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The field guide to optimizing marketing agency productivity
Published:May 13, 2024

The field guide to optimizing marketing agency productivity

What marketing agency isn’t striving to increase productivity right about now?

With competition high and client budgets tight, it’s more important than ever to boost efficiency ratios to continue making a profit.

Signing with any client that comes your way, working longer hours, and doing a million and one things at once is not the answer to growing productivity — though we’ve probably all tried these tactics a time or two!

The trick to optimizing marketing agency productivity is, thankfully, much more measured and strategic.

Let’s walk through how to benchmark your current productivity rate and then explore a handful of practical, applicable tips you can deploy today to improve efficiency and output across projects, clients, and teams.

Measuring agency productivity: Utilization

There are several ways marketing agency owners and managers can measure productivity — number of issues/tickets resolved, deadlines hit, project manager reviews, client satisfaction surveys, and deliverables *well* delivered.

Of course, you should choose whichever method makes the most sense for your unique team, how you work best with clients, and your industry and offer type.

That said, there is one universally recognized metric for understanding and communicating how productive an agency is: utilization.

Agency utilization rate gauges how efficiently you deploy your resources (aka workers). It indicates the percentage of time at work your team dedicates to revenue-generating projects.

The utilization rate formula in blue font against a gray background

To calculate total utilization across your agency, you first need to calculate total hours. This is all the time when employees are at work. With the average 40-hour work week, full-time employees should have around 173 working hours monthly. Exclude full and partial days off taken during this time for holidays, time off, etc.

You can find individual utilization this way (and many agencies do track this) or add up your whole team’s total hours in a month to find whole-team utilization.

Next, you want to add up your whole team’s billable hours, all the hours devoted to client projects.

Then, plug all that data into this equation:

Utilization rate = (billable hours / total available hours) x 100

You’ll end up with a percentage that expresses the amount of time at work — aka the valuable time you’re paying for — devoted to productive, revenue-generating tasks.

The utilization rate formula in blue against a gray background, filled in with sample numbers

Before we move on, you may have noticed we skipped over something important: Where are you supposed to get all this detailed time data to help you find utilization?

Great catch.

Accurate, easy-to-use time-tracking apps are critical to success in measuring, tracking, and even improving utilization at your agency.

Stay tuned. In the next section, we’ll cover ideal target utilization rates and dive deeper into choosing the best time tracker for your team.

How utilization rate indicates peak productivity

There are two helpful numbers you should base utilization rates on.

The first is the industry benchmark. In companies that provide professional services, the global average utilization rate is a smidge over 73%.

Vertical bars show global average utilization rate—employable billable utilization % on y-axis and year on x-axis

Surprised it isn’t closer to 100%? If it were, you’d have to worry about burnout and wonder why that pesky admin work like training and onboarding isn’t getting done.

The second number to consider is this: your own utilization rate last month.

As long as you keep your utilization to a percentage you’re happy with monthly, you don’t really need to worry about productivity at other creative agencies. 

That said, readers of this article are likely working to grow that utilization number. 

So, without further ado, let’s discuss how to do that. 

9 strategies to boost marketing agency productivity

Unlocking the full potential of your marketing team requires not just strategic thinking and measurement — you have to take some action.

Here, we’ve curated nine strategies to boost your digital marketing agency’s productivity. From leveraging cutting-edge time-tracking technology to learning how to handle scope creep and apply automation and outsourcing, let this be your guide to driving efficiency, continuing to deliver exceptional results, and achieving sustainable growth.

1. Power up your time tracking

As promised, we’ll kick off our tips on optimizing marketing agency productivity with the strongest of all: adopting powerful time tracking.

When you think of time tracking, maybe you imagine a simple website or app where employees manually track time. Perhaps it even uploads that time into a spreadsheet-like interface, where project managers or finance/accounting gather information for forecasting, planning, and invoicing.

Sample timesheet data in an Excel spreadsheet

What we’re talking about here certainly includes those features — and much more.

A robust time-tracking solution flawlessly integrates with your project management software, giving employee time data context and actionability.

For example, 7pace Timetracker for monday.com is the app we built to install in your monday.com instance to enable creative teams, leads, finance folks, stakeholders, and pretty much anyone else to:

  • Track time right on a monday.com task via a user-friendly interface in just a few clicks.
  • Check individual tracked time across various projects to make sure your team meets utilization goals.
  • Get a high-level view of all time tracked across workspaces to understand total agency utilization at a glance.
  • Compare estimated vs. actual time spent on each task.
  • Use monday.com’s integration recipes to track project progress based on total hours logged against it.
  • Analyze time-tracking data across boards and workspaces from various perspectives: item title, group, board, name, workspace, or individual.
  • Run data-rich reports to find budget spent vs budget planned, cumulative budget used week-over-week, and every billable hour spent on everything from projects to items and even subitems.
  • Export all that time data easily to parse it in different ways for even deeper analysis.
  • Enjoy team-wide usage with no user caps and top-notch security.

When the power of 7pace Timetracker is combined with the features of monday.com project management, marketing agency leads see countless benefits. They can manage spending and timelines, get ahead of blockers and bottlenecks, invoice more easily, forecast better, and pivot as needed to keep projects on time and on budget.

The Add Time page in 7pace Timetracker for monday.com

2. Train project managers on workload management

Workload management, or resource management, is a skill project managers must learn to make sure they’re planning projects and assigning tasks in a way that enables everyone to maximize utilization.

The approach to effective workload management looks like this:

  • Project planning: Project managers must meticulously plan projects, defining objectives, timelines, and resource requirements
  • Resource scheduling: Allocate resources strategically to match skills, optimize productivity, and minimize bottlenecks
  • Task distribution: Assign tasks as evenly as possible, considering expertise, workload capacity, and team dynamics
  • Workload monitoring: Continuously monitor performance on assigned tasks to identify potential issues or overburdened team members
  • Forecasting: Utilize project management app data and other insights to predict project outcomes, get ahead of hiccups, and make informed decisions

Developing a good workload management strategy benefits digital agencies by ensuring teams and projects remain productive.  

3. Squash the potential for burnout 

Your brain is a muscle, meaning it needs rest. After prolonged focus, it requires time to recharge to process information again.

The frontal lobe — which does everything from planning to getting creative — functions best at ease, not under pressure. In other words, downtime is great for doing better work and being more productive.

A colorful illustration of a brain with the frontal lobe in blue and a list of tasks the frontal lobe does

The solution: Encourage employees to incorporate breaks throughout the workday, avoid overworking on nights or weekends, and take their allotted time off.

A shocking 68% of Americans work on vacation. To prevent this, ensure your team feels empowered to delegate responsibilities while they’re away so they come back fully refreshed.

This is the conundrum of productivity. While you want to maximize it, you can go overboard and actually hurt your ability to be productive for a while. Taking these measures to prevent burnout enhances productivity and creativity.

4. Minimize scope creep

Scope creep occurs when project scope — the time, deliverable, and expense boundaries you’ve set around a project — extends beyond the initial agreement.

Creep is a perfect word for it because it sneaks up on agencies in the form of an off-the-cuff agreement here and an additional task or two there.

When the project schedule, budget, or resource plan isn’t updated to reflect this additional work, it can lead to stress and diversion of attention from other clients and goals.

Want to ward off the distracting productivity killer that is scope creep? Project managers and agency owners can try these five tactics:

  • Make sure everyone, including clients, the project team, and other stakeholders, is on the same page about the scope.
  • Develop a comprehensive project plan and stick to it.
  • Be assertive in rejecting scope changes.
  • If you have the resources to take on additional scope, use a formal process to modify the scope (and budget).
  • Always clarify how a scope change will impact the project timeline and the potential outcome.
A gray road with labeled icons to show when you need to define a project's scope

5. Consider: Could it have been an email?

Let’s face it: Many meetings are unnecessary.

Often, whatever someone needed to discuss could probably have been handled with a quick call, email, or even an async chat sent via your company’s chosen messaging app.

Of course, meetings are sometimes the best way to get the required minds together in the same room to make decisions or move a project forward.

The best way to decide if a meeting is necessary? Add up the hourly rate of each person in the room and then ask yourself if the meeting’s intended outcome is worth the cost.

To avoid meetings you have deemed necessary from becoming a productivity drain:

  • Set meeting objectives ahead of time.
  • Outline these objectives via a meeting agenda that all attendees receive before the meeting.
  • Set the minimal possible time limit for meetings (and stick to it).
  • Invite only essential participants.
  • When it gets off-topic, keep pulling the discussion back to the objectives at hand.
  • Conclude meetings by coming up with actionable solutions and assigning tasks to the responsible parties.

6. Land well-aligned clients

Working with clients whose needs fit right into what your team provides is crucial to ensuring everyone can utilize their work time and be as productive as possible.

What does that look like? You can ensure you connect with the right clients by following these principles: 

  • Understand your niche: Whoever is in charge of signing clients should know what types of clients you typically gel with best, what expertise exists on the team, and what gaps need to be filled to optimize utilization. This helps them focus only on clients who fit well within your agency’s capabilities.
  • Target sales and marketing: Sales and marketing campaigns should be tailored to resonate with clients who match the niche you carved. Ads, content, case studies, and testimonials can showcase the skills you most want to flex.
  • Conduct discovery calls: Thorough meetings with potential clients will help decision-makers understand their business objectives and how those align with your agency’s skills, capabilities, and resources. These conversations are often a great chance — sometimes your last — to catch any misalignment red flags.
Finding the perfect client-agency fit is where your niche, marketing, and discovery calls overlap

7. Outsource where applicable

Even with efforts to land clients who align with your skillset and needs, a client project may occasionally require very specialized capabilities.

In such cases, you can leverage contract workers instead of turning the client away or requiring your full-time employees to acquire new skills overnight.

This approach ensures you don’t have to rock the carefully balanced boat when it comes to workload and resource management. Plus, it allows your agency to tap into a diverse talent pool without adding long-term overhead for short-term projects.

8. What you can’t outsource — automate

You may occasionally encounter one-off tasks or admin work you can’t outsource. If that’s the case, automation might be the answer.

Automation has become a valuable tool for saving time and resources to focus on more productive, value-adding tasks.

Here are some areas where marketing agencies may be able to leverage automation to clear up those more manual, repetitive tasks:

  • Project management: Automation in project management apps can handle tasks like assignments, deadline reminders, progress tracking, and reporting. Automating these aspects of a project reduces manual administrative work for project managers and improves overall efficiency.
  • Data analysis and reporting: Automation software can quickly aggregate data from various sources, analyze trends, generate reports, and visualize insights. This speeds up accurate decision-making.
  • Client communication: Automated messaging can send notifications, updates, and reminders to clients, streamlining those elements of client communication that don’t need to be so personalized, such as invoicing.

9. Minimize context switching

Whatever you call it — multitasking, juggling, or context switching — the practice of toggling between different tasks or apps doesn’t help you get more done. Instead, it typically hurts your productivity.

Unfortunately, it’s somewhat celebrated in the agency setting because it creates the appearance of busyness, even though it’s inefficient.

Knowledge workers today switch contexts 25 times per day. How are you ever supposed to concentrate long enough to get meaningful, productive work done when you’re too busy trying to refocus after that last meeting, call, Slack message, or visit at your desk from Bob?

context switching timeline from 8 to 5 showing various tasks and short blocks in between to signify the time to reposition the brain

Creatives can minimize the amount of time and brainpower wasted on context switching by:

  • Batching similar tasks: Group similar tasks together to minimize the need to switch between different apps to get your job done. For example, dedicate specific blocks of time to catching up on client and team communication, deep work, and admin tasks rather than alternating between them throughout the day.
  • Prioritizing tasks: Use techniques such as the Eisenhower Matrix to focus on your highest-priority tasks that require all your concentration first. Plan your day or week to reduce the need for sudden shifts in focus to less important work.
  • Stopping interruptions before they start: Set boundaries to minimize interruptions that pull your attention in a million directions. Block out time on your calendar, deploy “Do Not Disturb” modes on your various collaborate platforms, close unnecessary tabs or applications, and close your proverbial (or actual!) office door so colleagues get the hint.

Increased productivity is possible with the right approach

When it comes to marketing agency productivity, remember that continuous tracking, management, and utilization improvement are key.

By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, including adopting a robust time-tracking solution like 7pace Timetracker for monday.com to get the most contextual and actionable view of team utilization and activity, you stand ready to transform your agency into a productivity powerhouse.

Take a proactive, innovative approach to productivity and sign up for a free trial of 7pace Timetracker for monday.com.

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