The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Team Parallax // February 17, 2021

Resist the temptation to Reinvent the Agency Operations Wheel

Many things make your firm unique from the one down the block: your culture, people, methods, and origin story — to name a few. But not everything about your agency is unique. We mean this in the best way.

You’re not unique when it comes to figuring out how much work you need planned in the backlog to hit revenue targets. Or in how to figure out, proactively, whether you have too few or too many staffed resources to deliver projects. You’re not unique when it comes to needing reliable, real-time business insights to inform strategic agency operations decisions.

No one likes being told they aren’t unique — especially us agency folks — but this is actually good news for your business.

Why both resource management and capacity planning are important

It’s good news because there are digital services companies best practices and benchmarks to lean on to help you make informed decisions and run your business better.

At Parallax, we talk to and work with digital agencies and tech consultancies of all shapes and sizes. We show them everything our product can do for them, whether that’s to improve sales pricing, easily standardize their most repeatable services, maintain project data accuracy for better forecasting, or allocate resources proactively. Afterward, we sometimes hear they’ve tried to do all of this themselves, but without success. They had thought, “we consult with clients to solve their problems, so why shouldn’t we be fully capable of solving our own agency operations challenges?” They also believed their business was simply too unique to fit any product’s mold.

We’ve also fallen into this tempting trap before. Our founders come from agency leadership backgrounds, and they, too, believed no tool on the market could fit their agency’s needs. They thought their internal teams were the only ones that could solve what they believed were their unique operational and business challenges. They built custom tools that successfully solved many of their challenges, but they also revealed new challenges and data needs. Managing an internal system like this quickly snowballed, and they ended up wasting exorbitant time and resources. Time their teams could’ve spent on billable work. Our founders eventually realized that they were trying to solve a challenge universal to all digital agencies and consultancies — gaining visibility into accurate business insights to inform strategic decisions. To build a product that worked effectively for these businesses, they knew they needed to dedicate significant time and resources to do it right. So they started Parallax. Now we’re on a mission to help agencies see how important it is to invest their limited time and resources into their craft and the future of their business. And to trust others to help with the things that don’t need reinvention, like agency operations and business insights.

Benefits of buying vs. building

If you’re still tempted to build a custom solution yourself, we encourage you to approach it with realistic expectations. Be mindful of the common downfalls of custom-built solutions and the benefits you could reap from using a product like Parallax. (We’re obviously biased 😉, but we feel really strongly about this!)

1. Agency operations insights stay top of mind, always

It’s so easy to put business planning on the back burner when your clients come first. Many agencies think, “we’ll just do some strategic planning and determine what processes we need to put in place to get insights and correct our operational challenges.” But then the day-to-day fires take center stage. There’s no one driving the planning forward, so you fall behind.

Other times, digging into the business insights to find an answer takes longer than you thought it would. Your systems (CRM, time tracking, invoicing) aren’t talking to each other, so you turn to your spreadsheets to piece information together. You go into your spreadsheets asking one question, which reveals a new question and a new one after that. The process becomes overwhelming, your spreadsheets become clunky and fragile, and nothing ever gets answered or done.

Products like Parallax give you real-time visibility into accurate data and business insights — from pricing estimation to project completion. You can run reports that answer your most pressing questions, and you can use these insights to forecast, which helps you get ahead of business issues, like missed revenue targets or utilization that’s too low. Business planning takes much less time and effort on your end — and you know you can trust the information you get.

2. Encourages alignment to best practices

Sometimes agencies put off purchasing a product because they think there are too many internal initiatives they need to tackle first. These initiatives could be hiring, restructuring a certain team, implementing a new CRM or ERP system, or any other type of organizational change.

This thinking fails to see agency management software, like Parallax, for what it can be: a catalyst for change across your business that makes any organizational initiative more effective. Products developed specifically for agencies can uncover insights that identify your biggest opportunities for improvement and give your people marching orders to solve particular challenges. These challenges and opportunities are often not what you initially thought they were; pulling all of your agency data together into one place gives you a clearer picture of what’s actually happening across your business — and what steps you need to take next.

Once you’ve pinpointed what you need to solve, the product helps your team adopt and align to agency best practices. These best practices could be behaviors ranging from:

  • Regularly assigning resource plans to projects in the sales pipeline
  • Reviewing and updating resource plans every week 
  • Updating timesheets weekly (and helping your employees understand why timesheets are so important)
  • Monthly leadership review of key organizational metrics at the portfolio, account, and project level
  • Developing a consistent and repeatable process to market, sell, project-manage, and deliver each of your key service offerings

3. Keeps your people focused on what you do best

You likely didn’t start an agency because you loved the intricacies of running a business. You probably did because you believed you could build a team that was really good at delivering top-notch work.

When you take the pressure off of yourself to reinvent the agency operations wheel, you can focus on what you’re best at — your craft. You don’t pull your highest performers off of revenue-generating projects to ask them to work on something they’re not necessarily good at (e.g., forecasting, resource planning). Instead, you let an already-built product do the heavy lifting for you and rely on best practices and benchmarks to evaluate your business performance. Your people stay focused on their craft and how they can serve customers better. You know, the stuff you earn money doing and that can determine how successful you’ll be in the future!

4. Improves the performance of your agency toolkit

A disparate agency toolkit is the root cause of why it’s difficult to get visibility into what’s happening across your business. It’s also how unruly and clunky spreadsheets get created. You’ve grown too much to rely on gut instinct like you did when your agency was small and scrappy. You now need data-informed insights to make strategy, hiring, and operations decisions, but your data is scattered and disconnected across systems. You piece together some spreadsheets, creating a foundation for business insights on really shaky ground.

Agency management software creates a connected agency toolkit by bringing real-time inputs from your CRM, time tracking tool, and invoicing into one place. A more connected toolkit means more effective project planning, resource planning, and capacity planning. It also allows you to forecast against target metrics like utilization, margin, and revenue  — without headache-causing and often inaccurate spreadsheets.

Stay focused on your craft, use Parallax for agency insights

When you spend more time on your craft, you spend more time investing in the future of your business. Unless your agency provides services related to organizational change, it’s probably not worthwhile for you to invest in reinventing the agency operations wheel. More likely, your time and resources will be better spent improving what you’re good at and looking for ways to improve your profitability and innovation.

We built Parallax specifically for digital agencies and consultancies. Our Product Advisory Council includes hundreds of agencies like your own who provide a third-party, objective perspective to inform how we develop the product. Our job is to invest time, energy, and resources into maintaining our product and making it better, so you can spend more time focused on your business. The insights you’ll gather from Parallax are business-critical, and pulling from accurate, up-to-date agency data sources will ensure you’re working from good information that will help you make smart decisions.