You’re not running an ad agency. When you get a new client, you can’t pull your creative team into the conference room and start banging out ideas for print ads or a billboard campaign. You can’t treat every new client like they’re your first and only client.
Perhaps even more challenging, if you want to scale and grow, you can’t be the bottleneck, you can’t be in every meeting for every client and you can’t control every process.
When it comes to growth, the agency owner is almost always why the agency isn’t growing.
The answer to this is systems, processes and a defined, differentiated methodology. Think McDonald's. Not the fast part, but the scalable, repeatable and trainable part. Want to know how to make French fries at McDonald's? There is a manual for that. Want to know how to wash the window? There is a manual for that. Want to know how to greet the customers? You guessed it—a manual. Today it’s probably a video tutorial, but you get the idea.
Playbooks, like the one I offer through Agencies 2 Inbound are the backbone of the most successful agencies who have learned how to scale and scale quickly.
Here’s what you need to be thinking about as you build your agency’s systems, processes, and methodology.
Put Someone in Charge of Process
One element of growing an agency that owners learn too late in the process is you can’t do everything yourself. This is one of those projects that you don’t have to do yourself and probably shouldn’t do yourself.
Make someone on the team responsible and accountable for driving this initiative at your agency. It might be your best consultant or strategist. Someone who you think has the chops for a Director of Client Services role one day. It doesn’t matter how far out.
Stretch assignments are great ways to see how capable your team is and give people a feather in their hat if they’re successful.
Find that team member, tag them with the responsibility and then give them all the tools they need to be successful.
Give them a clear description of the project. Set defined and agreed on timelines. Set up regular check-ins, either daily, or weekly. Anything longer is too long.
Set milestones along the way. Gates that allow you to know the project is progressing over time and in the way you originally envisioned.
Finally, don’t be concerned if they want to do something different than you would do it. As long as your goals are on track, as long as the definition of done is agreed to, as long as the playbooks are going to be created in the timelines you agreed to, don’t be shy to give them some freedom to execute it their way.
I recall to this day several times when I had to bite my tongue and let the team either sink or swim. Those lessons are important for a team that is maturing and growing.
List Out and Prioritize Areas That Need Systems Thinking
Part of what your project lead needs is the direction. Provide them the list of areas in the company that needs playbooks, process, and systems. Let your project lead add to the list. Sometimes the people doing the work DO have a better perspective on what needs systematizing and in what order those processes should be tackled.
Create the long list first, then go back and work on the prioritization together. You should consciously try to not redo or undermine what your project lead has in mind, but adjust, edit and redirect.
It's very likely that you’ll have a huge list. Inbound agencies have a lot of things that can be systematized. Start with the stuff that you do the most frequently and the items that have the biggest impact on the client experience or the areas that can drive efficiency around delivery.
In all honesty, it might take you six months to get through everything. Don’t worry, you’ll start to see benefits from even your very first playbook. It’s ok to let this grow organically.
Build Playbooks on Live Projects
When it comes to picking processes to start, look for live client projects or active client work as a place to start. It’s always better to do playbook development at the same time you’re delivering client work,
This drives a lot of efficiency as opposed to picking systems to document that are not being worked on right now. By picking areas where work is going on, you’ll get a more honest representation of what should be done in these areas. If you pick generic topics, you’ll likely get generic playbooks.
Building playbooks while delivery is in progress might take slightly longer for the people doing the playbooks, but the output is going to be better. Trust me, we’ve done it both ways and this way always produced much more robust, detailed and helpful playbooks.
Make Playbooks Everyone’s Responsibility
While you want a project lead on this, no single person can do playbooks for everything an agency does. One way to tackle this is to take your prioritized list and assign one to three playbooks to every team member.
You can assign relevant playbooks to relevant team members. For example, your interactive developer can create the Website QA Playbook. This is probably the most efficient way to get these done or you can look at this effort from a developmental and cross-training perspective.
This would mean you might ask a Client Services Team Member to work on the Website QA Playbook so they get intimate with the process and add an element of client experience to the process. Both ways work, its up to you on which one you choose.
This might have occurred to you already, but who is going to be responsible for keeping these playbooks updated? Great question. If your shop is like mine, we change how we deliver, weekly in some cases. These playbooks will change too.
Whoever wrote it originally owns it and is responsible for keeping it updated. Use a central storage space like Google Folder or DropBox and when process changes, look up the owner and have her make the necessary updates.
Keep in mind, people will leave and when they do those playbooks will have to be reassigned. Snooze on this for too long and you’ll have a big job on your hands. Don’t let that happen. You could even make it part of the off-boarding process when people leave.
Staying on top of playbook maintenance and updates is key. You can either make small adjustments as you go or wait and have to tackle adding months of updates to all your playbooks which will take weeks.
Gamify the Initial Effort
Agency people love a good game and they also love agency-wide activities. Consider turning this into a fun activity. We used this approach and still use it today. The first time we shut down and had Playbook Day. Everyone did their playbooks on one single day. It worked great.
Another time, when we were smaller, I bought pizza for the entire agency and we stayed from 5PM to 9PM for two nights (not back to back) and we got all our playbooks done that way too. Both events worked well, and people enjoyed the comradery around everyone working on the same project at the same time.
Another option is to turn it into a contest. Some agencies thrive on being competitive. First, one done gets a reward, whoever does the most playbooks gets an award or the best playbook as voted on by fellow agency team members. The ideas go on and on.
I would still focus the effort on a day, as described above or give them a month or a quarter to do their playbooks, then evaluate and reward accordingly. For these contests or games to work, you’ll need to make sure there is plenty of communication, excitement, recognition, and energy to keep everyone “in the game” while the game is going on.
While the playbooks are the outputs, they’re NOT the end game. The end game is designing, installing, monitoring and optimizing the systems and processes the playbooks document. However, producing the playbooks is how you get people thinking about the steps associated with the processes and the documentation for processes are key to getting everyone doing it the same way, every time.
Start Today Tip – To kick off this process, make your list of ongoing processes that need playbooks, systems or applied methodology. Make the list comprehensive. Remember, you’re going to prioritize them, so you don’t have to tackle everything on the list at once. This list might include onboarding clients, running a kick-off meeting, managing a PPC campaign, creating progress reports, setting up Databox dashboards, or running a webinar campaign. You can see there might be processes and playbooks for elements of your business you never considered applicable for this approach. The more refined your processes the faster your agency scales.
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