“What financial software do you use to run your business and what is your biggest pain point?”
This question was asked by a member of the LinkedIn Group, Growing Your Ad Agency from Small to Medium.
After I offered thoughts on current software usage and shared some data from Second Wind’s Annual Agency Survey Report, Alan Beim, president at Herbert, Holden, Slater & Beim, Pacifica, CA, asked this question:
“This is all kind of interesting to me; we are just a $4 million a year agency that does not seem to need any of this. All we do is put everything as far as budgets on Google Docs for free, which all of us can view from everywhere; and then we just get the ads done when we need them and get them to clients and media. At what point does an agency need something like Workamajig or other software rather than just doing the job?”
Financial software (be it QuickBooks™ or part of a comprehensive agency management package) is essential for any agency looking to grow. The analytic tools available (from monthly reports to billing and profitability analyses) are simply too valuable in helping the agency owner anticipate and adjust to the ever-changing market forces we all face today. But the question of what other elements an agency “must have” is harder to answer.
When Do You Need Fully Integrated Agency Management Software?
Agencies have used some form of digital business management tools for decades, yet we often struggle to find comprehensive agency management software (AMS) flexible enough to meet our specific needs. For many years, software was written as if all agencies were exactly the same. Of course, every agency differs depending on the number and type of clients served; the number of employees; the amount of active projects managed at any given time; and the quantity of data and documents to be shared or accessed. So, for the past twenty years, most agencies employed jerry-rigged systems, piecing together multiple software and manual systems.
Finding an AMS that merged workflow and project management with financial management was even more difficult. Today, we’re seeing many stand-alone project management systems integrating other elements, or coded to integrate with popular accounting software, like QuickBooks (now used by 54 percent of Second Wind members as their preferred accounting software). We’re also seeing an array of cloud-based workflow options that simplify workflow so you can spend less time administrating, and more time creating and guiding client marketing efforts.
Today’s AMS packages (including Advantage, Clients & Profits, Workamajig, and others) are also far superior to those original software systems, and much more flexible, largely because many of the people who helped develop these systems are from the agency business. But even with advances in programming and customization, these systems can seem overwhelming to agencies trying to go from manual or no systems to using comprehensive agency management software. And, let’s face it: agency personalities lean toward the plug-in-and-GO method; few of us want to be bothered to learn a complex system when simpler, on-the-fly options work just as well.
When we first began surveying our members, agency management software (AMS) was relatively new, and agencies saw this as a way to operate more efficiently. In 1992, 90 percent of agencies employed manual, custom systems; by1998, this shifted to 50 percent investing in AMS. Today, just 55% of agencies use a single agency management system; cloud computing allows agencies to use custom systems combining new, easily integrated tools and apps that can be accessed anywhere. Most agencies are committed to proprietary accounting software, but are testing these newer options for workflow, estimating, new business contact and client/partner collaboration.
Count Heads, Not Projects or Profits
Tony Mikes, Second Wind’s managing director, once shared his thoughts on the “tipping point” for adopting AMS as a business strategy.
“I’ve found that it is the number of people in the agency, more than project count, number of clients or even billings, that indicates when you need an integrated agency management package,” said Tony. “I returned from a consulting project at a ten-person agency where were shouting at each other as part of their daily workflow ‘system,’ which makes for a pretty noisy, potentially distracting workplace. That eventually reaches a volume where it’s difficult for creatives to concentrate on good ideas; hard for people to speak on the phone; and the potential cause of mistakes due to not writing things down and saving them for later reference.
“If your agency is at about ten to fifteen people, and you feel you are sliding into chaos because of the sheer noise of having all of those folks trying to work together without any kind of defined system, it’s time to look into agency management software.”
Many software packages are built with the idea of managing lots of information for lots of personnel. Workamajig, for example, prefers to work with agencies that will have at least twenty employees using the system. Basically, the more people using the system (and the more data being input daily), the better the system will serve the agency. Software systems need multiple users to function at their best. So if you’re below this tipping point, you may find AMS unnecessary and burdensome… more system than you really need. Other software packages may be suited to fewer people, but it is important that these work for your style of agency and the people you employ. If you can be efficient, effective, creative and responsive to clients, and make a profit (we hope), you’re doing just fine.
The bottom line is, if you have a system that’s working for you, run with it. If you’re feeling more and more like you’re losing billings, making errors, missing deadlines or just plain being inefficient and feeling stressed out, it may be time to invest in an AMS.
For more information on agency efficiency and operations, read: