How to grow an agency: happy processes equal happy people

By Emma Thelwall, Operations director

Three Whiskey


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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January 24, 2020 | 6 min read

No one ever said growing an agency is easy. At one point you were probably wearing multiple hats and working all hours under the sun just to get the work out. But now, you have a workforce, departments, tools and systems to help your growth.

Umbrella happy

As your business continues to grow, it’s vital to have robust processes in place to support your people; ensuring you can deliver the best possible service to your clients.

The right tools and systems can make or break the working day and you need workflows and processes that complement them. People who have these in their workplace are proven to be more motivated and engaged in their work. How you work is as important as what you create.

Effective operations for agencies need to touch across several departments, and be designed to remove ambiguity, provide clarity and reassure both team members and clients. Do it right first time with simple processes that are easily flexed for the everyday activities, like planning, resourcing, completing timesheets and project reconciliations.

Where to start?

The priority is to analyse what you’re currently working with. Look at your existing workflows to see if there are gaps in the system, problems that always come up or even places where your lacking a process entirely. Your list may be long - particularly if you’re a growing agency – but don’t be disheartened, solutions can always be found (and we’ll come to them).

Focus on the processes that are going to have an immediate impact and a long-lasting effect. If you consider what you want to improve 9 times out of 10 you will find that one process or workflow, impacts another. Look at your list and prioritise what needs to come first.

Once you’ve identified what you’re going to work on, analyse what currently happens:

  • What is the purpose?
  • Who is involved?
  • Who is affected by the outcome?
  • Where are the frustrations/inefficiencies?
  • What feedback have you heard from those involved/affected?

There isn’t a set template for this, and these questions aren’t set in stone, but they will certainly helped your team identify any development areas – no agency is perfect after all.

Finding the solution

Often, the solution for your process that’s not working well may be a pretty small change to a workflow.

Let’s say, your project management team might have a recurring issue with resource clashes and struggle to resolve them easily. The problem is likely a gap in communication. So try scheduling a weekly team resource meeting and create a Slack channel for communicating resource changes throughout the week.

In other cases, a bigger change may be required, or an entirely new process may need to be developed. These still need to be fixed quickly, but you’ll need more steps to get to the solution.

For example, you may have a lack of clarity on the total cost of freelancers each month. POs not being requested and invoices for work you’re unaware keep appearing.

  • Work with those involved to brainstorm a solution
    • Talk to the COO/Finance team to discuss best practice. In an ideal world, what would work best for you all?
  • Draw out your solution and work through the steps
    • Try a process flow that includes what your communication channels would be, how/who would go back with queries, final sign off, documentation and invoicing.
  • Get buy-in from other team members
    • You need to find an approach that works with your respective teams. Get their feedback, understand why this is happening. Perhaps their urgency for a freelancer and how you are processing PO’s are incompatible?
  • Create best practice documents, workflows and key roles and responsibilities of those involved
    • Try creating a freelancer cost request template and map how this would work in practice, including response times.
  • Test it on a small group of people
    • Get a couple of team members to try it first and get their feedback
  • Gather around those who the process involves and present the solution
  • Support team members in the initial use of the process and guide them along the way

Things change

Once a new process has been developed, you have to let it loose in the wild. It’s only by having people use it that you can evaluate how well it’s really working, and how it may need to be adapted.

Provide a mechanism for people to give feedback on how the process is working for them, and ensure you have a way of measuring whether desired efficiencies or other benefits are being delivered.

Once you’ve gathered enough feedback and analysis of a new process in action, you can make adjustments and improvements so that the process is as effective as possible.

Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Make sure people know you’re listening to them and that their feedback is vital to the success of how your agency grows. After all, happy processes equal happy people.

Emma Thelwall, operations director, Three Whiskey


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