If you want to grow your marketing agency, project management is the only way to do that. Project management can help you build a predictable, revenue-generating business.
The sooner you can figure out your project management systems and processes, the more it will enable you to work “on” the business instead of “in” it. This allows you to assume a “CEO” role instead of the founder / operator role and focus your time on setting the goals and vision.
In this detailed guide, we’re going to outline all of the things that go into having a dynamite agency project management strategy, including:
- Agency project management is different
- 4 different project management styles
- How to evaluate project management software for client services
- How to document your processes in your agency (and why you should)
- When should you hire your first project manager?
- What skills does a project manager need?
- Designing an effective hiring process for a project manager
- How to successfully onboard a project manager
- What are the things a project manager needs to succeed in their role?
- Managing and evaluating a project manager
1. Agency project management is different
When you run a service-based business, such as a marketing agency, project management is critical to your success. After all, if you aren’t managing your team effectively and delivering client work on time, on budget, and at a high-quality standard, you won’t be in business for very long.
Because marketing agencies can have anywhere from a half dozen to hundreds of active clients at any given time, you have a unique set of needs when it comes to project management tools and software.
For example, you want to make sure to streamline recurring deliverables for all of your clients in a sustainable and scalable manner, so you don’t drop any balls. Here is how you can automate this process in ProcessKit.
Pro Tip: You can even take this a step further by using client attributes in conditional logic on automated tasks.
2. Which project management style should you adopt?
You may have heard of different project management approaches from Waterfall and Agile to Scrum, Kanban, and Getting Things Done.
Waterfall, Agile and Scrum project management methodologies have their roots in software engineering. The waterfall method is a sequential model where you can’t move onto the next phase of a project until the step above is complete. Agile, on the other hand, is a more iterative way of managing projects based on a continuous feedback loop.
And, the Scrum methodology is focused on working in a series of “sprints” and “epics” on set goals. Each sprint typically lasts either 2-3 weeks. And, “epic” is a larger goal within the company. For example, your epic in Q4 might be to launch a brand new website for your agency. You might have one sprint where you are focused on deciding on all of the pages and writing the copy.
These approaches work great for large teams and custom projects that span a long period of time.
However since your goal is to build a scalable and repeatable agency operations, the Kanban framework – or a modified version of it – can work a lot better. Instead of working in sprints, this focuses on process improvements by dividing up the work into three categories – “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Because you can set a limit on the number of active tasks at any given time, this ensures you are always making progress on specific projects and goals since the only way to add a new task is to complete an existing one.
However, the best project management method is the one you use consistently. It doesn’t matter if you use Kanban, a modified version of one or more of these approaches, as long as your team can work in a consistent and predictable manner.
3. How to evaluate project management software for client services
Since you are building an agency to grow and scale, you want project management software that can grow with you, easy to use, and works with your existing systems and processes.
After all, the last thing you want to do is spending hours upon hours fighting with your project management software to “make it work” with your existing processes.
As a general rule of thumb, the more workarounds you have to create, the more likely processes are going to break.
Here are a few questions to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a tool that supports your agency’s goals and processes.
Is it built for a process-oriented business or for custom one-off projects?*
Many project management tools, such as Asana and Trello, are great for building out ad-hoc custom projects but weren’t built for the needs of a process-oriented client services company.
On the other hand, ProcessKit is both process-oriented and has the flexibility to customize projects on the fly.
For example, here is how simple it is to create and set up recurring projects on autopilot using ProcessKit.
Does it have automations?
If you want your agency to run predictably and efficiently, automation workflows are essential.
We think managing your team’s tasks should have the same level of automation and customization as your sales CRM and email marketing software.
For example, here is how you can create and automate specific task actions in ProcessKit, such as notifying a team member or moving a project along in a Kanban board.
Is it designed specifically for agencies*
As an agency, you likely have your own unique needs in regards to storing information, tracking progress, and communicating with clients.
Most project management tools on the market have their users “make a project a client,” but that’s fitting a square peg into a round hole.
At ProcessKit, we thought differently and designed it so that client management is built-in.
Does my team enjoy using the software every day?
If the user experience is cluttered and takes forever to navigate, your team will be unlikely to use it day in and day out decrease.
As the owner, you need full visibility of all projects and tasks at a high-level.
And, everyone on your team needs easy access to their tasks along with all of your systems and processes.
The simpler and more streamlined the setup is in your project management, the more likely it will be adopted throughout your agency. And, consistent adoption of your processes is how you can build a predictable and scalable agency.
4. How to document your processes in your agency (and why you should)
It is a great step to choose and evaluate project management software. However, even the best process-oriented project management software (And, we’re a little biased here) won’t make a difference if you don’t document your systems and processes.
At the minimum, here are the processes you should create out in your agency:
- New Client Onboarding
- Sales Proposals
- Client Billing / Invoicing
- Hiring freelancers and employees
- Onboarding freelancers and employees
- Any recurring or repeatable service or task in your agency, such as content writing, publishing weekly podcasts, etc.
For example, one of the best processes to start is with your new client onboarding processes. Here is how Aaron Kassovar, of AgentMethods, was able to do just that in ProcessKit.
Automating your processes using ProcessKit
Once you’ve created (and tested out) a process, it is time to automate it so that it can be done consistently across your agency.
In this video, here is how you can create and automate a new process template.
And, here is how you can copy a process template to a project in ProcessKit.
5. When should you hire your first project manager?
There is no hard and fast rule when you should bring on your first project manager. Some agencies might bring on at 5 team members, while others will hold off until 15 employees.
It really depends on your agency, the number of clients you serve, and the deliverables for each client, and how systemized your business is.
In fact, you shouldn’t hire a project manager until you have built out initial versions of the processes we shared earlier in this guide. The reason being is that having some initial processes will make it easier to delegate projects and responsibilities off of your plate and onto your project manager. Without processes, you are just delegating one-off tasks, which you’ll have to go over each time. This adds up to a lot of wasted time.
Full-time vs. part-time vs. freelance project manager
Besides making the decision to hire, you also need to decide what type of project manager you are looking for.
For example, if your agency can afford it, the biggest advantage of a full-time project manager is that you have their eyes and attention on just your agency and clients. Whereas, freelance and part-time project managers are likely splitting their time and attention among other clients and/or responsibilities.
Alternatively, there are several advantages to working with a freelance project manager. They are likely working with several clients at a time (and have done so for awhile). They have amassed a lot of experience in the process. If they have prior experience freelancing in your industry, you can leverage that to make your agency run even smoother.
What does a project manager do in a marketing agency?
The role will vary based on your agency and whether or not they are focused on technical project management, soft skills, or a mix of the two.
Differences between technical project managers vs. soft skill managers
Soft skill project managers are often focused on account management and delivering top-notch client service. They manage the project to ensure that your team is delivering on time and on budget and that the client is happy with the results. They often act as the go-to-between the team delivering the work (so they aren’t spending all day on calls and meetings) and the client.
A technical project manager is also involved in account management, but they tend to handle some portions of the project implementation.
For example, if you run a Facebook ads agency, you might want a technical project manager, who is not only great at communicating with clients and managing deliverables, but they can go in and upload all of the ad assets, make light changes, and handle all of the reporting.
And for many agencies, it may make sense to find a hybrid of the two types of project managers.
Pro Tip: The only caveat is to make sure that the project managers on your team are focused on project/account management and not “catch-all” roles for all of the tasks that aren’t being done in the agency. This is a common mistake that many agency founders make, and it can lead to all kinds of problems, from tasks taking longer than they should to burning out your project manager because they are overwhelmed and overworked for too long.
6. What skills does a project manager need?
Regardless of whether you hire a full-time, part-time, or freelance project manager and if they are technical or not, here are some core skills that all great project managers possess:
- Communication – Are they great written and verbal communicators?
- Leadership – Can they lead a project call – both with your internal team as well as with a client effectively?
- Obsessed with details – Do they sweat the small stuff, such as scoping out projects to the last detail?
- Process-oriented – Are they a systems-thinker? Can they follow an existing process just as well as they can design new systems and processes to make the agency more efficient?
- People-person – Do they enjoy talking on the phone, Zoom, and in-person (when not in the middle of a global pandemic)?
- Great at solving problems – When an issue arises, are they naturally solutions-oriented?
7. Designing an effective hiring process for a project manager
Just like you create processes for hiring employees and freelancers, you should also create and follow your process for hiring a project manager.
If this is your first project manager, this can be an overwhelming task since this is likely the first time you’ll be delegating project management off your plate and onto someone on your team. Because of this, it can help to take the hiring process slow and always start with a test project.
Pro Tip: Looking for tips for building your hiring process? Check out this article.
8. How to successfully onboard a project manager
Once you’ve hired a project manager, it is time to onboard them. There are two different – but interconnected – onboarding processes.
- Introducing them to your team and your agency’s culture
- Training them on their role as well as on the client accounts and/or projects they will be managing.
With so much to learn, the process for successfully onboarding a project manager generally takes at least 90 days.
Pro Tip: Looking for a 90-day employee onboarding checklist? Check out our detailed employee onboarding guide.
9. What are the things a project manager needs to succeed in their role?
The biggest thing a project manager needs to be successful in their role is proper onboarding. If you have spent the time upfront to get them up to speed on how your agency runs and you have well-documented systems, processes, and SOPs in place, they will be set up for success.
10. Managing and evaluating a project manager
The difference between an average project manager and an exceptional one is that an exceptional project manager will make your job as the founder easier.
For the projects they are responsible for managing, they can run with it, and you know they will do a great job.
For example, you can free up mental bandwidth, so you aren’t micromanaging tasks or your project manager. Here is how Luminary Agent’s founder Cody Martens was able to do just that.
Pro Tip: We recommend working with your project manager in their first 30 days to agree on KPIs. This gives him/her a sense of ownership while holding them accountable without having to micromanage them.
In addition, once your agency is running like a predictable and scalable machine where you do not have to put out fires all the time. And, you are delivering consistent quality work to clients on time and on budget every time.
This frees up even more of your bandwidth, so you can turn your attention to longer-term agency vision and goals. For example, this is what Tyler Turk was able to do with his company, Crated with Love.
Or, you can even step away from the agency for a period of time to focus on another business, take an extended vacation, etc, and not have to worry about the business going to zero since your team is handling the core operations.
The ultimate test that you are on the right track with building a process-oriented agency is that you can take a two-week vacation, and your team (including your project manager) can manage the business without you.
In sum, if you want to build a predictable and scalable agency, the most important thing you can do is build out a process-oriented project management strategy. This will make every aspect of your business run smoother. You’ll be able to take on more clients (and grow your business), hire and onboard your employees and freelancers more efficiently, and deliver high-quality work to clients consistently on budget and on time.