Make Meetings Count
Just say the word “meetings” and anyone who’s worked in a digital agency setting will shudder. Those with negative experiences will immediately think of two-hour sessions where everyone shares their opinion and nobody walks out with clear direction. Unfortunately, even meetings that are intended to drive projects toward concrete action too often serve only to obfuscate the direction of a project.
Meetings don’t have to feel like a waste of time. When they are organized and productive, meetings can deliver actionable results, foster collaboration and lead to a better product. The key is to establish up-front rules for company meetings that allow staff to use time efficiently and walk away with a clear plan.
First, impose time limits. A hard stop after 30 minutes will encourage people to keep conversations to-the-point and avoid rabbit holes. In addition, you’ll avoid cutting too much into the time people need to do the work they are meeting about.
Next, require an agenda for every meeting. Outlining the points you plan to discuss ahead of time will keep everyone focused and on-schedule. Even if an agenda is as simple as three to five bullet points, you now have a document to guide the conversation.
Before leaving a meeting, ensure that you establish action steps for everyone who attended. A conversation is pointless if it doesn’t lead to tangible progress in a project. Will you be writing new blog copy, updating a website, or designing new ad graphics as a result of the discussion? If someone came to the meeting who doesn’t have a concrete action to take, you should rethink whether that person needs to be in future meetings involving the project at hand.
Meetings are faster and more efficient than a prolonged email chain, and they can get everyone up to speed on where others stand. But they are the most productive when they remain focused and actionable.
Communicate & Collaborate
Ironically, marketing agencies sell themselves as experts on helping brands communicate but often fail at their own communication. A PPC campaign for a client may be doubling the leads from the previous month, but the client may not connect the dots to the source of results if the agency isn’t effectively sharing that data.
Most agencies recognize the importance of scheduling regular conversations with clients, in-person or over phone/web conference. But it’s just as important to communicate regularly in between these conversations, sharing results or concerns as they come up. When a problem arises (such as an error in the client’s site blocking form submissions), take the initiative to call out the issue, and loop in others working on the account because that tiny little thing may affect others as well, either now or in the future.
If clients have internal staff whose job roles overlap with your agency’s responsibilities, clarify how communication will work and who will cover what tasks. For instance, if you’re advising a client on SEO for a site, make sure their in-house writers are planning content that fits the overall strategy.
Also, make sure that individuals and departments within the agency communicate with each other. Even in smaller agencies, work can become siloed, and employees either duplicate work or don’t share information that could help each other do their jobs better.
The work you take to backtrack after the fact will eat up more time than if the right people are fully involved in a project and communicating from the start. For instance:
- When designers create ads, the advertising managers running those ads should share feedback about how those ads performed to inform future designs.
- Keyword research for SEO might also be informative for PPC or vice versa, but only if that information is shared between them.
- When a developer creates a website, an SEO team member should be involved from the earliest planning stages to ensure that the site is set-up to rank properly.
When a project has moving parts in multiple departments it’s astoundingly easy for things to fall through the cracks. Transparency with clients and between departments can often help prevent that, or at the very least lead to better, more unified solutions when it does happen.
Simplify Repetitive Work
Think about tasks that you repeat on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. You can likely save significant time by automating some of these tasks.
If you send regular reports to clients, you can create report templates that allow you to quickly pull in data from a set timeframe. While you should still take time to analyze the data and share your observations, you can avoid having to rebuild a report from scratch each time.
If you’re running accounts in Google AdWords and Bing Ads, research automated rules and scripts, which can help you better manage campaigns at scale. Potential uses for automated rules include adjusting keyword bids based on performance and pausing campaigns at scheduled times. Scripts can help in a number of ways, but some simple beginner uses include tracking quality score and checking for broken links.
Even going through emails can quickly become a time suck. Set up filters so emails are automatically categorized by client and emails you don’t need to read right away (like automatic emails from product vendors) are filed away. Star emails that you need to address but that can wait until later.
Integrate Tools Into Process
Tools aren’t an end-all solution for time management challenges, but the right ones can help you to better track tasks and simplify your processes (in line with the previous point). First, any agency with more than a couple of staff members will likely benefit from some type of project management software. You can schedule out tasks, monitor workloads, and track milestones toward completion of long-term projects. You can also consolidate project-related communication in one place. While a thorough review of software is beyond the scope of this article, you should test a few platforms and determine what works best for your agency’s size and types of work (here’s a starting point to review several popular options).
Next, make use of apps that are readily accessible, like publicly-shared calendars, and get into the habit of blocking out time on your calendar not just for meetings but also to work on key projects. This prevents new meetings from being added and holds you more accountable for your own time.
You can also use simple task reminder apps like Apple’s built-in Reminders or Google Tasks to notify you about project deadlines. For instance, set recurring tasks to remind yourself to check in on particular PPC accounts weekly, or to notify about a client report due date.
Finally, find tools specific to tasks within the agency. SEOs will find site crawlers and backlink checkers helpful to automatically find data that would otherwise take hours of manual work, leaving more time for strategic follow-up on that data. PPC managers can use Excel and AdWords Editor to assemble bulk ad copy much more quickly than possible in the main AdWords interface.
Keep in mind, tools are only as effective as the people handling them. The tools you choose need to actually make the users’ lives easier. Trying to force adoption of a tool that only one person likes or trying to force the use of something new and shiny on the market that doesn’t really make sense in your organization can kill productivity. However, with universal buy-in, the right tools will improve efficacy and free up more time across departments.
Accomplishing more in a day doesn’t have to mean working longer hours. Start by taking a strict approach to meeting schedules, improving communication, templating repetitive work where possible, and using tools that fit your process. While some of the approaches discussed here require company-wide adjustments, others affect people on an individual level. Efficient time management is a goal that everyone in a digital agency must commit to. Sure, there may be growing pains initially, but once new practices are assimilated, the reward is worth the effort.