The agency business is never dull.
It’s one of the most dynamic and exciting arenas, always evolving where two days never look the same.
However, that’s also part of the problem.
There’s constantly new problems to tackle. You’re forced to juggle multiple clients on any given day. Trying to take care of retention, but also on the look out for new business to bring in the door.
On a broader scale, competition keeps growing. The extremely low barriers to entry means everyone (and anyone) does what you do. Which puts even more pressure on profitability.
Fortunately, all is not lost. These 18 time-saving digital agency resources can help you stay on top of client work, get stuff done faster, and stay sane.
- Putting Admin on Autopilot
- Delivering Client Work
- Last But Not Least…
Putting Admin on Autopilot
1. Google Apps
Most know that Google Apps can help your company use Gmail. But it’s much more than that.
It’s an all-in-one platform for managing and scaling your business. In that sense, using Google Apps (and the next few tools) are more about emphasizing simplicity. Getting more from less, and making your life easier in the process.
Google Apps negates the need for dealing with IT (which one colleague told me years ago stands for the ‘I Tried’ department). You get all of the security and control needed with just a few simple clicks. Onboarding new people takes seconds. Not to mention, the vast resources like Docs and Drive that also come at your disposal (which we’ll get to soon).
The agency world is already difficult enough. Everything else, like managing email and other internal processes, shouldn’t be.
New hires can onboard themselves, removing you from the equation. Direct deposit can run automatically, on auto-pilot, and taxes are separated accordingly.
You can even get basic insurances through it, like workers comp, so you don’t have to worry about inane compliance issues popping up to bite you when least expected.
Freshbooks offers basic online invoicing, in addition to acting as a light-accounting tool depending on agency size.
You can accept payments directly through Freshbooks invoices, connecting different payment gateways like Stripe and PayPal so you don’t have to chase down checks that may or may not be in the mail (just account for the fees in your pricing).
Sounds great! But many tools offer these things. Why Freshbooks?
4. Integrate to Simplify
The best part about using these tools is that they integrate seamlessly.
For example, you can sync your bank account to Freshbooks, so that it will automatically import all expenses and account for them appropriately.
You can also integrate Gusto with your bank account, so payroll is automatically debited (and then recorded in Freshbooks).
Goodbye bookkeeping, HR, and IT!
Delivering Client Work
5. Aggregate Your News
Digital marketing evolves so quickly that half of our job is to just stay on top of the latest trends.
The problem, is that most of us don’t have time to read the 100+ awesome blogs out there every day. We, at Codeless Interactive, have clients to follow up with, sales calls to run, meetings to collaborate, and so on.
That’s why Inbound.org (and other similar ones, like Hacker News or GrowthHackers) are a life saver. You can check one place each day (instead of 10), and immediately get the best stuff on the latest news headlines or trends you should be aware of (but probably missed because you were too busy working).
Scanning the top trending headlines for 10 minutes is all you need.
Slack is one of the best agency tools hands down – especially with remote workers.
But the key is in proper channel organization, using prefixes to stay organized and keep conversations on topic. Departmental ones are helpful (especially in the case of developers or designers). We also use client-related channels too, so you know exactly where to go back and find pieces of information previously discussed.
Slack also presents a unique way to reinforce culture. For example, using a #watercooler channel gives people a place to talk about random weekend plans, make jokes, post inappropriate gifs, or talk trash about their March Madness brackets.
The only asset an agency has is the people. Slack supports this by providing a virtual community that ties everyone together and keeps them on the same page.
7. Digital Status
Every second spent in a meeting is a second that could be spent getting work done.
But agencies need to talk and collaborate. It’s the nature of the business where you typically have many people (with different skill sets or backgrounds) all working on one campaign, project or account at any given time.
Like most companies, we used to do weekly status meetings but eventually felt like they were just a big waste of time. Instead, we’ve created a #status channel on Slack where everyone posts what they’re working on each morning. We haven’t looked back.
Now everyone’s calendars are free from distractions.
We literally have zero planned meetings on a weekly basis. Sure, things come up and people need to talk. But they can work it out themselves and get together when available. Otherwise we don’t want to waste people’s time with activities they could care less about (like sitting around talking about the mountain of work waiting for them).
8. Google Docs
Google docs is another obvious resource. But piggybacking on the first tip, the real value lies in its flexibility. Honestly, you can use it for anything.
For example, we use it for proposals so people can collaborate and provide their own piece of the overall pie. We also use it for capacity planning and accounting to keep track of invoices going out or checks coming in the door.
Collaborative tools like this embrace delegation and scale. An assistant can go research or collect this information, update the appropriate dashboards (which then send information to our budgets, updating in real-time) so that we can go in and take a look afterwards.
9. Standardized Operating Procedures
Standardized Operating Procedures sounds so, corporate-y.
Which is the exact opposite of an agency, where people thrive off creativity.
But having documentation that tells people what you expect gets them on the same page. Outlining the major deliverables, processes and tasks that people should be working on helps remove the guesswork, and gives people an idea of what they should be doing on a daily basis (without having to come back and bug you every 10 minutes).
10. Limit Your ‘Stack’
The ‘marketing stack’ is becoming a thing (with its own directory even) as the onslaught of tools or software is growing exponentially.
However we’ve found that purposefully limiting the ‘stack’, or trying to use the fewest pieces of software possible, is better for everyone.
Onboarding is easier, because you only have to learn one tool. Collaborating is easier, because everyone knows what’s involved. And getting the work done is easier, because you’re not wasting time on Zapier trying to connect a million tools together to pass information back and forth.
We’re HubSpot partners, and love it for these reasons. In addition, they also provide a great backbone of support for growing our agency and grooming new hires. For example, their certifications and extensive video training material are ideal for new hires or interns dipping their toes into our world for the first time.
11. Internal Hackathons
Did you know that Twitter was born during a hackathon?
It’s important to let your team to have fun and realize the full potential that’s sitting in one or another.
Hackathons are designed to make fun projects to happen. They are 2-3 day events where you get together with others in a community setting and work on a project from beginning to end.
We’ve run ‘internal’ hackathons (in a condescend version) to work on special projects or our own agency’s campaigns (that usually get neglected because we’re busy with client work).
There’s an implicit race against the clock and the momentum of a big push for productivity can’t be understated. Therefore it’s a good idea to use as much help as you can get:
- Azmind gives you an access to free landing pages, portfolio / agency themes, registration / contact / login forms, etc. to start a new project or test a new idea quickly and easily.
- Startup Stash will help you with the rest. From idea generation to traffic generation – it has it all.
Free food and alcohol is a must and you can be sure that people will not only have fun but produce stunning results. This is a great way to break up the typical work week monotony, while also providing a boost of work in a short amount of time. Win win.
12.Throw in some goodies
Chase has a Business Associate debit card that you can get for employees to use for various things normally incurred in a typical working day. (And of course, set spending limits to control the risk)It also has the added benefit of removing you from the equation.
If they need something – whether that’s a tool, stock photo, book, or simply a cup of coffee – they can get it without having to come bug you for permission.
Be sensitive to the amount of time they’re spending working on client work or spending out of their own pocket for company related stuff. Allowing people to spend $100 a month on basic stuff – even coffee! – means a ton of goodwill.
And more than anything, it means trust.
If people take advantage, show them the door. But it’s a two-way street for the people at the top too.
13. Batch Tasks
Always be on the lookout for ways to template, process, streamline or automate what you’re doing to increase effectiveness.
There is an abundance of tools out there for everything. But most of the time your existing ones (like Gmail) can do a lot more than you think.
For example, Life Hacker has a great article on mail merging with Gmail to send out ‘personalized’ emails.
Little hacks like this can be used for a variety of different purposes, from sending updates to clients to doing PR pitches and much more. It can save you a ton of time, and also a lot of money by not having to go find another specialized piece of software.
14. Guessing Contact Information
Even in our ‘inbound’ world, there are times when you need to go ‘outbound’ with a cold email or two (or 100+).
Researching individual contact records is a frustrating, time-sapping process. So instead, try guessing it!
You can often find people’s information faster this way than actually trying to go to their website and hunt it down manually. And then you can use pre-built email templates and other scaling techniques (like the one above) to quickly expedite a difficult process like cold outreach.
Beyond content being a pain point for agencies, we’ve seen social fall into the same trap as well.
But a simple, social sharing workflow (detailed in your SOP’s!) can help alleviate this problem. Buffer has a great article detailing more here.
However, there’s one aspect of this to highlight: research, don’t guess.
Followerwonk can show you the times of day when your followers are most active and likely to engage. Then you can pair that information with Buffer’s tool to make sure that you’re automating your social media optimization.
Simple and effective!
16. Sales Forecasting
The only way to plan ahead and hire is to know what your cash inflow and capacity look like.
Writing down when cash is coming in (not being billed!) is a good start, but you need to take it one step further.
For example, what do the total estimated hours look like and how does that conflict with our other work? Then you can simply plot these out based on who has availability to determine when multiple projects might be ending or kicking off.
Capacity planning can get sophisticated and complex. But again, complexity often wastes time. Instead, keep things simple. These are just best guesses and estimates after all. Don’t over-engineer something if you don’t need to.
17. ‘Roadmap’ Your Proposals
Writing estimates and proposals for clients are incredibly important. But they’re also incredibly time-consuming and often fruitless. So here’s what we’ve done instead:
- If client is a repeat customer, we’ll do a basic estimate. Cuts back on time when they already know how good we are.
- If client is new and scope is defined, we’ll do a proposal. The key is that these are persuasive and informative, otherwise you run the risk of just competing on price.
- If client is new and scope is ill-defined, we’ll do a ‘road mapping‘ session. These cut down on a ton of back and forth with new prospects, helping you focus on the ones that truly matter.
Last But Not Least…
18. Strategic Outsourcing
You got into this game because you’re very good at something. Design, link building, development, or whatever.
If possible, outsource all of the rest as quick as humanly possible.
Specialized job boards, like Problogger, offer an inexpensive way to find good skill-based, contractor talent.
And someone from Zirtual (despite their sudden problems last year) can help tackle all of the administrative stuff that pops up throughout the week.
Focus on what you’re good at, while delegating or outsourcing the rest.
The agency business is fast paced, constantly changing, and intellectually stimulating.
It’s exciting but also exhausting.
These 18 time-saving digital agency resources are just a start.
Fortunately, if you know where to look (and with enough trial and error), you’ll find a ton of ways to simplify your life and speed up productivity at the same time.