“We were kind of just flying by the seat of our pants, to be honest. We weren’t operating off of a tight scope. We were just out there creating stuff that we knew we should be making, but there was no structure or order to it at all. We aren’t sure how to streamline processes at work.”
That sounds like an agency in need of some processes and systems. My podcast guest Andrew Dymski was describing his own agency in the quote above. Fortunately, he realized that they had to stop reinventing the wheel with every new project or client.
What he discovered is that by creating documented processes for each step of the client journey, they were able to become more focused and much more profitable. So many agencies know they need to systematize their agency but it’s a daunting task so the excuses are easier. As Andrew put it during our conversation, “you’ve got to put a firm date on the calendar when you’re going to step back, pop the hood, and look at the agency and the way it’s running.”
Follow Andrew and I on his journey down the process and systemizing your agency rabbit hole and how his agency came out on the other side:
- How Andrew and his business partner Gray MacKenzie started their agency while they were still in college and the transformation that GuavaBox has undergone since then
- How Michael Gerber’s “The E Myth” transformed how Andrew’s agency was ran
- Using blogging as a method for separating yourself
- Why clients will leave if communication is poor — even when you’re doing great work
- DoInbound: a tool for creating templates that power the delivery of services just for inbound marketing agencies
- How creating DoInbound has helped the way Andrew works with his clients
- Why you need to figure out your vision and share that with your core team
- Listing and pruning your agency’s list of deliverables
- Systemizing your agency with documented processes
- How to create processes with your employees and get them to actually follow the processes created
- How many processes are too many processes?
- Why you need multiple iterations of processes
- What meetings about processes with your employees should look like
- What you can do right now to put some of the ideas from this episode in place without freaking out your team
Andrew Dymski is a co-founder of DoInbound, a process and project management platform for inbound marketing agencies and GuavaBox, an inbound marketing agency. He is a lacrosse coach on the side and loves doing almost anything outside. He is also the co-host of Inbound Agency Journey, a weekly podcast for agency pros.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://www.agencymanagementinstitute.com/andrew-dymski/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
- Andrew’s Background & How He Got His Start in the Agency World
- How to Start Systemizing Your Agency
- Introducing New Systems & Processes Inside the Agency
- Immediate Action Steps
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew: Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Glad to have you back if you are a regular listener. And also glad to have you here for the first time. I think this is a great podcast to get started on. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest. We’re gonna talk today about systems, processes, inbound, lots of great information that you’re gonna be able to take back to your shop and implement. So my guest today is Andrew Dymski. And Andrew is the co-founder of GuavaBox, which is an agency. And there, he serves as the VP of Inbound. So he runs point on the marketing and sales initiatives that they have.
And they really help their clients, obviously, reach new customers through content and inbound marketing, which I know a lot of you are wrapping your arms around or have been knee-deep in for a while. But he and his business partner also created DoInbound, which is aimed at agencies, and it is a mix of…Andrew, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a mix of an inbound project management platform, some best practices and teachings around all things inbound. And in some cases, if you wanted actual coaching on how to create, launch, and maintain an inbound strategy inside your shop. Did I get it right?
Andrew: You got it, Drew. You got it.
Drew: All right. So when he’s not running those two businesses, Andrew is a lacrosse coach on the side and likes hanging out outside. He is also a goalie when he plays. Oh, and you coach goalies?
Drew: Okay. You’re a goalie and goalie coach, right. And this is a little quirk about Andrew. He actually gets whooped up about it and excited about buyer personas. So you are clearly an agency geek. Welcome to the podcast.
Andrew: Drew, thank you so much for that introduction. I don’t know if we’ve ever covered that variety of topics in an intro, but I’m fired up to be here. Thanks for the opportunity.
Andrew’s Background & How He Got His Start in the Agency World
Drew: Yeah. I’m glad to have you here. I think you’re gonna have a lot to share that people are gonna be sort of scrambling to take notes on. So let’s start with the agency, because as I understand it, the agency came first, and out of the agency came DoInbound because you had a need that you couldn’t…you had sort of an itch you couldn’t scratch, right?
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. My business partner, Gray MacKenzie and I, we started our agency GuavaBox back while we were both seniors out of Grove City College. Which if you haven’t heard that name before, it is a little school out in western Pennsylvania. But we met up there. Found out, like, we were friends the whole time through. Knew we wanted to go into business together, but had no idea what that business would look like. And then going into our senior year, we took the school’s very first version of internet content marketing. We went through “Have Customers, Get Content.” It’s Joe Pulizzi’s book, it’s awesome.
Drew: Yeah. All his books are awesome.
Andrew: Yep, Oh, yeah. But it’s like the adjunct professor that led that class, his name was Tim Sweet. He was a thought leader at that space and that time. He was giving us assignments to read in the HubSpot blog for our freaking college class. So we were loving it. We soaked it up, and when we were getting ready to graduate, we said, “Oh, we don’t wanna leave without moving something forward.” So we laid the groundwork for GuavaBox. Started off as a website design agency, did some basic social media strategy, but we basically started right away. Gray, when we graduated, he started full time. I went to work for a PR agency for about a year after graduating and then came on to GuavaBox full time. But we really just hit the ground running, kinda learning as we go. Went through a lot of bumps and bruises along the way.
Found out that selling projects and projects only was a really, really hard way to make a living, especially for two young families. So that’s’ when we found HubSpot, became a value added reseller in their program, and they just offer a ton of training and coaching to help businesses…or agencies become businesses, essentially. So we just kind of soaked up a lot of information from them and became kind of a more retainer model agency in the inbound space, because we always loved the idea of content, right? The idea of if you just focus on solving people’s problems, they’ll come to you when they’re ready to do business. You know, that kind of fits the world that Gray and I grew up in, and it just seems to make a lot business sense.
And we were able to validate that pretty early on in the market that there were businesses out there that could fall in line with this idea. And even though that we were young guys, kind of trusted us, because you know, young guys get tech. And so we lead with that, and then as we grew and we learned, we became more and more astute at our inbound skills and really focused in on the need for buyer personas and having a personalized, driven marketing campaign. So that kind of characterized the nature of GuavaBox. You know, we helped B2B companies really implement inbound marketing strategies, build inbound-focused websites. We’ve been able to work with folks in all kinds of industries. So that’s been a cool five years so far.
Drew: And today, what does your agency look like?
Andrew: Today, it is scaled down a good bit from what it was. GuavaBox is still there. We focus on really just really good fit clients right now, specifically folks who are on HubSpot COS platform. If you are not familiar with that, HubSpot is…yeah, they’re a marketing automation tool, but they also have a very, very well-built and getting better every day website builder called the…it was called the COS. I’m not even sure if they are branding it like that anymore. But building websites on HubSpot’s platform is our focus. Our niche now is kind of helping folks who are on HubSpot do HubSpot better.
Drew: Got it. Okay. And so at what point in the evolution of your agency did DoInbound come to be, and how and why?
Andrew: Yeah, it came about two and half years into the journey and really came out of a pain, kind of multi-faced… Like I said, we were in college, came right out into starting the business, and really didn’t have any idea how to structure the operational side of things, how to really understand all of the systems that need to be put in place in order to get a business up and running. One of the things that kind of characterized our journey as entrepreneurs is constantly learning, constantly soaking up as much information as we could. So one of the first business books I read out of college was the “The E Myth” by Michael Gerber.
Andrew: Love that book. It is so simple, yet so insightful.
Drew: And so hard to do.
Andrew: Amen. A little pie shop.
Drew: I know.
Andrew: It’s such a cute example, but…
Drew: Well, and when you are reading it, you’re like, “Yes, this is what I’m gonna do. I need to stop baking the pies.” And then you go back to your office and your agency, and you look and you go, “I have no idea how to stop baking the pies.”
Andrew: Exactly. And if I see someone else baking a pie, I’m like, “I wouldn’t do it like that. I’d roll out the dough a little bit thinner.”
Drew: Right, right, right. Yeah, they’re not primping the crust the same way I would.
Andrew: Exactly, exactly. So how did DoInbound come about is really out of our pain. We had no idea what we were gonna do. We were so focused on selling new accounts, because we had no… You know, when you just come to inbound, a lot of agencies that do it, they’ve got some sort of history. They’ve got a client, a current book of business, so they’ve got past customers that they can go back to. But two guys just coming out of school, we really had no book of business to go back to. So we first needed to become our best case study. And that’s really where we kind of sharpened our stick in terms of becoming really good inbound marketers, was just blogging like crazy on the GuavaBox blog.
And so like, there were three of us. It was Brandon Jones, Gray MacKenzie, and myself getting GuavaBox up and running. And we would have blogging batch days once a week. We would spend five hours just blogging for GuavaBox and scheduling out those posts. We’d have one post going out per day. And that really separated us. That really got us up in the Google rankings around folks who were looking for inbound marketing. We wanted to be those niche experts as folks who could help clients who already knew they needed help with inbound. We didn’t have, like, a specific vertical focus, like, we couldn’t just speak to industrial manufacturers or just speak to insurance companies. We wanted to speak to the folks who wanted inbound.
So that was a big part of our focus, was just marketing and selling. And then once we actually sold clients and we had them on there, they were excited about inbound, but as I’m sure if you listen to this, you’ve been in a similar situation before. You get them on, they’re all excited, and then things kind of start to peter out, you know? You know, the client kind of loses a little bit their enthusiasm, communication begins to fall off. And for us, this went on until that point of renewal, like nine months in, we’re on 12-month contracts. Trying to get that client to renew for the next contract was a pain, and we were really confused, because we were delivering results. We were delivering leads, and their search engine rankings were improving. But for some reason, you know, our first couple of accounts were not renewing, and we found out that it was because they didn’t know what was going on.
Our communication was all off. We had no process for managing client communication, and we had no process for really organizing all of the different types of activities that went into an inbound strategy, putting those in a simple, repeatable format. You know, we were kind of just flying by the seat of our pants, to be honest. We weren’t operating off of a tight scope. We were just out there creating stuff that, you know, we knew they should be doing, but there was no structure or order to at all.
Drew: And so you went looking for something that would help you do that?
Andrew: Yeah. And like through this whole experience…and if you are an agency owner, let’s be honest for a second, how many project managing software trials have you started in your life? I think I’m at 50.
Drew: Right, right. Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: I was looking for that pixie dust in a platform, and just couldn’t find it at all. We tried so many different things out, and now looking back, I can see I was looking for an operating system for my agency. And what I was buying was just a blank whiteboard. You know, we need a system on a whiteboard so that we know what to follow as agencies. It was a painful period, to be honest with you. Like, it was very frustrating to lose revenue and to disappoint those clients, because I take that personally. Like, if a client leaves and they’re not happy with me, you know, that’s a personal touch for me. I want to make those people happy. I wanna make those businesses succeed, and if they leave with a bad taste in their mouth, you know, that’s not a good place to be.
So we wanted to fix that problem. We knew that another software tool wouldn’t do it, so we decided to build DoInbound, which would be focused just for inbound marketing agencies like GuavaBox. We were gonna try scratch our own itch there. And we were gonna focus simply on the templates that powered the delivery of services, and how can we create documented processes for each step of a client journey and put it into a simple, easy-to-use platform so that folks not only get a software that has all the bells and whistles they need, but it’s got the templates in there that kind of outlines the ideal workflow and gives them the ability to customize them.
That’s what set us on the journey. We started out just by talking to other agencies to validate, you know, “Hey, are you guys feeling the same pain I am?” And that was a great way for us to start. And it’s been over two years now. A lot of iterations, a lot of changes, a lot of pivots, but it’s been a cool journey so far, and we’ve learned a ton along the way.
Drew: And along the way, I’m assuming you were sort of your own guinea pig, right? You kept tweaking and testing. So how has DoInbound changed the way you work with clients, and what has that done to your retention?
Andrew: Yeah. It has helped it in a huge way. Just by focusing on, first, taking a step back and looking at our agency and trying to decide, “Okay, what’s like the typical flow of a client through our journey? What are the different steps in the process?” Because if I’m on a podcast every week and I’m preaching that you should be documenting your processes as an agency, and I’m not doing it myself, that’s pretty hypocritical.
Andrew: So just kind of building the platform and coaching people through the platform has helped us just to kind of go over-exaggerated in terms of what we document and how we power the agency. And so creating documents and processes for easily onboarding new clients, for running them through, like, a website project in a very efficient way. Kind of defining each step of that journey, putting those assets in place. Like, we have a…we call it a marketing inventory form. And it’s just a static form on our website that every new client we bring on, we send them that form and they fill out, you know, all of their contact information. We get all their social media links. They upload all of the kind of the content offers that they have already, whether they’re sales brochures or their trade show presentations, whatever it might be.
But it’s systematized. I’ve got a standard process now for gathering information from a client when they come on. It’s also helped us really implement a solid kind of discovery meeting process and having several structured meetings at the beginning of a client’s journey to get in with the organization, get to know not only the contact and the marketing department, but the contact and the sales department, service department, engineering, the CEO, the CFO. Getting all those people in the room and building a persona-centric strategy and showing each of them in the room, “How does inbound relate to you? How is this gonna make your job better?” instead of just talking to that marketer. Because that’s one big lesson that we learned along the way and that we heard from other users of DoInbound is, you know, “How do I get out, get in to the other stakeholders and show them that this is valuable for them?”
So helping us implement that process. First at GuavaBox, like, testing it out there, and then sharing that with DoInbound and that community has really helped us along the way.
Drew: So let’s step away from your platform now, because I’m sure there are some best practices. You know, you and I were talking before we hit the record button about everybody is looking for, as you said, the platform with pixie dust. Everybody is looking for the magic nirvana where if we have this platform, everything will be on time, on budget, on scope, and we’ll all know what’s going on. And the reality is it’s, you know, very often a garbage in, garbage out sort of a thing.
How to Start Streamlining Your Processes
Drew: So what are some things, as you were putting together your specific tool, what are some more generic best practices or observations? As you think about agencies who want to systemize or create more process, what are some things that get in the way of them doing that well?
Andrew: Yeah, the software is the easy thing. Like, it’s easy to sign up for a free software and see the tools in there. You know, the hard work is to take a step back and say, “What are we trying to build? What’s the five-year vision for our agency? What’s the three-year vision for our agency? What’s the one-year vision for our agency?” And the owner needs to come to terms with that first. But then he needs to be able to meet with the core team and get them to share that vision or understand, like, “What is the vision that we share together?” Because if your core team’s vision does not align with your vision, then there is conflict. So we need to kind of bring some harmony to that equation. Before we even think about software, we need to know where we’re going to go.
Then the next step that I see is we need to figure out what do we want to be known for as an agency? What are the key deliverables that we want to create to help our clients reach their goals? And just start, get that core team around the table and a whiteboard and a marker and just write down all the deliverables that the agencies created in the past six months. Get them up there on that board and then filter through it and say, “Okay, which of these should we not be doing?” Because we found at GuavaBox, like, there were things that we were doing that we should not be doing. Video is a beautiful thing out there. It’s a phenomenal way to market. We are not a video production agency. Why should we be doing video? You know, leave that to somebody who does it well.
So kind of listing and pruning the number of deliverables that you offer as an agency. And that sounds like an easy task, but that’s a multiple hour meeting right there, just to kind of have those conversations and figure out what is that basic list of deliverables that we’re gonna create as an agency. What do we wanna be known for? Because the more focused we get, the more profitable we get, you know, whether it’s focused within a niche or it’s focused within the types of services. The more niche you are, the more profitable you can be.
Drew: And again, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help your clients do great video. It just means you don’t do it in-house.
Drew: It may mean that you have a great strategic partner. And I think for some agencies, that’s a short term versus long term sort of decision where it’s hard to say, “I’m not gonna keep that revenue. I don’t want that money that’s on the table for the video. Instead, I’m gonna give most of it to a strategic partner, and maybe I’m gonna take a little cut, or maybe I’m not. But it’s certainly not gonna feed my family.” But the reality is that if you can’t do something really well and sustain both a level of excellence and a consistency in staff.
So I think one of the challenges for small agencies is, let’s say, they wanna do video, but the truth is, that means they have a video guy or woman. And every time they lose their video guy, who has all of the client knowledge, all of the subject matter knowledge, they basically, all of a sudden, don’t have a video department. So they have to reinvent. I’m seeing this a lot for agencies who are doing web dev, or they are doing, it could be inbound or it could be something else. But the truth is, they are not deep enough in it because it’s sort of a sideline part of what they offer, that they don’t really have…they can’t scale, because they have a person or two people, and that puts them at great risk.
Andrew: Yeah. I think it comes from the natural inclination to be a digital yes man or to be an agency yes man and say, “Yes, we’ll do it.” And, “Okay, I’ll figure out how to do it once I’m off this call.”
Drew: And oftentimes, we’re reluctant that to come to the answer of “The way I can do this best for the client is for us not to do it and for me to help them find somebody who is great at it.”
Andrew: Yeah. And we had Marcus Sheridan on our podcast a few months ago, and you know, one thing that Marcus and the team at The Sales Lion do really well is he says on his website like what is the type of agency they are, and are you a good fit or not? I mean, very open and honest about that through the sales process. You don’t need to be a great fit for everybody, because if you are, you know, you’re gonna be running a mad house in-house to try to deliver on all those promises, and your clients aren’t gonna be happy, because they’re not gonna get what they thought they were gonna get.
So really creating that list of deliverables. Before you even think about software, what do we want to be known for, creating that full list, deciding on it, agreement on the core team. That’s a huge step, and the next step after that is figure out, within each of those deliverables, what are the tasks that happen every time that deliverables created, regardless of the client? What are the key 5, 6, 7, 10 tasks that have to happen? And you can do all this in a whiteboard, on a spreadsheet. You know, you do not need a specific software tool to do this. But having those conversations, bringing in the people that are doing the work, and just getting everyone on the same page, because you could be delivering blog posts for five different clients with two different team members, and each of them are following a completely different process.
Drew: Right. And also recognizing that no matter how diligent you are, you’re probably gonna miss a step or two until you test the process.
Drew: And then you go, “Oh, I forgot about proofreading,” or whatever it is, right?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. You wanna be constantly improving on this thing. It’s not something where you need to turn the agency off for a month and say, “Okay, we’ve gotta re-tool and then we’re gonna roll out and we’re gonna be the latest Corvette.” You know, this is an overtime kind of thing. Constant improvement is a big mindset to have. And that’s where, you know, meeting regularly with your core team on the operational side of things and reviewing those templates that power your agency is a really, really important process to add kinda to your workflow. And in the client servicing space, it’s always easy to say, “Oh, there’s too much client work.” You know, you have to put at a firm date on the calendar when you’re gonna step back, pop the hood, and look at the agency in the way it’s running.
Drew: Well, and I wanna push on something you just said. So I think one of the places where agencies get paralyzed when they are trying to create process is they try and create a single process for all situations, including the weird exceptions. How did you avoid that?
Andrew: I like to follow the 80/20 rule whenever I possibly can. So if it’s a template, I want that template to kinda cover 80% of the use cases and get the 20% customized. But at the same time, that means I’m not gonna template out everything that we do as an agency. There is gonna be those wacko things that come in, and we still wanna solve them to make the client happy, because that’s how we continue to learn as well. As long as we find that whatever it is that we are doing falls within the scope of the service that we’re offering, it’s okay to do something that you haven’t processed out before. Just once you do it, come back to it and say, okay, what was the process for that document that kind of extracted out of your mind, and continue to build that log of templates over time.
And that way, if you come across it again, you at least have that template as a point of reference, whether it’s a Google doc or it’s a saved project in base camp, whatever it is. You have some sort of a framework to go back to so that you’re not…you’re becoming more profitable there, because you’ll spend less time researching, less time going out and testing different things, and you at least have kind of a pivot point to work off of, to crack that new challenge that that client project’s presenting. Does that answer the question?
Drew: Yeah. Well, and I think it’s much easier to modify a process 10% or 15% or 20% of the time than it is to reinvent the wheel every time.
Andrew: Exactly, yeah.
Drew: Okay. So let’s say we now have this process that we’ve sort of mapped out. Timeline-wise, this is one of those things that I think agencies have great angst over. So I think… And first of all, I don’t think agencies like process and systems. We sort of bristle against cookie-cuttering any part of our work, right? So I think one of the ways we avoid it is by making the creation of the process, this huge, onerous, six-month task. So from the day I say I want to create a task around, let’s say, creating blog posts, what’s a reasonable time frame to go from deciding I wanna do that to testing my first version of it?
Andrew: What I recommend doing is, first of all, if you’re the owner, do not do the process without talking to the people that do it every single day.
Andrew: Those should be the folks. The boots on the ground should be the ones who document the process. And the first step is, “Okay, everyone write down how do you do what you do?” Just put it in a Google doc, break it down with little bullet points basing the steps. If you’ve got three content writers, break that blog process down. If you’ve got three proofers, break that blog process down and figure out, “Okay, what are the common overlays that we have right here? Are these people doing different processes creating inconsistency in the way that we’re working?” So I guess the first step is just extract the process as it is today, and second step would be analyze “How do we kind of future proof this by making it so it’s not just specific for one client, but we can layer it across a couple by, you know, hitting those 80% of the points.”
And then second is how do we get all the people creating on the same page? Because maybe there is a justifiable reason for each person to follow a different process. That can be okay, but if it’s just personal convenience and we’re creating inconsistent work as an agency, then that’s a good opportunity to kind of pump the brakes. Talk to everyone who’s creating and following their own internal processes and get them kind of united around an acceptable way to do it. Because in most cases, it’s not that someone is super opinionated about the way they do something, it’s just the way they’ve always done it. They were never walked through “Here’s how we create, here’s how we proof, here’s how we schedule, here’s how we send a client for approval.”
They don’t walk through all those processes. They kinda have to ad-lib it on their own. Whoever taught them shared with them their process. So just having an open conversation about systemizing your agency is the biggest thing that folks can do, and start documenting something. Have just a Google drive file with different Google docs with different processes that folks follow as a very minimum step. And, you know, once you get going, it’s kind of addictive when you start documenting out your processes.
Introducing New Systems & Processes Inside the Agency
Drew: Well, I find, when I’m working with agencies and we’re working on systems and process, there is a lot of, “I think this is a great idea for all of you people, but when I do it, it’s a little different. And it’s super-important that I get to keep doing it my way, because for some reason, it’s better different…” fill in the blank. How does an agency get compliant so that everybody, whether they were part of the creation process or not, everyone understands this process isn’t really optional?
Andrew: Mm-hmm. I think it starts from the top, and that’s why that vision setting meeting is so important, or those constant touch points. Because if it comes top-down and the top doesn’t follow, why should the bottom? That’s kind of a no-brainer thing, but the…
Drew: I’m sorry. Say that again for me.
Andrew: If it’s a top-down decision, like the owner says, “We need to start following a process for how we do things.”
Drew: All right. So let’s use time sheets as an example. And you can see I’m setting you up to say something that I’ve said eight million times. So let’s say you’ve decided the time tracking, especially given the fact that the overtime law is gonna change the game. And for many agencies, that’s how we manage our resources, whether you bill by the hour or not, timesheets matter. So let’s say you’re gonna create a process around daily time sheets. Now tell me about the, from the top down.
Andrew: Practice what you preach.
Andrew: If you can’t show your team that you are eating your own dog food, and then you are excited about it, why should they care?
Drew: Or at least the reason why it’s valuable, right?
Andrew: Yeah. I mean if you implement, say, structured team agendas, and okay, we’re gonna have…like we follow Traction at DoInbound, the Entrepreneur’s Operating System. So we have a level 10 meeting every Wednesday morning. And it’s a basic agenda that we follow week in, week out. And if I propose that as kind of the head of the company, and then I roll in and I want to start just rambling on about whatever I want outside of that structure, what does that tell my core team? It tells them that, you know, the owner is not bought in, why should I be bought in? So I think you hit the nail on the head, like consistency from the top down and just emulating what you want them to do is gonna be a huge part of it.
And then continuing to touch base, don’t just push it out there and then next week, it’s business as usual. We’ve gotta have touch points that bring it back in and just kind of keep implementing, keep following up and touching it to see how things are going. The follow on process is a big part of this as well.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. I think agency owners sometimes forget how closely they are watched and how they set the tone for the shop. And so whether it’s time… You know, in most agencies, the person who most violates whatever process is there, who has all the workarounds, or who goes to the creative director and says, “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to do a creative brief, but can you just whip this out for me?” The biggest offender in almost all cases is the agency owner. And what I think we forget is, yeah, of course they’re gonna do whatever you ask, because A, they like you, and B, you own the joint. But what you’re doing is you’re diminishing the importance and value of that system that you asked them to put into place.
And after a while there is a, “Well, you know what, if Drew can have a work around, then I can have a work around.” And all of the sudden, everybody has a work around. So there is a process in place, but no one is honoring it, because you set the tone that it didn’t matter.
Andrew: I think it jeopardizes your credibility as a leader as well. Like, if I say I’m gonna do something and I don’t follow through with it, you know, that kind of is a notch against you in the eye of your team, because they are always looking up to you to see, like, “How are you doing things? Because I’m gonna emulate that.” So just pay close attention to that. If you’re gonna push into something, make sure that you’re committed to it. You’ve got a core team around you that can hold you accountable. You can hold them accountable, and then that’s a great place to start from.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. So in a typical agency, what’s like the right number of process and systems? Because I also think, you know, I’ve seen agencies that had a, “Here is how we make coffee in the morning system,” right? And I think, “Okay, I get that consistent coffee in an agency really matters, but perhaps that was not the best use of your time.”
Andrew: Yeah. Someone read “The Toyota Way” and got a little carried away coming back to the office.
Andrew: Typical agency, that’s kind of…it’s hard to capture that…because, like, as digital agencies, as traditional agencies, there’s so many different things that we’re doing, but I like to start with the client’s journey, and breaking down, when we’re servicing our clients, what’s the process there? And start at that point. And then once that’s in place, going through your organizational structure and having each head kind of figure out, within my department, what are the key processes that we need documented there? Because they know it the best. They’ve got the hands-on there. But if someone were to take a week’s-long vacation, what functions of the company would come to a grinding halt because one person left?
And if there is anything that you can identify after running it past that criteria, that’s something that should be documented, and it should be stored in a place where everyone knows how to find it, and it’s easy to access. You know, like a Google drive file structure system that everyone knows how to navigate is one easy, simple way to do it. Using a tool like Process Street is another easy, simple way to do it, where you’ve got a structure and everything falls within that structure. And again, that’s talking as a team, whiteboarding “How do we wanna organize our processes? Are we gonna follow our organizational chart? What is it?” But yeah, I would leave it up to the heads of the different departments to break down what are the key roles underneath us that if someone walked away, things would come to a grinding halt.
Drew: So okay. So now you’ve got, you know, a handful of processes, and I agree with you, I think you start with the customer journey and the client interaction so that that’s consistent and delivered at a level that the clients are not used to, because they’re used to everybody sort of doing it in a haphazard way. So now, you’ve got some critical systems. What’s the best way to introduce those and begin to live those inside the agency?
Andrew: Yeah. Like, small bites I think are better than, like, wholistic changes, so little bits at a time. And again, bringing those people into the conversation, the key stakeholders into the conversation around the documentation is a really important point. And I don’t want people to just kind of breeze past that, because that way, they’re introduced to the idea of documenting processes before they begin to be imposed on to follow those processes. So kind of having that conversation, having everyone talk about that, and then having kind of a fixed date on the calendar. So if it’s how you manage a certain client, say we’ve been doing it to date in platform X, we’re moving to platform Y, and you know, we’ve spent the last week preparing our processes and our templates inside process Y.
Today, we’re gonna flip the switch, and we’re gonna start managing processes in that new platform for just one client. We’re gonna test that out for three weeks and see how that process goes. We’re gonna tweak and improve that, and then after that, we’re gonna move this next team over into that platform. So that way, instead of just turning off one system and jumping into a new system, you’re gonna test with like a beta client, almost. That’s been something that we’ve seen just helping people get on to DoInbound, is instead of flipping the switch and doing everything at once, it’s bringing one client over, get that tested. And after a certain test period where everyone knows how long we have, then we flip the switch. We bring everyone on at kind of a common point there.
But as far as a team goes, again, as long as they’re engaged in the process, I think that’s the most important step in terms of getting them to start following that process.
Drew: You know, I was talking to somebody else who does a lot of project management inside of agencies and helps agencies create system and process. And he made the comment that it’s usually the third or fourth iteration of the process where you finally get it mostly right. And then you sorta have to go into that beta test knowing, “We’re gonna find some things that we missed or we miscalculated or that don’t need to be there at all,” whatever it is. “This is not done, by any means.” So you have to sort of see it as iterations, I think.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. We’re always gonna be improving. We’re always going to be tweaking things, and you’re never gonna be doing that more than right after you implement a new system. So let’s just go in with the expectation that we’re going to be tweaking this thing. We’re gonna be making it stronger as we see how it actually runs. And then we’re gonna move forward from there. We’re constantly learning. We don’t wanna operate off of assumptions.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. So what kind of a feedback mechanism makes sense in an agency? So let’s say you’ve had systems and process for…let’s say you’ve had a specific system in line and you’re on iteration six. What’s the process for tweaking systems…so that again, because I think the tendency in agencies are, “Well, okay, I know what the system is, and 30% of it works great for me. So I’m just gonna do my own thing for the other 70%.” So what’s the right way to get feedback and to keep iterating and make sure that A, the process continues to evolve, but B, that everyone continues to follow the process?
Andrew: Yeah. I think it’s important to have the same…whatever your management structure is, like whoever your team members, like the people who are executing work, whoever they report to, whoever that person reports to, however deep your organization is, it’s important to have scheduled check-ins with your employees just for, you know, agency culture to begin with. Like checking with them, like talking career track with them, talking workplace satisfaction. What can we do better? What can we improve on? And I would insert the process conversation into that type of a meeting environment, where you’re kind of taking a step back. It could be talking about performance reviews, that sort of thing.
Whenever you touch base with those people on a monthly basis, you can get feedback from them on a specific process in that standpoint. You can also do it if you kind of operate in different pods and you have kind of team stand-ups for those pods or for that kind of team within your team and have an open spot in that meeting agenda for process review. Whoever is running that meeting, whether it’s, like, the account manager on that or if it’s the project manager who could own the process, that’s a very real situation. They should have a view into how people are performing inside the project management tool. You know, are they actually delivering on the process there, because if someone’s not delivering on the process, we wanna know why not, but if they’re offering tweaks and suggestions on something that they’re not even following themselves, then we have kind of a disconnect there.
So we have to know A, are they executing on it? And then B, what do they think about it as individuals? And then figure out are we hearing enough birds chirp around the specific step in the process to make a tweak? And not make it so that you can only tweak things once a month or once a quarter. But have those kind of set structures in place so that you make sure that over time, you continue to gather information, because otherwise, we put something in place, we talk about it for two weeks, and then we fall back to business as usual. So kind of like how we talked about earlier, that agencies don’t like the idea of process and structure because it gets them out of their creative zone. We definitely need follow-up and structure in terms of checking on our processes over time.
Drew: Yeah. This is gonna give agency owners heart palpitations, but what you’re saying is, you need a process for checking your processes when you’re systemizing your agency.
Andrew: Yeah. Process for process.
Drew: Yeah. I’m so sorry listeners, that you’re hearing that, but it’s true. I mean, that’s the painful reality of if you actually want… And again, this is all about if you want to scale and grow and be more efficient and effective. If you’re perfectly content with your agency just how it is today, then disregard all of this. But if you want to be able to scale, and if you wanna add staff, and if you wanna maintain a level of excellence, this is the only way to do it.
Andrew: Yeah. We’re only talking to people who want to be more profitable, Drew, and not those who are happy where they are.
Drew: Yeah, yeah. So now, a couple will be like, “All right, fine, I’ll listen. Oh, if you had mentioned profitability on the front end,” right?
Andrew: We’ve already lost those listeners, though.
Drew: They’re at Starbucks getting something to drink, cursing both of our names.
Immediate Action Steps
Drew: So all of this is great, but it’s also a little overwhelming. So give the listeners who are still listening with us and have not run off to get some caffeine, give them a really tangible, “Here’s how to get started. Here are some baby steps to take that aren’t gonna be overwhelming, that are not gonna freak you and your staff out, but will at least give you a taste of how this should go, so you can sort of strengthen that muscle and build that muscle up to do it in a bigger, better way as you go.”
Andrew: I would say the first step to take is to assemble that list of deliverables that you create. And I know that owners, we often think that we know the business in and outs and that we don’t need to write it down because we’ve got it in our heads, because I’ve had those thoughts myself. But I almost guarantee if we get our team together and we sit in front of a whiteboard and we start writing things down, the list is gonna be much longer than we thought it was. So that is functional in that A, it defines what are we doing today, and B, it does it in a communal sense. So we begin to build that team momentum around an idea to say, “Hey guys, we wanna make your life easier by kind of bringing more clarity to the type of work that we’re doing.”
And just having that conversation, creating that full list of deliverables that you create today can be a great first step to beginning the process of documenting then how you do each of those deliverables. If we don’t know what we’re going to…like what we’re trying to tackle, we’re never gonna hit it. So we document that list first, and then I would prioritize that list, based on the frequency that those deliverables are created. And then I would document, say, the first five deliverables on that list, the ones that are used the most by the team, and let’s stop right there. Let’s document those top five and see…if we document this and we share this with everyone, then we start following that can maybe next we do another two or another five.
But don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t try to do everything at once. Do not try to shut the agency down just to do this, but block some time. You can block an hour or two each week to begin the process of understanding the work that you’re doing, because… And that’s kind of how do you document the deliverables? I would really encourage every agency owner, if they haven’t already, create some sort of a vision, create some sort of a goal line that everyone’s running towards. I would highly recommend the book “Traction.”
Drew: Yeah, I recommend it almost every day. I agree, yep.
Andrew: Yeah, but it’s a simple operating system, and you can tweak it to your agency, but it gives you a phenomenal framework to operate off of. You know, we’ve been transformed within our company. We’ve talked to a ton of agencies who love that framework, and that can really get the core team united around a common goal line. And then you get everyone kinda running towards that goal line together.
Drew: You know, and again, if your agency is really sort of anti-system or process, you know, do what Andrew said, land on those five deliverables, and then just start testing and iterating them. Don’t do anymore, but let people see how much easier and better the work becomes because you have these foundational sort of stepping stones that people can follow. And then, after they’ve experienced the value of it, it’ll be much easier to get people on board for the next five.