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Process matters for agencies (featuring Juliana Marulanda)

In this episode of Chats with Chip, Juliana Marulanda of ScaleTime explains why creating and documenting repeatable processes for your agency can make a big difference in outcomes for your business and your clients.

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In this episode of Chats with Chip, Juliana Marulanda of ScaleTime explains why creating and documenting repeatable processes for your agency can make a big difference in outcomes for your business and your clients.

Juliana helps agency owners understand how to get started and what pitfalls to avoid as they begin to implement a process-driven approach.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “I would argue that small agencies in particular need process even more than large agencies. Because they don’t have a lot of labor hours that they can throw at a problem.”
  • Juliana Marulanda: “Most employees spend about two hours a week just trying to look for things. And so if you centralize your documentation, if you can templatize a lot of it, you’re saving your team so much time, effort, and energy and then they can spend time innovating.”
  • Chip Griffin: “If you’ve had a similar pain point twice in the recent past, document those things first to solve those problems.”
  • Juliana Marulanda: “One of the reasons why I went into business to help people with process is because it is an opportunity to really recession proof your business.”

Resources

About Juliana Marulanda

Juliana Marulanda is a business operations expert, speaker, and the founder of ScaleTime. With over 13 years of experience across Wall Street, the non-profit sector, technology startups, and family-owned businesses, she now helps service-based businesses. For the past 3 years, ScaleTime has implemented custom processes and systems for on-boarding clients and team members, deal flow, and streamlining day-to-day operations, resulting in consistent rapid revenue growth and reclaimed time for their clients. She studied at the London School of Economics and received a BS in Economics from Trinity College, where she graduated with honors and was the recipient of the prestigious Pi Gamma Mu award.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Chats with Chip. I’m your host, Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance, and I’m delighted to have with me today an expert in all things becoming more efficient and more scalable for your agency, and that is Juliana Marulanda, the founder of ScaleTime.

Welcome to the show, Juliana.

Juliana Marulanda: Well, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here with you.

Chip Griffin: It is great to have you here because I know that the people are always trying to figure out how they can, you know, scale better, be more efficient, improve their processes. And so we’ll have a lot to talk about here, but before we do, why don’t you just share a little bit about yourself and ScaleTime?

Juliana Marulanda: Absolutely. So I’ve been now working with ScaleTime over five years, and we’ve helped over 600 agencies. Now I just clocked it. Turn into lean, mean, profitable machines, you know, everywhere and everyone between the six, seven and eight figures and just basically breaking those plateaus and getting to that next level.

Chip Griffin: And what made you say, this is, this is an area I want to get into. I want to help agencies be efficient, scalable, profitable, and all of that.

Juliana Marulanda: I would say so as a, as an elder millennial where I definitely shifted jobs as a good statistic, like every 1. 5, 1. 3 years, I, the, the one through line I would say was operations, right?

So I had, you know, started off on Wall Street doing financial operating models. Then I was doing tons of, you know, operations, jobs in between. I even worked doing warehousing and logistics for an organic toy company at one point. And… You know, I was, I was going all over as like a traveling operations manager building up events that, you know, we’re producing at least on an operational level, 1 million a week.

And so when I finally decided to go off on my own, I was like, I felt like a Jill of all trades, as it were, a master of none, but operations was the thing. And then I was like, okay, I’m going to test this because when I was in the testing phase, there wasn’t a lot of operations consultants there, there were management consultants and there were HR, there was people who were helping with sales process, helping with client management, but not really, you know, the nitty gritty holistic operations. What is process management. I then I was like, okay, I’m going to test this because usually this is something that happens with corporate. Can I bring this to smaller businesses?

I tested it and lo and behold, small businesses do need operations and they do need organization. And then when I got really specific, I decided that I wanted to work with digital agency owners because at the time, you know, back in 2015 a long time ago, it was, they were really on the vanguard of hybrid teams, right?

And being geographically independent. And so what did it look like to work with teams that were full time, part time, strategic partners, contractors, white label, co labeled, right? And how did we make a digital infrastructure that would be able to deliver on time every time with teams that were fragmented and geographically independent.

So that was the piece that of like my obsession that I was like, oh my god, how do we do this? Can we do this well? And we did and then the pandemic hit and everyone was like, oh my god How do I go ahead and create a digital infrastructure? And and I had been doing this for quite some time.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and and you mentioned, you know, the sort of the the the revelation or realization that Small businesses need process.

And I would argue that small agencies in particular need process even more than large agencies, right? Because they don’t have just a lot of labor hours. They can throw it a problem. They really have to be mindful of how they’re using that resource and efficient in how they’re doing it in order to be able to build a scalable, profitable business.

So You know, when you find agencies coming to you and asking for help, what is typically driving that? Is it because they’ve got a profit problem? Is it because they’re growing fast and they’re just, they’re kind of confused and don’t know how to run it the right way? You know, what, what do you think is the trigger that you’re seeing most often that causes people to finally wake up and say, yeah, this is something I need to invest some, some time and effort into?

Juliana Marulanda: I think both of those that you mentioned are true. So profitability, all of a sudden it’s like, Ooh, I can’t invest. And, and it, and it may not necessarily be a signal that you’re not looking at your finances, right? But all of a sudden you’re like, Ooh my finances need to be upleveled, right? Like there, there needs to be an upgrade so that I can invest.

I can hire more, I can hire better. And so, so profitability is, is absolutely a thing. Or, you know, it’s like where something happens and you lose a client and there’s no reserves and it’s because you’ve been running on such little margin. So there’s, that’s one. The other is also what intellectual property leaves the house.

And what I mean by this is there is a key employee that is either number two or even, you know, someone that is a head of a department or division or team, and they’re leaving, which happens all the time. And as, as sort of the evolution and the maturity of the agency, right, at the beginning, the owner starts doing everything.

Right? Because it’s like you started and, and, you know, and I usually see owners run into three categories. They’re either a Rainmaker, really good at selling. You know, they are sort of this individual that is an innovator. Like they love to tinker. They’re doing R& D. They know, you know, they know the algorithm is going to change before the algorithm changes, right?

Like there’s, there’s individuals who are really great at, you know, making great product and great. And then there’s, you know, there’s these true hardcore entrepreneur that’s always starting, right? So they’re, they’re building a new business. Maybe they started the agency, maybe they’re creating an agency for the rest of the businesses that they’re doing.

So there’s these sort of three archetypes that I see in owners and they will create a team around their strengths, right? And then you see that team evolve. And, and eventually, you know, whatever’s in their head goes to the other individuals, goes to the other individuals. And if someone’s going to leave where it’s like, Oh my God, they have a lot of intellectual property of the business, right?

They have tribal knowledge. It’s a huge deal where they’re like, Oh, we can’t run our business based on individuals. Like there, there’s a light bulb moment where it’s like, well, I’m, I’m screwed right now. And, and I don’t want to be screwed later. And, and this is why. Or you really want to fire somebody, but nobody else knows how to do their job.

Right. Because either that individual has become toxic or, you know, or whatever the case might be. But nobody actually knows it. So now you’re being trapped by an individual in the business because again, they hold tribal knowledge. And so you know, so that’s a huge point where people come in.

They’re like, Oh, okay, we we need, we need process. And and then there’s the other piece where you’re just growing so fast. Things are, you know, falling through the cracks and everything starts to just kind of fumble and quality decreases. And and I think less than quality decreasing, it’s it’s reputation.

Right? Like you’re growing so fast. You want to keep that reputation. And now what are you going to do? And, and I think then it’s also that light bulb moment of, oh, okay, we need some processes. We need to actually still down a little bit so that we can keep growing.

Chip Griffin: And I don’t know what your experience is, but a lot of times when I see an agency owner have that light bulb moment and realize that they need to do something about this, the first reaction they have is that they’re overwhelmed.

Because there’s so much that they feel like they need to document and build processes around. And whether that’s an employee leaving or just looking at your overall, you know, profits and trying to figure it out. You, you sit there and say, there are all these things I need to do. How do you advise them to get started?

What’s that first initial baby step they need to take in order to start moving towards a more process driven business?

Juliana Marulanda: Breathe. And then after they breathe and. It’s a very personal challenge, but it’s also not a snowflake challenge, right? Like, like it’s Every single agency that comes to us, that, you know, comes to you, that you talk to and I talk to, are having very similar challenges.

And so, they’re solvable, it’s just going to take some work. So, the first step that I have them do is something I call the scale map. So, it’s our diagnostic, where we look at 50 operational challenges or operational points in the business, and see where there’s gaps and gains. And, and that’s the first step that I have, like, my clients do, or anyone that comes through the door and it’s a free diagnostic, we can chat about it later, but if you’re just thinking about this conceptually, right I would say there’s, there’s something that I’ve called a production pyramid because your production tends to be one of the places that’s like the biggest cog in your wheel. If production is off, usually other things are off. Like you can’t figure out, you know, your capacity or how many people to hire or how many clients you need or, you know, like what’s it going to pay for overhead.

So. There’s everything’s really production dependent. And so if you think about this as a triangle, there’s three parts of this triangle. There is the what you need to do, which is your project management. So, you know, depending on how your project management is running, if you have someone running your project management that’s a really good place to start and think like, okay Do things need to be streamlined?

Do things need to be redesigned? Are there things falling through the cracks? Is this something that I can look into and effectively Improve and optimize. And if so, you’re going to find money there. There’s always money in your project management, right? Like there’s always money to be found as things are falling through the cracks and there’s delays or anything that’s going on there.

So that’s one place. Then I would look at the other piece of it is your documents, right? That’s the where. Like, where is the things in your production being held? Or in your agency in general, right? Are you reinventing the wheel? Is your team reinventing the wheel? Even for… You know, we could think about this as sales production.

If, if people are redoing decks because they can’t find a template that’s a huge time waster. If people are trying to figure out how they want to strategize something, As opposed to saying, Oh, here’s our go to strategies. And strategy is usually one of these things that tends to be delegated last.

It tends to be documented last because it takes years and years of knowing but strategy is something that can absolutely be documented and be taught. And as things change, you know, I mean, right now with AI and with technology advances and everything like, strategy, yes, it is based on 20 years and X of experience, but it’s also always changing.

So strategies need to be updated as well, right? So, so do we have something that we can go ahead and, and make repeatable, right? That’s the documents. This is where it’s funny. There’s, there’s a statistic and it’s most employees spend about two hours a week, just trying to look for things. And so to me, I’m like, so if you centralize your, your documentation, if you templatize, you know, I would say 80% of what you’re doing because 20% is going to be customization is going to be relationship based, right?

But if you’re using the 80/20 and you can templatize a lot of it, you’re saving your team so much time effort and energy and then they can actually spend time innovating So that’s a document in asset management and then there’s how you’re doing something as part…

Chip Griffin: If I can just dive in on that for just a moment go for it because I think that You know, the 80/20 thing is something that’s really important to remember when it comes to documenting processes, building processes, that sort of thing, because not everything needs a process, right?

And so I think one of the reasons why owners often feel overwhelmed when they approach this issue is because they sit there and try to figure out, okay, we need to make a list of all these processes that we need to create. And the reality is you need to create them one at a time. And what I always tell them is if you’ve had a similar pain point twice in the recent past, document those things first to solve those problems.

I was working with an agency that had problems around some product launches with a client, and it happened twice in a relatively short period of time with two different clients. I said, okay, that’s something you need to build a checklist, build a process, make sure that you’re solving for that problem because you know it’s one that can be solved by a better process and so you’ll have an immediate benefit from it. Similarly, if you’re an owner and you’re trying to explain something to your team members and you’re wasting your time explaining things, the second time you have to explain something to someone, document it, put it down in writing so that you don’t have to be the one that people are coming to for that information.

So bite them off one at a time. I think that will really help and realize not everything will have that process. It will be 80/20 at best. I mean, you know, it may not even be 80% in your agency, depending upon how repetitive your tasks are.

Juliana Marulanda: Yeah. And the other thing that I would say is if you’re starting to create processes, start really lean.

Like, it doesn’t have to be the most robust process ever because you’re never gonna get it. Right. There’s things in your head that you’re just gonna do that other, that you don’t even know you’re doing. Right, right. And, and the way to almost test a process is once you hand it off to somebody else, they’re gonna ask you questions.

And that feedback loop is when it’s really what’s gonna create the optimization of that process. Right. Because. Like we’re all doing things that are second nature that are almost subconscious. And then when you think about it and someone’s like, well, why did you do it that way? And you’re like, Oh, it’s because this industry blah, blah, blah, or because these types of clients X, Y, Z.

And so then you start to create criteria around the actions that you’re taking in that process that you might not even ever know until someone asks you. So that’s why I’m a huge, huge believer in doing dirty first drafts. And I like just do a dirty draft, get it out there so that other people can start taking it on and it can become more robust with time.

Chip Griffin: Right. Yeah. Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get started somewhere and continuously improve it over time and your process probably will adapt over time to even if you document it perfectly for how you do it today, you’ll have new innovations, new tools, new ideas from new team members that you’ll want to incorporate in that process going forward.

So don’t don’t ever look at it as set in stone and you know, and we never have to revisit it. Always take a fresh look. And I think the other thing that you talked about there as far as you know, having a place where people can go for information. So they’re not spending those two hours a week hunting for information, having a central repository for this kind of information, organizing it in a logical way.

One of the things I used to do with one of my own agencies was we would have client documents in Google Docs, where it laid out all of the details, the idiosyncrasies even of that client, you know, don’t contact them about this or only contact this client person about that and another client person about something else because they don’t want to hear about it or certain words they didn’t like to hear or, you know, whatever, I mean, all of that kind of stuff. So that if someone was, was out sick or on jury duty or whatever, unavailable, someone else could pull up this document and be able to step in and maybe not do 100% of the job, but 80% of it and keep the ball rolling.

Juliana Marulanda: Absolutely. And. I think that’s, that’s really important in terms of people being able to find things, things being centralized and, and the last piece of this production pyramid, right, we’ve got the what, which is your project management tool. We got the where, which is your documents and your assets.

And then we have the how. And the how I would say is, is usually some level of like wiki or internal knowledge base. This is a place where you’re going to house your SOPs, your standard operating procedures. Your videos, if you’ve taken any training videos your policies, if you have them. And, and the way that I think is the most logical way to organize these three things is to make sure that they’re organized in the same way, right?

So that your project management tool matches, right? If you’ve got Google Docs, how your Google management system looks, you know, versus how your wiki looks and then that way people understand like, oh, this is how the brain of the organization thinks and is organized. And so they’re looking for client information.

Either of these. It’s almost like. In the same spot, even though it might be in a different tool. And, and if you can interlink them even better, that’s the next step. And then that way, you know, if someone is brand new to the organization, they can be trained up very quickly. And if you have someone that you know, is in the organization or a team that has been doing it forever. Then they can just do things faster because they’re not rummaging for that thing or that template. And it just makes things so much more efficient and so much more profitable and it will sustain quality.

Chip Griffin: I’m so glad that you mentioned videos in particular here, because I think that that it’s an often overlooked way to really accelerate the building of processes and the transfer of knowledge because it’s become so easy today to create. You know, screen recordings, for example, so if you’re if the process you’re trying to document is one that’s that’s done largely online, just record yourself doing it one time and so you know, you’re not having to put in extra work initially to document it and then you can use one of the AI tools or something to maybe to transcribe your explanation as you’re doing it.

And then that turns into a written process that goes along with the video. There are so many things that we have today that we didn’t have 5, 10, 15 years ago, even. that make it so much easier to transfer this knowledge and to help educate people, even if it’s not an online process, record a zoom conversation where you’re explaining to an employee how to go through the steps of something that way you don’t have to actually do any extra work to get that ball rolling and get that information out there.

Juliana Marulanda: Absolutely. And to piggyback on the AI, there’s three prompts that I have found for SOPs that are super valuable. One is to create a standard operating procedure. Like if you’re telling any AI tool to create a standard operating procedure from a transcript that you have grabbed from a video.

And this length of time might change depending on what you’re using but you know anywhere between 15 to now like 45 minutes It will do that for you. And it does it relatively well because the AI You know, the, the ability to summarize is actually really well done. I have a lot of opinions about what AI can and cannot do, but summarization is quite spectacular.

So so that makes things really easy. The other prompt is if you’re If you’re a more mature agency and you’ve got 20 million you know videos or transcripts or standard operating procedures for a lot of things and you’re in a place of cleanup And you’re actually cleaning things up for whatever reason you can ask it to merge. So merge these three SOPs into one and, and that prompt will save you tons of time in trying to figure out like which SOP is correct, and then you can go back and review it.

And then the other one that I have found to be really interesting as well is if you have someone on the team that might have done a video and might have been a little complicated or if there’s anything in terms of analysis like if you’re trying to do you know your SOP on let’s say client reporting right. And so like now there’s if and thens and you know, and you’re trying to really create analysis for for that SOP a prompt that works really well is asking it for a decision tree.

So instead of asking, you know, the AI, Hey, can I get an SOP from this? If you ask it for a decision tree, now it’s going to strategically give you an SOP that understands how you’re making decisions about the research or the task at hand. And that has been super helpful, especially for the more analytical pieces that are much harder to document sometimes.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I, I love that, that you’ve mentioned some of these ways that you can use AI and given specific examples of prompts because it is, it is a tool that can help with this sort of thing, I found it to be very good at building outlines around things or checklists. And so it’s not necessarily the, you know, the final product, but to me, I find it helpful if I ask it to build an outline or a checklist around something, let’s say a checklist for, you know, publishing and promoting a podcast episode, right?

It will often give you a list of steps, and it may not be exactly what you need, but it’ll help you not forget something that you might have omitted. So you can kind of look through and say, right, I forgot eight and nine. I need to include eight and nine on my, on my process. So, so use the tools to your advantage here to make your work you know, more effective and, and frankly, easier.

Juliana Marulanda: Absolutely. I would say also just as a, as a caveat you know, if you are using AI, it’s a part of your workflow. It’s not the entire workflow, right? I’m, I’m really big on, you want to get human eyes on things right before they’re down, right? Especially if. You’re, you’re documenting internal processes, and this is something that is going to now build the standards of your business.

You want to make sure that there’s a subject matter expert whether that’s you or a team lead or someone specific that like knows exactly how things are done to the quality and standard that’s going to check, right? Even if there’s a video done, you know, there’s always going to be optimizations and sort of documentation hygiene. So we want to make sure that we’re not just set it and forget it when it comes to AI.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. And I do think that it’s important, you know, I can help you to improve and perfect your processes. But I also think it’s important to document how you’re actually doing it today. And I think one of the mistakes I’ve seen is when people put together processes, they put together an ideal process or this would be if I had it cross every T, dot every I, and do it just perfectly with as much time as I wanted in the world. This is the process I would use. I’d like you to start with what you’re actually doing now, and then figure out how you can realistically improve it. Because if you start with just that perfect model, It’s probably so far away from what you’re actually doing that it may be unattainable or it frankly could make you less profitable because you put in so many extra steps that you end up spending a lot more time to, to execute it.

So, so be mindful of how you’re actually doing things today. And I, and I think as we’re talking about profitability, that brings us to a good place to sort of wrap up this conversation. That is, you know, right now there’s a lot of uncertainty around the economy and people are asking me, I’m sure they’re asking you, you know, what can I do to, to be better prepared if, if, if things do, you know, soften up economically, if I do, you know, have clients who are, you know, being tighter with budgets or, you know, maybe being slower to decide.

So I’ve got to figure out how to eke out every last bit of profit from the, the revenue and resources that I have, you know, how do you look at the, the overall economic environment and how it impacts, you know, building processes and becoming more scalable?

Juliana Marulanda: Well, one of the reasons why I went into business to help people with process is because it is an opportunity to really recession proof your business, right?

And If you, if you pay attention to the process and oftentimes we don’t want to because A, it’s boring. B, it’s laborious, right? It’s like, ah, it’s so much work. You know, C usually unless you’re a process nerd, like I am, nobody wants to do it. And so what I think is if you have really strong process, that becomes your competitive advantage.

And sometimes more so than, you know, shiny things that that don’t last very long in the business and and we’ve seen this time and time again, businesses who are very strong, profitable who really lead with great delivery stand the test of time, no matter what the economic environment looks like.

And so if you put process at the forefront of, okay, what does it look like to really create a great sales process so that I’m not losing clients or potential clients across the board? And you know, our closing rates are good and we’re having a followup process and we’re creating the know, like, and trust during our sales process, right?

When people are uncertain, right? That’s going to help you with acquisition. If you have really strong client onboarding, right, that’s going to increase your capacity. It’s going to take the social capital that you did during sales and, you know, increase your retention. If you take a look at your client management processes and your delivery.

And you’re like, okay, do we have a process in place to manage clients where they feel happy and delighted, understood. Things are clear. Things are moving along and the production team is fulfilling and they’re doing things on time. That’s going to increase retention. It’s going to increase repeat business.

Even if clients are slowing down, chances are they’re going to stick around or they’re going to come back because they’ve had such a great experience, right? As you’re taking a look at your talent pool And how you’re hiring individuals, how you’re training them, how you’re developing them, that’s going to give you a massive competitive advantage when things are difficult because loyalty is going to go up.

Chances are people are going to work harder or smarter – and smarter, hopefully with good process. And so these processes that, you know, are tedious and boring to do create a massive competitive advantage in both profitability and sustainability.

Chip Griffin: And I think that’s a great note to end on. You’ve offered us a tremendous amount of really valuable advice, and I think some frankly, practical steps that agency owners can take now to start to become more process driven, more profitable, more efficient, and therefore more scalable. So if someone is interested in learning more about ScaleTime or taking advantage of the resources that you have available, where can they go?

Juliana Marulanda: Yeah, absolutely.

And I know sometimes when we’re running a million miles a minute it’s difficult to figure out what it is that we need to do, but we’ve got tons of resources. I put some of them in at scaletime.co/podcast/chip for you. That scale map and diagnostic that I spoke about, which is where you can find these operational gaps and figure out, you know, where you’re doing great.

Where you can be doing better and whatnot. Definitely need some attention. It’s going to be there. It takes five minutes. I would definitely do the scale map. It’s free and we send it to you within 24 hours. You’ll get a heat map of what your operation looks like, which is awesome. As well as you can sign up for our mailing list.

We’ll give you about like three months of quick tips where you can make small but really impactful changes. And if you’re feeling like, Ooh, maybe we you know, actually want to talk to someone and think strategically through our operations and absolutely sign up and book a call with us. That’s going to be at scaletime.co/podcast/chip.

Chip Griffin: Excellent. And we will include that link in the show notes so that folks have an easy way to navigate there again. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I would encourage folks to check those resources out. It’s always good when we have free resources available to us to help us run our businesses better again.

My guest today has been Juliana Marulanda, the founder of ScaleTime. Thanks for joining me.

Juliana Marulanda: Thank you so much for having me.

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