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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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5 Things You Need To Know While Setting Up Your Agency Workflow

What keeps an advertising, branding, design or a marketing agency ticking?

No, its not your last re-branding project for a major corporate, or the smashing social media campaign where you gained 10,000 new "fans". Its not even your customers that love the cool stuff you design for them.

Its the ... gasp .. your agency workflow. You know that business processes, traffic control that management people talk about.

Of course, agencies are probably one of the most exciting places to work at. Consequently, workflow, cash-flow, accounting, and job management probably sound like terms more used in an accounting practice. However, agencies are still a business, and the fundamentals of managing a business applies to it as much as to any other business.

Thousands of creative agencies use WorkflowMax for managing their workflow. Although the fundamentals of agency management are same, every agency has developed their own way of managing their workflow. This is possible because of the flexibility that WorkflowMax provides them so that they can get the most out of it. The precision and the consistency with which the creative agencies outline their processes is impressive to say the least. The process is usually very well defined, and detailed -- ensuring clients get a consistent experience and the key outcomes are delivered each time

The way work is managed is very important and is the key to managing and growing a successful agency. If you have a growing business and looking to get guidance on how to setup processes, workflows and managing staff -- the following tips are a very good starting point:

1. Identify Your Core Strengths

Selling a product is much easier than selling a service. Agencies are in the service business. Each client has a specific problem and you need to develop a specific solution customised to their needs. One day you may be working on a branding project, the next week on a website redesign, and the week after you could be designing a mobile app. Due to this, its not hard if not impossible for you to standardise your services. However, identifying and optimising your core activities can you save you hundreds of hours and dramatically improve efficiency.

Example: If you're a branding agency, you can setup up quote templates within WorkflowMax ( or other software that you may use) for:

  • Brief
  • Strategy
  • Concept
  • Design

When the quote is accepted, these items are automatically converted to a job within WorkflowMax and you can include detailed tasks within each of the sub-headings and assign it to the right people. By doing this, you'd make sure that the projects that pays your bills and keeps the company profitable, are highly efficient and the workflow is streamlined.

2. Engage, Not Dictate

Having worked with thousands of creative agencies, we found that its critical that you get your team involved in setting up the processes. There's no point setting up a process when the people who are involved in running the process don't follow it.

Almost all agencies have the following 3-4 type employee personas:

  • Designers/Creatives -- These are professionals that actually deliver the work that your clients expect to be amazed by.
  • Account Managers -- Middle management layer that not only manage existing client relationships, but also do business development and sales.
  • Owner/Creative Director -- A lot of times the agency owner is the creative director and he/she manages the business side of things too of the agency. In other cases, the agency owner just focuses on managing the agency and not involved in the creative side of projects
  • Accountant -- Working closely with the agency owner and the account managers, they act as business advisors that help setup company processes and systems.

Engaging with your team and getting them involved in the process allows for multiple points of view, creates buy in, transparency and keeps everyone involved with an eye on the end goal -- to work towards making the agency successful. One way to make this happen is to run a session, and instead of using paper or a spreadsheet, create a process map using a wall and post it notes, make it interactive.

3. Focus on the BIG PICTURE

Initially, concentrate on the high level view. Dive in to the type of projects you've worked on in the past 6 months and categorise them in 3-5 top level categories. As an example, if you're a full service agency, these could be -- Branding, Website Development, Digital Marketing, Smartphone App Development, and Strategy.

Then dig into your company financials and analyse which is the most profitable category for your business, which categories do most projects fall into, etc. This will give you actionable data-driven insights on how to setup your workflow that will work for all employees of the company. This will probably lead into the current challenges or process issues they face currently, and what tools or software you can use to remove those bottlenecks.

Because creatives love visuals, many agencies use a combination of online and offline processes to come up with the the most optimised workflow that works for them.

4. It's time to get into the Nitty Gritty

Now that you've a good understanding of the current process, its challenges, and its shortcomings from a high level view, its time to get dirty by getting into the nitty gritty of the process.

A good starting point at this stage is to map out exactly how the process works right now, who are the people involved in the process, how they fit into the overall picture and the tools used to keep the process running. The current process may not be the best one, but it works to a certain degree.

There's always room for improvement though. Once you have actionable business insights by looking at the previous client data as discussed in the previous point, you're ready to optimise an existing workflow or setting one up from scratch.

As an example, if you're a branding agency you can setup a quote or a job template that maps out all the tasks that are involved in a branding project (brief, strategy, concept, design, etc.). Once you have build this template, you will save hundreds of hours by reusing this template for every new branding project you work on. This template can also be tied back to the quoting functionality available within WorkflowMax that saves you time even further.

5. Continuous Workflow Optimisation

When brands can evolve, why can't workflows and processes? Setup a monthly meeting with the team to review the new workflow. Ask them:

  • Has the new workflow made a difference in their day-to-day schedule?
  • Do they save huge amounts of time because of the new workflow?
  • What do they like about it?
  • What do they find challenging?
  • How can it be improved further?

Based on the feedback, optimise the process further by getting rid of extra steps that don’t add value. Streamline the process by making sure that all software tools integrate with each other and flow of data is transparent and accurate.

Note: Humans don't like change. Be prepared to hear a lot of complaints and negatives about the new workflow because thats just the way it is. We don't like changes to things we have to do everyday because we are used to it. But it doesn't mean it is the best way to do it. However, as the agency manager, its important that you stand your ground and make your employees understand it is important to implement the most optimised workflows for the overall success of the agency.

What tools do you use to manage the workflow within your agency? Do you have a hybrid model of online and offline processes? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!