User Stories is a regular column here on the WorkflowMax blog. Here, we get a company to walk us through their workflow process. Every company is different, and every firm 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 we talk to Ian, owner and creative genius behind Threerooms, a graphic design and branding agency based out of Nottingham, UK.
Tell us about the agency. What types of projects have you been working on?
Ian: Threerooms is a graphic design agency. We primarily work on brand design which can be company identity, product branding, or packaging design. We also have a partner business which is focused on web development: we often get involved on creating new websites.
We also do lots of some marketing campaigns. We are quite a small team. I’m the MD, we’ve got account managers, some designers, and some web developers. So thats the kind of scope of what we do. We don’t have sales staff, thats kinda the account managers job which is more focused on client relations.
You can see some examples of our work on our website.
What tools do you use to manage your agency?
Ian: WorkflowMax is essential for us. Without it we probably won’t have our business.
It’s essential to the management and the workflow of our business -- anything from the quotes to the job to the details of the job to the time spent and all the way through to final invoicing.
We’ve moved over our accounting to Xero, and we’ve been very happy with the move.
We also use a product called Podio - socially-oriented project management software, while WorkflowMax is for the job management and the financial management of the job and time tracking, Podio is more about being social and collaborating between team members.
What are your main challenges when it comes to workflow?
Ian: We established in 2004. We were a typical startup business. It was 2 people, me and my business partner, and we were working from our bedrooms. Within a year or two we had to move to premises and that’s when the challenge started. We needed to hire more people and we needed for processes. We needed a way of managing job info that wasn’t just ‘trying to remember it all in your head’.
I think we were using a spreadsheet-based system. It was really crude, and we actually used job bags -- physical envelopes that we kept briefs in; actual printed material, which seems ridiculous today. Now we try to have no paper at all.
We had an A4 sheet which was the job timesheet. You literally wrote on the paper what you did that day. At the end of the job, you would pull out the piece of paper and see what time was spent and how much over on the job you probably were.
So we looked into some different software solutions and WorkflowMax was definitely the best out there.
Describe the life of a project:
Ian: Typically we will have a lead or are introduced to a potential customer. The first step is to arrange a meeting where either the account manager or I will discuss the client’s business and their project brief.
Straight after that meeting, the account manager will set up a quote in WorkflowMax and create the tasks for each of the perceived factors of the job. So let’s say it’s a rebranding project; we have a logo design element, brand guidelines element, etc. We like this functionality, as it differentiates the time in-house from outsourced purchases and we can clearly see the profitability on these outsourced areas. We don’t have templates set up yet. I know templates are available and we could make more of them, but we’ve just not probably exploited that.
We do have staff rates / billable rates set up - we generally work on a flat-rate structure but we have a couple of task rates: an art working rate (someone doing standard design), and a creative rate (which is a higher rate for senior staff). WorkflowMax is really good at this -- so you can choose a rate from the quote section, customize on a cost-by-cost basis, adjust in more detail … it’s really powerful to have this level of customization and flexibility when needed.
So the quote goes out to the customer. Once the quote is accepted, we accept it in WorkflowMax and at the touch of a button that quote gets converted into a job. Then we assign different team members to it based on the requirements - senior designer, or junior designer or even if I’m involved, and then everyone starts working on the project and the job goes ahead.
Everybody on the job gets an email saying that the job has been accepted, which is good for awareness - everybody who’s been assigned on the job see what’s going on with the business.
We break the job down into tasks which have already been set up in the quote. If you set up the quote correctly then anything beyond that is very easy to do. Assigned staff go and do their work and add their time against the job, so I can always see how each project is going. Using the jobs lists as an admin, I can pull up all the jobs and see which one needs attention or are in danger. This is really great as it provides me complete transparency on the business and gives me an overview of the whole business in one screen. As the agency owner, I know exactly what’s going on.
The account manager works with the customer to get the project complete. On final approval we mark the job as complete in WorkflowMax -- when this happens I get a email notification saying that this job is complete. As a business owner most important thing for me is to charge for the work we do and get paid.
So what I typically do is to create an invoice then and there -- it’s such a quick process and that’s one of the things I love about WorkflowMax, it doesn’t take me ages to push an invoice straight out - it’s literally just a couple of clicks.
I double-check the facts and figures, just make sure the invoice matches what we quoted and then all that is left to do is issue the invoice. Because we have the Xero integration set up it goes straight across into our accounting backend. Once it’s in Xero, our bookkeeper can manage that process from there.
How Do You Hope to Improve Your Workflow?
Ian: We want to make better use of templates to improve our workflow. I know templates are available, but we could make more with them. We’ve just not probably exploited that. In our industry, everything is unique in a way; different businesses have a different need. It’s not often that they are similar enough that we can just choose the same template.
However, we could have them and then we can vary them if needed. We’ve used them before and it took longer to change the templates compared to making a brand new one. So we stopped using them. In the future, that might change because I would like to standardize what we do to do a degree and make the process a bit smoother.
What do you Love Most About WorkflowMax?
Ian: 3 Things:
1. Ease of use - It is very quick and easy to learn and use.
2. Visibility - Visibility on every aspect of the business, available at any time, all of the time. Thats really, really important.
3. End-to-end - Streamlining the process from start to finish. Starting from quotes, going to jobs, to invoices, all the way to accounting. It’s very, very seamless.
If we took WorkflowMax away, all hell will break loose. We would not have any understanding of our business. We would lose money on a lot more projects and it would very damaging to the business. The cost of WorkflowMax has paid for itself many many many times over. It’s hard to put a figure on, but it certainly is a very big number.
I can confidently say that WorkflowMax gives us return on investment more than 10 times.
Thanks Ian! If you’re running a company using WorkflowMax and want to talk workflow with us, then drop us a line at email@example.com and we can interview you for Workflow 411.