Structuring Your Collaborative Studio
Structuring a team and culture that thrives with or without you
I hope you're enjoying your weekend or whenever you're reading this.
I've always talked about the team and how proud of them I am and what we're working on, but I realized that I haven't actually wrote about how I've gotten about structuring the organization. I'm not 100% where I want to be as a leader or operator but I'm far from where I once was. That's just life in general though right? The process is something I've come to love to enjoy because entrepreneurship is about being as resourceful as you possibly can for whatever stage you're at. I will say what I’m most proud of is creating a great culture, my goal is to contribute to the change of the perception of agency owners and the work-life.
There's many ways to structure a team, but I'll only speak on the one that i've tried out thus far. The way I did it blurs the lines between agency and freelancer to give everyone some breathing room. Let's talk about it!
The Ideology Behind a Collaborative Studio
We're not really a traditional agency in a sense where you have to do whatever project you get assigned to. I worked in a couple of those agencies and it didn't always produce the best work, work would come in and the manager assigns you something. Even if you're not the best at this one particular project or campaign, you still need to do it because you're available right now.
In those agencies they were focused on volume and didn't have a specialized process or niche so it was always random every single time and clients got to choose from a menu of services. We had a pretty small team as well which complicated this more, all of us had 15+ clients to manage at any given time (I worked at an ad agency at the time). It was still creative work so we made the ad creatives, copy, and executed the strategy.
So fast forward, the way that I wanted to structure my agency was to make sure of the following:
Our team members can fulfill the work with confidence
We can do projects as actually like
The team members can say no without consequences or even a reason, the work will simply get passed on to the next team member or get passed on to our trusted tight group of referrals.
This is a much more relaxed environment, we're all committed to the brand and the values that drive the brand and the cool projects / people that come across us -compared to just doing work without meaning.
Key Roles Your Studio Needs
In my opinion you can structure it how you see fit, what's worked for me is the following:
Integrations Specialist (Tech Support)
The work that we do isn't always no code so it's just best for us to have devs that know code or have that tech specialist at hand, some of these can be from the same person also. It's important to mention as well that it's (2x) because like I said earlier, if someone isn't available there's someone else on the team that we can ask. It's best that we find freelancers that operate their own businesses or are doing something else and are looking to collaborate and commit to following our processes and how we handle clientele.
Planning for an exit?
Usually the goal of agency building is to exit or sell - but what if you don't want to? I think building it with the mindset that you're going to sell keeps you thinking about the most scalable way to structure your business if you're going to or not so when the time comes it's a smooth transition. With that being said, an operation that has to involve you in the process every step of the way isn't ideal for an exit because there's not proof of a repeatable process. Can your business run without you? Can you take a vacation or can you afford to get sick? Put the value in the hands of your offer.
When you remove constraints in business you give yourself more flexibility in the long run, you may not have the answers to everything right now and that's more than okay. It's funny because I once paid for a consultation from an agency consultancy that works with a lot of founders and CEO at the 6-7-8 figure mark so this is what I learned from that. He kept asking me questions about the daily operations and by the end of it he told me "oh, you're the bottleneck in your business, so you need to get you out of your own way so your business can actually grow"
That's when everything changed - build a team and commit to getting out of their way, if you're not willing to do this then just stay as a freelancer or have 1 other person to do the other part of the thing you don't want to contribute to. If not, you'll be creating an "off and on" way of your business life and it's a headache because it's not a smooth process for clients when you can't decide your role, and even I'm still involved but not with the every step of the process.
Shout out to Mariah, that came from her powerful statement, but it's true:
When we close a project, our project manager or myself will see who's available and we also ask if they think they'll be able to accomplish the project needs. When we get started, our PM and the team member will manage expectations, show up to syncs (only if they're needed), and keep the client updated based on where they're at in the process.
We use Click-Up to help us create tasks lists and dashboards for project success but it doesn't matter which tool you use.
Create email accounts under the domain name for everyone if you haven't already for a cohesive team appearance even if you're collaborating
Over the last year I've been working relentless to improve our offer, process, and how we handle fulfillment. I think this is a crucial step for creatives to be really detail oriented about this because this is what is going to set everyone up for success in your studio in my opinion.
Paying team members
If you've been reading for a while now, you know I'm about equal and good pay that actually pays for peoples cost of living. With that being said, a fair hourly rate is what I do now - back when it was me and one other developer at the start it was percentage based.
Hourly is best for me because most times we'll collaborate on projects - so if a developer needs help with an integration we can do so by paying for time instead of being locked in. I know a lot of people say it isn't ideal and I agree it's not when you're freelancing, in this setting it's worked best for me especially if the trade off is consistent work.
Also, we have a referral program that gives $1K bonuses after a certain budget range which is also pretty cool if someone wants to bring projects to the team that there's a reason to do so even though they don't need to. What's interesting about this is that leads like this approach because the more resources that are available the more comfortable they have seemed to be.
I hope you've gained some insight about what your studio could look like from this today, I'd love to hear your thoughts about today's Newsletter or if you have any questions about building your team feel free to ask as always - I'm here to help! There isn't a right way to do this thing, only a wrong way and that wrong way is whichever has you overworked and underpaid / unfulfilled.
Talk to you Wednesday! Keeping this twice a week Newsletter up for the whole month of May.
Talk soon and take care,