Video - Stabilising Your Core Service with Alyson Caffrey of Operations Agency

operations tools / process systems podcast strategy and planning Sep 14, 2022

In this GYDA Talks, Robert talks to Alyson Caffrey of Operations Agency. Alyson is the founder of Operations Agency and co-creator of the Operations Simplified™ Framework. She's commonly referred to as ‘The Wolf' among her clients because she just gets shit done. Alyson is best known for helping streamline the back-end ops for a multitude of brands, but mostly digital and creative agencies.

As a fractional COO for many high-growth businesses, Alyson fell in love with the results that clear ops bring to a service business. She and the team at Operations Agency are determined to help businesses thrive profitably, serve more clients and create high-performing teams. Alyson is a mom to two sons and enjoys spending her time at home with her growing family.

Ops help an agency help more clients, improve margins and generate freedom for the business owner. Listen now to avoid the pitfalls and expense of having little to no operating structure. Their margins will be more attractive faster.

  • Understand the required team transitions as you grow from a lean team to become more specialist
  • Identify results and the operations that will create them
  • Use a peer group for support
  • The Boss doesn't need to be a teacher but rather a provider of opportunities
  • Learn by guesswork is OK
  • Profit shares encourage active participation
  • Symptoms people present:
    - everything is on fire
    - a team member leaves
    - hiring too quickly
  • Put bumpers in place when small; be more precise as you have more specialised people
  • The tech does not matter for managing ops; it is the principle that matters
  • Create a Playbill so everyone know what to expect

Key things to sort the ops
1) SOPs, templates and a clear centralised playbook
2) centralised project management tool (incl rules of engagement)
3) centralised data




Robert Craven  00:07

Hello, and welcome to the GYDA talks. And I am absolutely delighted today to have with me, Allison Caffrey. Now, Allison works with a brilliantly named business called Operations Agency, which I just think is such a great name. So without further ado, Hello, welcome to Allison. Tell us a bit about yourself.


Alyson Caffrey  00:31

Thanks, Robert, for having me. I'm super excited to be here. So like you said, my name is Allison Caffrey. I am the founder, owner of an operations agency. We started back in 2016, truthfully, out of need, because a lot of agency owners and service providers were coming to me saying, How do I tighten up the ship on the back end, and, you know, kind of get things in order. And so that's kind of how we began. Now we're a team of 12, not including myself, which is very exciting. And the kind of years that have passed, and we have helped dozens of agency owners, you know, just streamline the back end of how they you know, deliver services, and really affect the bottom line and have a more comfortable relationship with their business. So they don't kind of feel pulled in all directions. So that's me, that's what I'm passionate about. In my personal life, I've actually just had my second little boy, his name is Jack, and he is four months old next week. And I have another son, Frank, who will be two in August. So I have my hands full and use my organisation skills in my home quite a bit as well.


Robert Craven  01:40

Brilliant, that's absolutely. That's great. Well done, well done being here. Not being pulled in, in every single direction. So we are moving, we have a model here, which anyone who's watching or knows about that I endlessly and repeatedly say, your financial performance is a consequence of how good you are at marketing, getting the customers to buy from you and how good you are at operations during the doing. Now the weird thing is agency owners will nearly always score themselves square to ten, returns with a high score will nearly always score themselves, like an eight out of ten. Oh, yeah, we rock, we are so good. We get all the conferences, you should look at our tech stack. And for the actual marketing of the agency, they typically score themselves three or four out of ten. And yet, as soon as you open up the hood, they're not an eight out of ten. So I mean, let's just start off with what you think goes wrong.  Why are they not as awesome as they think they are?


Alyson Caffrey  02:51

It's interesting that your experiences scoring like three or four on the marketing for marketing agencies, because I have actually experienced something similar with the clients . I work with a lot of folks before they work with us, they'll say, I am afraid to market or I can't kind of, you know, put my foot on the gas pedal and actually start to get myself and my business out there. Because I'm actually thinking that I can't sell confidently, I know I have to deliver all these things on the back end, I have to do a custom proposal, I have to do a custom project. And so I think the really big marker of kind of the freelance or run digital agency, to a more kind of structured delivery pattern in an agency is when we begin to not look at things as so custom, right, we don't let the client tell us what they need, we as the experts can kind of step into a core process or a core kind of, you know, intellectual property, like path that they go through. And we understand that this is kind of that we're the experts, right? And instead of us being just the person with the hands, that's just going to kind of do whatever the client wants. And so I think that is a really big transition period, both mentally and kind of behind the scenes and in the fulfillment section of your business, right, you start to think through okay, what is my core process? What are the stages of fulfilment that I go through when I say, you know, start someone, you know, with a brand new website, or when I you know, start to run traffic for a company, right? What does that look like? And how exactly do I go about that? And so that is a huge pivotal point, I think, for a new business or a new agency owner to go through.


Robert Craven  04:33

It's funny, actually, I was talking earlier today to a gentleman who I first met when he had six people. He's just celebrating the agency's birthday there. 85 people now. And he was saying to me, You said it was gonna be really difficult at about 10 to 15 people and then again at 25 to 30 and then again at 50 to 55. And I didn't believe you and I'm really sorry, because you were right, it's really hard. It's really difficult these transitions from, from being all about delivery to having non fee earners, to having a senior management team to having a board or having a head of operations. And it's, you know, this particular guy, and he's not alone in any shape way or form, can't leave it alone. It's like, he's, he doesn't understand the difference between my language agency owner, Hey, we do cool stuff. And a business owner, which is, I have profit to make from products and services that we sell that are attractive to our clients. And I wonder how much you think the problem of operations is, because we go from the kitchen table to the dining room table, to the garage to the small industrial unit to the larger industrial unit. And we started off banging away on a keyboard, that wasn't, you know, we started employing people. And we didn't kind of sign up to being a Managing Director or an Operations Director, we were a really great operator. So is that part of the problem? Do you think?


Alyson Caffrey  06:15

Yeah, I think there's a few problems facing owners in this transition. The first is the team structure, like you've mentioned, right, we can kind of start off being number one, the solo person with all of our industry expertise. And our knowledge touches everything client experience comes with our personality, our brand is so closely intertwined with us, it can feel difficult in that transition to let go right of a lot of the results. And that is kind of the first decision and commitment that a business owner needs to make when they begin to scale the business and be able to help more people. And then in the next stage, we go through this, you know, lean team phase, right, where we have a bunch of rock stars that have kind of a generalist ability in the business. And we feel like it's going to just diminish everything, if we start to hire some specialised role. And I think about this, you know, like a basketball team, right? There's five players, and they can all kind of go between all of the different, you know, positions. And then when we start to scale, and we start to get past that one and a half million mark in revenue, I hate to throw revenue numbers out there. But that's probably about where you'll experience that. And then when we get to the more specialised needs, our team starts to look like an American football team, right? We've got an offence and a defence and all of our specialised positions, and a kicker that only comes in for two plays a game. 


Alyson Caffrey  07:39

And it's very, very specialised. And I think a lot of folks think that they can, you know, bootstrap it all the way up to 10-15 million with the five person team. And if you can do that, I think everyone probably is going to be super overworked and probably consider leaving your agency. However I do think that transitional points with the team are super, super important. So that's definitely one thing that is hugely, hugely valuable when you start to think through how you structure your team on the back end. 


Alyson Caffrey  08:12

Operationally, too, it really, really depends on how easily and quickly you have team members acclimating to your processes, meaning it's how clear you are, it's how, you know, available that information is. So let's just say for example, you're scaling your team from five to ten. And you are bringing on some new roles, those people need to be trained as fast as humanly possible. And my opinion is, the best way to do that is by having really clear standard operating procedures and a clear way to measure success of those standard operating procedures. So those are the two biggest things, they go hand in hand, the right kind of building a team and training a team, you know, shifting the roles and things around to really be in a position to invite specialised roles into the company.


Robert Craven  08:57

But part of the problem surely is most of the people, it doesn't matter whether we're talking about 5, or 50, or 150 staff. Most of the people are asking people to do things that they don't know how to do themselves. In other words, I've never been the head of social because head or head of PPC or head of media, because I've always run the team. And I've also run the business and done the marketing. And now I'm meant to fit in a job just then how can someone Google job description for head of department or can someone you know, I mean, it's like they and and what will I do in any case? I guess my point is, you know that it's, it's you don't know what you don't know, surely. So how can you expect a leader going from 5 to 10 people to know what to put in the SOPs?


Alyson Caffrey  09:55

Great question and I like to always start strategically. So I think that I'll A lot of folks who don't know, you know how to write a job description for a social media manager, for example, or director of social media, they may be in a position where they can plan their year or their quarter and know what results we expect from a social media department, right. And so what I always like to do is I like to put results on one side of the equation and then solve operations for the other side of the equation, right? So if we want to see, you know, some growth in our social media presence, and we want to make sure that that is the case, what we could do is we could obviously surround ourselves and every business owner should be doing this right with a network of other business owners who may have either gone through this in the past, or know somebody who can kind of shepherd them through this, you know, kind of developing this new role. 


Alyson Caffrey  10:41

And I do think that those two things hand in hand, right, having a network of people that you can lean on, who are maybe just a step ahead of you, or two steps ahead of you that you can really, you know, leverage their expertise and their experience, but also be in a position where you can tailor it to your own business, meaning that if you want to see you know, 50% growth in social media over the next year, you might be in a position where you need to make sure that that person not only has the capability to do that, right, do that physical position, but that also you as a company are providing the resources necessary to be able to train them up to get that done, whether that's hiring a coach, or giving them some sort of, you know, certification programme or being in that scenario, the business owner isn't always supposed to be the teacher, they're just supposed to be the opportunity provider, right for the team internally. And so the more we can seek opportunities to uplevel our team, the more humbling it is, as an owner, because you all of a sudden look at someone on your team and say, I can't do it, that person can do and that means your business is now bigger than you, which is really important.


Robert Craven  11:43

So I'm still going to push back a bit on this, because I think the journey, I mean, we've had it today, you know, working with some people in the team here. And I've asked them to do stuff that they've not done before, you know, so it's like, I didn't know what the cost per lead should be. I didn't know. You know, what, what we're gonna get for one month, you're asking me to deliver these results. But I don't know. And it's like, nobody knows. So we're gonna test it and see, and if my assumptions are wrong, that's fine. But that, that makes it really, I guess, the point I'm trying to make is, because you're going into the unknown, because the people you're working with are going into the unknown. It's it's as, as a consultant, you can say, right, rather than get a piece of paper line down the middle, on the left hand side, write the results on the right hand side write down operationally what needs to happen to deliver those results, but but they don't, at best guesses, you know, because nothing works scientifically, consistently all the time. And, as John Lennon said, you know, stuff happens in your business, stuff happens when you're trying to design your life, when you're trying to plan. So there is so much uncertainty, I guess, there is how do you reduce the uncertainty? Or how do you live with the uncertainty of building that plan that says, currently with 10 people in a year's time we're going to be 20? Therefore, in my mind, I think we need one traffic manager, we need three interns. I think we need a new business development manager, because I believe each of those people are going to deliver the following. I mean, it's often guesswork.


Alyson Caffrey  13:38

Yeah. So I think it starts out as guesswork until you begin to put in the repetitions and be able to gather the data that can tell you what to do next, let's just say for example, you want to grow your list by, you know, 3000 people this quarter, right, and you have all of the activities planned out that you're going to do. And if let's just say you fall short, then we need to, obviously, augment the operational plan. I think that tactically those types of things, just actually getting out there and doing the work. First and foremost is going to tell you the most about whether or not your strategies are working number one, and number two, be the type of leader that likes to lead your people into new and exciting opportunities. 


Alyson Caffrey  14:18

Meaning if you've always been a reserved leader, and you've never taken a chance, and then all of a sudden, you plop your big plan down on the table and your team is scared as heck to follow you into the dark, it means that you probably need to begin to kind of lead a little bit differently in that sense, meaning that you know, you have to really be in a position to say, Hey, listen, we've been in the dark before. And I've gotten this out here. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. I also think finding out what motivates your team is really helpful, just simply truthfully by asking them a lot of my leadership team members actually have a stake in the business so they have 1% profit share 2% profit share. It's very very enticing, especially from a profit perspective. Because that means efficiency internally, we're not talking about revenue share and things that you would give top line to sales folks. I'm talking about your fulfilment team, if they're in a position where they need to be driving results, absolutely their compensation, if that's what motivates them can be grounded in those results. And I've seen that motivate some very unmotivated teams previously.


Robert Craven  15:25

So this comes back to  as you're growing the business. Most people start and they start off doing PPC at 10 people. And at 20 people, they've realised that it's more profitable to be doing content or content and PPC or video. So for lots of people that kind of the focus moves, or they become this dreadful sort of amoeba where they do lots of you know, because you know, when you're small, you just say, Yes, can you do an email campaign? Yes. Could you design our logo? Yes, we could do that. Could you do mail?


Alyson Caffrey  16:06

And then proposals go crazy? And fulfilment goes crazy. Yeah.


Robert Craven  16:11

So I guess what I'm getting to is, is, yeah, how do you help people kind of figure out what the core services are? And that's a loaded question, because that assumes we have a core service, and we have other stuff. So obviously, it's kind of a marketing decision in a way. But whether you're 5 or 10 or 50 staff, that there are all these pressures on the core service, all these shiny objects, Let's do blockchain in the future. Let's do video, let's become a video company. So every business I know, you know, you, if you spend six months with a business, they'll spend half the time telling you that they need to, to niche down to a very, very narrow, narrow stack of service deliverables. And they'll spend the other half of the time asking you how they can become a full service agency. And there's a kind of depending on on the on the on where the winds blowing, and who they met at the last meeting, they'll either no longer be a full service agency experts that nothing or they're going to be convinced that the only way to go forward is to become the best, the best PPC agency in town. So how do you help people as they're trying to figure out what the heck, their core services?


Alyson Caffrey  17:43

It definitely is a loaded question. And I mean, there are so many things that go into kind of weeding out the things that are unnecessary in the business. And I definitely agree that in the beginning, a lot of folks just say yes to things. And I don't think that that's necessarily a bad thing, or a poor decision in the very beginning, right, you can kind of get a general large scope of all the things that perhaps you as the business owner are good at and that your team is good at and excited about doing. And then you can kind of look at everything that has happened in the past six-nine months, right? And then you can say, Okay, what delivered us the most profit? What did deliver us the least amount of headache, meaning how quickly were we able to get a result for our client. And so I like to be very objective when I start to look at some of those things, because what I like to see is okay, I'm coming in with some high profit margins, right? Or at least what I'm comfortable with taking home as a business owner, in order to reinvest into the business and truthfully, right make my life more enriching, you know, financially, so that and then the second is just delta on projects. So meaning that if I quote, a six month project, it's not going over into the seven, eight month, you know, kind of period. That means to me that it's not set up properly, operationally, and that we have a difficult time fulfilling some of those things. 


Alyson Caffrey  18:56

So one of two things need to happen, we either need to access it right, get it off the docket and stop kind of serving, you know, that people in that way, or we need to really, you know, pop the hood open and take a look at how things are functioning right, and how we're delivering that service. If we really want to kind of clean up the margins and clean up the experience, we really need to focus on how we plan to tackle, you know, that project, you know, change kind of the core elements of it, right? If it's a six month project that constantly goes over to eight months and is kind of a core delivery function, we need to price it like an eight month project. So the first thing I take a look at is pricing, right? Are we actually quoting and pricing things appropriately for the type of work that we're delivering? You know, what type of project management structure do we have? What type of SOPs do we have in place? And what type of metrics or tracking mechanisms do we have to tell us that this is going well? And so those are kind of the three big things that I start to look at when we start to really define core service. And again, just kind of taking the bulk of the things that we have, you know, provided for folks for the last six to nine months, and really kind of taking a deep dive into, okay, how profitable were we? How quickly did we fulfil this with these, you know, have an actual, you know, a well run project? Right. So I think a lot of those kinds of activities can help start to point you in the right direction.


Robert Craven  20:20

Okay, and then is there? Is there a kind of standard? Do people come to you with the same problems? I guess, is the question you find people saying, and you get? Oh, it's a number three question again, or other questions that are entirely different? What are the presenting problems?


Alyson Caffrey  20:40

Oh, man. So the symptoms that I get quite often are. Everything's on fire, right? Number one, I mean, I always joke with my husband that I work at a hospital and people come to me with broken arms, and they're like, Oh, my God, please fix my arm right now. And I'm trying to get to them, like when they're on the trampoline, before they fall off and break their arm, right, and like, teach them kind of how to be safe, and, you know, have a really nice time, you know, playing and having a good time. So the big symptoms are, everything's on fire, right. And that, to me, is the business owner that's too close to the operations in their business, meaning that a lot of things rely on them, their team isn't trained really well, they don't have SOPs in place. And there'll be like in the shower or driving the car and be like, Oh, my gosh, I forgot to send that one email to that client, or I forgot to do this thing. And so their life feels very out of control, because they don't have any controlling mechanisms in their business. And so their business is really controlling their life. 


Alyson Caffrey  21:37

So that's kind of the big, overarching thing. Other symptoms have included a team member leaving, so someone will say, Oh, my goodness, my number two is leaving me. And I have no idea what to do. He or she knows everything about how everything runs. And I don't know anything about how anything runs. And so we need to figure this out. And then the additional one is, well, I'm hiring a tonne of people or I have so much work and I need five more account managers or 10, more PPC specialists, and I have no idea what to do, how to train them, how to make sure that they're doing the right thing, how to do performance reviews, all of that kind of staffing stuff. So those types of things are huge. And then once we pop the hood open a little bit. I agree with you, Robert, that a lot of my experience has been people think that they do perform really well when it comes to fulfilment. And then we'll start looking at some things and I'll say, Okay, well, in order to grow the team, we need to kind of shore up some of the fulfilment stuff on the back end, that's probably one of the reasons why we haven't felt like we could grow the team really competently. So really, the three big things, like I said, the levers that they can pull are always SOPs, project management style, and score carding, and and you know, really getting a position on their data and saying, okay, objectively, how can I make decisions on some of these things? And so I think, especially for the stressed out business owner that I mentioned, first, you know, if we can kind of have a C suite level, like data, you know, representation in our business and be able to say, O Okay, great, we're fulfilling at this rate. And these projects are on time, and these are the ones that are behind. So I'm going to spend a little bit of time here this week. It really does alleviate the headache of where everything is and what is happening behind the scenes of my business. We've all kind of been part of those teams, where someone just kind of jumps into Slack. And they're like, what's going on here? What's going on here? What's going on here? And the team's just like, Relax, dude, I got this. So it's definitely, I think, a multitude of symptoms, but usually, it's because of lack of structure on the back end truthfully.


Robert Craven  23:42

So, are you advocating? Or do you advocate that you're always kind of ahead of the curve? Because we know, we know what's going to happen. And we, if you've seen a lot of agencies, you know, kind of what's going to happen next. So, do you advocate, like preparing in advance that you recruit before the demands that you put the systems in place before you, you create systems for a 20 person agency when you're only five? And so on and so forth? Is that your approach?


Alyson Caffrey  24:17

Um, no, not always, honestly. So I think with project management and, and the like, right, we want something that we can grow into, right. And I think with systems, for example, when we have a really lean team, and things are in flux, and let's just say for example, we are in a position where we are trying to figure out what our core services or what markets specifically we want to niche down and serve. I don't recommend over documenting, what I recommend doing is putting bumpers into your business, right? We should really be in a position where we're kind of operating within let's just say these two metrics or within a certain timeframe on a project or within the certain standards for an SOP, instead of being in a position to really go step by step and document everything. Now, this is for the early you know, the early adopters, right the five I have to 10 person agencies. Once you get into a position where you're doing 20-50 employees, and you're in a position where things are starting to seem a little bit more specialised, you've clearly kind of passed the barriers of what is our core service? And what core market do we serve? And how many, you know, what are the specialised roles on my team. So in that case, once people start becoming more specialised, and once services become more specific, and we're kind of not deviating from the specific path, then we can begin to go into the very precise how to procedures and policies and things like that.


Robert Craven  25:39

So I love the idea of bumpers, which is just I guess, that's the max and that's a minimum, like, I'm gonna panic if I'm gonna panic if you're doing more than 80% utilisation, because you're gonna fall over. But I'm also going to panic if you're only doing 50%, because it's not profitable.


Alyson Caffrey  26:01

Yeah, and I think a scorecard or a central location for data is the perfect place to see that, you know, I've talked about kind of a C suite level, something that the business owner and the leadership team can really look at for operational transparency, right, they can see, Okay, on average, we're going over by product are on projects by 10 days, right. And we really want to our main quarterly initiative is to trim that down from 10 days to five days, or we're going to augment our service and say, Hey, listen, you know, and we're going to account for this additional 10 days and kind of change our prices or change how we deliver or something like that.  


Alyson Caffrey  26:33

So I think that setting those bumpers up helps for a couple reasons, I think with kind of the stress level of the agency owner, right? They can kind of see, okay, we're operating within our parameters, I feel good about this. Now, the second thing is the agency owner's relationship with the team, right? So have you in the past, like, come to a conversation with a team member, when they already know that maybe they have missed the mark, the conversation is so much different, because they automatically are beginning to solve the problem for you, versus you delivering bad news? Hey, listen, your performance was horrible, they automatically go on the defensive, at least what has happened in my experience. So truthfully, I think from a problem solving perspective, operationally, and a team management perspective, especially because some business owners, I mean, they're accidental business owners, they don't want to manage people, just like you said in the beginning. So this provides a mechanism, a way to be able to have some of these difficult management conversations with our team. And you know, kind of have them approach it with a little bit more of a positive manner.


Robert Craven  27:35

So I'm just writing that down. So I think there's something that's really refreshing about the conversation is lots of people in operations go straight to the tech. The technical solution is if you buy this app, and that app and put this app in place, and that one in that and they'll all talk to each other, which they never do. But that's not going to talk about plug and play. But the idea is that they all talk to each other, and you press a button and everything goes swimmingly. However, it would be remiss of me not to talk about tech. So are there other bits of software that you think people should be using? Or do you just think, time shooting system and scorecard system? What's your take on how people use the tech in order to drive ops?


Alyson Caffrey  28:27

Great question, and everyone hates my answer to this question, especially agency owners because they lean so heavily on tech. But tech does not matter. If you think about how, like working out has progressed, right? Over the years, folks would achieve extremely wonderful physiques and peak performance and health without peloton, right? They could do those things that could pick up rocks and throw them. I mean, it was life changing, right? 


Alyson Caffrey  28:54

So I think that the habits or the principle is way more important than the physical technology that you've built something in, right. And I always say that the best technology in your agency is the one that you're actually going to use, right, we want to be able to leverage something. I've seen people build out beautiful libraries of SOPs and trainings inside of notion, for example, and then they never log into it, they don't kind of weave it into the culture to check those things. And so I definitely recommend a time tracking tool, a project management tool, those two big things. And truthfully, if you want to begin doing your SOPs, and writing those out in Google Sheets, and and Google Docs, I ran my business on Google Sheets and Google Docs for four years. And everything was great because I wove it into my culture to use those things. Right. And so one of the biggest things I think about being an agency owner and honestly any small business owner, right, I mean, I'm a member of AppSumo. I love those deals, and I always am, you know, looking at the shiny objects and things. And truthfully, I think that tech can do wonderful things for transparency and user Experience and ease of finding things inside of your business. But you need to be able to train that within your team. Meaning that they have to understand culturally, that when I ask a question in the business or when I need something done, I go to this specific place, right, I have a wiki internally, or I have a project management system are a tool that's very, very up to date, and very, very built out. So those are going to be the principles again, over the platforms that I would follow and when you're starting to set up your operations.


Robert Craven  30:31

So I love that I really liked that, especially as people know, we've kind of we're on the way we're in startup mode here and the business is old, but we've, we've refreshed it. So we're looking at everything, in order to make sure things go as fast as possible. You've, you've not really talked much about the interaction with clients, because it's my mind. You know, this is all about how we make the clients feel. And yet, and yet, operations always talk about how we can do our stuff as quickly and as efficiently as possible? And yet, what is in our mind deficient in other words, everything we've delivered something awesome, may not be what the client was sold by the marketing people may not be what the client expected. And also, I think there's this problem that plants don't buy what we do. They buy what they do for us, so they don't buy a PPC campaign, they buy more clients, they don't buy beautifully put together websites on WordPress, they buy better branding, and brettler more customers. And I think often our tech side gets them to fall in love with the beauty of the perfect solutions that they've created, which may not be what the client wants. So how do you square that circle?


Alyson Caffrey  32:16

Oh, there's a lot of things that kind of go into that, obviously, the sales process itself, the right kind of how the sales team tees up things for the client. But I think that kind of back to what I said in the very beginning, the easier that it is to understand your process behind the scenes, right, if you have a core process for how you deliver your core service, let's just say, the easier it is to be transparent about what that process is. Meaning that there's an internal and external experience, right? Whenever a client comes in, it's like going to a play, right, the client sitting in the audience, and we've got the performers in the front. But then we have all the stage setters in the back, who are making these beautiful, you know, background things and making us feel like we're on a farm and all that stuff, right. So the client is experiencing this lovely kind of scene that you've put on. But behind the scenes, you know, you've got folks running in every direction and kind of whipping together some fun cardboard thing to put out on the stage and whatnot, right, and we're costume changing. And so there is a level of I have to understand what the client is here to experience, right? If they're here to see a certain play, we're not going to put on a totally different one, right, we're going to kind of stay within the structure of what they've expected and what they've come to see. And with every kind of play that someone comes to see, they sit down, they get a playbill, right, they know exactly who the characters are, that are going to help them experience this, they know exactly the time length of everything, they get a little intermission where you can kind of take a break and use the restroom and do all the things. So you want to think about your client experience that way, and say, Okay, what exactly are they here to see? What's the timeline that we're looking to deliver this experience to them? And what are we going to get them out of here, so they can go home and enjoy a drink with their, with their spouse or whatever, right? 


Alyson Caffrey  33:59

And so those types of things are really what we want to start to think through. So if we see an internal and external experience, right, internally, it's our operations, right, and how we perform efficiently behind the scenes. And then externally, it's all of those communication pieces with the client, the strategic sessions, right, all of the whiteboarding of the website and Miro or whatever it is that you guys are doing to present the client with the logical next step. Now, the further the client can look ahead into the process and what they're about to experience. It's been my experience that the higher the retention rate is meaning that they build trust with you. They understand what's coming, the results are there and you're being very transparent about how things are going. So that I think has helped with the client experience. Now the sales to fulfil handoff, I'm not going to stop before mentioning that it's a huge piece of this. And so again, the clearer you are with the process on the back end, the clearer you can be with a salesperson to say hey, listen, we have a three phase process for how we deliver websites. Here's how this goes and if the salesperson positions that on the introductory call with someone, then once we get into the strategic phase after they've paid their first invoice or agreed and signed our proposal, they see that three phase process again, they say, Oh, wow, okay, consistency, and consistency builds trust in my, in my experience.


Robert Craven  35:20

So how do you? How do you present that? Is that some kind of infographic? Is it a? Is it a spreadsheet with systems and processes for me? How do you? How do you internally and externally, how do you communicate the bits? Because clearly, I mean, clearly you can't go to a client with a PDF from the process.


Robert Craven  35:48

So how do you present that to someone who's thinking? Are they ripping me off? Well, I get value from money is this right? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, yeah. Because some people will say, you know, behave, behave like a consultant, Medic, you know, you walk in and you say, I'm the expert, do trust me, you know, you don't know what I do. But just just relax, you'll be able to walk out here as if you're? And yeah, and I think that often, you know, if you go if you use that medical analogy, my wife had had a knee operation, you really don't want to know what's going on in there. When you go in with saws and hammers and, and all kinds of screwdrivers and stuff you don't know, you're just like, I just want to walk in, I want to walk out better. Thank you very much. So how do we present what we do? Bearing in mind? I mean for me, because I go back to my point, which is, you know, What I want is 1000 marketing qualified leads from you, and I'm willing to pay you $100 each? Do I really care whether you do it on Bing or Google? Or whether you're using social media? Or whether Freddy the interns are doing it? Or whether Jane the marketing director is doing it? I'm not sure. So I mean, how do you? How do you suggest people present that piece to clients?


Alyson Caffrey  37:19

Yeah, so several good points here. And I think I want to start by saying that a lot of people I agree with, you don't want to know how the sausage is made, right? They don't want to kind of get the window into behind the scenes and see all of the kind of nitty gritty, that's happening. But some people do, right. Like with me, when I had my first son, I was obsessed with all of the body changes that were happening. And I had a very thankfully smooth and natural childbirth. And I was very into my husband, right? Learning about the process. And we took a birth course and it was very out of my wheelhouse. But it became something very important to me as I was going through the process, right. And so sometimes I find that it's kind of one or the other, right, you get someone who is very interested in the behind the scenes, especially if, for example, you're working with someone who's in technology are very familiar with traffic and that sort of thing. And they want to know all the behind the scenes, they want to work with you and kind of be involved in the process. But then you've got another person who may be a brick and mortar restaurant owner, for example, who has no idea what you even do, right, they have no idea where the leads are coming from. And to your point, they don't care, they just want to see that, you know, metric change. 


Alyson Caffrey  38:28

And so what I always advise to my agency owners, is when you come in and you begin to have conversations with prospective new clients, or even in the very first strategic call, you need to ask them what their needle mover or king metric is right there number one thing and try to position that in front of them and in front of your team as often as humanly possible. Because if everyone on the team is as obsessed with getting those 1000 leads into the business as the client is, it's very, very likely that everyone's going to kind of get the results that they're looking for. And so especially if our processes are tight, and we're a good agency, right? And so if we can be in a position to first and foremost, say that, then what we can do is position all of the communication around that specifically, right, we can say hey, listen, leads are up by you know, 10 people this month and whatever else, right? And we can really start there, especially when we have to deliver good news and bad news, right? So when we start to play that game, we can tell them about the good, the good news with the king metric, and then kind of go from there. So I've always found that that's really helpful. And now when we talk about the process, right talk about kind of positioning things on one side of the equation, right? We say hey, listen, this is your King metric. We're gonna get you 1000 leads, we're gonna go through this process. And I find a simple infographic or a simple even a Google Doc, right? If you just kind of bullet that out. It's more about again, kind of getting back to the technology piece of things. It's more about the principles than it is about the actual technology or the visually pleasing way that you actually present that as long as you're clear and they also experience something that's congruent with your process, right? That's what you're really looking for, you're looking for something that builds trust, you're not trying to be very, you know, theatrical and fanfare in the very beginning and then let kind of the experience taper off, right? It's better to kind of build that, you know, trust and that relationship over time.


Robert Craven  40:20

Brilliant. So I'm going to ask you a question, which got about three bits in it, but it's coming. We're coming close. So, we've talked about stabilising your core service. Can you just verbally explain with your fingers explained? What are the operational elements people need in order to stabilise their costs?


Alyson Caffrey  40:44

Yeah, so I've talked about this a couple of times before too in this session. But really, the three big things that you need are SOPs, and a clear, centralised playbook, somewhere, right, anywhere where your team everyone can access, they can understand how to get there and kind of access everything that they need. This includes standard operating procedures. This includes templates and things that you have any standard documents for how perhaps you know, do content and blog writing, all of the things that someone might need to understand how to do things in your business pushing buttons and pulling levers, right. The second thing is a centralised project management tool or system. This can be in Google Sheets, this can be anywhere as long as it includes all of the steps that are involved in delivering your core service. And your team totally understands what the sequence is, what the next steps are, and how to involve themselves in the project. 


Alyson Caffrey  41:37

I like to always create project management rules of engagement, which has gotten some feedback in the past from me or for me, but oftentimes, what we forget to do is we set up this beautiful project management tool, and then we forget to say how often it needs to be updated and how frequently we need to check in. And when perhaps we're going to meet about kind of the status of things, and all of the kind of bells and whistles that live outside of just tasking out all of the actual to do's. And so those are going to be a huge accelerator for you if you're kind of new to this process and setting things up. Or even if you want to just kind of build on what you already have. And then the third big thing is a centralised location for data. Meaning that we are tracking you know how much we're bringing in per service about how much we're spending per service to get a nice little gross profit, how efficient we are at delivering certain elements of our core process, right, our strategic phase, our setup phase, our maintenance phase, right, we're in a position now where we have some really solid visibility into how things are performing. And all it's really doing for us is giving us opportunities to make amazing decisions to move the business forward and to grow the team and to continue to serve clients.


Robert Craven  42:52

Fantastic. I love that. It's really, really succinct. Right, we're coming to the end of the end of the call. So I've got two questions I'd like to ask. The first one is kind of what's next for you? What's next for the business? As always a really interesting one to see what projects or ideas or whatever, there's new version three about to come out. And the second question, which we'll come to afterwards is, what are the what you believe or we believe are the golden nuggets, you find yourself saying to people, the sentences, you seem to be saying to people a lot? Or are the ideas that you really wish you could tattoo on people's foreheads so they could never forget, what are those? So let's just start off with the operations agency. And Alison, what's what's what's coming up? What's next? It's exciting. Yeah,


Alyson Caffrey  43:46

So I love platforms like this, being able to kind of chat through some of these complex, you know, problems that folks are facing, and just make them a little bit easier to approach. Right? Everyone thinks, Oh, my goodness, my operations are a mess. And this is going to be a two year project. But really, we can start implementing some really small, simple strategies today to start to alleviate that pain, right. And so for me, I've actually been really excited to seek out more, you know, in person opportunities, because after king of the pandemic wave and things. So this fall, I'm actually going to a couple of events, with other agency owners, I'm really excited about that. So it used to be kind of a normal thing right back to two years ago. And now it's become kind of this new, exciting, flashy thing. So I'm really excited to go and kind of workshop, you know, hands on with some businesses, right, kind of deliver some in person results. I feel like that's so underrated and undervalued these days, with all of the kind of digitalization of remote teams and all that stuff. So I'm excited about that coming up for the second half of the year of operations agency.


Robert Craven  44:50

Brilliant, that's great. I mean, I agree. I just came back from a trip to Europe for a three day conference by the sea in the sand and it was just invigorating. Absolutely. grades. And what about you know, I always say it's that sort of thing. You go to a restaurant and have a bottle of wine with someone and you're walking out. And they're saying, honestly, honest to you, what would you do if you were me? You know, one of the one of the one of the things you hear yourself say, one of the golden nuggets, what are those? Those like one liners are those ideas that you're really trying to get into people's. 


Alyson Caffrey  45:24

Yeah, I always say to my clients, Start simple and start today. So I mean, I always equate this to, you know, operations is an effort in keeping your business in shape, right. And so anyone who's invested in their personal health and their wellness knows that if you put crap in, you're gonna get crap out, right. And if you don't move your body, things are going to feel really rickety. And it's going to be more difficult to get moving in the direction you want to go, right. And so I always say that even if you're in a position where you've created, you know, an operating structure for yourself, if you get in better shape down the line and your business grows, you may need to revisit how you're doing those workouts, right, you might need to revisit how you are building that, you know, operational structure for your business and kind of keeping things fit and lean. And so I always say, Start simple and start now, right? If I'm out of shape, and I've been in a position where I haven't worked out in six months, I'm just gonna go outside and go for a walk, right? It's going to be the next best step in the direction that I want to go. And so I I hope that folks can approach operations a little bit more colloquially, right, it is serious business, getting things to run well, but it doesn't take a lot of effort to begin to start to see those results, right. We can do some really simple hacks to be able to kind of feel better about how things are going.


Robert Craven  46:41

Brilliant. I absolutely love that. Alison, thank you so much for being a great guest. Thank you so much for sharing. So


Alyson Caffrey  46:48

Some pleasure and fun.


Robert Craven  46:51

Again, we're going to meet again, not sure hopefully one of those, but that'd be fun. So thank you very much for being really great. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much.