In the agency world, profitability is the name of the game. Without a margin, you’ll be out of business no matter how creative or groundbreaking your work is.
What does it take to run a profitable agency when you work with even tighter margins than usual? Check out this article and find out. It’s brought to you by Heather Schneider and Heming Nelson, the wonderful people of 4Site Interactive Studios.
4Site has been providing creative digital services to the non-profit community in Washington, DC since 2001. Since that time, our team has brought hundreds of organizations online and provided them with ongoing strategy, support, and content creation services. We partner with organizations that align with our values, which allows us to be proud of both the work that we do, and the people for whom we do it.
When it comes to client work, the biggest value we bring to the table is something we like to call creative user engagement. We provide clients with the digital tools and creative content they need to engage their users.
Some of the services we provide:
- Strategic Planning
- Beautiful, Dynamic, and Functional Design
- Custom CRM/CMS Platform Development
- Arresting Motion Content
- Ongoing Support and Reporting
When it comes to our long term growth plans, we consider ourselves more of a boutique agency with a long serving team. We contract out to meet capacity and gaps in skills, but value our current size and our client relationships, so we have no plans for exponential growth. And since so many of us bring our dogs to work, there’s just no more room for any more animals at our shop.
How we work
In terms of processes, we are a very process-conscious organization. We start every week off with a company-wide production meeting where we review the workload for each team member. We discuss ways to adjust tasks so that people who are overbooked can share their work with people who are less utilized.
Historically this was a very manual process where the Project Manager and Creative Director each adjusted the tasks for the week in a Project Management system. Then we would summarize the information in a Google Sheet where we could compare task estimates from the PM tool with actual time worked. We pulled time entries from a separate time tracking tool which was used to send billable time activities to Quickbooks.
Because our time reporting was never linked to tasks, we didn’t have a lot of insight into that. But now with Productive we have a better view in our work and our clients.
Why we moved to Productive
We chose to move to Productive because we could both assign and estimate tasks, and then track time against those tasks. Utilizing Productive’s nicely documented API, we also pulled all this information into a custom report that mirrored the Google sheet our team members had gotten used to for planning our weeks.
As a small firm, we always had trouble investing the necessary energy in a complex CRM like Salesforce. We tried a number of lightweight tools, but ultimately decided our volume didn’t justify the time spent on data entry. The Sales tool in Productive is nice since we enter the data once, and then if we win the job, the client and budgets are already set up, also saving us a lot of time communicating the details of the job to our PM Heather.
We chose Productive because it allowed us to track time against tasks in our PM tool and then move that time directly to an invoice. And then having a CRM and nice reporting features built into a single suite, meant we could avoid siloing all our data. And all this in an intuitive tool that is easy for a small business like ours to administer.
As a professional services firm that works for nonprofits, our margins have always been tight, so we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our efficiency, whether it’s through communicating with clients through Productive by adding them to our projects, or understanding where we consistently over or under-estimate our work.
Previously we got profitability information by running custom reports in Quickbooks Online, but we could only get broad numbers on how profitable each job was, nothing on the individual tasks, or service, or employee. Now we can see a lot of that information built right into the UI of Productive. And we’ve entered in all our cost and overhead information, so we look forward to seeing the numbers for each of our employees.
We knew the transition onto a new Project Management platform was going to be a bear, so once we decided to commit, there was no reason to consider anything less than a yearly subscription. What ultimately sealed the deal was the amazing responsiveness from the Productive team. They are so responsive to our requests and not only teach us ways to use Productive but also take our feedback into account for future enhancements. We love the team, are excited by all of the functionality of the tool, and can’t wait to see the new features that get rolled out over time.