Last week I wrote about our changing perspective on projects vs. retainers and today I’m talking about our changing perspective on generalists vs. specialists when it comes to team structure and organizational planning.
Over the past year, we’ve learned a lot about running a more profitable agency. A 20% net profit margin target is insight. As you might know, many traditional agencies are able to do 20% net profit or even higher but the inbound marketing agency struggle to be profitable and you might see 5% net profit in a good month.
We found a way to crack the net profit barrier and it includes agile but it also includes a team that has a multitude of disciplines and a flexible way to deploy those skills so that everyone in the company is fully allocated week in and week out no matter what the work looks like.
Here are some keys to deploying a more flexible work team.
Match Work With Complimentary Skill Sets
As your agency evolves, you might find the type of work your shop is doing evolves too. For example, you might be doing less graphic design today than you did last year and more website development. This means your team is going to have to evolve too.
Your designers might have to learn how to do light website development or basic HubSpot work. The faster you identify this and the more productively you can move your team to understand the requirements the faster you’ll grow.
Cross Train Your Team Based On Client Requirements
One way to make your team more flexible and efficient is to proactively cross train certain team members on certain skills. Not only are you making your team more productive, but you’re offering them an enhanced professional development opportunity. You’re literally making them more valuable to your company and more valuable to any future companies they might consider moving to.
This might sound like a risk, but when you go to your designers and ask them to consider doing basic HTML, you might need to explain this to them in a way that’s above and beyond the value to you and your company. In short, it’s a win-win for them to fall in line and learn a new set of skills.
This might also involve understanding your client’s requirements. Having a group of people who match the work your clients need makes your company and your team that much more dynamic and able to respond to client requests.
Let Your Team Help Each Other
Once you get your team cross trained, they’ll start working more close together and as a team. This is exactly how we uncovered this opportunity. As we practiced Agile and Scrum, we had team members asking if they could help with work outside their skill sets. Who could deny a request like this? We had to find a way to give these well-intentioned team members the skills they needed to help.
As we looked a little more closely, there were several easy to train areas that allowed team members to help the company. Consultants now do low end HubSpot work, designers do UI/UX work and low end HTML, our copy team does keyword research and search strategy, interactive developers do conversion optimization and the bottom line is our clients get better results, we work efficiently and we made more money in January than ever before.
Let Your Team Plan Their Work
Our experience is that people generally want to work as a team. They want to succeed as a team. They want to work with other team members, collaborate, and work together over the course of the week. Yet for years we had project managers planning our teams’ work. I know many of you have project managers doing the same thing.
Agile teaches you to let the team responsible for delivering the work, estimate, plan and produce the work together. That empowerment teaches them to estimate work in an honest and practical way. Since they’ll have to deliver it, they have to be good at estimating it. Over time, they get better and better at this.
Over that same period they learn to pull together and work together in a more collaborative way because, as team, they made commitments to their company and to their clients. It works beautifully.
Consider Agile Marketing For High Efficiency
There are a lot of ways to start to pull these efficiencies out of your team but Scrum hands you the methodology and rituals, process and systems that makes it easier to transition from what you’ve been doing into something new. Don’t misunderstand. Scrum is not for everyone and in no way am I telling you it’s the secret, but it does have built in and proven methods to increase productivity at your shop.
Agile marketing and Scrum took almost 12 months to produce tangible returns around profit, productivity and efficiency at our shop. It might take less at a smaller agency, but you must be patient, committed and push through any of the challenges that pop up. Eventually, it will pay off.
Once you get comfortable that your team can deliver results for clients in a repeatable and predictable way then your focus needs to switch to finding efficiencies within your operation. Not only does this work pay off in terms of profit, but it also pays off in terms of ability to take on new clients without increasing the team and it should help your team be happier.
Looking for efficiencies? Ask your team. Make sure they understand, there are no sacred cows. Everything must be up for discussion. What worked last year, might not work this year. What you thought was the only way to deliver might become the way “we used to do it.” By being open to your team’s suggestions and being open to blowing it up and rebuilding it gives you the opportunity to find the efficiencies you need to allow your company to grow.
Start Today Tip – Put it all up for discussion. Just because you used to do it like that, doesn’t mean you should be doing it like that going forward. If you have five people and you want to grow it to 10, you’ll need to change if you want to grow. If you have 12 people and you want to get to 15, the same process applies. The bigger you get the more you have to change, the more you have to try different configurations and the more you have to experiment. The better you can be at adjusting, the faster you’ll grow and the more money you’ll make.
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