Pick up the money your agency is leaving on the floor by automating non-billable tasks–cut down time responding to emails, generating proposals, and more.
The formula for profitability in an agency is simple. The more hours your employees bill, the more money you make. But it’s hard to max out those billable hours when your employees are bogged down in at least 18.9 hours per week of non-billable tasks. Here’s how this breakdown of non-billable hours might look.
Without great client management or excellent project proposals, the whole agency would fall apart–there would be no work to bill. It’s tempting to push your employees to rush through their non-billable work because you’re not getting paid for it, but doing each non-billable task well is necessary to keep your agency afloat. So here’s the question:
“How do you expand your billable hours without cutting corners on client care?”
The answer to both maximizing quality and minimizing time spent on non-billable tasks is automation. Automation shaves off a few non-billable minutes here and there–and it creates a system where the results are consistent and top-notch. Here’s how you can use automation to cut 8.5 of these non-billable hours per employee, per week and increase revenue by 45.37%.
Cut Down Time Responding to Emails
Customer relationship management often falls outside the scope of contracted billable hours even though it’s a necessary component for maintaining excellent client relationships. Time spent responding to emails cuts deep into your workday. According to a study from the Radicati Group technology market research firm, the average number of emails sent per day is 35. If each email takes about 3 minutes to write, that’s 1 hour and 45 minutes lost each day just sending emails. If that sounds discouraging, let me give you more bad news. That estimate doesn’t include time spent reading emails or checking them–just replying to them. And it assumes that employees are checking their email all at once, when studies have shown that people usually allow emails to interrupt their workflow throughout the day. 35 Emails x 3 Minutes Per Email = 105 minutes lost a day Total Time Lost: 8.75 hours per week
Solution: Use Automated Email Responses and Triggers
Cut down on time wasted on email tasks by using canned responses. You can create them for different types of client communication like project delivery emails, follow-ups, meeting agendas, and feedback. They’re useful even for emails that need a personal touch. Add in a few minor changes, and the canned response still does most of the work.
You can take this a step further by creating a Zapier trigger between Teamwork and Teamwork Desk. The trigger will generate a new email to a client for you if you start a project, finish one, or make revisions at the client’s request. These small automation tweaks can shave the amount of time it takes to send a professional email from three minutes to one minute while improving the consistency and quality of your communication.
Total Time Saved: 2.9 hours per week
Make Project Proposals Systematic
Proposals are essential for catching and keeping clients. They’re one of the biggest time-draining, non-billable tasks because they require your employees’ best efforts and creative energy. However, the process is incredibly difficult to streamline. Creative work is unpredictable, so it’s impossible to be sure how long it will take to land the right idea. And if your employees don’t carefully craft the idea, all their work might go to waste. Just because they understand why an idea is great, doesn’t mean your clients will. According to Ali Naqvi, Business Director at Neo@Ogilvy, it can take up to 6.5 hours to write a proposal, even when he’s being efficient. For someone less experienced, it can take a lot more time. Total Time Lost: 6.5 hours per week.
Solution: Use a Proposal Management System
While the creative work behind proposals might be unpredictable, it’s important to cut down on the standard tasks you can predict. Using a proposal management system like Proposify means your employees can use templates instead of starting over from scratch. By designating a few company-wide templates and using them for every project, your employees will always know where to start–and not waste any time staring at a blank document.
With a proposal management system, the small things that take up a lot of time–like creating sections, inserting the client’s name in every slot, and exporting to send–are done automatically. On the client end, the approval process is also streamlined with secure digital signatures and an easy approve-or-reject button. According to Proposify’s data, this can save your employees as much as two hours per proposal. Total Time Saved: 2 hours per week.
Say Goodbye to Unproductive Meetings
In agency work, people are often siloed off on individual projects, so team meetings are necessary to communicate important announcements, key goals and project status information. Even though team managers try to keep things quick and simple with “check-in” or “update” meetings, where each team member offers a quick summary of their to-do list and completed items. While these check-in meetings are good ideas on paper, in practice they’re non-billable and often a huge waste of time. Meetings without a specific detailed agenda devolve into side discussions and interrupt your employees’ workflow.
Sometimes the drive for efficiency can actually create inefficiency.
The average meeting lasts about one hour. However, the time lost isn’t just the time spent in the meeting. Studies have shown that interrupting focused work is an additional time loss, taking workers an average of 25 minutes to get back on track after an interruption–and that’s in addition to the 15 minutes needed to prepare for the meeting. Total Time Lost: 1.6 hours per week
Solution: Integrate Your Project Management Tool with I Done This
Integrating your project management software with I Done This gives you all the benefits of update meetings without adding any time at all to your employees’ schedule. I Done This tracks everyone’s accomplishments and shares them team-wide–but by integrating with Teamwork, you don’t have to update it manually. When you check off a task or track time in Teamwork Projects, I Done This logs your employees’ work. At the end of the day, I Done This sends a digest of tasks that everyone’s completed to the whole company, fostering a team mentality and increasing accountability.
Total Time Saved: 1.6 hours per week.
Eliminate Manual Invoicing
62% of invoices at digital advertising agencies take clients over 60 days to pay, and 94% take over 30 days, according to a report from FastPay. Even though you’ll get the payment eventually, that back-and-forth costs you valuable time. There’s also all the manual data entry involved when your agency sends invoices–organizing tracked time by client, then by project, and then filling it into the invoice document. This kind of work requires a strong attention to detail. If an employee gets an invoice wrong, you can’t contact the client and say, “Just kidding! You owe us more money.” Organizing time-tracking logs by client and project takes at least 15 minutes. Then creating the invoice and manually inputting that information takes about 25. That’s 40 minutes per invoice, and each employee probably completes around 3 projects per week–without accounting for all the follow-up emails you have to send when clients pay late. Total Time Lost: 2 hours per week.
Solution: Integrate Accounting Software with Your Project Management Tool
By integrating your accounting software with Teamwork Projects, your employees’ time logs are automatically organized by project and by client. There’s no manual data entry, just a few clicks. One integration lets you export invoices to FreshBooks with the touch of a button.
From inside FreshBooks, it only takes a few clicks to send the invoice. The client can pay online, but if they don’t, you can set up automatic reminders and late fees. That way, your employees don’t have to spend their time manually checking emails and updating invoices. Total Time Saved: 2 hours per week.
Conclusion: Small Changes, Big Savings
Saving time is just like saving money: every little bit helps.
A few minutes saved with any one of these time-saving solutions makes each day easier. Put them together, and you’ll reclaim some serious time from your schedule each week. By implementing the solutions in this article, you’ll have saved yourself 8.5 hours per employee, per week. Here’s a breakdown of the savings:
That’s one whole extra workday per employee. If you calculate percent change, billing those 8.5 extra hours will add 45.37% more to your revenue. The best part of these automation hacks is that you don’t have to pick just one, or limit their use to just one employee. You can use them all together, company wide. They help create a high-quality, reliable system for non-billable tasks and save hours for everyone. While the numbers might not be the exact same for your agency–a little longer or a little shorter for each task-the results are the same. Automating the non-billable tasks will reduce tedious work and help your revenue soar.