7 Practical Steps for Effective Agency Operations [2024]

Arrigo Lupori
Last Updated:
May 10, 2024

Implementing effective agency operations means more than just good project management.

It's about creating an amazing experience for customers, maintaining a productive work environment week over week, and ensuring the profitability of your agency across all growth stages.

These 7 steps will help you improve your agency ops from the ground up.

Why operations matter for your agency

Agency operations are the cornerstone of any creative or marketing services firm, encompassing a broad array of activities that drive project efficiency and client satisfaction.

The goal?

Year-over-year revenue and profits growth.

Like other startups, agency growth can look pretty bumpy at first (Source: John Rush)

These operations involve strategic client and project management, resource allocation, financial management, and rigorous quality control. Each component plays a critical role: 

  1. Client management focuses on cultivating and sustaining relationships 
  2. Projects are coordinated to keep deliveries on track and team members aligned
  3. Resource allocation ensures that the right personnel and tools are available when needed
  4. Financial management oversees budget adherence and profitability
  5. Quality assurance checks that deliverables meet the standards

The gist of making your operations "effective” is to follow the 5 principles above as closely as possible without sacrificing too much of one over another. A steady balance of activities.

To do that, you have to price according to the level of value first and effort second.

If you price solely based on team effort, you’ll usually end with a tiny 10 - 15% profit margin

(Or worse, no profit margin at all.)

But if you price based on value while taking team effort into account, you’ll end up offering customers a premium experience that—while higher in price—will ultimately make them much happier.

Platforms like ManyRequests support these fundamental aspects by providing tools that help agencies like yours close new deals, retain customers, and grow revenue. However, the backbone of any agency should be its robust operational framework, independent of any tools.

Step 1: Make client onboarding a first-class experience

manyrequests customer onboarding experience that works well to improve agency operations

The client onboarding process is your agency's first impression and sets the stage for the whole relationship. An effective onboarding process ensures that clients understand your agency's method of working, expectations are clearly set, and all necessary information is captured.

You should strive to make the onboarding process as informative and engaging as possible:

  • Send customers a welcome video personalized specifically to them
  • Let them know the cadence at which you’ll communicate updates
  • Give information on who they can reach out to for help
  • Offer self-service tools that don’t require outreach

All of these are ways to make that first payment a lot more bearable for a customer. Would you rather end up on a blank page when you make a payment or get a series of personalized experiences?

Customers simply love getting pampered.

Surprisingly, good onboarding practices also help your operations quite a bit as they reduce the number of support tickets, complaints, and communications the customer sends over.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite your customers to participate in your services!

It’s just a reflection of an important customer experience principle:

» If the customer is happy, they’ll have no need to contact you.

Be proactive in anticipating the customer’s needs and keep communicating even if they don’t reply back, especially during onboarding but also throughout the entire business relationship.

Step 2: Be ready to communicate all the time

It’s basically impossible to successfully run an agency without great communication.

client communication and messaging view carried out by agency in manyrequests

Send regular updates, structure meetings and block time on your calendar to ensure nothing overlaps, use collaborative tools that keep all team members aligned and informed.

Good communication is your primary currency.

Operations-wise, it ensures that there are less complaints and—even when delays are inevitable (it happens!)—it demonstrates professionalism and transparency, increasing customer trust.

Here are some of the best ways to communicate progress in your agency:

  • Automated updates and notifications: Implementing an automated system for task updates and notifications can significantly reduce the time spent manually checking in on project status. This system ensures that all team members are alerted immediately about changes or new comments, which keeps everyone on the same page and speeds up the feedback loop.
  • Collaborative documentation: Using tools that allow for collaborative documentation (e.g. Notion) can centralize information and make it easily accessible to all team members. This reduces time spent searching for project details and increases overall efficiency. Documents can be directly converted into tasks, and team members tagged, ensuring seamless information flow.
  • Including clients in projects: Integrating clients directly into your project management tools isn’t a bad idea at all. This can range from full to limited access depending on the project's needs, allowing clients to view progress, make comments, and stay engaged without needing frequent direct updates. This transparency builds trust and helps in managing client expectations.
  • Regular reports and dashboards: Offering customizable dashboards and the option to subscribe to regular reports keeps stakeholders informed. These tools help in visualizing the progress of projects and make it easy to share updates with clients and team members. By automating this, your agency ensures consistent communication and reduces administrative overhead.

With platforms like ManyRequests, customers can also share real-time design feedback and keep comments in context of deliveries, reducing turnaround times and improving project quality.

Step 3: Implement effective project management

Project management is critical to the success of your agency, involving the planning, execution, and delivery of projects that meet client expectations on time and within budget. This step ensures that your team can adapt quickly to changing requirements and maintain quality with every delivery.

Effective project management in an agency involves:

  • Planning and scheduling: Create detailed project plans that outline each phase of the project, expected deliverables, and timelines. Use operational tools like Gantt charts or project management software to keep track of progress and adjust as necessary.
  • Resource management: Ensure that you have the right people on the right projects. This might involve hiring freelancers or reallocating staff based on project demands—it doesn’t have to be just internal resources all the time if someone external to your agency is more specialized.
  • Client involvement: Keep clients informed and involved throughout the project’s lifetime. This helps manage their expectations and ensures their feedback is incorporated directly back into each deliverable. Agency client portals like ManyRequests are the perfect tool for this.

In project management, it's essential to see the big picture and sweat the small details.

It’s about balancing scope, time, cost, quality, resources, and risk.

Make sure account managers deal with all the charting and organizing and give them freedom to assign resources based on their availability. Use software to check that resources aren’t overbooked.

Step 4: Pay close attention to your finances

Financial management is a pivotal aspect of agency operations, ensuring your agency's financial health and supporting project delivery. Many agency owners think that they’re doing the customer a disservice by pricing their services high, but it’s actually the other way around.

You have to price high.

Nickeling and diming isn’t going to take you far and neither your customers.

designjoy high price for agency of one allows great operations

Before you pull out the calculator and start crunching numbers, make sure your prices are that of a healthy agency. We’re talking anywhere between $4k to $20k a month as a start.

Agencies should be more cost-effective than hiring an entire marketing team internally, but should never be cheaper than a single dedicated professional as they often bring more value.

It's also important to regularly review financial reports to understand cash flow, profit margins, and expenditures. Implement a robust accounting system or software like Xero or QuickBooks on top of billing and invoicing software like ManyRequests for a complete financial solution.

Regular financial audits and consulting with a financial advisor can also provide insights into optimizing your pricing strategy and investment decisions.

Step 5: Learn to outsource where relevant

Outsourcing non-core activities is a strategic approach that can increase your agency's focus on what it does best. By outsourcing tasks like graphic design, content creation, or IT services, you can leverage external expertise and increase your operational efficiency.

Tools like ManyRequests allow you to invite external partners.

Consider these factors when outsourcing:

  • Expertise: Choose partners who are experts in their fields and who can either offer insights that you might not have in-house or that can carry out recurring activities you’re not specialized in.
  • Cost-effectiveness: To be viable in the long run, outsourcing has to be cost-effective. Look for partners that strike the right balance between valuable deliveries and fair prices.
  • Scalability: Partner with service providers who can scale their services up or down based on your agency's changing needs. Working with freelancers might not always be the best option.

Outsourcing will often save you time and money but—if carried out incorrectly—it can also exacerbate the problems you were trying to solve in the first place. Don’t outsource as a way to offload responsibility but as a strategic tool to increase your agency’s output while maintaining the same quality.

Step 6: Keep quality assurance a top priority

Integrating reviews and inline feedback in your work environment makes it easier to increase quality.

Making the quality assurance process a priority within your agency is crucial for delivering high-standard projects consistently. This can be achieved by integrating project management tools that offer detailed oversight and tracking of all activities. Here's how to build a robust quality control system:

  • Resource management and forecasting: Use project management software to track the availability and workload of each team member. Make sure you only book team members that truly have a good amount of time available—if you overbook people, they’ll burn out quickly.
  • Automated financial oversight: Implement tools that automate the monitoring of critical financial metrics such as agency operating cash flow, burn rate, and gross profit margin. These metrics are essential for making informed decisions that affect the project quality indirectly.
  • Engagement and satisfaction tracking: Establish ways for tracking client engagement and satisfaction through software. This could involve regular check-ins and updates that provide clients with visibility into the project progress as well as opportunities to give reviews / feedback.
  • Data-driven decision making: Leverage the data collected from your project management software to make informed decisions. This includes detailed reports on project performance, resource utilization, time spent on specific activities, and client feedback.

By incorporating these strategies into your quality assurance process, you ensure that every project is executed with the highest standard, maintaining client satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Step 7: Use software to speed up operations

ManyRequests provides a suite of creative agency tools that centralize and streamline project management, client communication, and financial tracking—all in one place.

manyrequests website screenshot showing client portal software that improves agency operations at all growth stages

Since it’s designed specifically for the needs of creative agencies, it offers functionality that is entirely focused on improving your operations and maximizing profitable engagements:

  • White label client portal: Customize the client-facing portal to reflect your agency's branding, creating a seamless experience for your clients from the very first interaction.
  • Design feedback: Allow clients and team members to provide feedback on design attachments, maintaining clarity, reducing misunderstandings, and ensuring quicker turnaround times.
  • Client onboarding tools: Use customizable layouts, onboarding steps, and branded emails to make new customers feel welcomed and valued right from the start.
  • Time tracking & profitability: Integrated time tracking and profitability analysis tools help ensure that every project contributes positively to your agency’s bottom line.
  • Simplified project management: Manage teams, project details, checklists, deliverables, due dates, and assigned account managers all in one place to keep projects on track.
  • Billing & invoicing: Streamline your financial operations with tools that allow you to create service catalogs, issue invoices, and process payments—minimizing administrative overhead.

And a lot more!

If you’re looking for software that can accelerate your journey from small service provider to large agency, ManyRequests has helped 100s of customers follow that same path.