Time is vital to the success of creative agencies. It takes time to talk through and solve problems, time to search out new clients, keep current clients happy, and check estimates, creative work and billing. Without the large employee base that bigger agencies enjoy, there are only so many hands to help, which puts small agency owners front and center when it comes to managing clients. All the responsibility lies with owners, so coordinating projects properly and working efficiently are essential activities. They ensure that time is distributed fairly, that clients pay, and the agency is able to grow.

Coordinating projects and efficient work processes must be planned in all areas of business, not only in retaining clients. Ad hoc coordination can lead to chaos, which nobody wants. Planning can take many different forms, with some agency owners working with pen and paper planners — maybe even using them faster than others who rely on online software.

This article is not about this kind of comparison. Both people using pen and paper planners and those relying on digital solutions could easily list pros and cons for their own preferences. The crucial keys to customer acquisition — and retention — is careful use of time, effective organization and coordinated project management.

Why is time management necessary?

Compared to the different pricing models on the market, agencies adapt to their clients and charge project prices that are acceptable or required by clients. At the same time, billing within the agency is most often recorded on an hourly basis.

It's not just agency employees or external suppliers who need to measure and record their working time using timesheets. Even small agency managers need to measure and analyse how they spend their time because that is the only way they will be able to improve their efficiency and retain customers. Ideally, measuring time will help them to:

  • Plan the main steps of a project (e.g., milestones, meetings, actions
  • Set rational hourly rates for each task group
  • Plan their own tasks
  • Set and measure their leisure time
  • Strengthen customer retention

In the first phase of a creative project, you need to take a realistic look at the tasks involved, and how long it each task will take. Don't worry, the more often you involve yourself in planning a project, the more exact and realistic your plans will be. You will get to know important things, like how many meetings are needed, how long design will take. Showing this in hourly reports is a huge help in planning income and costs. It is vital to record all types of types of activities and all potential costs. The more accurate you are at this stage, the more likely you are to build in adequate profits.

Setting hourly rates for each task group

Projects usually consist of several different tasks, which may require different pricing (in hourly rates). For instance, creative development may demand a relatively high hourly rate, while a relatively repetitive task, like production, requires a lower rate. These must be grouped so that we can later plan for task group prices, and so our hourly rate calculations are more accurate.

Planning your own tasks

In most cases, the owners of small agencies are directly involved in projects — sometimes only while acquiring new clients and bringing them on board, but also — and often — in the role of an account manager, strategic consultant, or a member of certain task teams such as design, development, or the execution of advertising campaigns.

In statements to the client, it is important to separate work accomplished by of the owner from others in the project. Agency owners can then see the full picture of how their time is being spent. For example, reports may indicate that:

  • Customer acquisition is taking up too much agency time.
  • Internal and external meetings are eating into creative development time.
  • Not enough time is available for to one-on-one meetings with employees.
  • Some tasks cannot be accomplished within the scope of time planned for them.
  • Administration or social media are eating too much time.

Plan and measure leisure time

Many of us prefer to see out-of-work responsibilities and leisure events as well as work-related tasks on our calendars. I know that if I have to keep switching between apps to see leisure and work tasks/events, there is a chance that I will miss something.

For example, a typical day's task list might look like this:

  • Take children to school.
  • Book appointment to have the car serviced.
  • Call John about his project.
  • Reply to emails.
  • Meet with colleagues (new client on-boarding).
  • Lunch with the accountant (discussion of monthly expenses).
  • Begin a redesign of the new project.
  • Pick up children from school, take them to music lessons.
  • Reply to emails.
  • Pick kids up from music.
  • Administrative tasks.
  • Family time, kids to bed.

Events, of course, can go on a calendar, where we can separate work and private things by color. For tasks, it is useful to separate work and leisure using a time and project management software program designed especially for agencies like your own, and separated by color or other markings.

Strengthen customer retention

Sustainable growth of agencies depends heavily on customer retention. It's most efficient to bill as many clients as possible on a monthly fee basis (monthly retainers). Why? It simplifies billing and reduces the need to look for and acquire new clients.

Customer acquisition demands more time from owners and other team members than retaining current clients. It is important that owners take a leadership role in tracking time — demonstrates to potential clients — and to your own team — that you are committed to understanding and responding to client needs. It also demonstrates professionalism, transparency, and honesty. All this is strengthened when you track, record and report on where and how you have spent your time.

The crucial keys to customer acquisition — and retention — is careful use of time, effective organization and coordinated project management.