Episode 271:

Project management is a challenge for every agency, regardless of their size or tenure. Many agencies have a physical project board on a wall or are using Excel spreadsheets to try to keep everything in check. Unfortunately, these rudimentary project management systems end up costing agencies time, money, and even clients. But it does not have to be a source of frustration or profit evaporation.

If your agency has been resisting a project management system, it’s time to recognize that you are choosing to put your agency at risk. A shop without a more sophisticated tool and process for getting the work done on time and on budget will experience missed deadlines, scope create and frustrated clients. It’s not ideal from your team’s perspective either. No one wants to drop the ball or disappoint a client or teammate.

Agency owner Peter Coppinger knew all of this too well. His own shop, located in Dublin, Ireland was struggling to find a tool that would help them keep everyone in alignment and manage all of the details of every job without fail. That frustration led them to decide to design a project management tool of their own, Teamwork, which is one of the more popular options among agencies throughout the world. His software now powers more than 20,000 businesses.
During our conversation, Peter walks through the common mistakes agency owners make with project management and some best practices for overcoming them – all with the goal of profitably growing and scaling your agency.

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.

 Managing Projects Effectively

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Pitfalls that many agencies face when it comes to getting the work done
  • Why agencies should be tracking and charging for every little piece of work they do
  • Peter’s best practices for managing projects effectively in the agency world
  • What characteristics agencies should look for in their search for a qualified project manager
  • Why effective project management is the key to growth and scale
“It’s easy to be a busy fool. As you scale your agency and add more people, you need to make sure you are scaling your profits as well.” @irlTopper Click To Tweet “You’re not managing projects effectively if you’re constantly whipping people to get work across the finish line. You want your team to be self-reliant, and project management systems play a major role in that.” @irlTopper Click To Tweet “Some customers are willing to pay more, and you need to have systems in place that can extract that value.” @irlTopper Click To Tweet “People who are managing projects effectively are usually a rare combination of organized and good at dealing with people.” @irlTopper Click To Tweet “Every agency has similar kinds of daily projects. If you don’t write down and organize the steps it takes to get them done, you will never be able to scale your agency.” @irlTopper Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Peter Coppinger:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, webbed out, 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 McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Coming to you from Agency Management Institute. It is always my pleasure to hang out with you every week, so thank you for listening. Thanks for making the time.

I have two goals with every episode. One is that I hope that I am asking the questions that as you’re listening to the interview or conversation, you’re like, “Oh, gosh. I hope he asks this.” Or there’s a question in your head, and then it comes out of my mouth. I’m always trying to channel all of you in these conversations to ask these questions that I know are top of mind for you, just like they are for me as an agency owner.

And then also, I always ask my guests to be mindful that I don’t want this just to be a conversation that does not generate action. So I’m always looking for action items, things you can start to do, things you can stop doing, maybe a twist on something you’re doing. I have no doubt that today’s guest is going to give us plenty of that.

So before we get into me telling you about him, and what we’re going to talk about, I just want to remind you that as always we have lots of resources on the Agency Management Institute website. So there’s webinars you can watch, there are videos you can watch, and all of the weekly videos that I do. If we’re not connected on LinkedIn, please reach out. All you have to say in the LinkedIn invite is that you’re a podcast listener. I’m happy to connect with you.

But every week, I do a video with a little thought or tip. Usually they’re three or four minutes, so bite-sized thought or tip that I think will be helpful to you. Those are all also archived on the website. But if you want to get them live every week, then connect with me on LinkedIn and you can get them there.

But anyway, there’s all kinds of free resources on the website and I hope that you go there and you poke around. There’s eBooks to download and all kinds of things that we’ve just put there as tools for you. I would be delighted if you would take full advantage of those and visit the site regularly, and just keep consuming all of the free stuff that we’re putting there. It makes me perfectly happy.

People will say, “Well, don’t you want me to buy something?” “Yeah, if someday, there’s something we could do like a workshop or something like that, that’s helpful for you, absolutely.” It would be great to have you at those events as well. But I’m also absolutely fine with you never giving us a dime. If you just keep finding value in what we do and we’re helpful to you, that’s a good day for me. So please don’t feel bad about feeling like you have to level up in some way. We’re happy to have you if you want to, but I know for some of you that’s not an option, or it’s not of interest to you. That’s perfectly fine. Absolutely fine.

All right. Let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Our guest is a gentleman named Peter Coppinger. And Peter is the co-founder and CEO of Teamwork. And Teamwork as you know is a project management tool or system software, I guess, technically, that many, many agencies love.

The reason why agencies love it is because it was built specifically for agencies by agency people, as you’re going to hear Peter tell the story. This was born out of his own frustrations as an agency owner and wanting to create something different and better that would be useful for his team originally. And then, it occurred to them that other agencies would benefit from it as well.

So Peter is an agency owner, former agency owner. He’s now sold that agency and focuses completely on Teamwork. So he’s an agency owner, he’s a SaaS producer and creator. He also spends a lot of time … You’re going to hear in his accent he is from Ireland. He spends a lot of time helping other businesses and startups in Ireland think through their dream and build that out. So he’s a great encourager of entrepreneurism.

He also has a couple of daughters. He and I have that in common, that he’s the dad of a daughter. And he also is a big traveler, so we have a lot in common actually. I’m excited for you to meet him and to hear a little bit of his story. So let’s just jump right in. Peter, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Peter Coppinger:

Fantastic to be here today. Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. I think most people know you, or certainly from my introduction, they know that you are the genius behind Teamwork, which many agencies use and love. But I think a lot of people probably don’t know that your origin story includes that you used to have an agency. Right?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. I think genius might be a bit much, but I’ll take it. But years ago, we actually ran an agency for over seven years, and we were pretty successful. In Ireland, we have a lot of American multi-nationals actually, and we were doing a lot of big projects for Pfizer, for example. We’d access the Pfizer world network. Built a lot of their internal systems, their best chemistry websites and all this. We were thriving but we needed a better way to run our agency. That’s where Teamwork came from.

Drew McLellan:

It’s fascinating to me that there are so many origin stories for software built for agencies that were borne out of an agency’s frustration to do something.

What were some of the mistakes, some of the things that you bumped into as an agency that made you feel like a tool like Teamwork was necessary? What were some of the things you kept banging your head against the wall?

Peter Coppinger:

Oh, where do I begin? I think there’s just two parts to the mistakes we made. There was general agency mistakes we made that had nothing to do with software. That was part of our inexperience. We were straight out of college. We made all the mistakes and it took us years to wise up.

But we went from being completely unsophisticated and not knowing what we were doing to being pretty sophisticated. And then we got to the point … I can talk about some of those mistakes if you want.

But then, we got to the point where we had a whiteboard in the corner of the office that we listed all our projects. We responded to customers in the order that they were screaming at us, which is probably not a good way to run your business.

Drew McLellan:

Nope. Nope. Not ideal. Right. Right.

Peter Coppinger:

We also had an infinite amount of tasks. We couldn’t see a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. We had endless meetings and so on.

So we tried … There were a couple of very simple task management products out there. Some of them are still going today. Some of them are popular. But the task management systems are very basic. You put in your tasks and that’s grand, but you can’t really see what the priorities are. You couldn’t at the time, attach files to tasks. You couldn’t see the bird’s eye view of all the projects that are going on and juggle priorities. You couldn’t link tasks up together so that the client needs to give you the logo before you can design the website. You can’t cut up the website until you design it and so on. All the other systems were just too simplistic. You couldn’t put in recurrent tasks, you couldn’t set up templates because a lot of your projects are very similar so you want to set up templates and optimize things.

So after just being frustrated trying product after product after product, we’re product guys. We were building sophisticated stuff for our clients all the time. So one day, we just had an epiphany. I think it was after we got off some really bad support from one of our competitors. We just said, “Screw this. Let’s create our own project management system because there’s just a huge gap in the market here.” That’s where it came from.

We started building it every Friday. We dedicated Fridays to building Teamwork. Once we had an initial version, we started using it to run our agency and we refined all the rough edges off it. And then, we threw it up on the internet. I think it was October 4, 2007, I’m tempted to say. That was it. Gave ourselves a high five and went home to bed. Two days later, we had our first sale.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. At what point did you decide … So what happened to the agency?

Peter Coppinger:

So we got to the point where we got about 30,000 monthly recurring revenues, so maybe 120,000 a year or more. But we got pretty far along, the SaaS model. Making the product was our passion. It was all we talked about. Myself, my co-founder and me, we were talking about features we needed to add. We loved dealing with customers. We were just super passionate about it.

We went from working one day a week on it, to working two days a week on it, to working three days a week on it. We got the point where we weren’t really enjoying the client work anymore. We had this big book of clients and we didn’t want to drop the ball, and we didn’t want to let them down. That’s why we held onto it for so long. But eventually we found another agency who were really good guys, and we gifted them our entire book of customers. We said-

Drew McLellan:

That’s a great day for them.

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, they were like, “How much do you want for this?” We were like, “We don’t want a thing. Our only ask is that you don’t drop the ball.” They were watching me and they were like, “No. No. We have to give you something.” But we insisted.

We did this tour where we went around to all our customers and we explained to them that these guys are taking over, and there’ll be a transition period. All our customers were very worried, but it went really well and the guys did us proud and they really look after all those customers. I think they still have all those customers today. That went really well, and that freed us up to then go full time at Teamwork, and to really double down on what we wanted to build.

Drew McLellan:

You didn’t even get a pint of beer out of this? [crosstalk 00:10:05]. I’m just thinking we have to offline, we have to talk about your negotiating skills.

Peter Coppinger:

I do think we got a few pints of beer off them over the years.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. All right. All right.

Peter Coppinger:

To be clear.

Drew McLellan:

Then I feel like it was a fair deal.

Peter Coppinger:

It’s a fair deal.

Drew McLellan:

So now, 10, 13 years in, you’ve watched tens of thousands of agencies working through the system, you talking to them about features they wanted, all of that.

So project management, I think, is one of the most challenging aspects of agency life. I think agencies struggle with this, particularly small agencies that don’t have a dedicated person that is driving the traffic function and project management through the agency. What are some of the mistakes that you see agencies making when it comes to getting the work done?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. So first of all, not systemizing everything. Every agency has similar type of work you’re doing all the time. We see people that are winging it from project to project, and they’re not really adding that scale.

They might be growing their agency, but they’re not scaling their agency, and there’s a big difference. They’re busy fools. It’s easy to be a busy fool as an agency. You really want to make sure that you’re actually scaling. As you add more people, you’re scaling your profits as well.

They’re not doing things like putting in their recurring tasks. They’re not bringing their clients into the projects, so they’re operating in silos. I mean we had it with Teamwork. One of the mistakes we made for years, sorry, in digital crew when we were an agency, is that we were just too nice. We weren’t charging for all these extras. A customer will call us at Friday at 5:00 PM. They would say, “Oh, could you just do this quick thing on the website.” Next thing, we’re there for four hours adding something to the website, and we forgot to charge for it. With Teamwork, all that goes away. You charge for every single penny. You can manage your retainer work.

That’s another thing. I think systems for managing the retainer work, every agency really has some retainer work, and if you don’t manage that well, it can kill your business as well.

So the bird’s eye view in profitability, so most people are busy just trying to get the work done, but you don’t see that bird’s eye view of how many projects are we scheduled? When do we deliver them by? Do we even have enough people to work on these projects? So make sure that, if you know that you’re going to be busy in three months time, you can see it building, you can start planning to add some capacity to your team in advance.

Drew McLellan:

So Peter, if I think about the one grouse that every agency owner has, it is scope creep. It is that they give a client an estimate, and they have a clear set of deliverables, and they have a set price tied to those. Somehow, they end up doing 27 extra things, not charging for them, and losing their shirt. So talk about how does an agency prevent scope creep?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. We definitely had this in the early days of digital crew. This can kill your agency. And this can be the thing that’s sapping at all your profits. This can be the difference between thriving and just barely surviving or going out of business. So you have to get this right. You’ve no choice.

Everybody starts and they define the project pretty well with the customer. And then over time, things pop into the customer’s head, and they come back looking for things now. We all want to be super nice to our clients, and we typically do these things and we don’t charge for it. But it’s a critical mistake.

As long as you track every bit of work you’re doing, and you can show that to the customer, in my experience they have no problem paying for that extra work. But the critical thing is you have to log it and you have to log time against it.

So you need a system. It doesn’t matter if that’s Teamwork, or something else, but you need a system where every single requested bit of extra work can be logged, can be approved and you can log your hours against it. And then, you simply can export that and show that to the customer at the end of every month. You can say, “This is how you’re doing against your retainer. Do you want to increase this? Do you want to keep going?” But if you don’t do that, you’re going to go out of business. It’s that simple. Or you’re never going to scale your agency.

Drew McLellan:

I think for a lot of agencies where the struggle is, is the owner agrees with that mentality, but it’s difficult to get the account people wired that way. Because the account people they see their job as making the client happy. They perceive that no client is happy when you say, “Yes, we can absolutely do that for you, but it’s out of scope, therefore it’s going to cost more money.” Right?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. So you have to be a bit ruthless with it. Your client people have to know that this is how the business makes money. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

This is how the business works, right? There’s a certain element of being ruthless. If you want, and this works well for a lot of people, is you give a cut to the account people. That fixes that problem instantly. You know?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

If they’re getting 1% of anything above what was originally agreed in the first bit of scope, they’re going to really be tracking those hours and making sure they milk the customer for every penny they can get.

If you think about it, I mean part of your job is to obviously deliver results for the customer, but the second part of your job is to do that in as profitably as possible.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Well, and I think for a lot of agency owners they are so closed in terms of sharing the financials with their employees. I think part of this is you’ve got to help your account people understand how agencies make money. And how the account person either contributes to that or detracts from that.

Peter Coppinger:

Exactly. And something that’s related I think is, there’s always some customers that are willing to pay more. You have to have systems in place that allow you to extract that value. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

Because pricing is completely subjective. For example, if you’re selling an app, you should never have just one price. If you’re selling a car, you should never have just one price. You should have the car with the extras and so on.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

Same thing in this world. You should have this sheet of extras that you can put in front of the client. And so, if it’s a website, it could be like, “Hey, would you like us to do an audit of your SEO every year?” Whatever it is. You could come up with a list of 20 different things, and the customers that are less price sensitive will check on four or five of these things that are super easy for you to deliver. Some of them are literally just you click a button and you added it on. That’s the difference between you making a 30% profit and you barely breaking even.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We teach the strategy of three prices. And knowing the psychology is when you offer somebody three choices, and we see this in all the softwares and everything else, I think it’s 96.7% of people pick the middle price.

And so, if you only offer them one price though, the psychology of that is that they’re going to try and talk you down from that price.

Peter Coppinger:

Absolutely, yeah. It’s amazing as well, if you have a top tier price, you will be shocked at the amount of people that will pick it for no other reason than that they feel like they’re big. So actually-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. Right.

Peter Coppinger:

… there’s lots of logic behind this. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think the companion to the scope creep problem is the undercharging problem. I would imagine if you were a little startup, you guys were just out of college and you’re working with somebody like Pfizer, I suspect you tripped over that problem more than once.

Peter Coppinger:

Oh, big time. We always went above and beyond. We were busy fools. There was one Christmas where there was a third co-founder and he said, “Look, I’ve done the hard stuff. I’m going to Australia.” It was that Christmas, myself and Dan, my co-founder said, we had a look. We were busy fools. We were the hamster in the wheel going nowhere. We were just working every hour we were given but not making a profit. I thought about this over Christmas.

That January, we doubled our prices, we got really laser-focused on running a professional agency because it was either that, or go out of business.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

We started in staged payments, we stopped a long scope creep, we charged for every single extra hour of work we did, and all our customers, shockingly, had absolutely no problem with it. They were happy with the price increase. They were happy with the pay for every single hour of extra work we were doing. And suddenly, instantly our agency was profitable.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think a lot of agencies who are undercharging their clients, they think that the clients are going to be upset. But I believe that most clients know when their agency’s undercharging them, and they’re just waiting. They’re not going to knock on the agency’s door and say, “Hey, you should charge me more.”

Peter Coppinger:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

They’re just waiting for it to happen, for the agency to catch it. Right?

Peter Coppinger:

It’s exactly what a customer said to me. He was actually an administrator in a local college we did a lot of work for. He said, he started smiling and laughing, he said, “I was wondering when this day would come. We’ve been getting away with this for years.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Peter Coppinger:

There is a psychology as well that you should test your pricing. Every now and again when you get a bigger project in, especially if you’re busy, that’s a good opportunity to test at 10%, 20%, even 50% increase in your price and see what happens.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I’m always telling agencies, if you don’t get, “No,” 25-30% of the time because you’re too expensive, then you’re leaving money on the table.

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, that’s how you scale. Exactly. Completely agree with that. That’s what our experience showed as well.

Drew McLellan:

And then, when did you guys start rolling staged payments into the mix.

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, so it was around the same time that we wisely stopped with everything else. There was a list of things that we wised up with. Staged payments, we actually had one customer sting us for about $50,000. So it was one of these things where we were hired to do work. We didn’t have a contract. There was a time when we just took people at their word and their handshake. And there was somebody who was fired in their company. We had done a load of work and we, the owner said, “No. We’re not paying you for that work.” We lost about $50,000. It was actually after that we said, “Okay, let’s make sure we have contracts going ahead.”

In addition to contracts, from that January on, we said we’re going to take stage payments. 30% at least, it depends on how big the project is. If it’s a relatively small project, 50% upfront. If it’s a bigger project, we always get 30%, 30%, 20%. So at least if anything happened at the very last phase, or if the last phase dragged on for too long, at least we’re not losing out to long on that.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I think a lot of agencies need to make that change, where they are not waiting for that either total payment or that final payment of 50%. Even prior to the pandemic, the larger the client is, the longer their payment terms. And now, with businesses being really mindful of cashflow, one of the things agencies have had to be really thoughtful about in 2020 is making sure that their payment terms set them up to be able to keep paying the bills they had to pay, because they knew their clients were going to drag it out.

Peter Coppinger:

Yep. Definitely. The only thing that really helps with this is having somebody dedicated to payments. So somebody who is spinning invoices and chasing invoices, even if that’s an intern. But make sure that person is ruthlessly efficient and very direct. They don’t have to be rude but they are very assertive. Call up the customer like, “We’re still waiting on that payment.” But position them as the bad guy and your account managers and the people actually doing the work can be the good guys. But that’s a healthy kind of tension to have, I think. That works really well.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. I think the worst think you can do is put your AE in that position.

Peter Coppinger:

Oh, definitely not. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

They’re the client confident, and now they’re the hammer on the invoice. That doesn’t work well.

Peter Coppinger:

No. Huge mistake. Huge mistake. But also make sure that they’re in the loop, and that they know that there’s good cop/bad cop in here, going on here.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yep. Absolutely. Because you’re watching thousands and thousands of agencies manage projects … And I think this is an achilles heel for many agencies, is they do exactly what you talked about, which is they’re cruising along and either everything is tribal knowledge in their head or they’ve got some version of a board or maybe they have an Excel spreadsheet, but they are cobbling along with their project management until something break. It’s usually some big thing that breaks. They drop a ball and everybody’s scrambling all weekend to keep the client happy. What are some best practices? Regardless of tool, what are some best practices around how should my agency management moving work through the business?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, okay. Most people start with nothing. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Peter Coppinger:

They start with just emails back and forth, and then level one, that I call it, is the spreadsheet.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Peter Coppinger:

I will call level one’s spreadsheet something like Excel. Level two spreadsheet is when they’re using something Cloud-based and collaborative like Google Drive sheets.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

That’s a great step in the right direction. But the day will come when that’s just not enough. It’s chaos. You’ve dropped the ball with a customer. Something got missed. You missed deadlines and you realize you need a better system to scale. This typically, you’re at five people or ten people, and you’ve got a few good projects on at the same time. You might go on holidays and that’s when shit hits the fan and everything goes to pieces.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Peter Coppinger:

You come back and you’re like, “Okay. We’ve got to fix this.” And then people think to move to a task management system. They might move to Trello. That’s a huge step in the right direction. At least now you can visualize your work.

And then, you get to the point where you’re like, “Okay, it’s not enough just to see the tasks that everybody needs to do every day. We need to get to the next level and see the bird’s eye view of all of the projects that are on.” And then after that, you move to a phase where you need to systemize everything so that you can scale your agency. That’s when you can-

Drew McLellan:

When you say, systemize, does that … Define for me what that means.

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. That means that you, everybody does similar type projects. So let’s take a web design agency. For a web design project, you got to get the brief. Get a brief signed off by the customer. Then you’ve got to get the assets from the customer, the logos, the colors, the pallettes, whatever. Then you’ve got to go through a design phase. You’ve got to get design approval, then there’s cutting it up, and then there’s getting, building the actual site and then getting it signed off and so on. So there’s all these steps. There’s probably a template you could put together for a small website, a medium website, a big website.

If you don’t actually write down what these steps are, you will never be able to scale your agency. You could write them down in Excel, but it’s much better if you put them into some sort of mechanism or some bit of software. You could use us or you could use many other products, but a place where you could reuse these templates.

But the critical thing is that you can improve your templates. So you might deliver a project for a small customer, and you realize, what would’ve made this project more efficient is if actually we introduced a step. You keep refining your templates over time, and suddenly you’re a lean, mean machine. And you’re after, you also get really, really good at understanding exactly how much work actually goes into a project.

Drew McLellan:

The other thing that happens, and I have a lot of agencies that are stuck in this place where although they do the same kind of work, because different people touch the work, there’s Babette’s way of doing this small website, there’s Mary’s way of doing this small website, there’s Drew’s way of doing this small website as opposed to, “This is the way our agency does something.”

And so, I think one of the values of systemization, not only as the efficiency of, you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, but you have a shared recipe for making the family favorite, whatever that is. So if one cook leaves the kitchen and another cook has to come in, then you still make the recipe exactly the same way.

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. And everybody understands. Let’s say somebody gets sick in the middle of a big project. Someone else can easily take over and they can see the bird’s eye view of this is where we are, or we’re still waiting for files off the client before we can move to the next step. That’s something that’s really important as well. No matter project management system you’re using, it has to give you the ability to link tasks together so you can see where you’re held up.

So you might see that a client, you see this visually, that a client is blocking progress on the entire project because they haven’t delivered you some key file. That happens all the time. Right? We can all relate to that [crosstalk 00:26:40]-

Drew McLellan:

Every day. Right.

Peter Coppinger:

What’s really nice is when you can visually show that to the client. So when the clients can log in and you can say, “Hey, we’re waiting on this. And as you can see here, it’s locking up all these tasks.” It shows them in black and white that they’re really holding up this project.

Then you can talk about this is going to delay the project, and then you can have … If they’re going to delay the project, you can visually show that, that they’re going to end up pushing out the deadline, it just removes a lot of stress.

Another really nice thing in terms of systemizing everything is getting things out of email. We all live in emails, emails back and forth. It’s typically the account manager’s email, and their sales person’s email. Well, that doesn’t help the rest of the team understand what’s going on. He or she often forgets to let everybody know what the communication challenges are.

What you can do with Teamwork and similar systems is you can easily forward all of the emails into the project. So every project has its own email pocket. You just forward it in and it automatically all the communication is in one place.

So if a new person joins the team, they can just go there, into one project, one central place, and they have all the files, all the tasks, all the communication in one simple place. If the client logs in, and the client is like, “You told me I’d be done for Thursday,” and you’re saying, “No, I told you Friday,” you can visually show them, there it is on the project. It’s black and white. That’s what I mean by systemizing things.

Part of scaling as well is looking at what holds you up from scaling. When we looked at this, we realized one of the things that was holding us back was we were allowing all our customers to do design by committee.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Peter Coppinger:

We would sit there with a customer. I vividly remember sitting there with Pfizer. Actually, I shouldn’t say this. But there was 11 people and we were building an intranet. They were having this debate over what site should be what colors, the different sites. Somebody wanted green, somebody wanted blue, somebody wanted indigo and they were debating it. I sat there for an hour putting up with this.

The penny dropped at some stage, going like, “From now on, we’re dealing with one person and one person only.” We just made that a rule. “Within your company you can do all your fighting and debating, but we will have one point of contact.” That really helped streamline everything. So if you’re not doing that, do that today.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s a great point. I want to ask you a question about the kind of person … So in some agencies they’re large enough to have someone who drives the workflow. I want to take a break. When we come back, I want to ask you what characteristics an agency owner should look for when they look for someone to fill that role. Let’s take a quick break, and then we’ll come back and talk about the infamous traffic manager.

When it comes to conducting a client’s satisfaction survey, your agency has three choices. The first one is adopt a don’t ask/don’t tell policy and just roll the dice. Your second option is to do the study in-house. And the third option is to use a third party to conduct your client satisfaction survey.

If you decide that you’re ready to invest in protecting your client relationships and improving your win and keep ratios, we believe there are some benefits of using AMI as your third party research partner.

Number one, we know emphatically that your clients will tell us things that they just won’t tell you. The reality is they’re going to speak more freely if they’re not talking to you directly. They don’t want to hurt your feelings and they don’t want to get into a big conversation about it. So a third party is a safe place for them to share their real feedback.

The second is that at AMI we don’t have a bias about any particular client. We don’t know if you like them, don’t like them, if they’re a pain, if they’re your favorite. And so because we understand the agency business, but we don’t come into those conversations with any preconceived notions, we can absolutely give you unbiased and unfiltered information based on what your clients tell us.

And, you know what, we know agency clients. We can hear what they’re saying and we know which threads to pull on as we’re talking to them to get more information for you and more insight. Your clients will be comfortable talking to us because we speak their language. If you’re interested in having AMI do your customer satisfaction survey, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and look under the How We Help section of the website to learn more. All right. Let’s get back to the show.

All right. I’m back. Peter and I are talking about all things project management. So Peter, before the break I had said that some agencies, I believe that by the time an agency gets to about 15 people, they really have to have someone who just sits and drives the traffic function, the project work through the agency. Otherwise, there’s just too many cooks in the kitchen.

So when an agency is looking for that person, because you’ve probably seen tens of thousands of them-

Peter Coppinger:

I’ve seen it. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. What are the characteristics that make someone good at that role?

Peter Coppinger:

Okay. It’s two main attributes I think. The first and foremost is that they’re really good at communication with the customer. Because you could have someone who’s really organized and effective, but they’re just terrible at dealing with customers. They’re not polite, they don’t pick up the phone, they just don’t know how to handle … They’re not a people person. So you’re looking for that rare individual who’s both a people person, but who is also incredibly organized. Part of being incredibly organized is that they don’t get stressed.

So some people let the little things get to them or if they get three phone calls from three different customers within 10 minutes, they’re overloaded. But someone who’s just able to see the bird’s eye view of what’s going on and not get too stressed about the details, and who is someone who can bring that voice of the customer into the team without stressing the team out.

So it’s a very delicate role. It’s hard to find that person. And that can, again, make or break your agency.

When you’re smaller, it’s typically the CEO, the founder who’s doing the sales and everything else, and also doing this role. You’re not going to scale again if you don’t find somebody who’s going to coordinate all that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. In many agencies, larger agencies, this role doesn’t have a lot of client contact. But they have to be a super communicator because they’re trying to get all 15 people on the team, plus some contractors and other people to do what they need to do that day. So not only do they have to be great communicators, but they also, I think, they have to be, they have to understand people, they have to be a good psychologist.

They have to know, “Okay, with Peter, I have to be really nice to him to get him to do something. With Drew, I need to yell at him to get him to do something.” They have to understand all the players. Right?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, absolutely. The way we ran our agency, every person was a little bit self-reliant. So when you log into the software you’re using in the morning, it should tell every person, “Here’s what you need to do today to contribute to the plan.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Peter Coppinger:

What you want to do is cut down on as much communication as possible. People just want to come in, do their work. There may be a five minute stand up, whatever, but you certainly don’t want to be having to whip people all day and worry about their personality types and all this just to get projects over the line. That’s just too stressful. You want them to be self-reliant. They log in, in the morning. The software tells them what they need to do. “Here’s what we need you to do today. Here’s the things we’d like you to do but you can’t do because you didn’t get the files. Here’s what’s on your calendar. We’re going to have a meeting later on. Here’s some recurring tasks.” And they just get on with it.

That’s the dream. And obviously there’ll be people out sick, and there’ll be people that are a bit behind. You will have to crack the whip occasionally in a polite way, but the software should really help.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think the other, and maybe this is the biggest question of all. I am a firm believer that it is not the tool that makes or breaks this. It really is whether or not the team adopts the tool.

So it’s very much a garbage in/garbage out scenario. I have some agencies who change accounting software, for example, it feels like every year. The constant is not the software, it’s the people. Right?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, definitely.

Drew McLellan:

It never works. So how do you, when you’re working with a new agency that’s coming on board, how do you help them get everybody on the same page and doing things the same way? How do you help agencies do that?

Peter Coppinger:

I love that you asked this. So we have a saying at Teamwork that you don’t need software, you need teamwork.

Drew McLellan:

Ah, very clever.

Peter Coppinger:

Right. Yeah. What we mean by this is we’re going to be your partners in being successful. The software’s only 50% of it. Right? We actually have a customer journey that we call it. We have an agency journey that we want you to go on. We call it our ideal journey.

When you first come on, we explain to agencies that we are going to help you deliver projects successfully. You’re going to have the bird’s eye view and it’s going to take away all the stress. We try and sell you that this will be a good thing.

Your team are coming in at the moment, they’re digging into emails, they’re looking for files all over the place, they don’t have the bird’s eye view, they don’t know what the five things they need to do today are. They’re not really sure where they are with a client, is the client holding up the project or not? Is the client happy? They just … All the chaos will go away.

Actually, something I meant to mention earlier on, if it’s not in Teamwork, it doesn’t exist. What we mean by that, if it’s not in the software, it doesn’t matter if you’re using Teamwork or something else, you should have the concept in your business that it doesn’t exist.

If John tells Michael that he needs to do a task, but the task doesn’t end up in your software and it’s okay for Michael not to do it. It has to be written down or it doesn’t exist. Otherwise-

Drew McLellan:

Okay. But you and I both know who is the greatest offender of that rule? It’s the agency owner, right?

Peter Coppinger:

The agency owner, yeah. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

They’re going to end run every time. So you’re right, it would be powerful for the agency owner to say, “Look, if it’s not in the software, it’s not your problem even if I ask you to do it.”

Peter Coppinger:

Exactly. Exactly. We first sell you the vision on let’s help you deliver projects, and just take all that stress away and get everything out of your head. Because there’s all this stuff floating around in your head, “What do they need to do today? What don’t they need to do today?” Well, you’re putting it all down in the software, all that should go away. You should be able to go on holidays as the agency owner and not be stressing about, “Oh, did I send that? And is this going to get done?”

You can check in, pull out your phone and you can literally see that everything is on track and it’s going well. That’s the first part of the journey.

The second part of the journey is what we call, the grow phase. This is where we want you to get organized. This is things like setting up those templates we talked about earlier on. Setting up recurring tasks because every organization has recurring tasks. It could be that you need to invoice your customers at the end of every month. Whatever it is, by putting in these recurring tasks, again, it gets everything out of your head. Nobody has to remember that they need to do this because the software literally tells you, you need to do it.

The other great thing is if anyone ever leaves the organization, all the stuff that was assigned to that person can now be reassigned to somebody else. There’s a built in system for you to do that. That’s really nice as well.

So once you hit that grow phase, and you set up your templates and you’ve got a bit organized, the next thing the journey wants you to do is what we call, the scale phase.

This is we want to help you manage profitability. This goes back to being the busy fool. The difference between growing your agency and scaling your agency we want you to actually scale your agency in confidence, that you’re making more money, and have that bird’s eye view of all the projects and make sure you have enough resources and so on.

The other thing we’re tying into that is retainer work. Typically people are managing retainer work using spreadsheets or emails, all sort of crazy ways.

Drew McLellan:

How is it different? How does it look different from a project? Like, “I want a website,” and retainer work. What is the structural difference? And again, whether this is in Teamwork or something else, but what’s the structural … When you look at those kinds of projects, what’s the structural difference?

Peter Coppinger:

When I think about a project, a project has a deadline. You’re trying to deliver something by a deadline and then you have the work done. After that, typically, you enter into a sport agreement with the customer where you’re going to do X amount of hours work a year or a month for a fixed price. You might have different price for different types of work. You might agree that you’ll do X amount of hours a month. There’s different ways of doing retainer work. Right?

It’s different than project work in that it’s task-based work and it just needs to get done. So it might be a [inaudible 00:39:26] to have for the website, a new page due on that, on text you need to update, whatever it is. They don’t have people in-house. They want you to do it. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be website obviously, we’re just using website as the example. The typical agency doesn’t have a really great way of doing this. They may forget the invoice to customer half the time or they’re not doing a great job of putting these systems in place to support the customer and to make as much money as possible.

I’ll give you an example. When we were an agency, we used to deliver websites and projects all the time. When we became a more professional agency, every time we delivered these, we’d say, “Hey, would you like to put a retainer in place?” We actually got to the point where we just made it an automatic part of the contract that you will be paying us a retainer of 20% of the project every year, going ahead. Unless, they deliberately came back and said, “We don’t want to do that,” or negotiate it. It was just there automatically. And most of them had no problem with it. That gave them so many hours of support and everything, and it made us incredibly profitable and they were also very happy.

But we wanted to make sure that we didn’t over deliver, and we wanted to stay profitable. Because some customers are obviously-

Drew McLellan:

Needier than others.

Peter Coppinger:

Needier, that’s pretty good way to put it. Yeah. That’s what I mean by managing the retainer work.

Drew McLellan:

So the difference is if I understand it right, with project work, I can list all of the tasks. I know what has to be done. With retainer, while we’re doing the work, we have to record what we’re doing in some way to capture that value.

Peter Coppinger:

Exactly. It comes in, in dribs and drabs and you need to tie it back to a system. You don’t have to be invoicing for every individual task. It’s just-

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Peter Coppinger:

You want to put these retainer systems in places.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Last question for you before I let you go, what’s the biggest mistake you think agencies make when it comes to project management? What’s the thing that costs them the most money?

Peter Coppinger:

I think it’s back to what we said earlier on. It’s not tracking every single thing you do for the client. Because the client has no problem, as long as you can show them this is the work we did. So if you can produce that log, you will turn yourself into a really profitable, productive, scalable agency.

If you’re being too nice, that’s what we all do. We’re all too nice. We all add on all these extras. You’ve got to be a bit ruthless because it’s a business, not a charity.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think for a lot of people, a retainer becomes an all you can eat buffet. Right?

Peter Coppinger:

Right. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

I’ll have a lot of agencies say to me, “Well we don’t even track time because we just charge clients a flat fee, and then we just do the work.” [crosstalk 00:41:59]. I’m like, “How do you know if the fee your charging actually matches what they’re getting?” “Well, it works out in the end.” I think, “Oh, my God. You’re going to lose your shirt.”

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, that might work for a while, but that’s-

Drew McLellan:

Right. Or if you’re super small.

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah, or if you’re super small. That’s a very risky way to run your business. It’s not going to scale.

Drew McLellan:

Agreed.

Peter Coppinger:

I think even if you don’t want to scale, if you just want to take the stress out of the business, that you may not want to be a 500 person agency, but you should strive to be a professional agency. That way you can go on holidays and you know everything is being run, and it’s being run efficiently. Yeah, it’s just less stress in the longer term.

Drew McLellan:

I lied. Not my last question, because I completely forgot you and I started talking before we hit the record button. You guys have just launched a new underlying free tool for agencies that are using EOS or Traction. Can you talk to us a little bit about instantagencytools.com?

Peter Coppinger:

Yeah. We have literally just hot off the presses, we’ve just released Instant Agency Tools. Please go check it out. What it is, it’s a collection of completely free, forever, tools that you can use to help you run your agency.

So if you’re familiar with the EOS system, Traction, entrepreneurial operating system, which we use at Teamwork by the way. A lot of agencies use it as a framework for running their organization. But even if you don’t run an EOS, this is an EOS compatible system, but you can just use the tools to help you run your agency.

So there’s tools in there for running your weekly meeting with a really professional system for doing it over 90 minutes, for floating off what are the top issues so that your meetings don’t drag on all day and you get you the most important stuff.

And then there’s an accountability chart where you can map out what are the jobs, what are the roles that everybody’s doing, and clear responsibilities. Everybody can see that in a very visual, nice way.

And then there’s what’s called a VTO. It’s your tree or picture and your one year plan of where you want to go on two sheets. It’s a really, really [crosstalk 00:44:06]-

Drew McLellan:

With your vision, your three uniques, all the things that if you’re an EOS agency, you’ll recognize that language. Right?

Peter Coppinger:

Exactly. So it’s we got the blessing of EOS. It’s EOS compatible. It’s completely free. Again, you can use it forever. Our hope is that we want to get the word out there that Teamwork exists. We’re giving this. This is our gift to the world. It’s completely free. It’s got instant utility. The second you go to the website and you click the button, you’re using it. You don’t have to sign up. You’re just instantly using it.

And then, you can share that link with anyone. You just grab the link, share it with anyone, and it’s realtime interactive. When somebody makes a change, you see it realtime with the other person. It’s really, really nice. You can get your data in and out instantly. You completely own your data. There’s an import/export option.

And there were three contentments. You own it. Instant utility. Instant data in and out, and instant sharing. If you like it, all we ask is that you help spread the word about it because we want every agency in the world using this because that will be great exposure for Teamwork, of course.

And if you do use Teamwork, what’s really nice is that there’s a two way sync with your weekly tasks and Teamwork, and it shows what’s been done and not done. We’re hoping that people will use this for a long time, and then eventually they’ll go, “Oh, let’s check out Teamwork.” In complete transparency, but free forever.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, of course. Right.

Peter Coppinger:

We’re never going to charge you for this.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I just found out about it and so I just took a look at it before you and I got on the interview call. It’s slick. It’s easy to use. I’m excited to start using it with some of my agencies that I facilitate Traction with. So on behalf of all them, thank you.

Peter Coppinger:

Oh, you’re very welcome. We’ve put a lot of work into it and we’ve been beta testing it for months ourselves. We’re finding it with a lot of EOS agencies and we’re getting great feedback on it. I think it’s better than anything that’s out there.

Most people that are running EOS are using spreadsheets and pen and paper. So this is the leap forward. We hope it will take on like wildfire. Yeah, check it out. Instant Agency Tools.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s awesome. Peter, thanks so much for spending time with us and talking about the thorny topic of project management and the work that you guys are doing at Teamwork and the lessons that you learned.

I think one of the things I love about Teamwork is that it is borne from agency people. It’s built specifically for agency people. So I think it shows in all that you do.

So I appreciate your time today. Thanks for being with us.

Peter Coppinger:

My pleasure. I’ll just leave you with this thought. Two things. Measure your profitability. Don’t be busy fools. And don’t take any work that comes your way if you really want to scale the agency, get selective. That’s it.

Drew McLellan:

Amen.

Peter Coppinger:

Thank you very much.

Drew McLellan:

If people want to learn more about you, about Teamwork, if they want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Peter Coppinger:

You can email me directly, [email protected], and I’d love to talk to you. You can catch me on LinkedIn, it’s Peter Coppinger. It’s a pretty unique name so you’ll find me instantly. My Twitter handle is IRL, for Ireland, Toppr. T-O-P-P-R, is my nickname that I’ve had since I was in college. So IRLTOPPR will catch me on Twitter. I look forward to talking to you.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thanks so much.

Peter Coppinger:

Pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys. This wraps up another episode of build a better agency. For many of you, project management is a thorn in your side and you are struggling to figure out how to do it better. It starts with really committing to do, that everything is the way the agency does it, as opposed to allowing everybody to have their own way.

I think Peter gave you some great ideas, and actionable items that you can go back and put into the system you have, if you already have one. And if not, start thinking about how can you scale up? How can you get a little more sophisticated in your project management? Because I’ll tell you, when you drop the ball with a client, that is hard to re-earn that trust. And so, far better to have a safety net underneath you.

Just a quick reminder, we are … And Peter’s team will be there. We are very excited about the Build-a-Better Agency summit that is happening August 11th and 12th. Peter and some of his folks … Well, I don’t know Peter, if you’re going to be there, but I know some of your folks are going to be there with us.

Peter Coppinger:

I’ll be there.

Drew McLellan:

Now I’ve, at the conference, so you can head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and check out the Build-a-Better Agency summit. Tickets are on sale if you want to grab one. We are going to have a great time learning together, commiserating about 2020 together. We are going to drink and throw darts at the same time, so I think bodes well for the event as well. But we would love to have you join us, so check that out on the website.

A big shout out and thank you to our friends at White Label IQ. They are the presenting sponsor of the podcast. If you’re looking for somebody to do white label design DEV or PPC, they’re a great resource for you, so check them out.

I will be back next week with another guest. In the meantime, you can track me down at [email protected] Thanks for listening. I appreciate you and I will see you next week.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.