What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘process’ or ‘system’?
You might be the kind of person who lives for processes (like me)... or they might terrify you.
Either way, in order for agencies to be successful you can’t run from processes and systems – you have to embrace them. For our creative agency, the day we became truly process-driven was the day we started to fly.
I know you might be thinking: ‘But you love systems, it’s easy for you to say.’ But there are straightforward ways of looking at your agency and what it needs that will help you put the systems in place that make sense.
And when you do that, you’ll start to see the following happen:
Thought-dependent tasks get more airtime
When you don’t have systems in place, there’s so much time spent wading through mud that tasks that actually require thought are put on the back burner.
For example, before we had a solid process in place, creating proposals used to take us at least a week. We would waste loads of time on pointless back and forth, recreating the same assets we’d created a million times before – time that would have been better spent on research and infusing as much value as possible.
Templates, checklists and a clear written path forward have cut that time by 80%.
You’ll see continuous improvement
The sign of a good system is that it’s constantly improving and optimizing itself. Obstacles are overcome quickly and frustrations are alleviated, making way for moving forward.
The important thing here is that this should happen automatically and be built into the system. You want to remove red tape and get the team out of any ruts that they’ve been falling into.
New people will be trained up quickly
How much time do you spend training new employees? It can be pretty time-consuming. But when you have a system that clearly outlines exactly what needs to happen – with guide books, checklists, who’s responsible for what – training can go extra smoothly. And even more importantly, it allows for new team members to gain confidence and independence in their new role much more quickly.
For agencies, time is precious. There’s never enough, so we need to use it as efficiently as possible.
You will become more agile
There’s a common misconception that systems and processes are restrictive. People don’t want to feel that they’re being ‘held back’. But in fact they can make you more agile.
Think of it like a smartphone. It has structures, systems and processes in place, sure. But it also has apps within the system that give you the freedom to meet your exact needs.
You can grow with ease of mind
As an agency, each time you grow or get a bigger retainer can actually be a dangerous moment. Every next step comes with risks.
But with systems, you have the groundwork in place. You can make sure your house foundations are sturdy before you start building divisions, or adding rooms or decorations. That way, it simply won’t fall down.
So you can see exactly why systems and processes are crucial.
There are also some very common mistakes that agencies make. I know, because we used to make them ourselves.
What are the biggest culprits? Let’s take a look.
1. Simply thinking that you don’t need them
‘Winging it’ and a thriving agency just don’t mix. It’s easy to think that processes aren’t essential and that you don’t have time to bring them to life.
But when it comes to a crunch point, you’ll find you have nothing to fall back on and the result of this is a lack of business continuity.
2. Looking at the micro before the macro
Many agencies put systems in place for their departments that don’t link to a wider company system.
So you may have a process-oriented project manager, who has their own process for their own team. But it doesn’t feed into other departments, or even the company as a macro network.
This creates a stagnant and non-cohesive way of working, putting each department into their own box.
3. Creating processes... and forgetting them
I think this is more common than people realize. Just as important as the creation of processes is making sure that people follow them – including you.
More often than not this is down to one of two things:
the process doesn’t make sense for the company
the team doesn’t realize the importance of the process i.e. it’s not ingrained into the company culture to be process-driven
Whichever it is, you’re going to have to re-evaluate a) if the process works in the first place, or b) how to make processes more of an integral part of your culture.
Now, understanding why processes are important and realizing mistakes you may have been making are the first big steps to change.
But it begs the question: how do I make these changes?
Step back, break it down, then break it down some more
The best way to start – and how I did this myself – is to take a long, objective look at your agency.
Ask yourself: what are the fundamentals?
For most, it boils down to three core parts:
Getting the job done
Here’s an important bit: you need to look at each of these areas and think about the main things that need to happen to make them successful. But your best way of doing this is by taking an outside-in approach by talking to the team members that are doing the work.
If you have a big agency, you can interview department heads and a sample of their relevant team members. Or you can even do a survey.
If you have a small agency, it makes sense to interview everyone in the company to get their view.
Your goal is to find the frustrations and alleviate them. And this way you get insights based on evidence, not assumptions, and you get the buy-in of the team in the new process from the get-go.
How micro can you go?
When you have your super-valuable team insights, I suggest a good old-fashioned flowchart. Simply sit down with an A4 sheet of paper and get back to basics.
This flowchart should focus on your three fundamental areas, showing what needs to happen from new business to getting paid... very roughly.
And from here you can create micro processes around each part of the flow chart. Written processes, guide books, checklists, templates – every tool that’s going to help each role type understand the process in your agency.
The great thing about this is that there’s truly no limit to how micro you go – as long as it’s connected to the bigger picture, makes sense and is accessible.
Lastly, make sure you get the right people. We built a culture and business based on getting team members who are better than us at everything they do. This way, they can be truly independent and own their roles. This is deliberate, as you can’t have a system like this without having people own their area – it simply won’t work.