Are You Limiting Your Future by Not Automating and Outsourcing More?
With all the sexy topics out there in the marketing stratosphere like “10 X-ing your business”, or “landing $5,641 in recurring revenue in 1 month with a single email” there’s little focus on simply getting it all done. For most marketing consultants today, results are still produced with grit, savvy processes, teams, and software systems to keep everything rolling along. This post will focus on exactly that, getting it done.
I think the best way I can help is to simply share the software, processes, and systems we use to manage our business as well as how we’ve approached outsourcing and automating. From there you can decide if we are crazy or if a similar approach might be good for you. We don’t offer any products or services along these lines, so this post is simply here to help and no links are affiliate links.
With that said, it makes sense to start by sharing some baseline stats on our business so you can decide if it’s worth investing in reading this post.
Our business operates roughly in the mid five figure range on a monthly basis. We cover a solid breadth of digital marketing activities from web design to SEO, online advertising through Google and Facebook, content marketing, conversion optimization, email automation and online review systems. We also help other consultants create marketing activated websites for themselves and their clients as well as run full stack marketing systems for our own client base. I honestly love working with all the businesses that we do, but from a practical standpoint, it’s a lot to manage.
Our team spans the globe with me the strategist heading things up, then we have 2 full-time project managers and a variety of experts and teams we manage based on project requirements.
Being a Duct Tape Marketing consultant, we generally follow the strategic methodology and monthly marketing package frameworks that John Jantsch has created. His packages and methodology focus on strategic planning first, then deliver a unified marketing system with content at its core.
As you can imagine, we need to execute at a high level and keep track of a lot of activities. There is simply no possible way to get it all done and keep track of it without solid systems in place. Here’s how we’ve done it so far.
We use a combination of NiftyQuoter and FreshBooks to make proposals and getting money as efficiently as possible. Saving time on proposals and billing is simply money in the bank and brainpower saved for better use elsewhere. We used to spend all kinds of time on proposals and collecting money… just don’t do it. Invest the time to figure it out.
The key features of NiftyQuoter for us are that it integrates with FreshBooks, and allows us to customize things like the design template and the library of modules we can use in putting together our Proposals.
Over time we’ve created an extensive library of proposal widgets that we drag on the fly into any proposal. This might be anything from project overview text, to feature bullets, to service descriptions to boilerplate agreement language. Each time we add something new we save it in the library for later. Now our proposals are consistent in both design and content and are about 90% drag-n-drop.
Another key aspect of NiftyQuoter is pricing tables. With this feature, we can present cost and feature options that a client can select dynamically in a table and the total is updated on the fly. The client can then approve a proposal live and it proceeds automatically through the system. Yes.
Check out an example proposal from NiftyQuoter with a pricing table here.
When a client approves a proposal it automatically goes into FreshBooks and becomes an invoice automatically. Now, all we have to do is trigger the invoice from Freshbooks and the client simply clicks the pay button in the invoice. Even the transaction processing is handled right there by Freshbooks so it’s easy for us to manage.
This has made it so fast and easy to collect money that our speed to cash flow has increased dramatically, waiting for checks sucks and this has almost done away with it. We have also found that the Freshbooks credit card processing is the cheapest we have come across to date, so it’s nice to have that all in one place as well. There’s more to it, but this saves a huge amount of admin time that’s better focused elsewhere in the business.
Folks call them checklists, processes, or Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). No matter what you call them, your documented processes are critical. The quality and effectiveness of your processes will define the value of your business both to your clients and to those who might consider buying your business someday. With well-documented processes, you can scale, hire and even go on vacation with relatively little hassle. Without well-defined processes, you are squarely in the middle of everything and your business will be far less valuable, unable to scale past what you can personally do and it will stop making money the second you stop working. If you’re serious about your business, you need to start investing in your processes big time if you haven’t already.
There are a few things we’ve learned along the way in building out processes. There is a certain level of detail in your processes that belong in your project management system, but more specific click-through processes like say integrating Adwords into Analytics, for example, might be best served as a process document in Google Docs. This way you can create and manage detailed process docs easily in Google drive and link to them from your Project Management system. For us, this has reduced the work in our project management tool dramatically but still, gives us the granularity when need. Our process documents in Google drive are easy to manage and update, we actually pay folks to build them out for us based on videos we provide.
For example, below is a screenshot from our Teamwork account that shows a task set. This particular process is a fairly comprehensive marketing package referred to in the Duct Tape Marketing world as the Jumpstart Program. We manage this system as a “Task Template” in Teamwork™. We’ll talk about Teamwork more in the next section.
Notice there is some granularity above, but in many cases, we will link to a document that clearly walks through a specific multi-step process. Or we might link to another Task Template that we manage individually in Teamwork. We try to manage any one process in only one place. So we link to other processes from within processes rather than trying to update the same process in 5 different places. That’s a mouthful but a very important point.
Naming conventions and accuracy become critical for clarity and efficiency as well. We also evolve these processes over time, so we try not to overthink them at first. Do the best you can pretty quickly out the gate and refine over time. It becomes abundantly clear what is missing or needs changing the first few times you use a process yourself.
Now back to it.
3) Project Management
Once one of our Freshbooks invoices is paid, it automatically creates a new project in Teamwork which is the project management tool we use. There are a ton of project management tools so you’ll need to choose the right one for you. For us, Teamwork has proven to give us everything we need to run a lot of projects efficiently. In addition to an amazing task-based management system, the additional features of task templates, Trello like boards, Gant charts, milestones, filtered views and a host of other robust features give us what we need in one place.
The system lets us handle everything from simple tasks and process management to complex multi-faceted ongoing projects with a far-flung team. You get high-level overviews all the way down to task-based chat and document attachments to keep everything clear and in context.
Let’s dive in a bit further so you get a feel for the level of control a project management system provides. For me, the ability to create task templates and recurring task sets is huge. This is where we store and update our core SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and then import them into projects as needed. We can create standard timings in these task sets, like how much time a task should take, so they come into a project ready to be managed in the Gant chart timeline.
For those that are not using SOP’s, they are simply critical to growing your business. In fact, you probably should not sell anything that you don’t have a documented process for. Think about this, it’s a new discipline at first, but you will love it once the ball gets rolling for you. Also, keep in mind that there are creative tasks that can’t be made into a checklist, so be practical and work around what you need.
So what are some of the other benefits of having your project management systems built out?
- Your business is more automated and work can get done without you having to be in the middle of everything
- Lower cost folks can get things done for you that they wouldn’t normally be able to handle
- Your business is worth far more because somebody else can buy it and keep it running
- You can take a vacation and still make money because everything doesn’t stop when you do
- You are more profitable because you can handle more work and scale much easier
That’s just the start, but I think you get the idea here. It’s worth the investment in time to build your systems to gain future freedom and value in your business.
A couple other critical things to mention here. I don’t know about you, but searching through email to find project details is something I hate. When you have a lot going on, it can become crippling, and your project management system will help alleviate that problem if you require project related communication to happen in the tool.
We’re just scratching the surface here, but hopefully, this gives you an idea of why it’s extremely valuable to raise your sophistication level on your project management and processes.
There’s a lot to managing and building your outsourced team and there are great courses out there on the topic. I’ll try and tune you into some high-level approaches we have taken so far that have worked for us.
There are a number of ways to approach outsourcing. You can hire folks directly both domestically and overseas. You can hire part-time or project-based freelancers and VA’s or you can hire full-time dedicated employees. You can also hire other agencies both domestically and overseas that have created great systems around a specific tactic or delivery method. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
I’m sure you’re aware of most of these options, but it’s valuable to take a step back and consider the multi-layered approach you can take in delivering a quality experience to your clients. Also, keep in mind that unless you hire somebody full time, you won’t have control over their schedule and workload.
With that said, you might want to have a few options in each area just in case your favorite resource can’t address a project on your timeline. So backup teams are great. Also, bigger overseas agencies can be good for some things, but they certainly won’t bend to your will. You get a scalable solution, effective or not, but you’ll need to work around how they do things instead of having control. Each way can be right for you at any given time. But always keep in mind you need to scale and try not to rely on any single “breakable” resource too much or you might find yourself painted into a corner sooner than later.
We’ve had our challenges with this, but in general, we have at least 2 options if not more for all of our critical deliverables. Also, we found that once we got to a certain size, for us we needed in-house dedicated project managers. We tried everything we could to avoid it by using VA’s and creating processes, but in the end, we found we needed a few in-house folks to handle the complexities of projects that fall outside the lines.
If your business is tightly focused you might be able to avoid this all together, but for us, it’s been one of the best moves we’ve made in our business. When you add a project manager with additional support from VA’s you have a very powerful combination.
When it comes to outsourcing overseas, the general wisdom is to control it yourself when possible. If you aren’t ready for that, then consider hiring a good chunk of somebody’s time or hiring somebody directly full time so you get the type of control you probably need.
If you aren’t ready with the systems in place to be able to manage an overseas VA or team effectively, then you might need to start with a smart US-based VA that can help you manage it all. They will be more money on an hourly basis, but they should be able to help you put processes and people in place to manage the lower level tasks over time.
In general, hire more expensive folks if you need them to think outside the lines, build processes, figure stuff out or handle something specific with expertise. Once you have great processes, then you can hire less expensive folks to follow your system and get things done on autopilot for you.
Also, your team includes who you work with as a coach, mentor or trainer to get you to to the next level. Do not skimp on this aspect. You need other folks to look at your business and help you get clarity from their perspective and strengths.
Who do you follow and get value from? Hire them to help you grow. What are you weak in? Find somebody who is awesome at that and get that specific help. You can work your ass off for years and miss critical things to help you grow. This might be the most important part of your team.
Here’s how we’re organized: I’m not saying this is the perfect approach or even one you should follow, but for us, it’s working well right now. As we scale our business we’ll build out more processes, hire folks to handle it, and systematize delivery more and more.
- Internal Team
- Project managers
- Coaches & Training
- 2 or more independent teams for each critical tactic we deliver PPC, FB Ads, Content, SEO, Social… We handle a lot in-house as well. But we always like to know we have amazing resources on hand to make us look good in any situation.
- A variety of content creation resource websites as needed
- Various freelancers on Upwork and other platforms
- Various websites, tools, and services for specific functions
- A variety of Fiverr gigs for very specific tasks
Below is a quick look at a few tools we use on a daily basis to run our business more efficiently. There are a ton of others, but these are standouts for efficiency in running our business right now.
Proposals & Billing:
We use NiftyQuoter.com for all our proposals and it’s made creating proposals and getting approvals as simple as I can imagine it being. We talk more about how it helps us in the “proposals” section of this post above.
Using Freshbooks streamlined the entire payment and collection side of our business dramatically. Our accounting team uses Quickbooks for its more robust accounting features when tracking an incorporated business, but for us, Freshbooks is a critical piece to the efficiency puzzle. We talk more about how it helps us in the “proposals” section of this post.
File Management & Sharing:
We use this tool as an affordable cloud-based server. I take a folder on my computer called “work” and share it over the internet with our team. When files are edited by anyone on the team SugarSync automatically syncs them with everyone else’s computer in real time. With SugarSync, I can control access to anything I want at any time. I can also get access to any file through their website or the app on any of our devices. So anywhere I go, with or without my laptop, I can get at all my critical files. I started out using this system as a simple cloud backup of my personal work folder, but now it’s become a cloud-based server with literally zero need for IT and literally zero change in where or how we manage our files.
If you aren’t using Google apps for business, why? Being able to create and share documents online is a no-brainer and you can do anything 90% of the folks might need. It’s $5 per month for each user. Save yourself time and hassles and use it.
I hope you “got this”, but if you aren’t backing up your hard drive it will die at some point. My suggestion after 20 years in this business is to make sure not to use more than half of your drive. If you do, it will die faster than if you don’t. Trust me on this. Use your Apple Time Machine or whatever the PC gives you and be sure to have a backup of your computer files. It’s nice to know you have a variety of backups and ways to access your critical business files, you don’t need “one more thing to worry about” in the middle of the night.
Communication & Project Management
Gmail is a no-brainer for cloud-based since we have Google Apps for Business. When you add in the extensions and integrations available like Loom, Boomerang, Hubspot, and others, it’s a powerful package. It really does make your life easier and give you more power if you learn how to use it.
We use slack for high level and project related chat as well as a voice call here and there when it’s convenient.
We use Zoom extensively every day, and maybe in a way, you wouldn’t think. Of course, we use it for just about every meeting, screen recording, and webinar. But where we really get our money worth is that our project managers literally share screens and communicate in it all day. From hundreds of miles away they can work more interactively and efficiently in Zoom than if they were working in the same office. If you’re just starting to outsource, I would highly encourage you to hire somebody for specific times each day or week to work with you in Zoom and start taking some of the load off your back. Your processes will blossom from there.
This tool is absolutely critical for quick videos to our team and clients. I encourage you to stop typing everything right this second. Many things are tough to explain over email or chat, so don’t. When you use the Loom extension for Chrome, a button shows up right in Gmail/Chrome so you can fire off a video at any time. The videos are recorded to the cloud so there are no added steps and you can get a share link within seconds. Loom saves me tons of time and headaches each day. If you find yourself grinding through an email, stop and ask yourself if it might be more efficient to do a quick video. If so, then Useloom.com. One note is that Loom likes for you to relaunch your Browser on occasion. So if it’s not working right, relaunch your browser.
We spoke about Teamwork extensively above. Choose Teamwork or another tool and start to level up your sophistication so you can scale without going nuts.
Yup, there are all kinds of email tools out there and I’m sure you love another one at the moment. That’s cool, keep loving it, but we’ve found some very compelling reasons to circle the wagons around AC for us right now. The price and bang for the buck are great and the integrations are spot on for us.
You can use it as a simple email and automation tool with an interface that makes it silly simple to create powerful email sequences. Or you can upgrade to the CRM tool which has a solid feature set that goes up against much larger CRM tools.
Our CRM and automation expert who’s worked extensively with Microsoft Dynamics and other enterprise level tools has nothing but good things to say about AC. We also had her look at a handful of the well-known small business CRM’s and AC came out on top. Also, if you want a different CRM view, just integrate AC with just about any other tool with an integration or Zap and you’ll be good to go.
Devices & Hardware
iPad Pro with Duet Display:
This makes our large 12 inch iPad a 2nd monitor to our laptops when traveling.
Wireless and Jetpack global access for WiFi
Travel laptop bag
LastPass manages your passwords right in your browser. With the Team option, your life managing your team and passwords is far easier and more secure. Learn it, use it.
Integrations: Zapier & IFTTT
We try to always choose apps and tools that have built-in integration so they can talk to each other natively. This way the data flow is supported, updated and will hopefully continue into the future. On the other hand, free software can be great, but it can be flaky over time as things change. I don’t have the time to rebuild my system every time a developer stops working on something or an integration changes.
With that said, we can’t always get what we want with the built-in integration and API’s. In those cases, we turn to Zapier or IFTTT. You will often find a pre-built “Zap” or “Applet” for what you want. If not, keep in mind that an integration with Google sheets might be your answer. Most software tools can export and import from a Google sheet even if they won’t “talk” any other way. This gives you a way to move data around automatically that would otherwise be impossible.
Wrapping it up:
I hope you get solid takeaways from this post and that we’ve inspired you to level up your processes and systems a few notches. If you have any questions or if you have a better way to do something then please throw it in the comments and help us all out!
If you liked this post, check out our Guide to Managing Your Small Business Finances.
About the Author
In addition, Justin’s main gig is running his digital marketing agency in Sacramento where his team focuses on helping local and regional B2C service-based businesses with web design, SEO, local SEO, online advertising, conversion optimization and content marketing. Niche marketing programs for specific businesses are coming soon.
If you’re interested in learning more about Justin’s team and finding out if you’re a fit, contact him through his website.