We caught up with our implementation partners and agency consultants, The Agency Works, to discuss reporting. The Agency Works told us that often reporting can fall into the trap of looking back, rather than pushing forwards.
How did projects perform? What was team utilisation? What was billed against the estimate? All this looking back to change, well what exactly? The time for action has passed.
In this piece, we share the gold standard of ‘pro-active’ reporting. Including what your agency should be looking at and when.
Read on to ensure your reporting drives your agency and allows you to make conscious, informed decisions on the things that will shape your future.
Here we share the metrics that you should be looking at weekly (at least). You may need to pull off a report to do this or you may be lucky enough to have continual access to this information via a screen or dashboard in your agency management system.
It’s often beneficial for client services roles and project teams to own this weekly reporting. It’s fair to say that most people don’t get into these roles to obsess about the financials, but it’s crucial that they have a commercial awareness. After all, these are the roles that can act on these key performance indicators. Reviewing them weekly, or more often via a dashboard, will allow more time to make the changes needed to swerve issues.
Project progress vs estimate: Many agencies don’t track project progress against their estimate throughout the project. They may take stock after delivery, but frequently the client’s billed and the hours are what they are.
Looking at the time estimated against the time logged (via timesheets) on a weekly basis, gives you a real understanding of how the project is performing. If you also look at what’s booked against the job - you can see if there are any issues to come. So maybe the project is on track now but with all the hours booked, the ultimate fate is an over-run. If you can see this early, you can work to prevent it.
And of course, the better your estimate, the more meaningful this reporting becomes.
It’s also worth noting that you should work from the estimate rather than the quote (yes, there’s a whopping difference). If you’ve reduced your quote to win the work, it’ll likely to still take the hours you estimated to deliver the project, so that’s what you should monitor progress against.
As with other reporting, you may have a continual view on this but assessing it as a team weekly, getting both an immediate and longer-term view, will enable client services to try and fill any gaps with work. This can mean bringing in new work, bringing work forward, strategically over-servicing a client (‘strategically’ being key here) or even working on internal projects. If you look at this weekly, the advanced warning means you’re much more likely to be able to use any under-capacity time productively.
This forward view can also prevent you from having to use expensive freelancers for over-capacity resources or simply when someone is on annual leave. If you can see there’s more demand than resource for a specific skillset coming up, you can address it.
You may also have chargeability targets within your agency. Being on top of this weekly, will really help the team strive to hit those targets.
Looking at what’s been invoiced against what you expected to invoice on a weekly basis has multiple benefits.
Getting invoices out in good time helps cash flow, which is a big deal when you have hefty wage bills to pay. This regularity also prevents an invoicing frenzy at the end of the month.
This weekly view also highlights when things are unable to be invoiced as planned. In this instance you need to look at why. Is this due to an over-run? If so, how serious is it and what can be don’t to stop it spiralling? Or is this an indication that anticipated work hasn’t landed? These are answers you’ll want week-to-week.
If you want a stable agency, or better still, a growing one, then you need to be looking at work coming into the business. What’s in the pipeline? How likely is it to land? What will this work landing (or not) mean for your billing forecast? You need to be looking at all of this frequently in order to see the short and longer-term future of your agency and to make the right moves to push you to where you need to be.
These metrics your agency leaders will want to look at monthly. If client services are looking at some of these figures weekly, then there shouldn’t be too many surprises, so you’ll want to use this reporting to strategically drive your agency – not only to swerve upcoming issues.
To assess some of this, you do need to look back, but only so that you can apply the knowledge gained to drive your actions for the future.
Looking at profitability by client and project type will enable you to focus on profitability rather than revenue. It’s very tempting to look at revenue generated, especially for agencies who are part of a group where revenue reigns king. But really, the key performance indicator is profit – what are you recovering on the pound spent per client and project type?
This knowledge is vital when you’re determining the proposition of your agency and your resource requirements. You may not consciously be looking to change, but if you see that a huge chunk of your profit is coming from a specific client, project type or service, then this should inform your resourcing, new business direction and proposition going-forward.
You’ll also want to use these figures to reset targets and forecasts. For example, if you set profitability expectations for a new client but your team are unable to deliver on these expectations, perhaps through no fault of their own, simply due to how the client is to work with. Then you’ll need to adjust your forecasting accordingly.
How teams are spending their hours? Preferably at maximum capacity on chargeable work.
If you know which skills are over and under-utilised, then provided this isn’t an anomaly month, you can start to ask if you have the right people mix within your agency. As mentioned above, perhaps your work has organically shifted but your resourcing hasn’t caught up. Spotting these patterns early will enable you to get the right mix of people quicker and move closer to the utopia of always busy teams, working on chargeable work. Given resource is an agency’s biggest expense, getting the right people mix, should have the biggest implication on your profit.
Reporting shouldn't be seen as something that’s cold and distanced from the day-to-day. It’s fluid and continual. Looking at everything mentioned above doesn’t have to be done via a report at a set time. The more you and your teams can see this information, quickly and easily with fresh data, the better. Having an agency management system which shows you all this in views and dashboards will make things infinitely easier.
And the more teams understand these metrics and grow their commercial awareness the better. If everyone has visibility of the financials, then the more of a focus performance will become. Rather than dealing in cold hard cash, better performance also means a better agency. More parties, better clients, bigger and more fulfilling briefs and of course, personal satisfaction, pay rises and job stability.
If everyone within the agency understands the implications of their actions, in the context of real live data, everyone will want to deliver their best work for the agency and that’ll really drive performance.
If you’d like to read more about this, see how successful digital experiences agency MediaBlaze created a more commercially minded team.