It was eight years ago that Salted Stone began as a two-person startup, and just over two years ago that we joined the Agency Partner ecosystem at HubSpot.
In that first year, we achieved Platinum Partner status, and in the 13 months that followed, rose the ranks to be certified as a HubSpot Diamond Agency Partner — reaching the top agency tier in the shortest amount of time of any of the other nine Diamond level Partners.
So as a fast-growing inbound marketing agency, we’ve experienced firsthand the need to develop and implement efficiencies in how we work. In fact, building and rolling out processes has become a constant focus as we scale to meet client expectations and our own business goals.
When we were a smaller shop and had just one team member handling the work associated with her or his specific role, it was easier to put off establishing scaleable processes.
Each person knew what they were responsible for (graphic design, copywriting, analytics, business development, etc.) and everyone else on the team had a good understanding of how that particular person worked and what to expect as far as where to go for information outside of their own particular domain.
But with our organizational chart expanding up and out, the need for delegation and developing a corporate brain trust — or, as we like to call it, a “main brain” — has become critical for two reasons:
- Exceeding client expectations. Our client roster has expanded to the point where the workload requires a system capable of ensuring we’re all working in unison as a team and don’t lose track of projects or miss deliverable deadlines.
- Keeping the team happy and productive. With so many people working on varied tasks and projects, keeping track of the moving parts and documenting best practices becomes a key factor in how productively we operate. Without established processes, people often find themselves feeling unsure of what to work on and unable to quickly discern who exactly is working on what. This leads to work being interrupted, unnecessary back-and-forth communication and an overall sense of chaos. This is, obviously, no bueno.
Creating Processes for Redundancy and Efficiency
There came a time, a couple years back, when our workload became such that it required two or more people working in identical roles to fulfill our end of service level agreements. So as we scaled, there was an increased need for redundancy and efficiency.
To meet this need, we introduced:
- a central project management system
- a company wiki
- Slack for internal communication
- Google Apps for business
- Zendesk for support tickets
In addition, we found it necessary re-outfit our conference room and invest resources into building out an account management team.
Project Management Software to Track the Moving Pieces
All of these new ways of working together have played a role in our being able to scale quickly, but the choice to invest and commit to a project management software is arguably the most significant reason why we’ve been able to take on the increased complexities that come with growth.
Project management software provides the structure we need as a team to create our own customized set of processes; processes that enable us to leverage our team’s full capabilities without losing the plot.
It also provides our team leads and managers with visibility into the big picture as it relates to resource allocation, as well as the ability to make adjustments to a plan once it’s set in motion based on new information or change in focus.
In a recent post on HubSpot, the ability to delegate work is highlighted as a must-have process agencies need to have in place in order to find success.
“Client work is more likely to get done on time when people know their roles. Clear expectations and responsibilities help with individual output and set up the entire team to collaborate and communicate with the right person. Managers and project coordinators need to assign tasks, set deadlines, and have a system for tracking progress.”
Here at Salted Stone, we signed on for at least two different project management softwares before settling on the one we now rely on. So for agency owners looking for a magic answer, there really isn’t one. The decision comes down to which platform:
- will integrate best with the other internal and client-facing communication methods you already employ and plan on keeping in the mix; and
- contains a feature set most aligned with your current needs and the needs you anticipate having as you grow.
The Birth of a Main Brain
Project management software has been foundational to our being able to scale business efforts, but it’s just the beginning. We’ve also had to agree upon internal processes and systems of checks and balances in order to standardize our steps of service and program deliverables.
This has been necessary to ensure that work can be duplicated, templates leveraged where appropriate, and time is managed efficiently across the organization.
As a result of this need, we’ve developed processes that capture our team’s collective knowledge. This prevents our having to reinvent the wheel every time we kick off a new program with a client.
As mentioned earlier, we also introduced the idea of a company wiki. And just as with the project management software, we ended up experimenting with a few wiki solutions before settling on one that works best for our team based on the way we communicate most efficiently.
Building process around the idea of a “main brain” also provides for efficiencies as it relates to workflows, setting internal expectations across departments, reducing back-and-forth communication with clients, and training new team members.
This concept of a “main brain” is one of the major reasons why many organizations find that it’s more financially prudent to outsource inbound marketing programs to an agency rather than try and fill the need with an in-house team.
Part of why we’re able to operate cost-effectively for our clients is due to the fact that we've already figured out where the stumbling blocks often appear. This means that our clients don't have to reinvent the wheel. They rest confident knowing that our processes have been applied and tested with multiple organizations and across campaigns in varying verticals.
A Process for Building Systems that Enable Process
Mike Skeehan, Salted Stone’s Managing Partner, discussed our processes in a recent blog post…
“We have micro-processes for each of the various deliverables associated with our inbound marketing programs, and a macro-process that includes all of those micro-processes. To name a few, we have processes for:
- defining what success looks like for our clients
- creating a Strategic Buyers Insight Report
- crafting a Marketing Blueprint
- developing our Marketing Scorecard
- managing production according to the Blueprint in light of the Scorecard
But processes alone aren’t enough, which is why we have systems in place to manage our processes and enable efficiencies therein. Through trial and error, we've learned that program or campaign success is significantly influenced by how a problem or opportunity is approached, as opposed to the nature of the problem or opportunity itself, and our processes have been designed to ensure that our approach is consistently aligned towards the achievement of optimal results.”
Diamonds in the Rough
While we certainly haven’t figured everything out, and in fact anticipate that the day we actually “figure it all out” will never arrive, we do feel confident in saying that our dedication to exceeding client expectations and keeping our own team happy and productive is a big reason why we’ve found success thus far.
We recognize that establishing processes has played a significant role in assisting our team in the transition from small shop to competitive agency.
However, we also know that the diversity of talent we’ve cultivated here in-house, and our team’s focus on Attitude and Effort, are the foundation on which this success is being built.