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Agency Operations: 5 Big Mistakes That Cause Chaos (& How to Fix Them)

Gray MacKenzie
Gray MacKenzie is a true operations nerd who has spent the past decade helping hundreds of agencies build more productive, profitable, and healthy teams by solving the core issues plaguing their project management.

To chat with Gray and have ZenPilot lead your team through the last project management implementation you'll ever need, schedule a quick call here.

Agency operations provide the structure that powers your client results. This directly impacts your ability to keep your clients happy and retain your talent in a competitive marketplace.

You started out with a vision to build an agency that delivers amazing client results and to build a great place to work. And then something crazy happened — it worked!

This type of growth is like what every athlete talks about when they enter the pros, “everything just moves faster.”

Here, there is no time for missteps. Clients expect projects to be delivered on time. They expect results.

And as more clients come on board, the stakes get higher and higher. If client delivery doesn’t keep up with sales, you’re dead. Clients kept saying yes and that meant you had to keep hiring people. And the more things grew, the more complex they became.

This creates a dilemma for your agency leadership team.

How do you keep the client experience high when your core team has to spend less and less time with each client?

The answer to this question will make or break your agency.


That is why we assembled the top mistakes that we see agency owners making and detail the steps you can take to fix them: 

  1. Services Aren’t Standardized
  2. Work Isn’t Organized Consistently
  3. No-One Is Put in Charge
  4. No Single Point of Truth
  5. Rhythms Stay the Same

Our goal is to help you build the organizational structure you need to keep your clients and team happy while you grow.

Before you get started

Take the Agency Project Management Benchmark Assessment so you know what areas to prioritize.

The Top 5 Mistakes Agency Owners Make

Mistake #1: Services Aren’t Standardized

We hear this all the time when we speak with agency owners who have experienced rapid growth and then struggle to deliver results for those clients. Whoever is running sales, a dedicated team or the agency owner, goes out and closes a deal. Then tosses things over to the success team like a hot grenade.

Every handoff looks different because each client needed a different mix of services. This kind of custom, one-off work has a place, but most agencies mess it up by over-promising and under-pricing the work.

This environment is very damaging to your team. The root of the problem is misaligned expectations.

The best way to set clear expectations from the beginning is to standardize how clients will engage with your services by illustrating a client journey.

This gives your sales team a tool to easily show how you work with clients, letting them see the method to your madness.

It gives the client confidence that you know what you’re doing and you have a process for turning your promises into reality. And finally, it helps your client success team by giving them a tool to drive the engagement and to refer back to as clients have questions or requests outside the scope of the service agreement.

When every project coming into your agency looks different, it is going to create chaos. You can overcome this by taking the time to standardize your services so they fit into a logical journey.

How to Standardize Your Agency Services: 

Agency Story: Commence Studio

Commence Studios is a great example of an agency that was growing, but their sales to delivery handoff created unnecessary friction. They had very few documented processes and little to no standardization.

When this friction finally boiled over, Commence spent 6 weeks documenting every process, creating standardization and structure in their project management environment, and were able to onboard 4 new clients in one week with raving reviews.

Mistake #2: Work isn’t Organized Consistently

Clients don’t like it when balls get dropped. They may take four weeks to get back to your request, but they want to know you’re on top of all the details.

When your delivery operation is in chaos it’s usually because team members are managing deliverables, timelines, tasks, and follow-ups each in their own way. One person keeps a paper journal, a few use a Google sheet, someone is on Trello, and another uses reminders in Slack.

The lack of visibility breeds chaos. No one knows what is on anyone else’s plate. There is no way to see what is about to fall through the cracks.

While each of these organization methods may work for each individual, they will not work for the agency as a whole.

To defeat chaos and bring clarity to your client delivery and agency management operations, you need a standardized project management framework for how work is organized.

This standardized framework needs to be structured enough so that when a new client comes on-board the project can be deployed in a matter of minutes, not days. It needs to be flexible enough to catch one-time tasks that pop up on client calls.

When the team has the proper training and accountability the new project management framework will bring visibility and clarity to the work and allow you to query the data that you need to make hiring, firing, and investment decisions.

Tips to Create a Better Organized Marketing Agency


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Mistake #3: No One is Put In Charge

If you’re like every agency we’ve ever worked with, then you’ve tried out your share of project management tools in the past.

People seem to flock to new tools and technology in the hopes that it will solve all of their problems. But after a few weeks, those tools become a graveyard of forgotten tasks and unread reminders.

The truth is that these tools are just tools. Tools need to be managed and maintained.

An agency is a stressful place to work when there is uncertainty about what is going on and stress resulting from pressure from clients. This stress and uncertainty can be overcome when you assign an owner to maintaining the project management framework.

This role makes sure that everyone keeps their information up to date. They identify when jobs are at risk of falling behind. They work with team leaders to insure that best practices are being followed by everyone on the team.

Tips to Implement Your Project Management Champion

  • It cannot be the business owner.
  • Empower the project management champion to hold all team members accountable, including agency leadership.
  • Make it internally official so everyone understands their new role.
  • Back them up when they get push back from the team. Old habits die hard.

Mistake #4: No Single Point of Truth

The blind search for answers leads to wasted time and frustrated relationships. When someone doesn’t know how to handle a situation they’re going to do two things:

  1. Ask for help
  2. Come up with a solution themselves

Asking for help sounds great, but interrupting key team members throughout the day to answer standard questions destroys productivity and eats into your profits.

Coming up with innovative solutions to problems that have already been solved by someone else is just a waste of time.

Your team must have a single point of truth where they can go to find the answers to their questions. What they need to do and how they’re meant to do it need to live in the same area.

This means standardized task templates and easy-to-navigate process documentation for each area of your operation.

Establishing this single point of truth and training your team on how to leverage it will empower everyone to access answers on their own and increase the velocity of your team.

Tips to Create a Process Library for Your Agency:

clickup process hub

Mistake #5: Rhythms Don’t Change

Clarity is found at the top of a steep slope of change. You can read a lot of books, attend conferences, and even hire coaches, but if you don’t change how you work it’s just motion.

Your team will thrive and your clients will see results when you standardize how and when your teams work and meet together. These rhythms are not rocket science. They’re simple processes that need to be run on a regular basis.

Meeting regularly with clients, consistent stand-ups with your team, dedicated one-on-ones, and regular off-site sessions with your management team are just the beginning.

When you change how you work together, you can have a big impact over time. With the right guidance and accountability you can realize the clarity you’ve always wanted, but have never been able to achieve on your own.

Tips to Create More Productive Agency Meetings & Practices

  • Implement a standardized meeting agenda for your leadership, department, and client meetings.
  • Hold the meetings at the same time each week.
  • Rate the meeting at the end to collect instant feedback. 
  • Create follow-up tasks in your agency project management tool so that the next steps are clearly tracked.
  • Read: Creating Agency Scorecards and Standardizing Meetings


Conclusion: Agency Owners, You’re Not Alone.

Your agency doesn’t need to be a chaotic and stressful place in order to deliver results for clients. With the right organizational structure, you can create an amazing place for your team to work and deliver results for your clients.

This puts you as the owner in the driver’s seat. With the structure in place, you’re free to focus on reinforcing your agency culture, building your industry authority, and creating new growth channels.

If you’d like leadership and accountability to make lasting change to your operational structure, schedule your free Agency Operations Audit or take our free Agency PM Benchmark.

The Only Fully Guaranteed Agency Operations Improvement Framework

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The Only Fully Guaranteed Agency Operations Improvement Framework


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