'Level Up' your agency operations in four simple steps

At The Drum’s inaugural Agency Acceleration Day US, Nancy Murray - managing director of global agency solutions at Deltek, a platform which powers project success through a cloud-based solution for professional services firms. She tells us about its innovative technology solutions, specifically designed for creative agencies, in a super-charged speed pitch.

A performing profitable culture is ultimately what agencies strive for, and the focus on culture is critically more important than ever before, especially with up-and-rising generations expecting flexibility and blended life balance - all while thriving creatively. The creative culture can also impair our quest for the ultimate vision from a business standpoint, and it is important to demystify that it certainly goes beyond having a built-in brewery in your agency lobby.

As principals, you are responsible to deliver the work environment where your talent will feel empowered to be the best “self” that they can be. The best creative, the best designer, the best assistant, the best chief finance officer and so on. How will you take steps to elevate the status of your operations right now through technology, and – crucially - how do you make that happen?

Off the record, technology will not solve anything for your operations if you have not spent meaningful time identifying what your key core goals are. Let’s take an analogy where we want to run and qualify for the Olympics trials. It is not buying a new fancy sports watch that will do the trick to achieve that goal. You will have to take a “snapshot” of where you stand right now from a fitness level point of view (current business status) and decompose the ultimate goal into chunks to make it happen effectively.

I strongly believe that a happy employee will perform so much better. How do we focus on enhanced happiness to reach a profitable and effective culture? What are the simple steps to organize the business to leverage technology tools and empower the teams to bring it on?

Running a business is the same therefore, taking a step back to the “why” and our core values as a first step will bring the awareness needed to assess and "Level Up" your operations. The four levels explained below.

Level 1

Usually, when we start a conversation with agencies, it's at level one.

Level 1 usually means we are in “firefighting” mode and in constant reaction. The stress is high and it feels overwhelming. Trust me, even as we level up we can get overwhelmed, but let’s cover our bases so that the focus is on much greater action items.

In firefighting mode, collaboration means a plethora of disparate systems, crafted spreadsheets, and sometimes even paper aeroplanes to make things happen. If you are still using emails and offering this “old school” communication method to your hip and highly skilled talent that is already so hard to find, you must re-think this as a place to start as well. It is your responsibility as principals to deliver that thriving environment to avoid extinction. To empower your players, runners, teams to be the best that they can be… to run their personal best.

That's the typical starting point; assessing where we are today while keeping in mind where you must be tomorrow.

Managing scale in the business is an art. It is a critical focus. Scale does not necessarily mean bigger or more people but it means having the ability to understand and operationalize how to do much more per available resource and automate the process. It means maximizing the amount of revenue per available person and how to maximize and fine-tune so that you are at the right scale for your agency.

Level 2

At Deltek, we ran two agency surveys over the course of the past 12 months. Over 2200 agencies share their thoughts from all parts of the globe. An astonishing 69% of agencies report that they are not estimating their project, but they are guesstimating. Instead of tracking meaningful data and extracting key insights, agencies end up with repeated scenarios without true scalability.

When we talk about levelling up, we want to be at a place where, at Level 2, we shift from reactive to proactive. Within seconds you are able to get quick answers to requests like “show me project by project comparisons right now, how much was the budget, how is that project trending from an actual perspective?” In short, you can integrate the full operation of the agency with finance, providing real-time analysis and forecasting. With this, you are now project managing with intelligence and you can better understand the cause of the “guesstimating” and scope creep that was a black hole before. We are getting in front of it before it happens and can make a trajectory change along the way,

Level 3

Levelling up to three is easier as we gather insights and organized operations from a “category level.” We understand KPI not only on a project-per-project perspective but also from an elevated dimension standpoint like department, division, product etc. We can then effectively identify what offerings bring the most revenue, the level of effort required to facilitate and then retire clients and job types that are a burden to the agency. That is hard to do, but a must for longevity (and sanity).

How long does it take you to get a complete picture of your agency business from a budget vs actual including margins? If it takes longer than a few seconds, that is where Deltek Agency Solutions come into play.

Level 4

At this level, we enhance skills and provide proactive opportunity for talent development. It is a true focus on optimized profitability and happiness and great balance to achieve an empowered and profitable culture. We also have a clear vision of what the exit strategy is for the principals/founders. What will that look like?

Conclusion

Establish a core foundation solid enough to remain flexible, agile and nimble while factoring in that “culture” goal in your utilization rates. Automated tasks and centralized data with on-the-go application makes everything much easier. This where Deltek Agency Solutions power your project success. We shift you from that reactive mode to become proactive and allow you the freedom to reach higher-level clarity. Are you ready to LevelUp?

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