Episode 359: Agency management system with Juliana Marulanda

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Build an agency management system to do more of what you love. Learn to stop leaving money on the table with an agency management system.

Now that we’ve discussed what systems and processes are, the tools we can use to implement them, and how to integrate them into team culture, let’s talk about what happens when we start to use these processes as we scale our agencies.

This week, Juliana Marulanda of ScaleTime shares her 20+ years of knowledge with creating systems and processes in agencies and how it frees up more time to do what we love. We discuss how to get your agency unstuck from bottlenecks in productivity, reduce day-to-day chaos, and, most importantly, how to stop leaving money on the table from disorganized management.

Featured by Forbes and Entrepreneur, Juliana helps uplevel businesses into lean, mean, profitable machines. On average, she and her team create ways to free up at least 30 hours per week for her clients so they can have successful agencies that run without them. Agency owners can find themselves saying, “I do what I want, how I want, whenever I want — now, that is freedom.”

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

agency-management-system

What you will learn about a proper agency management system in this episode:

  • How to free up more space in your business for creativity
  • How to create systems and processes that work whether you’re in the office, hybrid, or 100% remote
  • The clearing of the storm after you establish systems and processes in your agency
  • Where money is being left on the table without proper procedures in place
  • The trajectory of emotions agency owners experience as they change their day-to-day
  • How Juliana helps agencies wrap their heads around management, HR, and hiring challenges
  • The importance of creating culture in your agency and why that affects day-to-day operations
  • How to get unstuck if you’re stuck in a loop of unchecked chaos

“I knew systems and operations, so I said, ‘Okay, if I can train faster and hire better, then I can manage less.’ And that became my mantra for the next 20 years.” Juliana Marulanda Share on X“The amount of grit was outstanding. It was grit without process. I think that was one of the things that most surprised me.” Juliana Marulanda Share on X“One of the things that I learned early on as a manager is that now I really try to teach people if you have more systems and processes, we can delegate a lot of the management to the systems and processes.” Juliana Marulanda Share on X“The key to creating a digital culture is creating enthusiasm and consistency. Because if you're going to do something, do it well. And be open to feedback.” Juliana Marulanda Share on X“Think of creating process as a design project. You are designing how something is happening from start to end.” Juliana Marulanda Share on X

Ways to contact Juliana Marulanda/Scaletime:

Resources:

Transcript: Agency management system

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. Thank you for coming back and listening every week. Super grateful for that. I’m super excited about this week’s guest. I think you are going to find her both fascinating and inspiring, but mostly, hopefully really practical and helpful. So, I’ll tell you about her in just a second, but in the meantime, I want to talk to you a little bit about the AE Bootcamp. I want to remind you that we have moved the AE Bootcamp to Denver. The conference center that we have held our workshops for years in Chicago is yet another COVID casualty. And so, they are closing down and going to repurpose that building. And so, we needed to find a new home.

And so, there’s a beautiful student union in downtown Denver that we are going to be using for our workshops. And so, they are coming to Denver. So, we have the advanced AE Bootcamp, September 15th and 16th, and we have the regular AE Bootcamp for entry level folks, zero to four years or so of experience, October 13th and 14th. Now this is the last time in 2022 that we’ll be offering either bootcamp. You’ll have to wait until ’23 if you don’t take advantage of these workshops. So, if it works out for you and your team members, we would love to have them join us in our new facility in Denver, either September 15th and 16th for the advanced or 13th, 14th for the regular AE Bootcamp.

So, let me tell you a little bit about our guest and the topic that we’re going to talk about today. So, Juliana Marulanda is an expert in operations, processes, and systems. I know those are all words to many of us that I think the perception is that systems and processes are constraining, that they don’t allow us to do our best work. When in reality, if you want to grow and scale your business, you have to have systems and process. And I think actually what agencies have found when they have implemented good systems and process thinking is that it actually frees you up to do more of what you’re best at, more creativity, better strategy, because you’re not spending time figuring out how to do the same thing you’ve always done.

So, anyway, Juliana comes to us from Wall Street and then some other fascinating job roles before she decided to open her own consulting business and focus on agencies. She’s been doing that for quite a few years now and has helped… I think I’ll ask her, but I think it’s over 300 agencies, she’s worked with to help them put systems in processes in place. So, I think this is a huge topic for us and I think it’s one that you will be better off for after you’ve listened. So, get ready to take some notes, get ready to think a little differently about how you get things done inside your shop, and let’s jump into the conversation. Juliana, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Juliana Marulanda:

Oh, thanks. I appreciate being on the other side now.

Drew McLellan:

So tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you came to have this expertise in helping businesses scale.

Juliana Marulanda:

So I have been doing business operations for the last 20 years. I started off working on Wall Street, looking at operating models on the finance side, which is what really led me to believe that cash is quaint. From super high energy, I went into sports and entertainment operations.

Drew McLellan:

Sure, that’s a shift.

Juliana Marulanda:

That’s a shift. And I loved it because full of energy and we were always learning and there was something new. I was a brand new manager and they picked me up and basically put me in a new city because we were doing things like Super Bowl, USTA, Writer Cup. No idea what I was really doing, right? Not really a manager. And it was pick your team of 40 to 50 people per event in the span of two days, massive fields, and entertainment resources were all over the place and then go and operate about $1 million, right?

Drew McLellan:

Sounds stressful.

Juliana Marulanda:

It was stressful, right? It was insane. But because I didn’t know what I was doing at the time and I was super agreeing, but I knew systems, right? I knew systems, I knew operations, and I was like, “Okay, if I can train faster and hire better, then I can manage less.” And that became my mantra for the next 20 years. Hire better, train faster, and manage less. Fast forward in 2015 when I started the business, I was really looking for niche to work with, thinking through, “Okay, is anyone really doing operations consulting? Is this a thing that only belongs in corporate? Who actually needs this and how do we do this in what was becoming a very digital operational world?” Where you had hybrid teams, teams that were geographically independent.

It seemed like a new tool or a new app was popping up every other day. How do we really have a business where everything is super scattered? What I saw in the foreground that was happening and we’re talking about pre-pandemic, way pre-pandemic, was digital agency owners were really on this vanguard of being able to have a business that was digital, fully digital in terms of what they were doing, how they were doing it, how they were operating. And so, I wanted to figure out, “How do we really help to not only operationalize but scale in this digital environment?”

And 300 plus agencies later, here we are and I’ve been really helping this particular industry because I love the industry. We’re always on the vanguard. It’s technologically forward. It’s one of, I think, the most experimental industries that is out there, which really makes me excited about creating an impact with the digital agency space. That’s how basically I came to be.

Drew McLellan:

So when you say digital agency, though, really what you teach, whether an agency is still brick and mortar and meeting in an office or they’re scattered all over the world, your methodology works just the same, right?

Juliana Marulanda:

Absolutely right. My point of view is always that you treat your process as you would your product in the service space business. And the way that we think through client onboarding, project management, hiring, performance, KPIs, it’s going to be pretty agnostic to whether you’re in an office or not.

Drew McLellan:

Right, because you’re still using digital tools to manage it all.

Juliana Marulanda:

Absolutely. I think it just becomes so much more pertinent when you can’t go across the hall and ask a question. How do you create those interactions in a digital environment? And I think if you are in office space, it’s so much more efficient.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, when you decided to focus your niche on agencies and you started working with your very first clients, what surprised you about how they work or the way they work or what doesn’t work?

Juliana Marulanda:

I think the thing that surprised me the most was how chaotic it was, right? Whether someone had 3 employees or 20 or 50, a lot of the times when I came in, which is why I’m like, “You can’t scale chaos,” it was very chaotic and there was just so much money being left on the table because the day to day wasn’t strategic, right? The week to week wasn’t strategic, the projects, the retainers, right?

Drew McLellan:

Not efficient.

Juliana Marulanda:

It wasn’t efficient, not profitable, and it was so reactive, and understandably, right? Most people are flying out of the seat of their pants or they’re winging it, but the amount of times that I heard, “We are winging it.” Surprising, I’m looking at seven-figure agencies, mid seven-figures, people bringing to eight figures without process. And I was just like, “Wow, this is amazing.” When we put process in place, the ability to scale so much faster and so much easier without the headache and people being able to actually have weekends and spend time with their children.

Drew McLellan:

Novel concepts, right?

Juliana Marulanda:

Novel concepts. And so, the amount of grit was outstanding. It was grit without process, I think, was one of the most outstanding things that surprised me.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, our mantra is that most agency owners are accidental business owners. So, they don’t come into agency ownership with the corporate background that you did. Normally, they grew up in an agency and left for whatever reason or another, got fired, got laid off, whatever it is. And all of a sudden, they’re freelancing. And next thing they know they have 2 employees and then 10 employees. The business side of the business is not what they went to school for. It’s not what they experience is.

So, you’re right, I think they’re just so used to working in the chaos that I suspect when you reduce the chaos with a client, they’re shocked at how chaotic it was. You notching up the flame when you have the frog and the boiling water, you just don’t notice. It’s just hotter and hotter and hotter, but you just keep moving because you have deadlines and clients to serve. And so, I’m sure people were like, “Oh, this feels weird to have stability.”

Juliana Marulanda:

So for clients, we actually track the emotional chart when people come to us and they start off here and then they get all happy and giddy and then they dip because they’re like, “Oh man, putting process in place is a lot of work.” right? And then they’re excited again because they’re like, “Oh, my God. It is working. The work that we did is working.” And then there’s this huge dip, where there’s almost this existential dread that happens because once you put operations and processes in place and you have the right people in place and you’ve actually codified what your standards are into performance metrics, things start to feel weird, because there’s moments where people have too much time on their hands and they’ve never had it before.

They don’t actually know what to do with themselves. Sometimes they feel guilty because they’re like, “Oh, my God. My team is working, but I’m not,” or they’re like, “What’s my next thing? What do I create?” So, there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled and it’s exciting to see that, right? I mean, it usually lasts three weeks because then they’re all onto the next project that they’re creating.

Drew McLellan:

We don’t sit still from our own right.

Juliana Marulanda:

No, but it happens statistically and it’s amazing because there is another way of doing things. And to your point, when people come in from the agency side, most agencies, even if they’re very successful are run still very chaotically. So, there’s not a lot of great modeling out there of how to run something with results for the clients, where we really still care about what our client results are, because there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s like, “Ah, just make a lot of profit,” but the results aren’t that great.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yup.

Juliana Marulanda:

Right. So, it’s like, “How do we create great results for our clients, keep our culture and our sanity, and have the freedom of choice to do what it is that we want to do as owners?”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I expected, you would say that there’s almost this… Not sadness, but wait, this doesn’t feel right. This is working without all the sweat and effort. I don’t know what to do with this. So, it’s interesting that you’ve tracked it and it’s actually statistically valid, because again, I think we get almost addicted to the adrenaline, even though we don’t really want it to be the way that it is, but we’re so used to having to rise up to the occasion that if you don’t have to do that, I’m sure it’s probably like an athlete right after a big game.

Well, I don’t have to work out. I don’t have to practice. We’re done for a couple months. I don’t know what that feels like. So, I’m not surprised. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you believe there are certain points in an agency where they tend to get stuck. So, first, let’s define what stuck is and then talk to us about what those moments are and why those moments.

Juliana Marulanda:

Okay. So, I think the first stuckness in an agency and I’ll talk about if you’re starting off as a solo entrepreneur, maybe you’ve got a couple of freelancers, right? The first moment is I think around 250K to 400K if you’re really efficient, but it’s usually around 250K.

Drew McLellan:

Of gross billings.

Juliana Marulanda:

Of gross billings. Yes. That’s usually going from being a solo to hiring full time people, because there’s only so much capacity you can take as an individual. So, I think that’s the first place. I think also, it’s a very comfortable place, because usually in that place you’re taking home most of the money and it’s great. You got a couple clients. I usually say there’s actually no need to go to a million, which is like an entrepreneurial carrier, right? Let’s cross the million dollar line right? Unless you’re doing it for something other than your take home, because between $250,000 and $1 million, your take home either stays the same or sometimes decreases because you’re investing.

Unless you’re doing it for reasons other than that, that’s a very comfortable spot to be in, because that’s the hiring spot. So, most people get stuck because there’s hiring. I think that there’s a lot of delegation mindset around things. I talk about delegation is not abdication, so you can’t just like say, “Hey, here’s a bunch of stuff.” Or even with all good intention, here’s a bunch of Loom videos because having documentation or training does not equal comprehension or quality. We still have to measure the quality. We still have to have some oversight until things stabilize.

And you feel comfortable that when things leave the metaphorical door to the client, it’s up to your standards, it’s up to your reputation, right? So that’s usually that bit. So, either people don’t want to delegate, they’re not delegating effectively, or they’re like, “Oh, my God. I’m now not taking any money buddy home. What’s going on?” So, there’s a couple of things.

Drew McLellan:

I’ve tripled my headaches, but not my income.

Juliana Marulanda:

Exactly. And you’re like, “Why am I doing this?” Which is why I tell people, if you’re going to do it, have a reason. Either you’re trying to create bigger impact, whether that’s for clients, for your industry, for the employees that you’re helping out. There’s got to be something that motivates you to have that headache. Then the next point and I know a lot of people will talk about the million dollar plateau, but I actually believe it’s like 1.3. I’ve seen so many people get stuck at around 1.3 because they’ve crossed the million. They’ve done what it takes to cross the million, but then they can’t get above that million. They know how to sustain it, but not right. So, usually, in that place, you have a couple of key employees and you’ve delegated your execution.

So, whatever your production is, whether you’re a media agency, you’ve got a couple of media managers or if your social media or PR, you have people doing the work. The quality is good, but now two things happen. You have to actually scale your sales if you want to get above that. That is a fun trip, scaling your sales. And then also in order for you to get completely out, usually at that point, you’re also delegating strategy. Most people haven’t learned how to delegate strategy or account management. So, the founders are stuck still very much in the high level conversations with clients and are still the single point of failure, which I’m sure your audience has heard this many times. If anyone’s out sick, if anything happens, if there’s a fire, it’s the owner who’s still going in.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and oftentimes the owner is doing work that they’re typically visionaries and they’re doing the super detailed work. And so, part of them being the single point of failure is they’re not that great at it. They’re great at the strategic conversations, but the taking the notes and bringing the work back and getting it through the system, that is not usually their gift, right?

Juliana Marulanda:

Absolutely. And usually at that point too, with the nitty gritty stuff, you still need some level of quality control and that’s not happening. What you’re seeing at that level too is that you’re still doing acquisi