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Agency Operations: Steps to Success and Mistakes to Avoid

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Updated on:
February 18, 2024
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Running and maintaining a successful agency takes an enormous amount of effort. Never more so than today, with record rates of competition in so many sectors. One of the best ways for agency owners to streamline their services and maximize efficiency is by regularly reviewing and fine-tuning their agency operations.

But given that “agency operations” is such a broad term, many owners don’t really know where to begin. This guide is here to help. Below, we’ll provide a detailed definition of agency operations, breaking them down into individual components. We’ll also look at some key strategies you can use to optimize operations, along with common mistakes to avoid.

What Are Agency Operations?

Let’s begin with a definition. As stated above, “agency operations” is a broad term, and you might be wondering what, exactly, it refers to. In essence, agency operations are the various day-to-day activities and processes that agencies carry out. That includes everything from admin to client relations, project management, marketing, and more.

In other words, if it’s part of the agency’s professional output in some way, it falls under the category of agency operations. Marketing products and services. Scheduling tasks and meetings. Assessing, allocating, and managing resources. Communicating with clients. Quality assurance. Risk management.

They’re all part of that same category, and they all have an influence on how well your agency performs, productivity, how happy your clients are, and so on. In short, agency operations are immensely important, but it’s easy for certain operations to be less refined or efficient than others. That’s how problems – like delays, missed deadlines, or flagging morale – often arise.

A Breakdown of Common Agency Operations

We’ve covered the basics of agency operations and touched on why they matter so much. Next, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty, looking at some of the fundamental elements that make up every agency’s operations:

  • Client Management: Building relationships with clients. Making sure that their needs are met and keeping communications open.
  • Project Management: Planning out and managing projects from the initial stages all the way through to completion. This includes scheduling, milestones, and deliverable development.
  • Finances and Budgeting: Monitoring and managing the financial side of the business. Involves planning budgets, creating invoices, etc.
  • Resource Management: Ensuring that resources – personnel, tools, etc. – are allocated to relevant tasks and projects.
  • Team Management: Managing staff members. This includes delegating and assigning people to the right roles, as well as holding meetings and issuing feedback.
  • Technology: Selecting and using technological tools to assist the business, such as CRM software and invoicing programs.
  • Analytics and Reports: Tracking various performance metrics to measure agency success. Creating reports and insights to help the business grow.

Of course, there are many more aspects that make up agency operations. However, these are some of the key areas. In a perfect agency, all of these different operations flow smoothly, with happy clients, satisfied staff, helpful technology, and optimal performance.

How to Optimize Agency Operations: 10 Steps to Success

The negative effects of poorly-optimized agency operations are numerous. Productivity levels drop. Clients become unhappy. Morale suffers. In the worst cases, agencies that don’t look after their operations and seek ways to streamline and refine them could end up shutting down altogether. Fortunately, there are plenty of actions you can take – starting today – to improve operations.

1. Invest in Your Team

Even if you’ve got amazing products and powerful tech tools to help you, the success of your agency is ultimately dependent on your team. It’s your team that has to market and sell your products or services effectively. Your staff members are the ones who fulfill workflows, complete processes, use the tools and resources at their disposal, and impress your clients.

If your team isn’t up to scratch, you may struggle to hit your goals. One of the best ways to improve agency operations across the board, therefore, is by investing in your team. There are two ways to go about this. The first is to adjust your hiring processes to make sure you’re bringing in the best possible talent.

The second method is to improve the workers already at your disposal through training and education. By teaching your workers how to carry out their roles and responsibilities more effectively, you can enhance your agency’s entire operations. What’s more, workers who receive great training opportunities tend to feel more engaged with their work and loyal to the company.

2. Carry out an Operational Audit

To improve agency operations, you have to solve the problems that your agency currently faces. But if you’re not aware of those problems, you’ll naturally struggle to identify any solutions. An operational efficiency audit can help you figure out where your small business is going wrong, illuminating the path to future success.

In simpler terms, an operational audit is basically a review of the various workflows and internal procedures your agency carries out each day. It’s a chance for you to see what works well and what should be improved. This kind of audit – like so many others – needs to be carried out objectively. It’s important for those responsible to look at all levels of operations, not just the lowest levels.

The aim is clear: identify the root causes of inefficient processes. Perhaps your workers are struggling with outdated procedures that could benefit from being brought up-to-date. Maybe certain processes are still being done manually, when they could be automated. For each problem you identify, try to find an appropriate solution, helping your firm become more efficient, one step at a time.

3. Create a Positive Workplace Culture

Happy workers are productive workers. That’s not just a theory. There’s scientific research to back it up. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who feel content and comfortable at work tend to be more likely to put in extra effort. Meanwhile, those who are unhappy are much more likely to simply go through the motions of their daily routine, feeling no particular impulse to excel.

It doesn’t matter whether your firm specializes in marketing, development, or something entirely different, you’ll have much more success if your team members are motivated to do their best. So, following on from the earlier point about investing in your team, another effective way to improve agency operations is by improving workplace culture and morale.

There are so many ways to improve morale and culture. A good way is to seek more feedback from employees and respond accordingly. Providing quality-of-life improvements, showing employees you care about them, and implementing positive policies to support diversity and inclusion are other methods to consider.

4. Standardize Your Services

A lot of agencies struggle with inconsistency. Some projects might flow smoothly and seamlessly, with positive outcomes and happy clients. Others seem to involve far more hurdles and challenges to overcome, with delays, interruptions, and unsatisfying results. There are plenty of explanations for this, but one of the main causes is a lack of standardization in your agency’s services.

It’s cause and effect – if your agency lacks standardization, it’ll take on a wide range of projects and produce varying outcomes. You might take on some projects that are completely within your team’s scope, for example, but also accept others that are a little too complex for your company at that time. This often leads to chaos, along with other negative effects, like confused and unhappy staff.

Therefore, standardization is a crucial step to ensure that your outcomes – and all the agency operations leading up to those outcomes – become more consistent. This benefits everyone, from your staff to your customers. With standardized services, you’ll no longer need to worry about taking on projects that are beyond your reach, and you’ll have much clearer paths and processes to follow.

5. Automate as Many Processes as Possible

Even the biggest and best agencies have finite resources. There are only a certain number of jobs you can take on and processes you can complete during the average day. However, there is a way to make more of the resources at your disposal, and that’s by automating as many day-to-day processes – particularly the trivial ones – as you can.

Thanks to modern technology, automation is more accessible and versatile than ever before. Plus, there are so many automation tools aimed specifically at agencies. For example, if you’re running a digital marketing agency, you can set up email marketing automation to create and send personalized emails automatically, with minimal user input required.

Additional examples include social media automation to automatically schedule and publish posts, or automated chatbots that can respond to customers and answer commonly-asked questions on your behalf. These tools, and so many others, can save your team hours of time, making your overall agency operations that much more efficient.

6. Establish a Project Management Process

Agencies that are able to manage projects in a timely and efficient manner invariably perform better than those who aren’t able to do the same. If you feel like projects often seem to spiral out of control, get delayed, or just aren’t as organized and streamlined as they could be, your firm may be lacking a clear project management strategy.

In that case, your No. 1 priority should be to establish a reliable project management process that you can use for all projects going forward. Get key members of your team together and plan out how you want to approach projects, building a strategy that is efficient, realistic, trackable, and focused.

Think about every step of the project management process. That goes for the initial stages through to execution, monitoring, gathering feedback, and delivering the final product or service to your clients. For each stage, consider ways in which your team can provide the most expedient and exceptional levels of service, without overburdening itself.

7. Retain Staff to Reduce Disruption

The cost of turnover is higher than you might think. Various studies have been carried out, finding that agencies and businesses lose up to or even more than twice an employee’s annual salary when that employee leaves the firm.

The reason being, you’re not just losing that worker and all the skills they brought to the agency. You also have to deal with the costs and time involved with bringing in someone new and getting them up to speed with the way you work. There are other hidden costs too. An employee who leaves might take clients who worked closely with them in the past to another firm, for instance.

In short, turnover is expensive and can massively impact your agency operations in a negative way, along with your profit potential. So, try to avoid it. Create a positive workplace culture to foster loyalty and long-term commitments. Additionally, seek feedback from your staff and find ways to please them, giving them reasons to stick around. Don’t forget to invest in quality HR, too.

8. Improve Cross-Department Collaboration

Many agencies have several teams or departments. A marketing agency, for example, might have a design team, a copywriting team, an SEO team, a social media team, and so on. Meanwhile, a software development agency might have teams handling the business side of the work, teams of developers, teams of designers, quality assurance specialists, etc.

Sometimes, those teams simply are best left alone to focus on their particular part of a project. But more often than not, teams need to be able to communicate with one another, sharing status updates or requesting advice and guidance to keep everyone on the same page. If that communication is impeded in some way, project progress gets delayed, and agency operations stall.

Yet another way to improve your agency operations, therefore, is by finding ways to build cross-department collaboration and communication. You can set up digital chat platforms that allow teams to interact, for example, and build a culture that inspires teams to work together to the same ends. Regularly review team structures to find ways to improve them, and invest in tools and software that make it easier for everyone to work together.

9. Invest in Useful Technologies

We’re living in a technological age. There are so many tools, apps, programs, and platforms out there. Many of which are designed to help agencies with their operations. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should invest in every piece of software around, but you should certainly consider building a “tech stack” that suits your agency’s needs.

A great place to start is with a CRM, or customer relationship management platform. The best CRM tools help you keep your clients and projects organized, making it easier to hit deadlines and give customers what they want. You might also like to set up a task management app to help your team stay on track and get things done more quickly and effectively each day.

Invoicing apps. Scheduling tools. Contract creators. There are so many options to choose from, and you might be surprised to see just how many aspects of your agency operations can be improved and streamlined with the help of today’s technology. Research and review the available options to find your favorites.

10. Review Your Operations Regularly and Adapt

Finally, it’s important to remember that fine-tuning your agency operations isn’t something you simply do overnight. Nor is it a task that is ever truly finished. It’s an ongoing process. There are always going to be ways for you to improve and strengthen your operations as your agency progresses and adapts to a changing world.

Don’t make the mistake of simply implementing a few changes and thinking that the job is done. Get into the habit of regularly reviewing or auditing your agency’s operations and identifying areas of improvement. Continuously search for ways to improve the way you and your team work, and never settle for second best.

Pitfalls to Avoid: Common Mistakes in Agency Operations

As well as following the steps listed above, there are also a few common pitfalls that agency owners should watch out for while pursuing their perfect agency operations. Here are some examples, complete with tips to avoid them.

Neglecting Worker Development

We’ve already spoken about the importance of holding onto your most talented workers and minimizing turnover. But many businesses forget to invest in talent development. If you don’t give your most talented team members opportunities to grow, they may not stick around too long.

Schedule regular one-on-ones, offer mentorship, and provide clear progression paths to give workers something to aim for.

Lack of Quality Control

Sometimes, you can be so preoccupied with trying to get everything done faster and more efficiently, that you forget to actually check on the quality of work being carried out. Naturally, that’s a big mistake – an absence of quality control can lead to poor products and unhappy clients.

This is especially true nowadays, in the age of AI. You may want to use AI tools to help with your workflows, but this nascent technology is not always reliable. So be sure to have strict quality control standards to ensure that mistakes aren’t being made.

Failing to Involve Your Team in Big Decisions

Another common mistake that a lot of agencies make is failing to include their team members in big decisions or discussions. Instead, they simply allow management to make all the decisions, like choosing which tech tools to invest in or which processes to adjust.

It’s usually much more effective to get teams involved with agency operation enhancements. Speak with them, seek their feedback, ask them for ideas. They might surprise you. What’s more, team members will appreciate the fact that you’re involving them, which can help with loyalty and staff retention.

Summing Up: Optimize Agency Operations to Keep up with the Competition

The importance of optimized agency operations cannot be understated. Efficient, free-flowing operations are the ultimate key to success. When processes work as they should, everything improves – that goes for productivity, morale, and profit, too. If you’re seeking a way to improve your agency’s output, focusing on operations is the best place to start.

If you want to start seeing faster, slicker processes right way, Hello Bonsai’s agency software can help. From our fully-featured CRM to scheduling and task management apps, we offer an array of helpful tools to assist with every aspect of your agency’s operations. Get in touch with the Hello Bonsai team today to learn more.

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