image credit: sean macentee via flickr cc
Agency staffing and human resources management is notoriously challenging. As an inbound marketing agency, your scope of client work isn't always limited to client monthly retainers. Regardless of whether your clients are contracted on a services or hourly basis, requests for assistance are normal and expected.
Your clients may request a short-notice press release to announce a new hire. Approval timelines on deliverables can "slide" due to sickness, vacations, or any other number of factors. Inbound marketing agencies are ultimately in the business of serving humans, and humans are notoriously unpredictable.
If you've ever struggled to increase "bandwidth," or time availability, while keeping staffing costs at a minimum, you're not alone. In order to maintain high client satisfaction, inbound agency teams must exceed client expectations. This includes providing exceptional services, even when project timelines get moved or last-minute requests come flying in. If you're an agency owner or manager who's worried about bandwidth, this blog is for you. Join us as we review some options for improving your agency's flexibility.
How Do Most Agencies Handle Staffing?
Most inbound and non-inbound client services agencies hire with flexibility in mind. In fact, Karl Sakas recommends hiring a full-time equivelant (FTE) employee every time you're "confident there's at least 15-20 hours a week of billable work." While this is perhaps a good starting point for developing an in-house staffing model, it's not always realistic. Sakas writes that agencies must balance their workload and hiring decisions against certain other factors, which include:
- Profit margins: If your profit margins are relatively low, a full-time hire might not be the most logical decision. Instead, a freelancer or contractor could be a better tool for protecting profitability.
- Workload quality control: If your ability to quality control a freelancer's work is relatively low, hiring an expert contractor or on-site employee could protect management's workload.
- Business focus: Many organizations choose to maintain the most control over services that are central to their business model. For example, if your agency's focus is research whitepapers, you may choose to primarily keep these materials in-house, while outsourcing social media and blogs.
It's become increasingly clear that full-time hires aren't your only option. Join us as we review some other options for increasing bandwidth.
1. Hire an Agency
An agency hiring an agency may seem counterintuitive, but it's actually a powerful way to increase your flexibility. There are inbound marketing consultants and agencies who have the flexibility and staffing necessary to take on overflow work -- and all of the skill sets in-house to execute.
There are numerous benefits to this approach, assuming you hire an agency with a track record of execution, quality delivery, and experience. You won't need to closely manage the work, assuming their processes are built-out. You'll have a single point-of-contact for communication. Perhaps best of all, you won't need to work with a writer, editor, and graphic designer to create an offer, since their team should be capable of the entire job.
2. Hire Freelancers
We're in the midst of what Forbes calls the "freelance economy." By 2020, an estimated 40% of the American workforce will be in freelance, self-employed, or contractor roles. Hiring a freelancer no longer denotes poorly-qualified or unreliable workers. Many individuals who choose to work independently from home simply appreciate the flexibility of the lifestyle.
While freelancers can offer the benefit of extreme flexibility in your outsourcing and lower costs, there are additional factors for agencies to consider. You will be responsible for hiring, testing, and managing freelance workers closely. If your time availability is low, it's probably wisest to look towards freelancers with extensive experience or multiple inbound skill sets.
3. Use Content Marketing Services
There are a number of online platforms that exist for the sole purpose of connecting marketers and agencies with content marketers. Zerys and Scripted are two of the most well-known. In many cases, agencies are able to set a price point and filter available writers for quality and knowledge.
There is always risk with any option, and even content marketing services can't always guarantee on-time delivery. In many cases, these intermediaries take a large percentage of the writer's pay. These services are often costlier than qualified freelancers or contractors. However, it's certainly an option to add to your tool box.
4. Rethink Client Contracts
Some agencies build flexibility directly into their client's contracts. They may choose to dedicate 5, 10, or 15 hours of time each month to last-minute projects of the client's choice. In months where special project requests are at a minimum, these hours can be dedicated to projects like website improvements or content audits.
Building flexibility directly into your client's contracts isn't foolproof. There will certainly be months when client requests are clustered into a single week, or clients ask for projects that exceed allocated hours. This method does offer some insurance, and it could be worth a try.
5. Implement Flexible Staffing Models
90% of agencies use "flexible staffing models," which means their teams are not solely comprised of full-time employees who report to the office on a daily basis. Creative or inbound agency work demands flexibility, which is why many organizations are beginning to incorporate mixed staffing, including:
- Permalancers (permanent, trained freelancers)
- Part-time employees
- Temporary Employees
One of the sharpest ways to increase your internal flexibility is to hire employees, agencies, and freelancers with varied skill sets. If this isn't possible, you should consider cross-training as a tool for improving your flexibility. By teaching your content marketers to use email tools, you can improve your ability to accept email requests. By encouraging your graphic designers to learn HubSpot, you can increase your ability to make website improvements.
There is always going to be a learning curve for new skills acquisition. It's probably best to introduce new employees slowly, by allowing them to shadow team members until they're comfortable running with projects. However, cross-training can certainly introduce flexibility into your existing staffing model.
Are you an agency that's struggled to increase your flexibility? How did you manage to improve bandwidth?