How To Improve Operational Efficiency in Your Agency

You just received an angry phone call from your newest agency client. They signed their contract nearly two weeks ago and have yet to be contacted to schedule a kick-off meeting. They’re now worried their entire project timeline is in jeopardy.

You reach out to your accounts team to find out what the delay is. It turns out they never received proper notification that a contract was signed and didn’t get the information they needed to kick things off. You also find out that the client was never billed for their deposit. 

Now, you’ve got a brand new agency client who’s frustrated even before the project has kicked off. They’re already angry, so you can’t imagine calling them about a deposit. Your accounts team is scrambling to get up to speed so they can schedule a kick-off meeting and get a brief to your creative team. 

Everyone is now in damage-control mode, and stress levels are high. You’re losing time and money, and your team is frustrated.

If this type of scenario sounds familiar, it’s time to review your agency’s operational efficiency.

What is Operational Efficiency?

Operational efficiency is your agency’s ability to deliver services efficiently and without compromising on quality. When an agency grows from just a few people to a larger team and doesn’t have processes in place, cracks in operational efficiency start to show. 

The good news? You can turn your agency into a smooth operator with processes that keep things moving as efficiently as a Japanese train. 

Here’s what achieving operational efficiency in your agency can look like:

  • Your clients are raving about their smooth, structured onboarding.
  • Fully engaged team members are confidently responding to client needs with clarity and ease.
  • Your teams are delivering client work on time, meeting both your agency’s and the client’s expectations and standards.
  • You’re able to easily duplicate and scale your services to produce the same results consistently.

Focusing on operational efficiency will help your agency hit deadlines, avoid dropping the ball on client deliverables and maintain the quality of your agency’s work. Alleviating the frustrations that come with communication breakdowns will keep your teams happier and more productive. 

Once things are moving along well, you’ll be able to focus on improving client experience and doing the kind of work you dreamed of when you started your agency.

Here are five steps you can take to achieve operational efficiency for your agency:

  1. Assess the Big Picture

Don’t wait for the next ball to drop and for panic mode to set in once again. Get clear on where you want to go and create a roadmap that will get you there. When you’re clear on what your vision is and what’s blocking you from getting there, you’ll see where you need to make changes.

As an agency owner, you might be used to wearing many hats within your agency. Letting go of some roles can be difficult, but it might be time to hire a specialist or two to help you achieve your vision and meet your client’s expectations. 

  1. Time to Streamline

If you’re already using tools for agency project management, accounting, sales, and reporting, how well do they speak to each other? If not, see if you can minimize the number of tools you’re using to streamline your process and break down information silos. You can lean on your new operational specialist to help you make these decisions 😉 

  1. Make It Official

If you don’t have standard performance processes in place, you’ll usually only notice an underlying problem when a deadline is missed, or clients start complaining. It can start to feel like your full-time job is putting out fires and addressing daily challenges.

Develop official processes and ensure they’re documented in writing or video. Without formal processes documented, you have no baseline to track against as you continue to refine your processes. 

  1. Get Everyone On Board

It’s not enough to just document a process and move on. Your policies should be clearly outlined and communicated to your teams. Setting agency-wide operations objectives and key results metrics can motivate your team members to stick to processes.

Make it clear that operational efficiency is a priority for the agency–equally as important as delivering exceptional client service–by establishing a regular non-negotiable operations meeting. During the meeting, have teams walk through their processes and provide feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Use this feedback to continually improve existing processes and standardize new ones as needed.

  1. Perfect Your Onboarding

There are some truly bad clients. But in many cases, “bad clients” are actually the result of a poor onboarding process. Without clear expectations, clients may push the limits, and your team won’t feel confident maintaining boundaries.

Internally, implement policies that clearly outline who owns which role in the onboarding process. There should be a point person (often an account manager or project manager) that clients are directed to so communications remain streamlined. This person should understand your processes well enough to make decisions confidently within established boundaries and push back on clients when necessary.

In terms of client-facing processes, your onboarding should include setting boundaries, clearly setting expectations and familiarizing clients with your agency’s processes and the reasons they exist. Create commitment to the process and accountability by getting everything in writing. 

If you’re in the weeds at the moment, taking steps to address your agency’s operational efficiency–or inefficiency, really–can feel overwhelming. Client needs always jump to the top of the priority list, and creating or fixing processes end up getting set aside.

It can be difficult to imagine an agency with less churn, less team burnout and easy, (relatively) stress-free client relationships.

But it’s possible. It can be helpful to reframe how you think about making the changes needed to improve your agency’s efficiency. 

It’s not about trying to find more time in your already busy day to develop the processes you need. Instead, think about how you can redirect the energy you’re currently spending putting out fires and fixing problems into prioritizing agency operational efficiency.

With a bit of time, patience and the right people and tools in place, you’ll be strolling into the office humming “Smooth Operator” listening to the satisfying hum of your well-oiled machine.

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