Episode 358:

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 perspective, that they’re seeing the different blind spots, they’re seeing the things that they haven’t considered. And it’s at that point, we finally win them over, but it’s definitely a journey to get there.

Drew McClellan:

And then getting the systems and setting them up is one thing, but then actually getting people to follow them, I’m sure is a whole different thing. So I want to take a break and then when we come back, I want to talk about the methodology you use and the methodology that anybody should use, even if they’re trying to do this internally for themselves, of how to actually get compliant. So let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and talk a little bit about actually getting it to be the standard.

Hey everybody, I promise I will keep you more than a minute, but I want to make sure that at AMI, one of the things that we offer are virtual peer groups. So think of it as a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table, figuratively in this case, is an agency owner. So you have to be an agency owner to belong. The virtual peer groups meet every month for 90 minutes on Zoom. This was not a COVID creation, it was pre- COVID. You see the same people in your cohort every time, so you get to create relationships with them. And it is facilitated by a AMI staffer, Craig Barnes, who has owned his own agency for 25 or 30 years. So plenty of great experience, both from Craig, but also learning from each other. So if you have any interest in learning more about how that works, head over to the AMI website, and under memberships you will find the virtual peer group and you can get all the information there. All right? Okay. Let’s get back to the show.

All right. We are talking systems and processes today, which I know for a lot of you is foul, foul language, but I think you also know that when you get to a certain size, you have no choice but to move to something that is more the agency’s way, as opposed to a certain team member’s way or a department’s way, if you want to scale efficiently and effectively. So, Marquis, how are you getting people to actually comply?

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. Like you said earlier, really the first step is getting the buy-in from the leadership. This is a change that needs to happen at the organizational level so that we can scale effectively. Next, we really want to tie it to, what are the business goals? Because if we have buy-in that, “We are the experts, we’re coming in, we are going to help you go through this digital transformation. What are your business goals? What are the KPIs and metrics that you are responsible for? Your team is responsible for? Are we looking to increase our net income, our gross margin? Are we looking to decrease the time in our sales cycle? Are we looking to remove friction from those points? Are we looking to deliver on time and stop having projects go over budget and improve our profitability inside of those projects? And so what are we looking to achieve?”

Because I think if we start there, we’ve already got leadership buy-in. We all want to make more money, we all want to increase our profit margins. And then we need to communicate to our team why they should care about that as well. How will that impact them? I mentioned removing friction, making things easier, that’s less frustration for the team, that’s less repeat… That’s less, I’m sorry, duplicate work that’s happening. That’s more of teams being aligned and less of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

And so we start top down, and there’s typically owners of these KPIs or OKRs or whatever your agency decides to measure these by, but you have these owners, you assign them those specific numbers or metrics to track, and then it’s, “We are doing this. We are improving this process here, so it can have this impact in the business.” And as long as we have those team members that can rally around that and agree that those things at the micro level are actually important, then we can affect change. We’re often implementing software, like I said, so there’s the need to train on that software and standardize how we use it, because clearly, the way you were doing it before wasn’t working. That’s why we’re here.

As long as we can constantly remember that and know that these tools we’re implementing, these new processes we’re implementing, these KPIs we’re establishing are for the greater good of the business, and we’re constantly reminding them of that, and the managers are monitoring those things, and the leaders are looking at those things daily, having the meetings and the check-ins with the people that they need to to make sure we’re on the right track, that’s how we realize success and make sure that everyone is bought in and in tune with where we’re going.

Drew McClellan:

And I’m guessing those first couple months are a little bumpy.

Marquis Murray:

They absolutely are. Yeah. There’s still that hurdle we have to get over or they don’t fully trust us, there’s been a lot of discovery, there’s been a lot of asking questions, but there hasn’t been that result yet. And it’s not until we get over that, yeah.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think too, it takes a while to make a habit, and so you… To keep everybody doing it, especially when it’s not what they’re used to doing, so it feels slower, they feel a little inept in how they’re doing it, and so it’s easy to go back to the old way. How long do you find that when you’re implementing a new system or process inside an agency, how long does it take before it actually is woven into the way they work and that people don’t question it anymore, that’s just the way they do it? How long does it take?

Marquis Murray:

We typically see adoption rates coming in around where 45 to 60 days of being in that process, doing it day in and day out, reviewing the SOPs, retraining on things. We’ll often provide support and be there beyond the implementation as well, so having those check-ins, yeah, that’s typically where we see that sweet spot. You’re in it, 45 to 60 days, you’re feeling really good about it, it’s more natural at that point. And so it does take some time and if we’re committed to that, you can see our organizations transform.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, actually I think that’s faster than I would’ve thought. We are an obstinate people at marketing folks and we love to do things our own way, so I’m surprised and happy to hear that it’s 45 to 60 days. But the point is, what I want the listeners to hear is, when you’re implementing something internally, that’s a long time. And I think what happens a lot of times is agencies announce we’re switching to Workamajig, or whatever the tool of the day is, and everybody gets one training and that’s it. And everyone is expected to just figure it out and adopt it, which is one of the reasons why this hardly ever works. So talk a little bit about what happens in those 45 to 60 days that actually makes the system or process sticky.

Marquis Murray:

With that one training, and we often will see that, is when they connect with the software vendor, for example, and they say, “Yeah, we take care of all your onboarding. Great. Don’t worry about it. You’re going to have access to so and so. You get one 45 minute training.” And then they say, “Here’s your resource library, go in and watch the videos and go and read blogs, go on the form, you have all these resources at your disposal,” but no one has time to go through those things.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and these people, for the most part are not software experts. So some of it’s not even in a language they understand.

Marquis Murray:

That’s it. Yeah. And addition to that, we’re also creatures of habit, so there is that repetition that is needed in order to see that adoption rate increase. And so within the training and support phase, typically, is we have established, depending on the engagements, between 10 and 20 hours of dedicated face time training, on the tool, on the new process, on the new standard operating procedures, we are taking the use cases that we’ve developed and we’re working through those. And so weekly, there could be homework that you need to go back and review. You come back and you say, “All right. This worked, this didn’t work. How do I do this?” And we often hear at that point, “Oh, this is incredible. The fact that you guys are here, it’s like therapy. I’ve never seen or had this opportunity to talk about our work in this way.”

And so we’re providing that training. We have a dedicated Slack channel that’s just for support. Or if you have any questions, comments, concerns, you jump in there, you have one of our specialists on the other end. And so we know that for that window of time, you have full access to us. We’ve also developed resources and training for you, but we’ve put it in the same place that the work is happening. We believe that all the tools, people and resources around the work should be in the same place that the work is happening, rather than having to go to different databases and knowledge bases and supports and forums, it’s all right there for you. And so having that ease of access within your preferred work management tool, having the dedicated training, having those support channels, we just want to get as much face time with our customers we can so that it just becomes more of a habit.

Drew McClellan:

And for you, because your inside agencies and you’re looking at all of their systems and processes, what’s the one that agencies muck up the… Where are we most broken in terms of our systems and processes and what does it cost us?

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. It’s the onboarding and internal communications.

Drew McClellan:

Oh my gosh. I love that you said that. I thought you were going to talk about work process or something else, but I swear to God, for communications companies, that we communicate as poorly as we do to our team is unbelievable. So talk more about that.

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. There’s a quote and I’m going to butcher it, but it’s, “The biggest myth around communication is to assume that it has taken place.” I can pull that out and get the actual quote, but that’s basically what it is. It’s assuming that we’ve communicated it or assuming that because they’re on the team, because they’ve been hired into this role, that they’re an expert or an SME of some of [inaudible 00:28:06], that they just know, or they should know, how to do it. And as the leaders of businesses, we get frustrated because they came in and we gave them all the resources, we gave them videos-

Drew McClellan:

We told them once.

Marquis Murray:

Yeah, exactly. Right. “And I’m paying you these rates and you say you’re worth it, so you should just know.” And that’s probably the biggest mistake, is we think we have strong onboarding because maybe we have some documents and they met with a customer success manager once, we told them what their job is, because they read it on a job profile. And then they’re sitting there on day one through day 30 and they’re like, “I have no idea what’s going on,” and they’re asking these questions. And the negative or the downside of that is these questions are being asked over and over again by new team members and no one is taking the initiative to document those questions and come up with an answer and then put those answers in a place that’s accessible to everyone else. Because it’s going to happen again, and if these questions are happening, I’m sorry, but it’s on the leader. It’s your fault why those questions are being asked and it’s your responsibility, maybe not to document it yourself, but to provide an answer, or to delegate to someone to provide that answer, so that there’s added clarity.

So you asked what the impacts or the results of this lack of communication are, and burnout is the number one I would say. Ditto is working to eliminate burnout by creating clarity around how the work is done, we’re looking to answer those questions. You’re going to have a hard time retaining talent. People are going to get frustrated, they’re going to think, “Man, this is not what I signed up for, they really sold it well.” And the workforce, people in the workforce today, they have options. They have so many options with remote work being more accepted across organizations. They have options, they can go anywhere else. And so you promise them the world and they come and they look behind the curtain and they see the little man sitting on the stool and they think to themselves, “No, this is not what I sign up for, I want out.”

And so that person’s gone, you’ve spent X amount of time training them, there’s confusion, there’s concern, there’s uncertainty with the rest of the team. Imagine the impact to your client projects, onboarding a project manager or a new specialist or a new SEO person, having them get into that project and then saying, “It’s not for me,” and then they’re gone. And then you’re scrambling trying to find somebody else. And who’s going to jump in and fix it? The owner, the person who started it all.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think too, I think we forget what onboarding is for an employee, it’s drinking from a fire hose. So you tell them once, but you tell them in a time when they’re being told so many things, that they just don’t really have the capacity to remember it all. And to your point, there’s no place to go back and reference and go, “How is it am I supposed to do my time sheets again?” Or whatever, which is how people start making up their own way of doing things.

Marquis Murray:

Exactly it. Yeah. And you can’t really blame them. They were doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. And if you’re not providing that information, they’re going to make it up on their own, so yeah, absolutely agree with that.

Drew McClellan:

So I’m sure you’re seeing a lot of project management software inside agencies, the Workamajigs, the Asanas, the Teamworks, all of that. I’m a firm believer that all of those tools basically do the same thing. And so I have some agencies who every six to 12 months change project management software because it doesn’t work. And the reality is, they’re the ones that don’t work, that they’re not getting it done. So around project management tools, are there some things that you help agencies ask questions to figure out what are the right tools for…? How does one prescribe the right tools for themselves and how do they assess those tools?

Because honestly, I’ve driven cars since I was 14. I don’t know anything about cars. I all have friends who are really car people and they’ll lift up the hood of their car and go, “Look at this engine.” I’m pretty sure I don’t even know which of the things I’m looking at is the engine. I know how it works and I know it gets me to the grocery store, but I don’t know cars. And I think a lot of times that’s how agency owners are with software tools and solutions. They know what they do, but they don’t know how to evaluate them. They don’t know how to flip up the hood and go, “Oh, that is a good or not a good engine.” So are there some things that when you’re helping an agency evaluate software or if you were prescribing how to evaluate software, are there some best practices around that?

Marquis Murray:

Yeah, that’s a good question and it’s a big one and there isn’t any right answer. I’ll start off by saying that the best tool that any agency can use is the tool that they all agree they’re going to use and how they’re going to use it. Get really good at it, watch all the videos that they have, go on YouTube, and book demos with their software product teams and ask them questions. There are experts on certain platforms that you can book demos with. What we’ll do a lot of times, are we receive a lot of inbound leads this way as they’re looking to evaluate Asana, which as our core partner, we implement that all day every day, but they have Trello or they have Teamwork. And they want to see the differences between Monday and Asana, so they’re looking at two different agencies. They’ve gone in and they have a Google doc or a spreadsheet that has 20 some odd use cases of how they work, what currently isn’t working in their business, what is on their wishlist of things that they want that new tool to do.

And then those are the things that we’re setting up demos around. Those are the questions that they’re asking these software product teams. So I would say there’s no best practices aside from write down exactly what you need the tool to do, understand what’s working well, what it absolutely needs to have, and what’s not working currently in your tool, and can this tool do that for you? And then once you find that one, train on it, train on it, train on it. There’s no better way to understand and learn the tool than to train and constantly just look to see what can this do and really put it to its limits.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I just see the revolving door of tools and I think that… What I said to one agency owner is I said, “Okay, you’ve now tried four of them. What is the constant in this problem? It’s you, right? It’s how you’re doing it. It’s not the tool, the tools are fine.”

Marquis Murray:

And I have two examples of that. We’ve worked with customers in the past where they were on Asana, we set it up for them. We spent months working with them on this tool and they had a colleague at another agency said, “Hey, we’re using Teamwork and this is how we’re using it.” And all of a sudden they’re like, “Oh, Teamwork’s the best thing. I’m going to go to Teamwork.” And they’re over there and teamwork is… I’ve used both tools, it’s arguably more complex. There’s a lot more you can do under the hood and you can fine tune it, it’s a great tool, but they were starting off with something that we had built for them, we had trained them. They go next door, they’re like, “Oh, this is great,” until they realize it’s not, “I have no idea what I’m doing. That didn’t fix my problem.” They have this shiny object syndrome and they come back to us and they’re like, “Guys, what can we do? Can we get back to Asana?”

In other cases, we have implemented HubSpot for an agency and Asana in tandem and we built these complex workflows and how we’re going to automate between them. And then we get a message from them one day they’re like, we had just finished implementation, we had just finished the training, maybe three or four weeks later, we’re checking in to see how their tools are going, and for whatever reason, the agency owner said, and made the decision that, “We’re going to Monday and we’re going to Pipedrive.” All the work we had done goes out the door.

Drew McClellan:

It’s crazy.

Marquis Murray:

More than half their team left because there’s no consistency. They don’t feel good about the direction. And these decisions are being made willy-nilly without thinking through the impacts to the rest of the team. So very dangerous spot to be in.

Drew McClellan:

And I think today, even if you’re a super small agency, there’s a point and it’s three or four employees, where an Excel spreadsheet or a Google sheet suffices for workflow, tracking and things like that, but so much is held at that moment in people’s heads. And with the increase in people coming and going inside agencies, all that tribal knowledge walks out the door over and over and over again. And so I don’t know a lot of agencies today that can survive without some sort of tool set that allows them to keep track of clients and prospects, a workflow system or project management system that allows them not to drop the ball, and it helps them stay on time and on budget. Some sort of HR tool that allows them to keep track of the employees and benefits and how much vacation time they’ve taken and all of that.

So we don’t get to shy away from the tools I don’t think anymore. I don’t how an agency runs their business without a tool set of some kind. So if an agency is tool-free or they’re not happy with any of their tools and you were going to give them a recipe of, “Here’s in the order that you should start thinking about…” Because you’re not going to add all the tools at once. So if you were working with an agency that either had inadequate tools, no tools, or they weren’t happy with their tools, how would you approach getting them systematized?

Marquis Murray:

Good question. And it’s dependent on the size of the agency.

Drew McClellan:

All right. So let’s call them a 20 person agency.

Marquis Murray:

20 person agency. We’re not happy with any of our tools we want to complete overhaul?

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. Okay. We’re going to look, I think the first step, is to always look at what your work management tool is. Because one thing that you can’t afford to have happen is for the operations of the business to start suffering, where you’re not able to deliver to your customers, you got to keep the lights on. So I would say, let’s start there. With any of our engagements, we’re always sandboxing any of these ideas, we’re pulling information out, we’re doing our interviews, we have our recommendations. If it’s a new tool, we are working with the software vendors, we’re working with their partners to understand the tool as in depth as we can. And we’re sandboxing those ideas, we’re building out the same use cases, we’re building out workflows. In that system, we’re testing them, we’re demoing them for the customer, we’re getting that feedback, we’re making changes and then we’re slowly migrating. So we’ll actually have all their information in the new tool. We’ll have their clients migrated to that new tool. Sorry, their client projects migrated to that new tool, whatever they were running within that, and then we’re moving it over.

One thing that is really dangerous about transformation as a whole is, and we talked about this a little bit, but thinking that tool is going to solve all your problems. And thinking that because they say this nice, shiny thing on their hero, banner of their website, that that’s exactly what you need. When in often cases, if you’re looking at a 20 person agency, you might not need a Kipling or a Bamboo or a big HRIS. You may be able to build out a simple candidate, HR tracking pipeline inside of your work management tool. You can build out a come on board in Trello that tracks and gives you all the information that you need. So if that’s your work management tool and you’re looking to adopt something else on the HR side, stay simple.

What’s the priority for you? Is it work management? Great. If you’re looking to ramp up your sales and you need to integrate that with your work management tool, go and look at it there, what’s important about that tool? If you’re looking at a Pipedrive or a HubSpot, and you’re looking to evaluate that tool, do you need automation? Do you need to be triggered when someone visits a certain page or clicks on a link? Do you need to be sent a series of emails? Do you need to notify a person in your work management tool when a deal has reached a certain stage? Do you need to see activity tracking on a website to know how long someone’s been there? If that’s important to you? Great. Let’s go in, look at that new tool. If that’s too complex and it’s going to overwhelm your 20 person agency, because now we’re having to learn about marketing automation for the first time, as well as delivering our work, that’s not the right way to go.

Build yourself out a light version of a CRM where you can manually track what’s happening with your customer life cycle, and then see the opportunities to automate or bring in a new tool. Because that’s another trap, it’s thinking that along with a tool fixing it, we can just throw automation at it. We can plug in Zapier, or we can use the onboard tool set, but we don’t understand the steps involved in that process that need to happen. We don’t understand if there are any approvals, we don’t understand the different permission and access levels that are needed. We don’t understand the different variance and decisions that need to be made within this process, but we’re throwing it a tool at it, we’re throwing automation at it without breaking it down to its simplest core functions and manually doing it first. So I would just say, keep it simple, keep it in one tool, sandbox it, stress test it, and then explore how a tool can solve those problems and make it easier for you.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I think that’s such a good point. I think agencies often over complicate things by taking on a tool that it would be… I can make grilled cheese sandwiches and a couple other things, I don’t need a gourmet kitchen. I don’t even know how to make it work. So I think sometimes we take on tools that have, because they sound sexy and cool, and we’re like, “I would love to be able to do that.” But the reality is we’re so far away from that need. And then the tool overwhelms us and we try and use a bunch of bits and pieces that actually complicate our work rather than simplify our work. So I think point’s a really good one. Keep it simple, stupid.

Marquis Murray:

Exactly.

Drew McClellan:

This has been a great conversation. If people are listening and they’re thinking like, “Oh my gosh, I really do need to sort level up our tools. Do you recommend people put together a team, a cross platform or cross departmental team? How should an agency, if they’re not working with someone like you, how would an agency vet tools? Who should be doing that?

Marquis Murray:

Yeah. I would say you definitely want to form a cross departments team of people, the key stakeholders, if you will, department managers, team leads. Whoever those people are, at some point we need to come together and understand how we need to collaborate, who’s talking to who? Because another problem that we often have to solve is we’re using two different work management tools and there’s no way for them to talk to each other or those teams that are using the tools to understand what the status is of their varying projects. And so yeah, bring the leadership team together, bring the team leads together, bring the managers together, understand what the goals are, look at the tools together, evaluate them and then go from there.

And that list of use cases, you can start with your department, talk to your team, get their feedback. What’s not working? The people that are boots on the ground doing the work, we need to hear from them as well. There’s nothing worse than dictating and saying, “This is how we’re going to do things,” or, “This is what we feel is best,” without receiving that feedback. So yeah, more of a bottom up approach I would say, but it’s going to be those team leads and managers that are ultimately making that decision and vetting these different tools for the rest of their teams.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. You made a point early in our conversation about the fact that the higher up you get in the organization, the further away you are from the work. And I think you’re exactly right. So you’re right, the rank and file, if you will, has to be able to weigh in because they’re the ones who are actually going to be knee deep in those tools all day, every day. If it doesn’t work for them, you may love it, but they’re going to find a workaround.

Marquis Murray:

That’s it. Exactly.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. This has been great. If folks want to learn more about Ditto and the work that you do, how do they best connect with you or learn more about what your company offers?

Marquis Murray:

Sure. I’m on LinkedIn all the time sharing content and different insights, so you can search Marquis Murray on LinkedIn. But if you head over to thinkditto.com, scroll about halfway down, you’re going to see a popup for an ebook that we have, it’s called The Agency Problem, Why Your Organization’s Small Problems Are Bigger Than You Think and How to Fix Them. So we break down a lot of the stuff we talked about today, process improvement, the need for documenting, how to estimate projects to be more profitable, how to train your team, how to create positive culture. We have it all broken down in this really comprehensive ebook. And so I’d love to give that to your listeners as well, just as a little next step for them.

Drew McClellan:

Okay. Awesome. So thinkditto.com.

Marquis Murray:

That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

Or hunt you down on LinkedIn.

Marquis Murray:

That’s it.

Drew McClellan:

Awesome. Thank you very much for making time to do this and for sharing your expertise. Systems and processes are such a critical part of agency life today and so I think you gave everybody a lot of really good food for thought, so I’m grateful. Thank you.

Marquis Murray:

And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here, Drew, thank you so much. Like you said, it was a great conversation, looking forward to next steps. Thanks so much.

Drew McClellan:

Me too. All right, guys. So again, systems and processes that maybe foul language for you, but if you want to scale and grow your shop, and if you want to have an agency way of doing things, today it’s pretty tough to do that… And by the way, what you did not hear Marquis say was, you have to have software to do it. What he’s saying is, first you have to understand that what you want to get done and how everybody’s going to do it the same way. And then the question is, “Okay, how do we codify that?” And for some of you, it might be an Excel spreadsheet. For others, it might be a software tool out of the box. For others, it might be two tools that you have someone help you get to talk to each other. So don’t get boxed in that there’s only one solution and it has to be a big, expensive software solution, although it might certainly be that.

But what you also heard was, and you’ve heard me say this before as well, having everybody do it their own way is an absolute recipe for disaster. And when you’re super small, you can kind of get away with that because everybody knows everything that’s going on in the shop, but you get to 6, 10, 12 people, and one of the things that is very jarring about that kind of growth is all of a sudden, you as the owner, do not know everything that’s going on in the shop anymore. And certainly your teams don’t, everyone’s kind of working in the silos of their work. And if everybody’s doing it their own way and somebody leaves, now we have no way to train the new person, to plug them in. And if you have to jump back in or somebody else has to jump back in, somebody gets sick or whatever, you don’t even know where to look for the files, let alone what’s has to happen next. So sooner or later we do, if we want to keep growing our business and we can want to keep scaling the agency.

And honestly, if you want to build something that is repeatable and scalable and sustainable, which is sort of the AMI set of rules around a system or process, you’ve got to have buy-in from everybody, including you. And so I want you to think about as you’re listening to this episode and as you’re going into your day, “How strong and solid are our systems and processes, and could we improve them and make them more standard across the board?” Because I’m telling you, when we go into an agency and we’re assessing them for either succession planning or we’re just helping them coach up, we’re doing traction with them, whatever it is, systems and processes are a constant conversation, constant conversation. So the better you get at this, the stronger your agency is, the stronger the foundation of the agency is. And the stronger the foundation is, the quicker you can grow.

So take all of this with a thought process of, “Is this a weakness of ours? And if so, what am I going to do about making it a strength?” Because I think you’ll be surprised at how much more profitable you can be, how much happier your employees are, how much happier your clients are when you have a system and a process that is rock solid, and everybody has confidence in and everybody uses in the same way. So how’s that for a little speech at the end?

All right. I’m going to let you go, but before I do, I want to thank our friends at White Label IQ for being there presenting sponsor. As you know, they do white label design, dev and PPC. And I can’t tell you every day I hear from an agency owner who swears that they’re the hottest thing since sliced bread. So go check them out at whitelabeliq.com/ami, and you can read a little more about them. I’ll be back next week with another guest, in the meantime, super grateful for you and that you hang out with me every week, so it’d be very lonely if nobody was listening. So thanks for coming back every week and listening and I’ll talk to you. See you then. Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefit survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.