VOGSY is fortunate to interact with leaders and influencers involved in a range of professional services organizations (PSOs). The PSO Knowledge Expert Series brings you their thoughts on the topics that matter most.
For this edition, we spoke with Melanie Chandruang, founder and lead operations consultant of WeConsult. With a mix of high level accounting, operations and human resources (HR) skills, she found a niche helping agency owners optimize their operations, so they could focus on what they do best – applying their creativity and vision to the work they want to do most of all.
MVL: Can you give us a thumbnail of your professional self?
MC: I’m an accounting expert, operations whiz and HR strategist all rolled into one charming, no-nonsense package. My focus is on making creative agencies run like well oiled machines by optimizing their day-to-day systems and workflows.
MVL: Tell us about WeConsult?
MC: I started the company in February 2018. I’ve always enjoyed making order out of chaos and love being plunged into the deep end. I had been lucky to work with an array of creative agencies, large and small, and in various capacities. I was familiar with the structure and nuances of the business, so while I had also been involved with tech startups, my work with creative shops quickly grew and became my sole focus.
The services we offer are for agencies that don’t have the resources to bring in a chief operations officer (COO) or full time Operations Manager. Any full-time position you add at an agency that isn’t billable is a drain on the bottom line. So, we offer higher level guidance and support that agencies couldn’t otherwise afford.
We’ll be hired for a 3-6 month engagement, sometimes as long as a year. We’ll set up operational infrastructure and workflows, train the team, make sure things are built to scale, then they’re off to the races.
We can also drill down on specific functions, if that’s needed.
MVL: How so?
MC: Take finances. I worked with an agency of about 35 people and the owner was still doing their own bookkeeping, spending nights and weekends entering data into QuickBooks and working through invoicing models. That’s not what a creative usually envisions when they open a shop. And, even those that outsource accounting don’t always have the time and resources to really dive into the financials and analyze data to surface metrics that are key to agencies.
We can help them understand how much cash they really have in the bank, if it’s enough to reach their goals, what type of work will get them there.
We’ll build a system and processes and train someone internally to keep them on track. A PSA platform like VOGSY – that bubbles metrics to the top for leadership to digest – very much flatters our work.
We can do the same for other areas, too, like HR. Such as implementing tools for applicant tracking or an HRIS to improve efficiency and the employee experience. We won’t be writing the employee manual but we’ll bring that higher level understanding of liability and processes to ensure an agency is protected and has the cost-effective resources they need.
MVL: What is the biggest pain point owners come to you with?
MC: I don’t think I’ve ever met an agency owner whose chief motivation was just to run a business. Their passion is to work on amazing projects with other inspiring creatives, assemble kickass teams, and do the best client work possible.
That said, I think their biggest pain point is they don’t really know how, or have the resources to move the business forward.
We give them a functional plan dedicated to growing and scaling the agency.
We look for efficient systems and processes to lower stress from top to bottom, save time and money, and free up owners to focus on what they do best.
MVL: Is there anything in particular that agency owners are overlooking?
MC: They need to accept that they don’t have brain space to do it all – nor should they try. Many owners fail to recognize the importance of being “The Visionary”.
This may require them backing away from some of the day-to-day project work, but the role itself is sometimes the most creative position at an agency. Leaving the integration of their ideas and other operational details to others is not just ok, it’s the smartest move they can make.
MVL: What metrics should owners be looking at most, and if they’re not, where should they start?
MC: The easiest one, and best place to start, is understanding how much cash they have in the bank and can safely project moving forward. It’s basic, but that’s where you start.
You need security to meet whatever goals you have and to minimize risk. You might be relying on a couple really big clients, and if one goes away, that could be trouble. You may want to bring on new employees, but that’s greater liability.
Next is making sure the team is tracking hours, not just billable, but non-billable time so you can look at their effective rate. Then I would say it’s employee productivity; getting a grasp on what team members are working on, how much time is spent on specific clients and projects. You want to develop a productivity target for each employee, a sweet spot, then evaluate if you can shift that to increase profitability. This also helps you determine what types of projects are most profitable.
Then, of course, there’s resource utilization – a nightmare for every agency. You need to figure out what’s needed to fulfill projects and reach revenue goals, and ensure resources are in place or can be scaled up or down to handle peaks and lulls.
MVL: What is the foremost mistake agencies make when it comes to processes and workflows?
MC: Creatives are often deflated by the word “process.” You can hear the sad trombone whenever anyone brings up the subject. They think it’s fine to think on the fly, might even believe it gets the creative juices flowing – but a lack of process and workflows actually does the opposite.
Take something as simple as kicking off a new client. A list with everything that needs to be done is as basic as water. You don’t want people scratching their heads wondering who should schedule the kickoff call, who should attend, what should be on the agenda, the information everyone should have.
At a bare minimum, a checklist is going to ensure teams are not wasting their brainpower on what to do next or recreating processes they’ve been through countless times already. Every function in an agency can be streamlined with the right workflow and it’ll free people up to focus on creative work.
MVL: Why is culture important at an agency and what should owners be focusing upon?
MC: Agencies are in a super competitive hiring environment; I recently posted a blog on the topic. Unemployment is low, and at the same time, in-house opportunities often pay more than agencies. Still, we’re talking about creative people. The type of work they’ll do, the people they’ll work with, the environment they’ll do it in, all can make a big difference in retaining and attracting talent.
A lot of hiring comes directly from word-of-mouth. If you’ve got a solid culture – especially one that’s safe for people to voice their ideas, where employee development is a priority – that can align with what creative people are looking for and give them a way to grow their careers.
MVL: All right, final question. I understand your fallback career is to be a dog Mom. Can you make a living at that?
MC: If only! My father tells me as a toddler I would throw myself on any dog passing by, which obviously was not the safest situation. I could see myself with eight of them. Of course, I’d need a house and lots of land, and real estate in San Diego is pretty pricey. I also don’t see how this could possibly generate any revenue.
So, I’m still working on the details.
MVL: That was the charming part, wasn’t it?
MC: Nailed it again.
Mark van Leeuwen is the CEO of VOGSY, the Google business software pioneers. Mark has held leading roles in software and service businesses on all continents and led growth in uncharted territories for 20 years. He’s also a stickler for simplicity and transparency and doing more with less.