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User Stories with ellen&ellen Agency

User Stories is a regular column here on the WorkflowMax blog. Here, we get a creative agency, service firm, IT company, or other firm to walk us through their workflow process.

ellen&ellen-LogoEvery company is different, and every company has different methods and processes for managing their projects. Our hope is that by studying what others do, you can find techniques to improve your own workflow.

Today , in the inaugral Workflow 411 interview, we talk to Mary Ellen Davy from ellen&ellen agency, a thriving small shop based in Auckland.

About The Agency: Ellen & Ellen


Hard at work at ellen&ellen. Hard at work at ellen&ellen.

ellen&ellen was founded 3 years ago, we are currently a team of four.

We are a branding agency – we create brand stories that pull clients to you, rather than pushing a product or service. We turn brands into tools that sell over and over again.

What types of projects have you been working on?


Some of the branding for Vista. Some of the branding for Vista.

We work with a lot of B2B clients, especially in the software industry, although we do a fair bit of B2C as well. There's a real challenge in this type of work: a brand has to work for the company, it needs to truly reflect the company and the offer. We have created brands for many businesses that sell the same product but each does it differently. So we work to find and articulate this point of difference so that their clients will know if the fit is right for them.


QBE magazine ad. QBE magazine ad.

We'll work with any size company; we've done huge jobs (for Kiwibank, NZ Defence Force and Air Force, for example), but we also work with what we call "Rockets". Rockets are small companies who need to tell their story, but on a different scale. We offer a lot of value to them, and we're a great fit for this type of work because we're small too.

What tools do you use to manage your agency?


Getting some time sheeting done in WorkflowMax. Getting some time sheeting done in WorkflowMax.

When e&e first started, we used a piece of paper! Now, we have 3 tools that we use to manage workflow at the agency. We have an online WIP (Work-in-Progress) document – it's a bit like an inbox of where all our projects are at. And we use Xero and WorkflowMax – and that's it.

What are your main challenges when it comes to agency workflow?


More of ellen&ellen's branding work. More of ellen&ellen's branding work.

I'm a creative director, not an accountant. But I still need a business that runs really efficiently. I need a records and a workflow system that's totally transparent – so I can see exactly where everything is at, so I can be accountable. If something should happen to me, the business needs to keep working – I want everyone in the company to be able to see and understand what's going on at any one time.

When we started, we reverted to timesheets with a pen and paper for the first three months. Workflow was on a whiteboard, which was cumbersome. Then our accountants put us on to WorkflowMax. This is a big challenge for small businesses like us – you don't know what you don't know – so we just "get by" with systems we're familiar with until we have the time and headspace to figure out a way to do things better. And it's hard to find that time!

Now, our whole system is much more streamlined – it saves so much time.

Walk us through the life of a project at your agency. What's your process from beginning to end?

Most of our projects start with strategy where we find out about our clients business and their marketplace. We define their vision, mission, values and establish their point of difference. Then we can start the process of brainstorming.

We have interactive walls in our office. We put the brief up so everyone can see what we're working on, we pin up ideas, images, swatches and concepts and stick post-it notes everywhere. This creates a visual map for the entire job and because it is on the wall everyone can see the process, no-one is working in isolation.

In WorkflowMax, we allocate a job number to a client and details about the job. This job number and title then correlates to our job number and description in our filing for each job underway and every job archived. Time is tracked against this job. We have all our hourly rates in there (because some tasks have different rates) and all our charges, and the cost per hour for each person in the agency. So at the end of a job I can see the profit I've made.

Everyone on my team is very good about tracking their time and writing a description within specific set tasks. We have more than 30 tasks with different price points – for example, account management, production, client meetings, research, illustration, etc.

We can track we stand with our budget against these and give an extremely accurate invoice. Should a client want to see where our time goes, it is all there at a glance. This level of transparency is amazing for an agency owner.

Every month, I check the profitability report. We're using the WorkflowMax reporting to set KPIs for my staff, so they can see how they are doing.

And then, at the end of a job, we do our invoicing through Xero, using the numbers from WorkflowMax. We haven't quite got data transferring directly from WorkflowMax to Xero yet, but I'm getting some training in that area so I can further improve our system.

How Do You Hope to Improve Your Workflow?

There are a lot of functions in WorkflowMax that I don’t utilize yet such as scheduling.

What do you Love Most About WorkflowMax?


Hard at work! Hard at work!

For a branding agency like ours, it’s a perfect end-to-end business solution. I do like the fact that it can send invoices through to Xero which has all of my bank feeds, so I know exactly where I am at. From an agency management perspective, it’s a lifesaver. All you need is WorkflowMax and Xero to run an effective agency. I can also find old jobs easily and track them back to our archives.

I love that it's in the cloud and I can access it anywhere without installing any software. I just need my laptop, or my iPad.

Thanks Mary! If you're running a creative agency and want to talk Workflow with us, then drop us a line at steff.green@xero.com and we can interview you for User Stories.

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Steff Green
Steff Green is one of WorkflowMax's resident wordsmiths, writing everything from website pages to blog posts, ebooks, emails and everything in between. Steff is also an award-winning author, with several fantasy novels available on Amazon. When she’s not writing up a storm, Steff lives on a lifestyle block with her musician husband, two cantankerous cats, several sheep and chickens and her medieval sword collection.

Steff Green