving and allows us to generate more content, as well as keep track of promotion for each piece.
How It Works: WorkflowMax is an all-in-one project management system. From tracking timesheets through to job profitability and resource capacity, the tool gives management a holistic view of staff billability, job health and overall business capacity.
How It Saves Time: It’s not so much what we did before, but more the way we’ve been using this tool since day one. We’ve found that over time, we use the tool to more of its capability.
How It Works: Basecamp is project management software that is much simpler than most of the other products out there. We use it to manage and keep track of all our projects, both internally and for clients.
How It Saves Time: Basecamp has an intuitive layout and an approval feature, which lets our clients approve projects through email – they don’t even need to log into a portal. We had tried two other project management tools before Basecamp, but one didn’t organize our projects the way we wanted and the other was more of a solution for enterprise-level businesses.
Basecamp helps us save time by letting us create simple to-do lists that we can check off as we complete tasks, instead of using convoluted task charts with subtasks, deliverables, milestones, etc.
How It Works: Trello is a cloud-based project management tool that allows you and your team to keep track of open projects.
When we are working on multiple digital marketing projects at once, it is easy to lose track of who is working on what and which deadline is approaching. Trello has an easy to use and implement project management system that allows you create different boards for each project and then break it further down into different lists and cards. The system is visually based, so it is easy to understand and implementation is fast. You don’t get bogged down by the tech behind the system, which other systems are prone to.
We have found that using this system not only allows us to organize tasks better but we are also getting them done quicker and more efficiently. There is a certain sense of satisfaction when you complete a card or task when other teammates are involved, so it creates competitiveness within a team environment.
The best part of Trello is that it is free, but there is a premium version available.
How It Saves Time: In the past, we used to use Google Sheets or Google Docs which was adequate. But Trello’s visual boards, lists and card system make it a more enjoyable to use. I wouldn’t say we are saving a lot of time over Google’s system, but we are definitely more engaged with Trello and using it more than any other project management tool we have used in the past.
Jaxzen Marketing Strategies
How It Works: Trello is a project management tool that we use for everything in our agency. I think it’s challenging for a lot of people because it doesn’t prescribe a specific way to use it, so it’s daunting. But we use it to manage our sprints for a modified version of Scrum. Every client has a board for managing their items, a content calendar, and we have one master sprint board that shows every assignment for the sprint.
We then integrate it with an analytics service called Corrello that tracks the effort points associated with each item, and calculates points per team member and per client.
How It Saves Time: We previously used Basecamp. It was fine, but we never had a strong process around it. We save a lot of time by using Trello as the basis for our Scrum and by tracking items completed instead of just worked on. It’s been a big piece of our transition away from hours.
Fortune Web Marketing
How It Works: Podio is an online project management and collaboration software. It helps us streamline and sync our team’s projects and helps with workflow. The tool is secure, easy to use and allows us to manage multiple projects across all departments seamlessly.
How It Saves Time: We are able to put tasks around a certain project, associated by client, into Podio. We assign ownership to a specific employee in a specific department. We were also able to automate the assigning of tasks to specific employees based on pre-set rules we deinfe in the system.
Instead of sending emails, manually scheduling tasks, etc…we are able to see what tasks are assigned to each one of our team members, when it is due and complete it efficiently. Once we mark the task as complete the project owner and the person assigned to the next task gets notified. We keep all moving pieces of ever project in sync and in check with this tool. Seamlessly.
Presh Marketing Solutions
How It Works: Teamwork Projects serves as our content calendar, time tracking, and project management platform. We are able to see all the tasks required to complete a deliverable, when the deliverable is due (with milestones), and the actual time it took vs. budgeted time.
How It Saves Time: We have a template in place for every deliverable and standard campaign format we implement. Within these templates, we have standard Google Sheets and Google Docs file links saved for specific steps. We are able to build out a project plan in minutes now.
When you force your salespeople and marketers to manually complete tedious tasks, they get exhausted by the repetition. Instead, they could be spending that time on crafting better email copy or releasing new campaigns.
How It Works: Pitchbox is a tool for outreach, influencer marketing, link building and so much more. We mainly use Pitchbox to identify influencers we want to speak with for creating high-value unique content, reach out to them through an email sequence from within the tool, and then track our responses and any links we might garner through our efforts there.
How It Saves Time: We save a lot of time with Pitchbox because it helps us greatly scale our work sourcing influencers, doing outreach, and tracking responses. For each piece of content, we do outreach for, we’re saving at least 10 hours — usually much more.
Sakas & Company
How It Works: Boomerang helps you stay on top of email follow-ups. It’s great for sales and client communications since you can see automatically if a prospect or client didn’t respond.
How It Saves Time: Boomerang saves time by not needing to wonder if someone has responded. Before, I had to create tasks to remind myself to check if someone responded. Now, the reminder comes back directly into my G Suite inbox. Boomerang saves me several hours a week, but the larger benefit is that it makes me more effective, too.
How It Works: With Qwaya you can create, publish, track, optimize and organize Facebook + Instagram ads with sophistication and usability that ensures we’re working towards campaign results as swiftly as possible.
How It Saves Time: The ability to upload multiple images, ads copy and audience targeting means our team is able to split test creative angles + key markets at pace.
How It Works: It’s a CRM allowing you to track leads, contacts and accounts in a database along with a sales pipeline that you can view as an individual or for your entire team.
How It Saves Time: The tool save us time because it ties in with your email account. You never lose a conversation. With integrated calling, all your calls are automatically logged – no need for data entry. You stay organized with the least amount of manual data entry.
How It Works: To fulfill content marketing needs, Canva allows you to create professional looking graphics with little to no design experience, and its free version is more than robust enough to meet most if not all of your needs.
How It Saves Time: Canva is very easy to use and you do not need any design experience. The drag-and-drop UI, and abundance of readily accessible assets makes it a snap to create great looking graphics in minutes.
How It Works: We use HubSpot Sales Pro across client accounts to perform organized, targeted outreach. Using what are known as Sequences, we personalize touches across email, phone, web (chat), and social media channels.
How It Saves Time: When it comes to prospecting, efficiency matters a lot. The goal is to have 1-to-1 interactions at scale. HubSpot Sales Pro enables us to execute on this goal, daily, for hundreds of clients. Time saved vs manual tools (Inbox, cell, tasks/activities, spreadsheets) is >50% greater.
How It Works: HubSpot Sequences allows me to set up a series of up to 5 emails and tasks that are automatically sent to a client or prospect. The sequences will not stop unless the recipient replies to one of the emails or the sequence completes the final task.
How It Saves Time: It allows me to follow up with clients and prospects using automation. I can set up a sequence and forget about it until the recipient responds.
How It Works: Grammarly is a Chrome extension that checks grammar/spelling across a wide variety of applications—email, social media, WordPress and so on (though unfortunately, not Google Drive!). In the past, we used the free version of this tool but recently purchased a premium subscription since writing is so central to everything The Blogsmith does!
How It Saves Time: Grammarly saves us time because it works with many of the existing web applications we’re already using. Most popular tools with similar functionality require you to copy/paste or upload text to a separate application/window. Although Grammarly also allows you to do this with regards to advanced checks, it functions very well without taking this extra step. To give an example—it helped me catch a spelling error while writing this!
Email is not the right choice for most communication (at least, according to our community). PM tools help organize the repetitive tasks, while communication tools help with real-time collaboration.
Søren Vasø Hansen
How It Works: Slack has completely overtaken email. We don’t send email internally anymore, and that saves so much time. Actually, we have a rule about it, to stay effective: If you send an email to a colleague that isn’t a forwarded from a client, you have to buy cake to the office.
I would never run an agency without an internal chat tool like Slack.
How It Saves Time: Before all communication was in email form or in our project management. But not every form of communication goes into a PM-tool. By using Slack, we have channels where everything goes, we can see who is online and private messaging helps with all back and forward stuff.
I think we save around 2 hours per employ per week, by not getting into opening the inbox and getting lost in emails. Now we only have to look at the inbox 2-3 times a day.
Slack also helps us share knowledge throughout the company with a channel dedicated to that. Links, images and other stuff goes into here, so our watercooler talk is much more efficient.
How It Works: At Forward Push, our inboxes are filled with emails from people outside of the agency. While internal emails are sometimes necessary, the ability to send a Slack message instead has helped our team reach the mystical ‘Inbox Zero’ a few times.
How It Saves Time: If it’s a quick question, a need to glance at a file, or just send a gif around the office to make others smile, there’s no need for an email when you have Slack.
Slack does two things well for us:
How It Works: Slack allows our team members to communicate and send files internally. We can ask questions, tag each other, upload files, share updates, follow up, share articles, post links to internal docs, get feedback, share funny gifs, add emojis, take polls, chat one on one, or send announcements to the whole team. It’s super easy and we had no trouble adopting it, which was a nice surprise because we hadn’t had much luck with previous tools like this. I have the mobile app as well, so I can stay in the loop and answer questions when I’m on the go. Also, I have a terrible memory so it’s handy to be able to scroll through older messages or search for what I need.
How It Saves Time: Since adopting Slack, we rarely send emails to internal team members. It’s much quicker/easier/more fun to send a Slack message, whether it’s a direct message or group message. I even send Slack messages to people who are sitting a few meters away!
Posse Social Media
How It Works: Slack is a team messaging app that combines communication, organization, file sharing, app integration, and search capabilities to revolutionize the way our team works. We use Slack to organize each of our client accounts into channels where all of the information – including files – each team member needs for each client account is contained, archived, and searchable. As a remote team that works from home in multiple different locations, we also use Slack to communicate when we are and are not online, private message each other, and share breaking news related to our industry and, of course, all the memes we find hilarious.
How It Saves Time: Thanks to Slack, we don’t have to waste time composing numerous emails, getting lost trying to follow email chains, or searching through always-full email inboxes because all of the information is conveniently stored in specific channels.
We’ve been using Slack for around 3 years now, and it has saved us hours of valuable work time. Before Slack, we used Google Hangouts, which became bulky and cluttered, especially when we had many client accounts; we had to use both Google Hangouts and email to keep all client information and inter-office communication maintained.
The HubSpot Agency Growth Report also asked agencies about the areas where software would help them improve. Here is what they said:
The responses spanned pretty much every type of small business software! In other words, it is hard to pick one area that all agencies agree on.
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