Editor's note: we just published a post dedicated to marketing automation for agencies, which is a great compendium to this one.
This post is more therapy for myself than anything.
See, like a lot of marketing agency owners, I am creative and business-minded.
I love Mad Men, viral ads, and the idea that with creativity and hustle you can help companies get noticed and grow.
But I have a chaotically creative mind, for better or worse.
I don't ever want to do anything twice once I figure it out, and
I'm a good candidate for one of a few things:
- Hire a full-time operations person (COO) do tame the chaos for me
- Create rock-solid process templates and delegate it to team members
- Build awesome automations with tools like Zapier and Jotform, then let it ride
Let's explore and research together. This won't have all the answers, but hopefully a nugget or two stands out.
As an example of the chaos, the title of this was going to be like a book written by a reclusive author in his cave, hoping to get his big break: The Messy Way Approach to Streamlining Process & Workflows with Your Brain, Team, and Finally Some Software Automation & AI.
See that title makes sense to me, but it breaks some marketing and writing principles: it's not clear, it's unfocused, and I get bored by the time I get to the end of it.
So what are we hoping to achieve here?
With marketing and promotion activities it's important to focus on the goal. What are we trying to achieve?
The Dream: You as the owner or manager define best-in-class way that the work should be done, and your team executes on it. You run strategy, oversee throughput, and keep your eyes on the (virtual) factory like the Eye of Sauron.
The Reality: You verbally tell your team how to do something, they absorb about 25-75% of it, do a decent job, you give feedback a few times, they improve, then another priority comes along, you shift gears, forget about that first one, do the other one, come back to it a few months later, do it again, get up to speed, create a better plan, manage multiple things now, get a new initiative from your boss, two steps forward one step back.
The Solution: Implementing proven process & workflow frameworks as a strategic level, grounded in a philosophy that aligns with your business model, goals, and the context of your industry. This is done in the meatspace and mindspace first and foremost. Then in the hearts and the minds of yourself and your team. Then done manually to work out the kinks. THEN finally, implemented into software with workflows, approvals, checklists, and some level of automation, but not completely. Work in some AI assistance to a degree, under human supervision, and now you're at the baseline for 2024 and beyond.
The ongoing work: Even with all of that implemented, you are still identifying ways to improve on a quarterly basis, iterating, experimenting, launching and deploying. All while keeping your team focused on mission of the company and your team's mission. Google, Amazon, and Apple have created three of the best business models and profit-generating organizations known to mankind, yet they are still deploying new technological improvements and evolutions on a daily basis to stay ahead and disrupt themselves constantly.
First: Software Won't Solve Your Process & Workflow Problems First
That's right – two firsts in the subheader.
First of all, and perhaps smarter more veteran people than me learned this in '80s during their Six Sigma blackbelt training, but you can't just purchase a $99/mo software subscription (like from Zapier) and expect it to do all the workflows for you.
In fact, I've had a cheap Zapier subscription for like 3 years and barely used it. I keep telling myself next month.
It's possible, that a higher level subscription from something like Kissflow at $1,500+ a month will get you closer, as it will be more flexible and get things done for you. But that's not going to solve your workflow problems on it's own.
First you need to get everything working in your headspace as the leader – your mental vision, fortitude, and commitment to seeing things through to execution (I really mean all three, not just writing long sentences to fill spaces). I'm personally a creative visionary who is not create at process and execution. And while I would really love a tool that would solve all this for me, I haven't seen it yet.
Second, you need to inspire your team and rally them around your vision. You need to do things manually with them.
Next: Map out a Clear Strategy on Paper
Consultants, executives, and true process mappers love a good, clear, high level diagram of the work.
Check this out, from the book Strategic Marketing Management – a book that MBA students use in marketing classes. The G-STIC framework:
I show this because in the world of marketing, terms like “strategy”, “tactics”, “plan”, and “framework” are thrown around all the time, but I haven't heard people talk about G-STIC much at all!
Who doesn't like things simple and clear? Bad consultants, bad middle-managers, lazy bureaucrats, and the uninspired and unconfident. These are the mid-wits on the mid-wit bell curve that try to make things complex to justify their own existence and contribution. I have been that way, some may see me that way, no problem if you're there, just identify that you are and get yourself out of it as soon as you can. It can be comfortable to push off work and go to the brewery happy hour with some friends. But if you want to move significant work forward and be a star, have the strength to get out of the midwit bell curve.
Next: Value Stream Mapping
Next, you'll want to build out the value stream on paper. It's beyond the scope of this article, but Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and Mike Osterling is a great start.
Value stream mapping is defined by the American Society for Quality as “a lean tool that employs a flowchart documenting every step in the process. Many lean practitioners see VSM as a fundamental tool to identify waste, reduce process cycle times, and implement process improvement.”
The Lean Enterprise Institute, Lean.org, defines it as “diagraming every step involved in the material and information flows needed to bring a product from order to delivery. It is a fundamental tool used in continuous improvement to identify and eliminate waste. Toyota developed the tool — which it calls a material and information flow diagram — and it is a critical part of the Toyota Production System.”
A value stream map shows all the parts of a process, including stakeholders, employees, external resources and more.
I'm surprised in the digital world that this type of exercise isn't talked about much. Chalk it up to those in digital thinking everything they do is new and unique, but I think largely it's older principles digitized. The web will mature to incorporate more of these foundational philosophies found elsewhere. You can be on the cutting edge by bringing these ideas to digital content production.
Finally, the Software Options to Support Process & Workflow Optimization and Automation
Given all that, here's what software tools I'm seeing out there that will help with implementing your genius plans.
Jotform Workflow Builder
Jotform is very well known in the form builder space, and they've been rolling out great templates across every industry imaginable for years.
But I haven't heard much about their workflow tool.
I like that they take the template-first approach here as well.
Like using ChatGPT to help you write, it's great to have a starting template to work with before you start implementing. You can tweak it from there, but a great way to learn how a new software implements things is by how they are building their own templates.
Since I care about marketing the most, looking at their marketing workflow approval templates I see these:
Presently, in 2023 they have these templates ready to go:
- Social Media Content Approval Process Template
- Design Approval Process Template
- Website Content Request Approval Process Template
- Affiliate Approval Process Template
- Newsletter Approval Process Template
- Press Release Approval Process Template
- Publishing Approval Process Template
- Publishing Agreement Approval Process Template
This is a good list, and they do have different degrees of flow complexity.
One recommendation I would have for them, based on my own experience, is to roll out some super advanced flows for power users. I'm talking 25 different stages with 10 different people involved. Total automation spaghetti, but such that it's reflective of actual work and gets things truly automated. I get bored by saving an hour a month (insert XKCD comic here) – I want to save 10 or 100 hours a month. That's truly 10x thinking!
Truly, I want to see very advanced flows, and then I can cut it down from there.
Also, based on this discovery process I'm not 100% sure whether they have workflow templates beyond approvals?
Other Tools to Streamline Agency Operations
Here is a list of tools I've trialed and used to different degrees and I personally like:
- Google Sheets, Docs & Slides with automations
- Fiverr (used expertly)
- Upwork (used expertly)
- Apollo.io (sales)
- Clearbit (sales)
Here's a list of tools I've tried that I personally don't prefer:
Here are some tools I've tried only cursory, but am interested in testing more:
Last Updated on December 5, 2023 by Joe