agency project management

The Complete Guide to Agency Project Management

Without effective project management, running an agency is a difficult task. In fact, a HubSpot report found that 43% of agency owners say they don’t have time to focus on administrative tasks and almost 1 in 4 agency owners say that hitting client goals is a problem.

With good project management practices in place, you can solve these problems, and you’ll also:

  • Always know which projects are being worked on and by whom

  • Have more capacity to take on new clients due to better resource management

  • Have systems in place that facilitate high-quality work and ensure you hit your goals

In this guide, I’ll share actionable tips to improve your project management skills so you can run your agency more efficiently.

What is agency project management?

Agency project management refers to the systems and processes you use to manage your day-to-day agency operations.

Tasks that can fall under the banner of project management include:

  • The workflow you use to manage projects and tasks

  • How you manage your team’s time and billable hours

  • Your client onboarding process

Project management is all about making sure your agency runs smoothly and your client experience is never negatively impacted. Whether you’ve just started an agency or are five years into the journey, you’ll quickly start seeing benefits once you implement better project management systems.

Which agency project management methodology should you follow?

There are several common project management methodologies agencies are using.

  • Scrum: If your agency works with a few large clients, you may need to conduct sprints to accomplish big projects and complete tasks. Scrum is a good method if you need to finish up large projects, but not as effective if your agency work consists of smaller repeatable tasks that your team completes independently.

  • Kanban: A visual framework made up of boards. A board usually contains a set of tasks, which are assigned to team members responsible for them. Kanban is a popular project management methodology for agencies because you have a central place for all the tasks your team is working on. And each task usually has a deadline, too, so it’s easy to see the bigger picture.

  • Waterfall: This follows a linear process. When one task is complete, your team can move on to the next. The waterfall principle works well for agencies with predictable tasks, as it’s easy to identify blockers in agency processes. If one task isn’t completed, a whole project can come to a standstill, so great teamwork is essential.

When you’re starting your agency, you can use a simple project management process in the beginning. This could be a Trello or Notion board tracking every task your team is working on. 

As your agency grows, you should start using a unique agency project management framework that fits your business based on your work and the size of your team. There’s no one-size-fits all-solution.

4 benefits of improving your agency project management

1. Transparency into your business operations

The first major benefit to effective project management for agencies is that you’ll know:

  • Where which your biggest cost factors are

  • What tasks each team member is working on

  • What blockers exist that need to be solved

You can also see a high-level overview of everything your team is working on and understand both their current and future workload.

If you ever need information about a specific project, you can easily see who is working on it, the costs incurred, and the expected completion date. You can then stay in touch with your clients and deliver project updates.

2. Streamline client onboarding

With good project management processes in place, every task will follow a documented process, including your client onboarding system.

Create a framework for your agency onboarding process to standardize:

  • Setting up a follow-up email after your initial discovery call

  • Automating invoicing and managing payments

  • Ensuring the success team knows when and how to upsell clients

While these steps sound simple at first, it’s easy to end up with a client onboarding process that’s messy and hard to manage.

3. Optimize how your team spends their time

A survey of over 10,000 employees done by Asana found that 60% of most company time is spent on tasks such as searching for documentation or taking calls with team members.

As an agency owner, you can’t spend hours every week on insignificant work; you need to focus on generating leads, establishing agency partnerships, and overseeing the evolution of your company.

View of assigned orders in SPP dashboard report

With a good project management system in place, you can spend less time on basic task management, all while ensuring your team is focusing on the most important task at any time. In SPP, for instance, you have reports that give you an overview of currently assigned orders. This helps your manager delegating work to contractors if the internal team is running at full capacity.

Also read: what does micromanagement look like?

4. Improve your hiring process

Knowing when to hire new employees or finding new contractors is key to successful agency growth. With good project management, you’ll always know the availability and limits of your current team, enabling you to plan for new hires in advance.

You’ll never be in a situation where you onboard a new client, then need to scramble to find a freelancer to help as your team is already at capacity.

4 actionable ways to improve your agency project management

1. Create standard operating procedures

The first lever you can pull to improve your project management is by creating standard operating procedures (SOPs).

SOPs are step-by-step templates with instructions on how to fulfill a specific task.

For example, if you run a content writing agency, you may have a SOP for writing a blog post with steps like:

  1. Create content brief based on keywords

  2. Assign the task to a knowledgable writer

  3. Run quality checks on the article using tools like NeuronWriter and Grammarly

  4. Source a featured image from our stock photo library

  5. Upload article to client CMS

When you assign the task to someone on your team, they can work through the process and check off each task when it’s finished.

SPP tasks in client order

If your team is following a consistent process, it’s simple to plan ahead, as you know how many hours each task takes and who is responsible for it.

Having documented processes in place is also essential if you decide to sell your agency. It shows prospective buyers that your agency operations are structured and scalable.

2. Hire a project manager

A project manager is one of the highest-impact hires an agency can make.

They’ll spend their time ensuring every project and task in your agency is running smoothly and can identify blind spots that you may not notice.

Your project manager will check in with freelancers, report on project progress and let you know if any client work is overdue, as well as find solutions to blockers that your agency is facing.

If you find a good project manager, their salary will easily be covered by the ROI they generate for your agency.

3. Focus on a single niche

If your agency is dealing with clients across 10+ industries and you need to comply with different rules and best practices for each one, it’s going to be near-impossible to implement effective project management processes.

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One of the best ways to solve this is through specialization. Agencies that focus on one niche have it easier managing resources and projects. Your processes will be more applicable across different client accounts, and your team more familiar with each one.

Another benefit to specialization is that you can position your agency and team as industry experts, making scaling your agency easier.

4. Audit the tools you’re using

Everyone enjoys signing up to tools that promise to revolutionize the way you run your agency. But it’s best to keep things simple.

If your team’s attention is spread across multiple tools like Slack, Gmail, Google Docs, Notion, Asana, Intercom, and payment providers like Stripe… things can get complicated. 

It won’t be long before a client email slips through or someone misses a due date because they didn’t see an in-app reminder.

Even if your current project management system is working, consider a quarterly or bi-annual audit of the tools your agency uses. You might find that you’re using multiple tools to achieve the same thing, or that the apps you’re using can be replaced by a new one.

For example, a client portal like SPP includes:

  • Payments processing that removes the need for manual invoices

  • Order management to help you log and deliver client work

  • A customer helpdesk that your whole team can access and answer questions in

  • Referral management to grow your client base

Having fewer tools, but ensuring each one you use covers all the essential tasks you need to fulfill in your agency, is a simple way to improve your team’s workflow.

What does an agency project manager do?

Hiring a project manager can be a huge value unlock for your agency. But if you decide to look for one, you’ll need to create a job description tailored to your needs.

Generally, a project manager will spend their time:

  • Making sure all client messages or emails have been responded to

  • Reviewing the scope of projects and ensuring that project timelines are accurate

  • Creating documentation or encouraging your team to document their processes

  • Handle resource management tasks, such as identifying who is available to take on new tasks or recommending tools that can improve different workflows to free up employee time

  • Ensure your budget management is adhered to, and reporting on required expenses for new projects to you or other agency stakeholders

If you’re a founder who is currently managing every process yourself, hiring a manager is an excellent way to free up your time so you can focus on the high-level strategy.

4 helpful agency tools to improve your systems

Software can be a lever to automate your work and free up your time. With the right apps you can centralize your day-to-day work, keep every project on track, and collaborate with agency teams of all sizes.

The below listed tools are all great options that can help you manage your processes efficiently.

  1. SPP: A client portal for productized agencies that helps you manage client communication, invoices, and project management. The major benefit is that it centralizes all your data in one place: your clients can find their communication with your team and their deliverables; and your team will always know the status of different projects being worked on.

  2. ClickUp: There is a wide variety of project management software out there, but ClickUp is a popular option used by many agencies. It has features to help you create documentation, manage your tasks, and reporting tools to measure project progress. ClickUp is highly flexible, so you can customize your workspace to fit your unique agency processes and adapt them as you grow.

  3. Clockify: Time management is key to understanding where your team is spending their time. Clockify is a free time tracking tool that lets you add as many team members as you need, allowing you to track time spent on projects and tasks. This makes it easier to estimate your team’s capacity for new work so you can actively search for new clients when the time is right.

  4. Zapier: Helps agencies automate every repetitive workflow you do on a regular basis. Connect different agency tools and set up custom workflows with the simple to use no-code interface. You could set up an automation that creates a Slack message when a new client account is created in SPP, for example. It’s a powerful platform and doesn’t require any coding.

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Wrapping up

Improving your project management is a necessary step you need to take if you want to level up your agency.

Good project management allows your team to do their best work while keeping you in the loop of every task and project being worked on.

When creating a project management system, it’s important to spend time setting up a framework that works for your unique needs. Don’t rush this process, as you’ll quickly see the benefits across your whole business once the system is in place.

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