Episode 441

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We’ve all been here before — your agency grows, and your day-to-day is getting a little too chaotic for comfort. Each team member has their own way of doing things, and no one is on the same page about the best approach to doing recurring tasks. As the agency owner, you’re getting pulled into things that you shouldn’t, becoming the organization’s bottleneck.

If that’s you, it’s time to break that cycle with some project management software.

With a million choices and a few that have become the industry standard, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which is right for your agency. Often, agencies will pick one based on how popular or how pretty it is, and forget about its functionality specific to your agency’s day-to-day needs.

This week, Alane Boyd is clearing the fog around project management software to help us decide if we need one — and if so, what tools and functionality we should be looking out for that will get our productivity back on track.

Don’t be afraid to take the time to really learn what tools are right for your team, and be generous with how long it takes for the new systems and processes to become sticky. Once you find one that works, your agency productivity will be back and better than ever.

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.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The benefits of project management software
  • Taking your time learning new systems and software
  • The signs an agency is ready for a PM software
  • Questions to ask yourself before choosing which product is best for you
  • Why capacity planning is the most important factor for choosing a project management software
  • How to recognize if you’re using the wrong tool
  • Training your project managers to use a new tool
  • Setting up a project management tool to automate recurring tasks
  • Considering the internal and external integrations of a PM tool that are necessary for your agency
  • Finding a tool that your team is willing to adopt
  • The most common mishaps with picking a project management software

“Once we really started adapting structure, I saw a transformation in myself, and I went all in.” - Alane Boyd Click To Tweet
“You're trying to learn how to use the tool, and at the same time, you’re trying to get all of your projects and workflows in there. You're not doing either very well in the beginning.” - Alane Boyd Click To Tweet
“The tool you select is very important because not all of them can do it, and not all of them do it well.” - Alane Boyd Click To Tweet
“We doubled our capacity without upping our team by switching project management tools.” - Alane Boyd Click To Tweet
“One of the things that we've found with project managers is they are great at moving things around. That's their job. But that doesn't mean that they're an expert in the tool that you're using.” - Alane Boyd Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Alane:

Resources:

Hey everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

Running an agency can be a lonely proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn how to be better faster if we learn together. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build, a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market with 25 plus years of experience. As both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Have a great guest here with us today that I’m super excited for you to meet and learn from. But first, I just wanna remind you, we have a lot of things going on and pretty much every month, but at least through the summer, you can count on three things happening every single month. Number one, Danielle and I are doing a live q and a where you can come on a Zoom call with a bunch of other agency owners and leaders and ask us whatever you want, and we will field your questions to, we’re doing what we’re calling, what is a MI or how can a MI help me. So it’s an informational session where I give you kind of a lay of the land of how a MI works alongside and serves agencies for about 10 or 15 minutes.

And then we just answer questions about all the different ways that you can interact with the folks at a mami. And then the third one is we are, as you know, probably we are in the middle of a series about how agencies are leveraging AI with Rice University adjunct professor Kathleen Hurley, agency owner and adjunct professor teaching the master’s level course at Rice about ai. So super smart, super knowledgeable, super accessible, but all those things are happening every single month. So you might be saying, Drew, how in the world do I, how do I attend those? How do I know about those? Here’s the easiest way.

You have two options. Number one, you can join the Facebook group. So you can go over to Facebook, search for Build, a Better, Agency, Podcast, and you’re gonna get to a private Facebook group. You have to answer four questions. They’re super simple. Email address, URL of your agency and a couple other things. And then we’ll let you in, or you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter. So if you go to agency management institute.com/newsletter, you’ll get to the signup form. So if you just give us your email address, your actually just your first name and your email address, we’ll get you signed up for that. And then every week you’ll get all the updates with links to all of those activities so you don’t miss a single thing.

We would love to have you with us for all of those activities. So either join the podcast group, sign up for the newsletter, or cover yourself. Do both and then you’ll be in the know. All right. Okay. Let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Alane Boyd, former agency owner with her husband. And when they sold their agency, one of the things they realized was that they really had their ducks in a row when it came to understanding how to build systems and processes inside their agency, particularly around project management software. And so they quickly popped right back out of retirement and launched a company that works with agencies in specific around putting together a strategy and then executing against that strategy for your content, not your content, your project management software.

So what I we’re gonna talk about today is do you need project management software? How do you know if you need it? And then how do you figure out which one is the right one for you? And what are some of the functionalities that you should be looking for in a good tool? There are a lot of tools out there, and they all offer different benefits, different functionalities, and I’m gonna pick Elaine’s brain in terms of sort of how we can make sure we’re getting the right one for us. There’s probably not one universal right one, but there absolutely is a right one for your agency, and we’re gonna talk about how you figure that out. All right, let’s welcome her to the show. Alane, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Yeah, thanks for having me.

So tell everybody a little bit about the work you do, the company you formed with your husband and how you serve agencies.

We, we work with agencies on implementing project management systems and integrating it with their other platforms. So our main ones that we work with agencies on is implementing Asana, Clickup in Monday. And how do those tools work with all the other platforms that they’re using?

And you came to this business, you didn’t just go, Hey, I know I’m an accountant and my husband’s a lawyer and we wanna create a company that works with project management systems. You came from this because you had an agency, right?

Yeah, we had an agency for 11 years. We did social media management, reputation management for car dealerships. And we got bought and we had to stay on for 18 months. And what we realized is the systems that we put, we used Asana there. And so we had put all these systems in place. The company that acquired us was larger and they had no project management system. It was complete chaos. And so we realized through that experience, we have a knack for operations that we didn’t realize that we had. We thought every agency ran like this. And after we exited and we retired for a little bit, we got bored and we thought, you know, maybe there’s other agencies like the one we merged with that could use our services.

And it turns out that there are, and there all over the world. So it’s, it exploded fast for, you know, what we, we weren’t even sure if businesses wanted what we, what we could do.

I have never met an agency owner who is giddy about implementing a project management system. Never. Hey, you, maybe you have, but I’ve never met anyone who’s like, this is gonna be awesome. In fact, when we’re coaching agencies and they’re ready to implement one, what I say to them is, for the first six months someone needs to walk whoever owns this project to their car because people will want to kill them.

Yep. And and I did it really slowly too. Yeah. Because, because I was an agency owner and Right. And I’m more the creative and sales and talking to people and then putting in structure for me gave me hives.

Right? Right.

But, but once we really started adapting it, what I saw, I saw a transformation in myself and I went all in. I went from being a goldfish and people asking me for something, my team or clients, and then I would forget. And I went from that. Having the project management system in place and being able to file away the most important things and be able to pull that out on a meeting and people, it, it transformed my life so much that at that point I was like, I’m a thousand percent in, right? Like, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do it the best we can. And then our team got on board and it really was the ability for us to scale and exit.

Well, I, I do think that although agencies go into it grudgingly and normally something horrible has happened, there is a pain point or a moment of pain that forces them to acknowledge they are at a size or their work is at a sophistication level that they can no longer afford to keep it all in their head or in a Google sheet or an Excel document or on post-it notes stuck all over their monitors or however they were managing before. I, I do think you get to a point where it’s like, okay, I, we have to grow up enough to embrace this. I get that it’s gonna suck, but I get that we’re, I, I understand the benefit of it.

So one of the things that you said is that you sort of evolved into it slowly ’cause you self-administered and you are an agency owner. I think that’s actually one of the things that makes it so horrible is that it takes forever and there’s no sunny day in sight for months and months and months when you self implement and you do it kind of as a side hustle on top of all your other side hustles while you’re trying to do your day job.

I, I mean, you hit it perfectly and, and it is slow and you don’t know the best ways to use the tool at first. You know, you’re trying to learn whichever project management system, you’re just trying to learn how to use it at the same time. Get all of your projects in there and your workflows in there. So you’re not doing either one very well in the beginning.

And, and I, I was just on a coaching call this morning with an agency that’s just implementing Workamajig and the woman who’s owning this project said everyone is frustrated because it’s taking them twice as long to do everything. And so every day I hear it was so much faster before we had this stupid system. And, and living through that part of the process, especially if you’re the one, you’re the champion of the system and you’re the, you’re like the sole supporter of making this shift. it is really hard.

Yeah. And it is, it feels taxing in the beginning. And you know, when you’re, and when you’re smaller, it is more weight that each person has to carry because they’ve, at that point, they have everything in their head. Yep. And you’re not, you know, it is dependent on you to get it out. And it is, it does take you longer. But imagine like for an agency that’s struggling with that idea is you’re never gonna be able to move past that If. That’s the place that you’re in. Right?

Right. it is. And it’s a

Horrible place to stay in. it

Is. it is the scale issue. I think that for most agencies they finally sort of accept they have to do that. So let’s talk about that a little bit. What are some signs that an agency owner or leader could look for to see if perhaps it is time for them to surrender to the idea of needing a project management system? Like what, how do they know it’s time?

The, the most common thing is I want it, I want things to work like it used to. If you start saying that to yourself, why isn’t it working like it used to? Then it’s time because it’s no longer you and a team of two or three people. Yes. You’re now saturated with questions. You’ve got enough people on your team and the ball’s dropped. You’re no longer doing client onboarding anymore. Now you might have an assistant or somebody else coming in and helping you, Hey, how do I do this? How do I do this? Can we jump on a quick call? You’re getting burdened by that. And so your mindset is, man, why can’t it be easy like it used to when it was just me That’s your son. Yeah. It’s time to move.

Yeah. You, you become the bottleneck because you as the owner or leader are the keeper of all of the tribal knowledge.

Yeah. Yeah. And you know, they, you, you get to where you can’t run your company and do the things that you’re good at, which is, you know, people say that all the time, like you need to do the things you’re good at, but you’re, it’s because you’re answering questions all day. Right. And you are the holder of everything. So you can never answer all the questions you have and move your company forward. Right.

Right. So probably in the, in the, we have a private Facebook group for podcast listeners and agency owners. No vendors in there at all. And probably the most common question, and it happens I bet once a month ’cause you know it’s Facebook so that scrolls and people don’t see the old questions. Oh yeah. At least once a month. Somebody’s like, we are about to, I, we know we need a project management system. What’s the best one? And then the flood of answers comes. And I think you and I would agree that there is no one that is the best one. But how does an agency begin to think about how to assess? ’cause there’s a million of ’em out there, right?

There are,

How does, how does an agency begin to assess, let’s say they put together a short list of 10. How do they begin to weigh those against each other? How do they, what questions should they be asking themselves to figure out how they as an agency are going to use the tool so they can pick the right tool? ’cause there’s nothing worse than picking, and I have seen this and I suspect you have too. Agency picks a tool, implements it for three to six months. Tool is dumb. Tool is broken tool, it, it, it doesn’t do any of the things the sales rep told us it would do. New tool three to six months later, two tool two is dumb. It doesn’t do any of the things we were told.

Tool three. Right. And on and on until they finally go, you know what, forget it, we’re going back to Google sheets or whatever. Right?

Yeah. Oh my gosh, this is like speaking to my soul right now. Yeah. Because we see this constantly and you, you also hear we’ve tried this one, this one, this one. We can’t get things moving forward in any of ’em. And so what we started to do is we’ve worked with hundreds of agencies now implementing project management tools. And so after we had all of this information from working with so many and helping them move from one to another, we said, alright, what are the things that we see are the triggers that agencies say this tool is not working, I need one that does this. So we distilled all of our information down, all of the clients we had and it comes down to 11 main things.

And it, it seems like it shouldn’t be that simple, but it really is because we’re agencies, right? How do you need to run your agency? It’s very common threads that we see throughout. And so there is a better fit for how you as an owner, what kind of information you look at how you wanna run your team, all the way down to how you also manage your clients and how you wanna disperse information to them.

Alright, so let’s, let’s talk through some of those 11 critical questions. So give me the one that you think would surprise us the most

Capacity planning for your team.

So I, I will say I think a lot of agencies don’t know how to decide if somebody’s plate is full and you know, your plate’s super full and I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs or playing Scrabble or whatever. So I would think that surprises me that that is not one that everybody’s asking. ’cause I would think that that’s like a business critical question to no, like these are my most expensive and valuable assets. I want to use them. Well I don’t wanna abuse them by giving them more than they can do. So talk a little bit more about capacity planning.

You know the, I think they know that, that they want that but they don’t know that it’s something you can use a tool to do. You know, it’s kind of disconnected in the beginning and once they start using the work management tool and they get in there and it usually takes a couple years and they’re like, hold on a minute, now I can see all the tasks that are assigned to my team. I can actually move capacity around based on right workload skillsets. You know, if you’re an agency, you might have somebody that’s really great at a couple of different ad formats design. So you can kind of give them a couple of different things and then you have another one where there’s some overlap but they have another one so you can move things around. And so capacity planning and teaching agencies how to look at their team and how to do it quickly.

You know, you don’t wanna spend four hours of your day looking at capacity planning. You wanna do this in minutes and be able to distribute work across the board within those minutes. And so that’s one that I think with a project management system, which one you select is very important because not all of them can do it and not all of them do it well.

So I think capacity planning is both a short term and long term. So the, the ideal is for the next two weeks I can look out and I can see what’s on everybody’s plate and I can see that we’re in good shape. Nobody’s gonna have to work overtime, we don’t need any freelancers or I can see the train coming at me on day 10 when everybody has 12 hours worth of work. There’s no way we’re gonna get it all done. So that’s the long-term value of it. But the short-term value is, Drew’s assigned four hours today to do this thing, but last night the AE gets a call from the client that says, yeah, we’re not gonna have those revisions back to you. So we’re not gonna have those back to you till next week. So just heads up, we’re gonna have to push the schedule.

Yeah. So now Drew’s got four hours on his calendar today and he has nothing to do and most agency employees don’t raise their hand and go, Hey, I’m kinda light today. Right? Somebody throw me a ball. Yeah. But if somebody’s looking at that, they can go, oh you know what, if Drew doesn’t have to do that today, I can move this thing that so-and-so was gonna do tomorrow over to him today and now we’re ahead of the schedule.

Yeah, I mean it, it’s a lot. It’s a game changer and, and depending on which project management tool you use, we went from doubling our ability to get work. Like we went from, we doubled our ca capacity without upping our team. Mm. By switching work project management tools and having that visibility within minutes we could move things really fast and we were able to get work done so much faster with our same team. So we doubled our time getting things done with the same amount of people.

Which you think about the that from a billability and utilization point of view is huge. So when you think back to that moment when you realized you were using the wrong tool, what was that blindness if you will? Like what were you, what were you doing wrong that the new tool was sh shone a light on and you were like, oh shoot, we’re doing that, we can fix that.

Yeah, so we, what we were running into is it was taking us too long to do that. You know, as an owner every minute of your time counts and if you’re spending a couple hours trying to bubble everything up and see everybody across projects and if that’s taking you too long, that’s when we started exploring other options and we had to play around with it before we rolled it out to anybody else to make sure that that was gonna work. Right. And, and I’ll say one of the project management tools that does that really well also works perfect for agencies on a number of other levels. So it also alleviated some other issues that we were having by moving. And that in itself I used, as I mentioned, I use Asana.

So once we sold, we started this one, we were using Asana again and, and I love them but it wasn’t working as well that now that newer tools came out. And that’s the thing, newer tools come out and they focus on maybe some of the holes that the other ones had and then you’re able to make a shift. But that change management right there is not easy and I do not like adapting very fast. Like I hold on because of the amount of work that it takes to move.

Right, right. So everyone who’s listening will kill me if I don’t ask that. So what tool do you believe manages capacity management best? Because you said some one tool does it better than most. So which one is that?

It’s Clickup Clickup. The way that you can bubble everything up into, there’s already a tab, it’s called everything. You click on it, you can see your whole team, all the tasks that are assigned to them in a pie chart in any dashboard that you want. So within few seconds and then you can click on them, move things around. Yeah. So that, that just made everything so much easier.

I think sometimes for the tools it’s not what they do but it’s how they present the data too. Right? Yes. I mean, you know, I, I think agency owners and, and in many agencies the a