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Put routine work on autopilot with agency automation

As agencies grow, taking on more clients and employees, they frequently encounter friction in onboarding, management and continuing to...

Profile picture of Jacqueline Dooley


4 min read

As agencies grow, taking on more clients and employees, they frequently encounter friction in onboarding, management and continuing to deliver the best experience at scale. To tackle this challenge, savvy agencies turn to automation to streamline operations, track and manage projects, improve employee experiences, and unify data and assets.

Two thirds of businesses say they are —at the very minimum—piloting business automation processes for one or more business functions, according to a recent McKinsey survey of nearly 1200 businesses.

Among those who have successfully embedded automation within their agency, a few characteristics stand out. First, they treat automation as a strategic priority, not an afterthought. By centering their approach to automating certain business functions around their overall business strategy, they focus on the changes that will yield significant return on investment.

Another differentiator—agencies with successful automations in place don’t use technology to replace actual people. Instead, they focus on integrating automated processes with human ingenuity to fill skill gaps, optimize employees’ time, and reduce repetitive tasks.

Per McKinsey:

“Successful organizations gather individuals’ expertise and embed it in the design of automation solutions. Respondents reporting success are much more likely than others to say their companies scale up their automation programs by using “human in the loop” solutions — that is, training automation platforms with people’s input over time.”

And, finally, successfully automating processes requires interdepartmental coordination. This is the only way to scale automation as your agency evolves. It requires ongoing management and maintenance of automated workflows, as well as eliminating information silos within your agency, something employees will surely appreciate.

Invigorate your employee experience and productivity

Automation tools are designed to streamline specific agency workflows; for example, scheduling client and internal team meetings, creating shared task lists, managing emails, and posting to social media. As you explore the various options in the market, consider the following:

  • Assess where automation will be the most beneficial to your agency. Speak with your employees directly to understand their current workflows and where the pain points are. Are they spending large chunks of time locating files, answering emails, and tracking projects? Are there any delays in launching websites, campaigns, or new initiatives?

  • Take a systems approach to automation. Layering automation technology into a poorly configured workflow has the potential to slow down an already time-consuming process. Often there are multiple causes to poor workflows, so it’s important to identify each of them and understand how they interact with one another before deep-diving into automation.

  • Dedicate adequate resources to all automation initiatives. In a Bain & Company survey of nearly 800 global executives, 44% of respondents said their automation projects weren’t delivering the kind of return they expected, the main reason being insufficient resources and/or lack of skill. Automation requires a time commitment to work, both to create and launch new processes, as well as how to work with them thereafter.

Automatic isn’t auto-'magic'

Far from being a quick fix, Bain’s research found that the average time it took for automation to pay off was about 13-18 months, with many respondents noting the payback period was 19-24 months. It takes time to make significant process changes and for those changes to make a significant impact, so keep this in mind when setting goals and expectations.

To understand how business automation tools specifically fit into agency workflows, we’ve broken them down into four main categories. Each category addresses a specific agency function.

Marketing: Marketing automation comes in many forms, including tools like SharpSpring which can be used to automate processes within the agency itself, such as automatically emailing relevant blog posts to a specific client list. It also doubles as an automated client campaign task manager, allowing you to do things like create retargeting campaigns that blast out the same email to those that hadn't opened it before.

Tools like Hootsuite let agencies schedule social media posts for automatic posting, and they integrate with other tools like Sprout Social to generate automated reports.

Project management: Standalone tools like Calendly are perfect for streamlining and coordinating meetings, while more robust platforms like Zapier can convert emails, messages and form submissions into tasks and to-do lists. It even plugs into Trello and Asana to help creative agencies ideate, plan, manage, and collaborate on projects and tasks. Microsoft Teams focuses on hybrid work/home team collaboration and features many project collaboration and management automation tools (chat, message boards, document sharing, video calling/screen sharing, and more).

Accounting/business development: Accounting and business development often have similar needs and processes. Tools like PandaDoc, a proposal management platform, consolidate proposal tasks in one place and facilitate team collaboration so proposals don’t get hung up with one department.

E-signature tools like signNow automate the process of getting signatures from clients, contractors, consultants, and other important stakeholders needed to close a deal.

Invoicing and hour tracking tool Harvest provide multiple ways for agency employees and contractors to track time against projects and create invoices based on billable hours (e.g., get paid faster.)

Automation in sales can empower you with identifying warmer leads, welcome new clients and remain engaged with prospects who aren’t yet ready to make a purchase. Keap offers automated follow ups with new networking connections, reminders to circle back to voicemails, and pings customers with links to abandoned shopping carts, among other tools and features.

Human Resources: The irony of using automation technology to facilitate human resources tasks is not lost to us. Nevertheless, recruiting and hiring technology can make your agency much more efficient when it comes to locating and onboarding new talent.

ZipRecruiter, for example, lets you keep track of all candidates in one place and sends out job descriptions to multiple job sites. It also uses AI to scan and parse candidate resumes, matching them to job descriptions, then sends pre-written, personal messages inviting candidates to apply.

Clovers is an interviewing platform that speeds up the interview-to-hire process by making the interviewing process collaborative (through recorded video conferencing), and employing AI to tag key sentiments in the live interview. These tags can always be revisited, which they should be, else a machine is at the helm of your talent acquisition.

Keeping it human in the age of automation

There’s no doubt that automation is an essential tool for modern agencies. It reduces time spent on repetitive tasks, minimizes errors, fosters better communication, and makes it possible for distributed teams to remain productive.

The most successful agencies to integrate automation are those with a thoughtful, creative, and human approach to doing business. And those that invest in automation put themselves in a much better position to scale as they take on new clients and the business grows.


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