Agency Automations and Productivity with James Rose

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James Rose is the Co-Founder of Content Snare and the host of the Agency Highway podcast. He’s also a productivity and automation hacker who will show you how to become a better marketer, saving yourself both time and money, through the power of automation.

If you’ve ever lamented that there just aren’t enough hours in the day or have basic tasks you just can’t manage to get around to, this is the podcast to catch.

The highlights:

  • [1:35] Agency productivity challenges.
  • [4:45] What you miss out on by ignoring automations.
  • [6:45] Taking the first steps into process automation.
  • [11:27] Using automation to upsell clients.
  • [14:58] Examples of useful automations.
  • [18:33] Examples of how automation can make you a better marketer.
  • [23:55] James’ cause. 

The insights: 

Agency productivity challenges

There are common productivity challenges that most agencies face. They’re called “clients.”

All joking aside, Content Snare does put a lot of focus on the initial client onboarding and information-gathering process. 

“We speak with agencies all the time now, and when an agency takes on a client, there’s so much manual work. This is from the initial call all the way through to the briefing and scoping.
You’ve got the proposal and contract, accepting the initial deposit, setting up a client on project management, collecting all their assets, collecting all their information, actually getting started and keeping the client in the loop.”

He offers one example of how automation can keep clients happier.

“So many agencies will work on a client project and might go without an email for two weeks. Even though they’re busy, all these things are happening, the client doesn’t know that. That’s a good opportunity for process and automation: keeping your clients happier.”

Wasted time is wasted profit for any agency, and there can be a lot of wasted time in the typical client process.

“Emailing the client again, going: hey, can you send X thing, we’ve been waiting on this awhile. That’s just a couple of minutes to send that email, but multiply that across all your clients, across 50 different things you need from each client.

You have these change requests. You have this initial email request: here’s all the stuff we need. And then for every little thing they send in wrong, you know, even if they try to have a good system and use Google Drive or something, they might upload something that’s the wrong thing, and then you have to start another email thread to say: that thing you uploaded is the wrong thing.

We’ve all been there, right?

“It becomes a nightmare. It’s such a mess. Multiple email threads, multiple places to get information. I’ll attach something to an email, I’ll throw it into Drive, sometimes they might send it to a Dropbox link, so if you’ve got stuff all over the place, it wastes a lot of time.
In agency land, the margin comes down to people’s time. The more time that’s not getting spent on chargeable work, then the less money you make overall.”

Taking the first steps into process automation

Putting together a process that works for your agency means putting yourself into your client’s shoes.
“Make it as easy as possible for them.”
Clients are overloaded and overwhelmed. The more you make them think, the harder it will be. 
“The more I go through the process of building a product that’s made for end-clients like this, the more I realize how true that is. If things aren’t just dead-easy, they’re not going to do it.”
James talks about the differences that “dumbing down” Content Snare forms has made.
“When we made it clean and simple, everything changed. Our retention rate went up. People stopped complaining their client wouldn’t use it. This kind of thing really makes me realize how important this is. I’ve always talked about making things easy for your clients.”
It’s not that clients are dumb, but they’re busy doing other things.
“They don’t want to see this giant content request. Whatever it is. Whether it’s files or things they have to type in, they’re just going to go: that’s overwhelming. I don’t have the time to do that.”

James says that setting expectations also really helps.

“That might mean mentioning it in the initial call or making sure it’s in the proposal and not buried on page 57 in size 7 font.
Upfront: we’re going to need content. We’re going to need these things before we can start. It’s often the biggest hold-up in any of our projects, so I recommend getting that to us quickly to keep the project moving.”

He also suggests breaking the info gathering into bite-sized chunks.

“If you need content for an about page you don’t go: give me the content for an About page. You say: give me a heading. This is what the heading should sound like.

So there are two parts to the process: breaking things down and then creating instructions to guide them through the process.

Why?

“We need an image of your team. It needs to be at least this big. It sounds silly to spell out all these things so detailed, but it’s kind of what you have to do. If you leave it open to interpretation they’ll mess it up.”

James stresses that once you’ve planned everything out and set everything up, you don’t have to do it again.

“Once it’s done it saves you time forever. It just saves hours on every project.”

Using automation to upsell clients

In addition to saving hours of time on every project, you can also use automation to upsell clients. For example, you can upsell them on content creation services.

“There are two things here,” says James. “Even if you’re writing the content, you still need a lot of information. There’s still questionnaires and stuff.

So some people you still need a process for that, whether the client’s writing the content and you’re specifically saying: give me a headline, give me a blurb about your company. You still need that. You still need them to tell you about their company, and who your staff members are.”

As for writing content for them? James says just give them the option.

“We can help you with this. It will cost this much. Obviously usually by the time you get to the content collection point you know because it should have been in the proposal. This is how much it will cost. And they’ve had to say explicitly: no, we don’t want that. It’s on them at that point.”

Basically, automation then becomes a sort of assumptive close to help you sell content creation or other services.

Examples of useful automations

One example comes from the proposal process

“We use Better Proposals. We had our template in there that has most of what we need, just with placeholders, right? There are sections of that, of course, that need to be customized to each client, so we just go in there and we write you a little paragraph about the project.

There are placeholders in there that put their company name in all the places it needs to be, throughout the terms, throughout the initial couple of pages about what is and isn’t included. You know for us it was pretty much one paragraph about the project that showed we understood it, inclusions, exclusions, and then a pricing table.”

James says there are levels of this depending on what the agency does. 

“If [the agency] is fully bespoke it’s probably going to be different every time. You’re probably going to need to do a full scoping session, maybe using other software. There’s plenty of scoping tools out there.

If you’re doing something more productized, you can probably get away with just having the company name replaced in the right places in the proposal.”

James also mentions he does a great deal of work with Zapier.

“You can think of it as: when this happens, do this.”

As an example:

“When someone submits a content form, add them to my CRM. That’s a really basic one.”

He points out you can take that automation much further than that. 

“If someone submits my contact form and says they were interested in web design, then send an email or create a draft email in reply in my account manager’s inbox.”

Another example is Zapier lead scoring.

“It essentially gives you a bit of data someone based on their email address. It may be how many staff they have, what country they’re in.

This is basically lead enrichment. I don’t know why they call it a lead score, it’s not really the right name for that. There are other tools like this, like Clearbit. The amount of data you can get on a person just on their email address is insane.” I don’t know why they call it a lead score, it’s not really the right name for that. There are other tools like this, like Clearbit. The amount of data you can get on a person just on their email address is insane.”

How does he use it?

“When someone signs up through a trial of Content Snare, the email gets run through lead score and it tells me how many staff they have. Because the number of staff is a pretty big indicator of how good of a client they’ll be, right? If they’re bigger than 100 people I can get an instant notification through Zapier.

I just send myself an email, a text message, whatever I want to say: hey, a really big company just signed up. And that generally means they’re still in that software looking around. They literally just signed up. So I can open a chat.”

He points out you’re never just going to sit at your computer staring at the screen to see who is going to sign up.

He even can build himself a daily digest to scan through, so he can see what companies, see if he recognizes any of them.

“These are things I’d never do if it wasn’t automated. If it wasn’t part of the process. I just wouldn’t do it cause I don’t have the time.”

What's your right now cause?

James’ cause is Animals Asia.

“I really hate some of the things that happen with the treatment of animals, especially in Asia, like some of the dog festivals in China are just one of the worst things I’ve seen.” 

animals-asia-homepage

Connect with James Rose

Want to get more process and automation advice from James? 

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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