December is always an interesting time of year in agency life. Clients are having budget conversations, team members are taking holiday vacations, and we’re all trying to wrap up various projects and deliverables before the end of the year. While the same can’t be said for our PPC counterparts, in the SEO realm, this can also be the slowest time of year. Clients are also taking vacations, or focused on delivering their own projects before the end of the year, so they might not be giving their vendors the normal amount of attention (which is completely understandable). I always like to take some of this time to reflect on the past year and think about what we can tweak and/or implement to make the business even better next year. Think of it as a New Year’s resolution of sorts – here are some ways we’re setting up UpBuild for success in 2019.
I understand that individual business circumstances and client engagements vary and not all agencies are able to do this, but I’d strongly encourage considering a holiday break for your team sometime during the second half of December. It’s likely the slowest time of the year for many agencies (it is for us), and as previously mentioned, clients typically have other priorities at this time. At UpBuild, we are closed from December 24th to January 1st, and team members are free to take this time off (paid) without using any PTO. It gives our team a chance to recharge without worry and go into the upcoming year refreshed and ready to continue delivering the best work possible for our clients.
If you don’t already have a dashboard where you’re tracking top-level business metrics, you should create one. It can be as simple as you want – I use a Google Sheet that imports and aggregates data from various sources that track capacity, accounts receivable, P&L, and more. Larger agencies may use something like Geckoboard or even Domo. The point is to get the information you want to track regularly into a central location. If you already have one, this is a great time to reevaluate the metrics you’ve been tracking and their importance based on business impact.
For example, this year our Client Discovery Team put a heavy emphasis on fortifying our sales process in various ways, so in 2019 I want to make sure that metrics like Close Rate and Time To Acquire are top of mind so we can continue tweaking and improving. If 2018 wasn’t your best year as far as overdue deliverables or outstanding receivables, you’d probably want to modify your dashboard and start tracking project delivery and payment collection timelines more closely.
This isn’t super exciting, but it’s simple and impactful. How much time do you waste looking for different files over the course of a year? At UpBuild, we have a central drive where we keep all of our files – proposals, client deliverables, personnel, etc. We admittedly don’t have much more than that, so we’ll be spending some time creating processes and standardizing naming conventions in order to save the team more time in the long run.
Anyone who says they’ve set an annual budget and stayed within those confines throughout the year is either outright lying or blissfully unaware. Things change in business, and that’s okay! But it’s imperative that you review your budget projections vs. actual expenses so that you can continue refining your annual budgets year over year. We do this on a monthly basis at UpBuild, but it’s still important to look at it from an annual perspective. For example, we budgeted a specific amount for contractors in 2018 based on our 2017 contractor expenses, but our actual expenses for this line item were miniscule. Conversely, we definitely lowballed our travel projections in 2018. Those numbers clearly need to be reevaluated for our 2019 budget.
A somewhat irrelevant tip that I can’t help but throw in here: tracking your “YTD budget spent” on an ongoing basis can be very helpful. For example, if you’ve spent 109% of your budget allotment for Q1, that means you’re on track to spend 109%+ of your budget at the end of the year. Tracking this on a monthly basis can help you shift budget or control expenses so you aren’t surprised by annual spending when you’re evaluating your annual budget at the end of the year.
We do a good amount of travel here at UpBuild. We have team retreats every 6-9 months where we fly the team to a fun location for a few days. We also typically send each team member to one conference each year, with Mike and Ruth speaking at several conferences annually. In 2019, we’re going to try altering our approach to conference travel specifically so that we can get more bang for our buck. For example, aligning conference travel with cities in which we have one or more clients that we can visit as well. If you can help your team with continuing education while simultaneously strengthening relationships you’ve built with clients, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
I’m an advocate for annual team surveys, as long as you follow through and implement the feedback you receive. But what if you could evaluate your team’s happiness in a way that allows for continuous improvement throughout the year, rather than once or twice per year? Companies like TINYpulse (our personal choice) and CultureIQ make this easy by integrating with Slack and asking 1-2 simple questions per week. Leadership then receives actionable feedback and can make incremental improvements. Your team is your most important asset, so don’t forget about them when thinking about how you can improve in 2019.
This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great starting point for any business. Taking time at the end of the year to reflect, analyze, and rest will ensure that you’re set up for success in the new year. Happy holidays!