Over the past few months, Killer Infographics has grown by leaps and bounds, but not from an employee perspective. We have doubled our order volume, completing 100 infographics in the month of January alone, but we have not had the need to double our staff. Instead, we've increased efficiency by utilizing a number of tools and techniques. Here are 5 mantras we live by that help our team when the pressure is on, and have also helped increase efficiency:
#1 - To Grow, You Must Break A Process Here and There
My business partner, Nick Grant, always says he's good at breaking systems... and he is.
To work with a myriad of clients in any creative space, its important to have a system in place to meet deliverables. Of course, that process is often restricted to a set number of orders each week or month. This means that, as you grow, the process will bend until it snaps.
Nick likes to take this as a challenge. If he sells 15 projects one week, he wants to sell 20 the next. He isn't afraid of breaking the process because he knows we''ll create a new and even better one to meet the higher demand. In other words, don't be afraid of breaking your own rules, but be prepared to think on your toes and create new rules when needed.
#2 - No Project Should Have More than 2 Decision Makers
The larger a company gets the more impossible it seems but if you want to get things done with both speed and quality, make sure there aren't too many egos in the room. Especially if you are a client focused company.
When you are delivering projects to clients, they are likely already bringing in multiple decision makers; that's not something you can control. Instead, keep control over the project on your end by assigning one project manager to it. The other decision maker will likely be the PMs boss.
This process alleviates a lot of extra work that occurs when someone else decides to insert their own opinion on a project. You'll be amazed how much gets done when one person owns the outcome. If you cant trust someone to be the PM, then its time to find new employees.
#3 - Even Here in Seattle, The Cloud is Your Friend - Not Something Bringing MORE Rain
If a client needs multiple revisions on a project, the last thing you want to do is search multiple computers to find the latest files.
Every phase of a project should be kept in one central database.
As a startup, we've been relying heavily on Google Docs to keep track of each project. This has included multiple client folders for each tiny detail as well as one large Google Excel document to show every project being worked on and what stage it may be in.
As we've grown, we've realized that its now time to move to something better: ActiveCollab. This is a great project management tool that doesn't have space or project restrictions like subscription based SaaS solutions.
If you're a small startup, Google Docs wont steer you wrong, but as you grow take advantage of other online tools to manage your workflow.
#4 - One Tool Wont Solve the Worlds Problems, But a Few Great Ones Will
We all want Omniture, SalesForce, QuickBooks and Microsoft Office rolled into one but few have the deep pockets to achieve that goal. Instead, most companies are forced to rely on a lot of free tools to manage their day-to-day. For our team we try to get those tools down to as little as possible and here are some of our favorites:
Active Inbox: For anyone managing dozens (if not hundreds) of daily tasks, clients, and communications over email, this tool is amazing. This is a plugin for Gmail that lets you set action items, due dates, and prioritize email with ease. It offers a lot of the functionality of Salesforce and Outlook without the cost. We started using this about 30 days ago and the headache factor in our office has gone down considerably.
Google Docs: I know I touched on it before, but Google offers a fantastic suite of free tools that are similar to Microsoft Office and easy to share online with your entire team. Their version of Excel is not as robust as the real Excel, but a great tool for tracking tasks and accounts on a small scale.
Freshbooks: If you aren't able to afford Quickbooks or don't want to figure it out, then Freshbooks is a great alternative. Freshbooks lets your employees track their hours, send invoices, and lets you invoice clients through PayPal eCheck (only a $0.50 fee instead of the 3% transaction fee!).
#5 - Boost Morale By Rewarding Morale Busts
We recently designed an infographic for TopWebDesignSchools.org showcasing the anatomy of a Web Design client. We were able to poke fun at some well-known client stereotypes that sometimes cause headaches for agencies and their staff. The fact remains that, while most clients are amazing, in any creative agency some clients are just like the one described in the link above. These clients often make up for a very tiny percentage of monthly work, while taking up a major percentage of company time, which can often bring down morale. So what do you do with a headache like that? Find a way to reward your team!
Recently, we created the Pop-o-meter. Anytime a client says make it pop! or give it pizazz or even funkify it (yes we've heard them all) we add to the meter. Every time we hit 100 subjective phrases, we take the team out for lunch.
Now please note that even the best clients will utter those phrases sometimes... even I've uttered those phrases. For the most part though, these phrases are followed by more concrete requests, which is why they are OK. This is because make it pop could mean a myriad of things and is different for everyone. That said, from time to time there aren't any concrete requests, just subjective ones that can make any project owner feel pretty lost. This is why offering a light at the end of that tunnel is a good thing for your team. Find out the morale busters in your company, and figure out how to make the best out of those sticky situations.
There are many ways to boost efficiency without exhausting your team or yourself. As your company grows, it will be hard to come up for air (case in point, this post was due a month ago!). Luckily there are tools to help you manage your priorities and keep a happy staff for support, which will help you shift gears at a moments notice.