Episode 358

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When running an agency, efficiency is key. While we would probably prefer to focus on any other task, establishing effective systems and processes is imperative to our agency operations. The systems we create and teach our team members will ultimately define our day-to-day, client satisfaction, and employee retention.

This week, Marquis Murray of Ditto will share his knowledge on implementing agency operations adjustments into our team culture. Whether it’s project management software, a well-organized Excel sheet, or simply improving team communication across the board, Marquis knows exactly how to work with agencies to identify where they have the most room for improvement.

When everyone gets on the same page and knows exactly where they belong and what is expected of them, the whole team can focus less on who’s doing what and more on what’s important to their specific role. It doesn’t need to be complicated or high-tech, but it does need to be sustainable, scalable, and repeatable so your team members can do what they do best, effectively.

Marquis Murray is the CEO and Founder of Ditto, a systems and processes consultancy for organizations who need help creating clarity around the work done inside their companies. Partnering with companies like Asana, HubSpot, PandaDoc, LogicGate, and Kanbanize allows him to offer some of the best in class solutions for clients.

His goal is to eliminate team burnout for good so that teams can focus more on the work they do without the stress of not knowing where or how the work is happening.

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 operations

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why it’s so important to implement and codify SOPs in your agency, especially if your team is growing
  • Identifying where your agency has room for improvement and how to start making changes
  • How to set boundaries around SOPs to get your employees to adopt the same agency operations strategies
  • Why having agency owners and leaders on board with systems adjustments matters
  • The bumps in the road agencies often face when switching up agency operations
  • How to make the changes stick beyond the 45-60 day adjustment window
  • The most broken areas of systems and processes and what you can do to improve on them
  • Everything you need to know about project management tools—which ones are right for your agency, how to get started using them, and how to vet these tools within your team

“When I started my consultancy, it was out of a need my clients had. The vision for the consultancy was to help agency owners live a life of freedom.” Marquis Murray Click To Tweet “There are two schools of thought as we build our agencies, we're either growing sideways or scaling vertically. So, if scaling vertically really is your goal, systems and processes are a necessary evil.” Marquis Murray Click To Tweet “Sometimes we’ll see the agency owner isn't ready to give control. They think even though they've hired us, they know best. It's not until we get to presenting that report they actually see it from a different perspective.” Marquis Murray Click To Tweet “Everything for us is about getting team members because that's what I want as a business owner and an agency owner. And I know that's what makes an agency successful.” Marquis Murray Click To Tweet “We typically see adoption rates coming in anywhere around 45 to 60 days of being in that process, doing it day in and day out, reviewing the SOPs, and retraining on things.” Marquis Murray Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Marquis:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. One week I’m going to surprise you and tell you I’m from someplace else or… Just watch for that. I think you’re probably getting bored with me saying the same thing every week, so I’m going to shake things up a little, watch for that. Anyway, but this week I am Drew McClellan from Agency Management Institute, and I am glad you’re back. We are going to talk about a topic that I think is absolutely critical to an agency’s success. And it is one of those topics where we often shy away from this topic because it’s not sexy and we don’t like it and it’s hard and it’s frustrating. So I think you’re going to find this episode super valuable, and I’ll tell you a little bit but more about it in a minute.

But I do want to also remind you that, believe it or not, we are already about 20 or 25% sold out for the 2023 Build a Better Agency Summit. The dates are AMI family day, or if you’re a member, basically it’s a member day, is Monday the 15th of May, and then the conference itself is the 16th and 17th. So if you want to attend, now is the time to go buy a ticket because we’re at early bird pricing, so it’s not going to be any cheaper than it is today. So run over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and in the upper left corner, you’re going to see BABA Summit, the BABA Summit, click on that and you can grab your tickets right now at early bird pricing. I promise you it is going to be better than the last two years, and the last two years were pretty awesome. We have great speakers already lined up, we have great sponsors, and the people who have already bought tickets are cool, cool people that you want to hang out with.

So come spend two days thinking about your business, really meeting people who are doing the things you want to do. In some cases, you’re going to be the person that someone else meets that you are doing something they want to do and they want to learn from you. I am a firm believer that you will learn a lot from the speakers, so we’re going to have keynote speakers, we’re going to have breakout speakers, we have round tables, which everybody loves. Eight to 10 agency owners sitting around a table with a subject matter expert talking about a very specific topic that you pick. So lots of learning from the content that we’re baking into the conference, but honestly, some of the biggest learning comes from sitting next to other agency owners over a meal or at the social events and just talking to them about how they get it done. I think you’re going to be surprised at how much you learn from each other, how much you show up as both a student and a teacher, and how good it feels to be both.

So would love to have you join us, grab your ticket. All right. Today’s topic is systems and processes, which I know, not sexy and painful for many of you, but I want to dig into this because I think it’s super important that we get better at this. And so my guest is Marquis Murray. And Marquis used to own an agency and then he started a different kind of company, a company called Ditto. And what that’s all about is helping agencies systemize their processes so that they are sustainable, scalable, and repeatable. And I think you’re going to find this a fascinating conversation, and I am going to be picking his brain for ways that we could do this better, because honestly there’s a lot of room for improvement in how we handle systems and processes inside our shop. So, all right, let’s get to it because I have a lot of questions. Marquis, welcome to this show. Thanks for joining us.

Marquis Murray:

Thanks, Drew, it’s great to be here. Been listening to the podcast for a while, so it’s nice to be on the other side of things now.

Drew McClellan:

Grateful for both of those things. Give everybody a little bit of a background on yourself and how you come to have expertise in systems and processes.

Marquis Murray:

Sure. I’ll take you back probably seven or eight years now, I was working in the corporate space and moonlighting as a digital marketing freelancer. And so I was in the fitness industry and operations as a general manager, and in my evenings and weekends, I’d be building websites and doing SEO for certain clients, doing social media work and really trying to make a name for myself as a digital marketer. And fast forward a couple years, we have twin boys on the way who are now six years old. And I knew that I had to leave my corporate job because the reality of the landscape was that I wouldn’t be home to be with them. And so I took a leave from my work and ramped up the digital marketing work I was doing. I got connected with a local agency where I was living and before long they brought me in-house as their digital marketing manager.

And so I did that work for a while and for reasons that we don’t have to get into today, I left that agency and decided it was time for me to create my own agency, not working as a freelancer, but building my own team outs, getting my own clients, and building my own agency. And so a lot of the work that I do today really started when I was running my own marketing agency, so we’re doing social media work, we’re building websites. And as clients came in, as different team members joined, I felt that I was spending a lot of my time training the people that are coming on, I was repeating myself a lot, going over a lot of the same things on, “How do we set up a Facebook business manager? How do we collect client’s assets? How do we build a campaign?”

And before long, and really out of frustration, I said, “You know what? I’m done with this? I’m just going to write it all down for you.” I actually chose the tool, loom.com, and I just recorded videos of how I do work and I put that all on Asana. And I said, “Hey, if you have a question on something, go to Asana. It’s right there.” And before long I realized my clients who I was delivering this work for, we were getting them leads, we were making their businesses more profitable because we’re giving them new opportunities, but they had no way to track their work, their status or their teams. They didn’t have anywhere to house their leads or keep up with their leads in the pipeline.

And so we started offering, at the time, what we called systems and processes, it was an add-on to our marketing services where we’d set up an Asana for them so they can have some task management. We set up a CRM, we chose HubSpot for them so that they could have a pipeline and keep their leads organized. And fast forward to 2020, March 2020, the marketing company took a huge hit. And I had been thinking about this concept of operations and systems and processes and I had a decision to make, and we chose to launch Ditto. Eight hours later, we had a website up and I told my clients, “This is direction we’re going in now.” So I quickly switched from the marketing guy to the operations guy, but that’s probably the quickest version of the last several years that I can give you.

Drew McClellan:

So now, today, what are you doing for clients?

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. We are helping our clients to basically get the most out of their technology. We work mostly with marketing and e-commerce teams, helping them to standardize their operating systems, improving their processes. And most often we do this by visually mapping out their current and future state processes. We help them document their standard operating procedures, their SOPs. We help them implement software to automate and standardize how they work. And most importantly, we train their teams on how to be more efficient and effective in their day to day.

Drew McClellan:

So you know as a former agency owner and maybe you’re wired differently, but for most agency owners systems and processor, those are foul words. Those are things that get in the way of me being creative and me being able to do things, but an agency gets to a certain size, and it sounds like this is your experience, and all of a sudden, instead of doing it Babette’s way and Mary’s way and Chuck’s way, there has to be an agency way. And a lot of agencies really struggle with defining what their way is and then how to codify it. “How do I capture it? How do I actually make sure everybody’s not doing end-runs around it?” All of those sort of things. So talk a little bit about, from your perspective, the value of systems and processes inside an agency and how does the agency owner make the mental jump to being like, “Yep. That’s a good thing”? And how do you get your team to make the mental jump that it’s a good thing?

Marquis Murray:

That’s a great question. Well, like I said, when I was bringing on new team members and realizing there was a need for systems, yeah, I started creating them really out of frustration. And the reality of the landscape is that agency owners, they start similar to I did, did Michael Gerber describes it as having an entrepreneurial seizure, where they go out and they want to create this agency where they’re going to have all this time, they’re going to make their own schedule, they’re going to travel, they’re going to do whatever they want and they’re going to wake up at noon. And they quickly realize that they have created a job for themselves that they hate, that has terrible hours, no overtime and so on and so on.

And when I first started my consultancy, it was really out of, like I said, a need that I saw that my clients had. There’s all these chaos and they’re so great at being creatives, but when it comes to process, they’re not those people. And so the initial vision for the consultancy was to help agency owners live the life of freedom they started their businesses to achieve. That was really the problem that we were trying to solve. And so we may not like it, we may not be good at it, it may be foul, a foul word, like you said, but it is necessary.

And there’s two schools of thought, as we build our agencies, we’re either growing sideways or scaling vertically. And so if scaling vertically really is your goal, systems and processes are a necessary evil. And even though you may not be good at, it doesn’t have to be complicated. I mentioned the tool like loom.com. If you are of the mindset where you are wearing all the hats and you’re getting all the questions, everyone’s coming to you to solve these problems and you’re finding that you’re not having time to get your own work done to scale the business, if you’re working weekends, staying up all hours of the night, then you’re in that spot where you got to just have reality back, “I need to do this.” And like anyone, I’m speaking from experience.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, that’s right.

Marquis Murray:

I did all that. And so it’s really, “What do I want out of my life? What do I want this business to look like?” And it’s from there where you need to make a decision to take the necessary steps to clear out some time in your schedule, start simple, document what you do, then document how you work, create standards around how you work to unify your team, to enable you to spend more time in the areas that your business needs.

Drew McClellan:

How did you, when it was your agency, and now in your role, how do you get agency employees who are used to doing it their own way? Everybody’s got their run around and their, “Well, I don’t use that software, I use this software,” and every agency has that. How do you get everyone on the same train, on the same track, moving in the same direction?

Marquis Murray:

When I was an agency owner, it was more difficult, I’ll be honest. Everyone had their own ways of doing things, their own standards, they knew what worked for them. We were trying to work in Asana and I was getting sent word documents and Google spreadsheets every other day with checklists and tracking. And it was difficult, but there has to be this understanding and training around the fact that there needs to be a standard way of how we do things here. And now in my business, in Ditto, it’s so much easier because, one, we’re a systems improvement consultancy, there’s already that buy-in around what we do and how we provide it. But it’s interesting you asked that question because just yesterday we onboarded a new project manager who’s used to tracking time a certain way, and it was impacting our budgets and our burn rate through our budgets was increasing exponentially because they weren’t following how we actually time track.

And so we just had to have a really, just simple direct conversation of, “This is how we do things here. We understand that there is experience you brought from other teams and that’s why you’re here ultimately. But there are these core processes, or these core things to the business, that we know work.” And I really said it plainly, “If we can’t follow these core things that I’m not willing to compromise on, you can’t work here. It’s really simple, it’s not going to work.” And so it was really nice that we resolved it. There was some thought on their end and there was a nice message I received later that day, where now we have this mutual understanding and respect of what things need to look like. And so it’s been a learning process, in the beginning there was frustration, there was a lot of passive aggressiveness from some team members, there was frustration and venting to friends and mentors, but there’s definitely been an evolution as to what that looks like and how we deal with that in the business today.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. But I think one of the key things you said, and I think this is something that some agency owners are not comfortable with is, “Look, this is the way we do it. And if you can’t do it the way the agency does it, you can’t stay.” Having that kind of firm boundary… Because I think when you don’t have a firm boundary like that, then everybody knows that they can do the end-run and they’re not going to get fired.

Marquis Murray:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McClellan:

I think the other problem is, and I’m curious how you deal with this, is in many cases, the greatest offender of not following the system or process is the agency owner, which clearly projects to everybody else in the shop, “This can’t be that important because he’s not doing it or she’s not doing it.” So in your work with an agency, how do you get the owner to follow the rules?

Marquis Murray:

Yeah, it’s the old adage of, “Do what I say, not as I do.”

Drew McClellan:

Yep. That’s right.

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. And so how do we get the agency owner to follow and really get that buy-in? In our situation, we’re fortunate where sometimes it’s a lot of the owners that are coming to us and asking for this help. And then in other cases, it’s their directors, it’s their project managers that are realizing, “We need this and we need to work together to convince the leadership that this is how we need to do it, because the team members are craving this consistency, they’re craving these standards.” And so really in any of these conversations, we’re bringing the leaders in and we typically start and we go top down, it’s, “What’s happening at the top? What are the core processes? What’s working well? What’s not working and what are the pain points?”

And we get that from the leader’s perspective, where they think they know everything that’s going on, but as we know, the more we are removed from the day-to-day processes and the work, the less we begin to understand, and we really pull away from that. So we start with leadership, we get their perspective and then we move to the key stakeholders. So these are the leaders of different departments and teams, and then we’re also getting their inputs as well. And we draw comparison between what leadership is telling us, what the owners are saying, and what the operations and working team or the marketing teams are really saying.

We come back and we say, we hold them both up in a report we put together and we say, “Something’s not working here. This is what you told us. This is what we observed through our interviews and our work together. We got to create some standards. Do we have permission to create those standards? Here’s what we’re recommending we do. In order to do that, can we get your sign off?” Sometimes we’ll get in cases where the agency owner isn’t ready to give up control, they’re not ready to pass off those [inaudible 00:17:08] people. They still think that even though they’ve hired us, that they know best. It’s not until we get to presenting that report where they actually see it from a different perspec